Utilitarianism: Restorations; Repairs; Renovations
Published: September 2004© 2004
370 Pages, 6.22 x 9.30 x 0.87 in
Utilitarianism, belaboured by repeated counterexamples, has fallen out of favour as an ethical theory. In Utilitarianism: Restorations; Repairs; Renovations, noted Canadian philosopher David Braybrooke revisits Jeremy Bentham's master idea that statistical evidence should determine social policies, and – perhaps surprisingly, given Braybooke's recent championship of natural law – dispels the discredit that standard versions of utilitarianism have invited.
On the issue between rule-utilitarianism (which gives due weight to rules) and act-utilitarianism (which does not), Braybrooke argues that act-utilitarianism cannot be carried out even in principle except under the auspices of rules. He shows that the problem with not knowing all consequences ahead of time vanishes if decisions are subject to continual rounds of revision. Invoking the elementary statistical principle that groups should not be changed in membership just to get more favourable results, he disposes of the accusation that utilitarianism prescribes gratuitous life-sacrifices.
Substituting comparative censuses for the hedonistic calculus that figures in standard utilitarianism, Braybrooke excludes gratuitous sacrifices also of happiness short of life-sacrifices. The census notion is proof against the self-contradictory advice that the calculus sometimes supplies. Moreover, it readily accommodates evidence about happiness and needs, both better pursued by dropping the notion of utility. Recast in these ways, utilitarianism takes on a very different guise from the standard versions; it is notwithstanding a guise congenial to Bentham's master idea, and its affinity with the utilitarian tradition and ordinary language shows up in the full intelligibility that it gives to the slogan, "the greatest happiness of the greatest number."
'David Braybrooke's Utilitarianism: Restorations; Repairs; Renovations seeks to revivify the classical principle that human welfare, in its most broad and universal sense, matters. He shows how to meet standard objections against utilitarianism – that it presupposes an impossible condition of perfect information, commands the sacrifice of minority interests to the interests of the many, and that interpersonal comparisons of well-being are meaningless. Braybrooke's vision of a better-run world in which human flourishing is of paramount importance is convincing and compelling.'Catherine Wilson, Department of Philosophy, University of British Columbia
'This is an interesting and original book. It represents Braybrooke's cumulative thinking on utilitarianism, and I do not believe that there is anything in the utilitarian literature that quite replicates the twists that Braybrooke gives the theory. These twists, which include connections with his earlier work on needs, are intended to enable him to avoid many of the problems that earlier were held to plague utilitarianism, including how it was to formulate the very notion of "utility." Braybrooke states these problems carefully and addresses them in a clear, readable prose. Altogether, an intriguing book.'R.G. Frey, Department of Philosophy, Bowling Green State University