Negative utilitarianism

Ord, Toby (2013) Why I’m not a negative utilitarian, Toby Ord’s Blog, February 28.

Tomasik, Brian (2013) Three types of negative utilitarianism, Essays on Reducing Suffering, March 23.

The first and most commonly discussed dimension of variation concerns the relative moral weight accorded to suffering and happiness. Standard NU may be regarded as a "strong" form of NU, holding that no amount of happiness can ever count for more than any amount of suffering. By contrast, "weak" versions of NU hold instead that a given quantity of suffering counts for more than a corresponding quantity of happiness, but accept that large enough quantities of happiness can in principle outweigh any quantity of suffering (Griffin 1979; Arrhenius & Bykvist 1995; Ord 2013; Knutsson 2019).suffering.[1][2][3][4] Strong NU views may be further subdivided into lexical NU and absolute NU, which either affirm or deny, respectively, that happiness counts for something (Ord 2013).something.[3] On strong lexical NU, of two outcomes equally unpleasant, one counts for more than the other if it is the more pleasant of the two; whereas on absolute strong NU both outcomes count equally. Between strong lexical NU and weak NU, there is room for an intermediate or hybrid form of NU, sometimes called lexical threshold NU (Ord 2013; Tomasik 2013),[3][5] according to which there is some amount of suffering that no amount of happiness can outweigh, but otherwise suffering can be outweighed by a large enough amount of happiness.

BibliographyFurther reading

Arrhenius, Gustaf & Krister Bykvist (1995) Future Generations and Interpersonal Compensations: Moral Aspects of Energy Use, Uppsala: Uppsala University.

Griffin, James (1979) Is unhappiness morally more important than happiness?, The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 29, pp. 47–55.

Knutsson, Simon (2019) The world destruction argument, Inquiry, pp. 1–20.

Ord, Toby (2013) Why I’m not a negative utilitarian, Toby Ord’s Blog, February 28.

Tomasik, Brian (2013) Three types of negative utilitarianism, Essays on Reducing Suffering, March 23.

  1. ^

    Griffin, James (1979) Is unhappiness morally more important than happiness?, The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 29, pp. 47–55.

  2. ^

    Arrhenius, Gustaf & Krister Bykvist (1995) Future Generations and Interpersonal Compensations: Moral Aspects of Energy Use, Uppsala: Uppsala University.

  3. ^

    Ord, Toby (2013) Why I’m not a negative utilitarian, Toby Ord’s Blog, February 28.

  4. ^

    Knutsson, Simon (2019) The world destruction argument, Inquiry, pp. 1–20.

  5. ^

    Tomasik, Brian (2013) Three types of negative utilitarianism, Essays on Reducing Suffering, March 23.

Applied to Against Negative Utilitarianism by [anonymous] at 6mo

Negative utilitarianism (NU) is a version of utilitarianism whose standard account holds that an act is morally right if and only if it leads to less suffering than any of its alternatives. NU was originally presenteddeveloped as an alternative to classical utilitarianism, which regards suffering and happiness as equally important, and is a leading example of a suffering-focused view, a broader family of ethical positions that assign primary—though not necessarily exclusive or overriding—moral importance to the alleviation of suffering.

The first and most commonly discussed dimension of variation concerns the relative moral weight accorded to suffering and happiness. Standard NU may be regarded as a "strong" form of NU, holding that no amount of happiness can ever count for more than any amount of suffering. By contrast, "weak" versions of NU hold instead that a given quantity of suffering counts for more than a corresponding quantity of happiness, but accept that large enough quantities of happiness can in principle outweigh any quantity of suffering (Griffin 1979; Arrhenius & Bykvist 1995; Ord ;2013; Knutsson 2019). Strong NU views may be further subdivided into lexical NU and absolute NU, which either affirm or deny, respectively, that happiness counts for something (Ord 2013). On strong lexical NU, of two outcomes equally unpleasant, one counts for more than the other if it is the more pleasant of the two; whereas on absolute strong NU both outcomes count equally. Between strong lexical NU and weak NU, there is room for an intermediate or hybrid form of NU, sometimes called lexical threshold NU (Ord 2013; Tomasik 2013), according to which there is some amount of suffering that no amount of happiness can outweigh, but otherwise suffering can be outweighed by a large enough amount of happiness.

