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Dr Max Hayward: Varieties of rationality and the goals of a utilitarian theory

Wednesday 2 February 2022, 4.00PM to 5.30pm

Speaker(s): Dr Max Hayward, University of Sheffield

Here are two ideas that have a claim to being the core commitment of Utilitarianism:

1. No Rule Worship: We should reject any accounts of rules, rightness or reasons where these claims about what we ought to do are not justified by the goal of promoting aggregate welfare.
2. Utilitarian Rightness: We should accept a view according to which there are determinate facts about what we have most reason to do, or what makes acts right, and such principles are justified by the goal of promoting welfare.

I’m going to suggest that these commitments are incompatible. Suppose your goal is to promote welfare. To know what you have reason to do, you need to pair this goal with a theory of rationality. But individualist and collectivist theories of rationality will give different prescriptions, neither is reducible to the other, and neither gives reliably optimific directions, even in idealised circumstances. Since there is no good utility-oriented reason to privilege either individualistic or collectivist reasons, nor any obvious way to weigh them against each other, utilitarians should drop commitment 2) on the strength of commitment 1), accepting that there is not always a determinate fact about what we have most reason to do. I conclude by considering what a utilitarian normative theory would look like if we accept this proposal.

Location: This event will take place on Zoom. The link will be shared in advance of the talk.

Admission: Departmental Colloquium members and postgraduate students