A new thread for conversation. I would like to propose a reframing or extension of utilitarianism. Consider the following four-principle alternative; supporting comments follow.
1. Maximize suitably crafted preference satisfaction. When the inevitable conflicts occur…
2. Resolve the conflict by striking a fair balance of ‘satisfaction sacrifice’, or by …
3. Redefining the conflicting party’s preferences so that principle #1 applies again.
4. Kill all uncooperative adversaries.
I added Principle #4 to give urgency to the other principles, i.e., taking #2 and #3 seriously is the way to avoid #4. Unfortunately #4 lends descriptive power to these principles.
Principle #1 is plain vanilla utilitarianism. I won’t elaborate beyond clarifying that ‘suitably crafted’ means long-term interests. Below I discuss whether different kinds of interests should weigh more than others. (The Socrates and pig matter.)
Principle #2 is the first divergence from utilitarianism. I say tactical oughts involve maximizing utility, while moral oughts involve the prevention and resolution of conflict. Moral claims should be considered effective or ineffective, not true or false. Moral discussion is more about who must carry the burden of sacrifice rather than who gets how much satisfaction. By definition, when there is a conflict someone thinks the system of benefits and burdens that generates the largest aggregate of utility gives them an unfair share of sacrifice relative to the possible alternatives. A fair sacrifice of utility might mean an equal distribution of sacrifice for all participants, or it might mean minimizing the largest sacrifice, etc. But note the point: maximizing utility itself will not do as a solution. If it did, #1 would be satisfied and #2 would remain irrelevant.
Can morality as conflict prevention and resolution be justified? This is too large of a topic for me to address here, but I can make two quick comments. First, whatever else we want, we want our conflict to be the fuel of the expansion of opportunities, not their destruction, which they could become if #4 is reached because #2 and #3 failed. I can not imagine a consistent utilitarian arguing with this assumption.
Second, note that it is impossible for me to persuade you that persuasion has no force. This is a foundational loop that stops an infinite regress of claims and counter-claims in the same way that “I think, therefore I exist” stops a chain of doubt. Persuasion is an attempt to resolve a conflict on the level of conversation, and consensus is proof of persuasion’s success. Thus it is logically odd to argue that striving for a moral consensus, the resolution of conversational conflict, is irrelevant or has no moral force.Principle #3 involves two ideas. The first is to get back to #1 because the satisfaction of utility is better than the sacrifice of utility. Second, it acknowledges the possibility of moral surprise, i.e., that our interests have simply been wrong, and that conflict resolution was necessary to realize this. Our higher interests now weigh more than our previous interests, making us better off in a way that principle #1 or #2 alone could not. (A satisfied Socrates is better than a dissatisfied Socrates.)