The Epistemic and Informational Requirements of Utilitarianism

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Title The Epistemic and Informational Requirements of Utilitarianism
Author Breakey, Hugh Edmond
Journal Name Utilitas
Year Published 2009
Place of publication United Kingdom
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Abstract A recurring objection confronting utilitarianism is that its dictates require information that lies beyond the bounds of human epistemic wherewithal. Utilitarians require reliable knowledge of the social consequences of various policies, and of people's preferences and utilities. Agreeing partway with the sceptics, I concur that the general rules-of-thumb offered by social science do not provide sufficient justification for the utilitarian legislator to rationally recommend a particular political regime, such as liberalism. Actual data about human preference-structures and utilities is required tobridge this evidentiary gap. I offer two arguments to support the availability of such information. First, I contend that ordinary human beings have a clear method of epistemic access to reliable information about commensurable preference-structures. Second, in an attempt to shift the onus of philosophic argument, I show that the utilitarian legislator's requirements do not differ in kind from those implicitly called upon by the sceptical deontic liberal.
Peer Reviewed Yes
Published Yes
Alternative URI http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0953820808003373
Copyright Statement Copyright 2009 International Society for Utilitarian Studies. The attached file is reproduced here in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal's website for access to the definitive, published version.
Volume 21
Issue Number 1
Page from 72
Page to 99
ISSN 0953-8208
Date Accessioned 2011-06-20
Date Available 2011-08-29T05:57:25Z
Language en_AU
Research Centre Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance
Faculty Arts, Education and Law
Subject Ethical Theory
URI http://hdl.handle.net/10072/40425
Publication Type Journal Articles (Refereed Article)
Publication Type Code c1x

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