The first and most commonly discussed dimension of variation concerns the relative moral weight accorded to suffering and happiness. Standard NU may be regarded as a "strong" form of NU, holding that no amount of happiness can ever count for more than any amount of suffering. By contrast, "weak" versions of NU hold instead that a given quantity of suffering counts for more than a corresponding quantity of happiness, but accept that large enough quantities of happiness can in principle outweigh any quantity of suffering (Griffin 1979; Arrhenius & Bykvist 1995; Ord ; Knutsson 2019: 1)2019). Strong NU views may be further subdivided into lexical NU and absolute NU, which either affirm or deny, respectively, that happiness counts for something (Ord 2013: 2)2013). On strong lexical NU, of two outcomes equally unpleasant, one counts for more than the other if it is the more pleasant of the two; whereas on absolute strong NU both outcomes count equally. Between strong lexical NU and weak NU, there is room for an intermediate or hybrid form of NU, sometimes called lexical threshold NU (Ord 2013; Tomasik 2013), according to which there is some amount of suffering that no amount of happiness can outweigh, but otherwise suffering can be outweighed by a large enough amount of happiness.

The first and most commonly discussed dimension of variation concerns the relative moral weight accorded to suffering and happiness. Standard NU may be regarded as a "strong" form of NU, holding that no amount of happiness can ever count for more than any amount of suffering. By contrast, "weak" versions of NU hold instead that a given quantity of suffering counts for more than a corresponding quantity of happiness, but accept that large enough quantities of happiness can in principle outweigh any quantity of suffering (Griffin 1979; Arrhenius & Bykvist 1995; Ord ; Knutsson 2019: 1). Strong NU views may be further subdivided into lexical NU and absolute NU, which either affirm or deny, respectively, that happiness counts for something (Ord 2013: 2). On strong lexical NU, of two outcomes equally unpleasant, one counts for more than the other if it is the more pleasant of the two; whereas on absolute strong NU both outcomes count equally. Between strong lexical NU and weak NU, there is room for an intermediate or hybrid form of NU, sometimes called lexical threshold NU (Ord 2013: 3;2013; Tomasik 2013), according to which there is some amount of suffering that no amount of happiness can outweigh, but otherwise suffering can be outweighed by a large enough amount of happiness.

Finally, different versions of NU may be distinguishedobtained depending on whether NU is presentedregarded as a criterion of rightness or as a decision procedure. Standard NU is generally understood to provide a criterion of rightness, that is, as a specification of the conditions under which acts are right or wrong. But NU may instead be understoodinterpreted as a decision procedure, that is, as a practical guide for choosing how to act. The claim here is that agents deliberating about what to do should strive to minimize suffering. Someone who is not a standard NU may still defend NU as a decision procedure if they think that following this procedure is more likely to result in acts that better conform to the requirements of morality, whatever those are. This view is analogous to some forms of prioritarianism or egalitarianism, where outcomes that benefit the worst off, or that promote a more equal distribution of resources, are favored not because intrinsic value is placed on priority or equality, but instead because following these principles generally produces better outcomes.

The first and most commonly discussed dimension of variation concerns the relative moral weight accorded to suffering and happiness. Standard NU may be regarded as a "strong" form of NU, holding that no amount of happiness can ever count for more than any amount of suffering. By contrast, "weak" versions of NU hold instead that a given quantity of suffering counts for more than a corresponding quantity of happiness, but accept that large enough quantities of happiness can in principle outweigh any quantity of suffering (Griffin 1979; Arrhenius & Bykvist 1995; Ord ; Knutsson 2019: 1). Strong NU views may be further subdivided into lexical NU and absolute NU, which either affirm or deny, respectivelyrespectively, that happiness counts for something (Ord 2013: 2). On strong lexical NU, of two outcomes equally unpleasant, one counts for more than the other if it is the more pleasant of the two; whereas on absolute strong NU both outcomes count equally. Between strong lexical NU and weak NU, there is room for an intermediate or hybrid form of NU, sometimes called lexical threshold NU (Ord 2013: 3; Tomasik 2013), according to which there is some amount of suffering that no amount of happiness can outweigh, but otherwise suffering can be outweighed by a large enough amount of happiness.