The greatest good for the greatest number, taken literally and without qualification, has been attacked as a completely unworkable principle. It would justify taking 100 healthy people from the population every year in a random lottery and then doing scientific experiments on them (or so some philosophers say) in order to vastly increase our knowledge of human anatomy. Just imagine how much we could actually learn from live human subjects, while not being restrained ethically on what can and cannot be done to them. Most of us, myself included, find this morally abhorrent, and that's why the utilitarian principle cannot be accepted without qualification.
HOWEVER, this is EXACTLY the argument the theist uses to fend off the argument from evil, and it is completely without qualification. According to one of the most famous theistic philosophers around, William Lane Craig, he asserts in response to the atheistic argument from evil:
"1. We are not in a good position to assess with confidence the probability that God lacks morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. Whether God's existence is improbable relative to the evil in the world depends on how probable it is that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil that occurs. What makes the probability here so difficult to assess is that we are not in a good epistemic position to make these kinds of probability judgements with any sort of confidence. Only an omniscient mind could grasp the complexities of providentially directing a world of free creatures toward one's pre-visioned goals. One has only to think of the innumerable, incalculable contingencies involved in arriving at a single historical event, say, the enactment of the Lend-Lease policy by the American Congress prior to the United States' entry into World War II. We have no idea of the natural and moral evils that might be involved in order for God to arrange the circumstances and free agents in them requisite to such an event. Certainly many evils seem pointless and unnecessary to usÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½but we are simply not in a position to judge. To say this is not to appeal to mystery, but rather to point to the inherent cognitive limitations that frustrate attempts to say that it is improbable that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting some particular evil." My emphasis is on the probabilistic part, Craig italizied the first sentence himself.
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/theistic … z2E8UJn4wQ
The first issue is that it seems like a win for agnosticism if we aren't in a good epistemic (how do we know what we know) position to begin with. In any event, this argument is presupposing that some people's lives can be sacrificed to hell (since Craig is a conservative christian), in order that the greater good of free will and heaven can be attained by the maximal number of free individuals.
For most human beings, we would be horrified if even ONE live person were sacrificed as a human experiment for the sake of "scientific progress." Yet, millions are sacrificed under this "loving God" to eternal torture. To me, if God knew creating free creatures would result in some people choosing hell, then he should have refrained from creating any humans at all.
What say you?
I say that you don't understand the scope of utilitarianism which includes have some non-negotiables (like not killing) or that deontological approaches (like Christianity) often promote killing for certain sins. Or the fact that most people use a combination of consequences and rights to decide what is right.
Sounds like cheating to me. Smuggling in non-negotiables is a deontological approach (like Kant's famous ax murderer paper), but then saying, "in all other cases, greatest good for the greatest number!"
So I can torture but not kill? Or maim?
Anyway, even if there are qualifications (which I think can be made, but not in the overly simplistic way you frame it, which sounds like having your subjective cake and eating your objective principles too), these qualifications do not apply to God at all, especially within a christian or jewish framework, because the moment you put restrictions on God, you are bringing human moral judgments to bear.
No, because when the price is so high no one can afford it--the product is essentially beyond price. The non-negotiable is arrived at by the items value--not by decree. A utlitarian can value life at an unaffordable price and still be 100% utilitarian.
Just as the Christian can say 'do not kill', but also think witches should not be suffered to live and adulterers should be stoned to death.
That said, I know of only one person I ever met that followed a pure system of thought. It is not natural for humans to be robotically pure philosophers.
Exactly. The price is too high! I never liked rule utilitarianism when I was first learning ethics. It seemed more like deontology to me. Maybe a hybrid of the two could work, but it seems like the objective side is first just assumed as to avoid any of the typical objections to utilitarianism.
But that is competely beside the point, because the christian theist can afford God no qualifications! You've failed to answer my point about judging God and bringing human judgments into play. I also fail to see how the christian can say do not kill and then say witches should be killed and not contradict themselves. Doesn't sound like that's valuing life to me.
As to your last point, I agree, but it doesn't affect the soundness of an argument if it's proponents are inconsistent. If a christian were to argue that we should love our enemy, and then in the next breath claim that we should go to war with Iran and Syria and North Korea, the contradiction would be glaring, but it wouldn't effect the soundness of the argument for loving our enemy as ourselves.
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