11 Comments
Dec 10, 2021Liked by Sam Atis

sounds like maximising sum(log(utility)) - seems entirely reasonable. Really this is just utlitarianism with a different utility function though, no?

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It's just assigning extra weight to utility given to worse-off individuals. Whether this is sufficiently distinct from utilitarianism to constitute something different to utilitarianism is, I suppose, debatable. But it isn't accepted by most utilitarians.

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I think that you haven't defined utility. You say there is some number called utility, but don't say what it is. Making "let’s assume that the utility gain for the gifted son from living in the suburbs would be larger than the utility gain for the disabled son from living in the city." A meaningless sentence.

Then your brain tries to ignore that sentence, and evaluate how you actually care about the situation.

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Dec 10, 2021Liked by Sam Atis

Nice writeup! Though I think the phrase "priority to the worst off" can lead astray, or at least confuse between prioritarianism and some ideas in Rawls' difference principle and the adjacent idea of leximin. I think a better oneliner to catch the core of prioritarianism as "the lower someone's present wellbeing is the better it is to make it go up one unit of wellbeing".

Worth mentioning also that some of the intuitions that prioritarians often draw on in discussions with utilitarians can also be appealed to by other alternative views. One could say that prioritarianism is only one among several options among the family of views called suffering focused ethics. Magnus Vinding's book is the best overview there https://magnusvinding.com/2020/05/31/suffering-focused-ethics-defense-and-implications/

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Super useful comment, thanks.

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I’ll definitely check out the Vindig book.

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fyi, in the first half of this post I set out an objection to the priority view, and suggest an alternative form of utilitarianism that can secure the same verdicts without the theoretical cost:

https://rychappell.substack.com/p/priority-and-aggregation

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Are you always prioritizing the worse off, or just applying different weights to them? For instance, if the happy friend got 1000 utils and the depressed friend got 1 util, would you still go for the depressed one? If not, if you are just applying different weights to them, then you don't deal with the utility monster objection. You just have to increase the gains of the monster, potentially making the monster exponentially happier, as in the more utility they have, the more utility they gain from actions.

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but they are both maximising the utility gain: one the absolute value (i.e. 10 over 5), the other the relative value (i.e. 5/z1 over 10/z2, where 2 * z1 < z2)

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"Nagel’s view is this: if you say that you would live in the city for the sake of your disabled son, despite it being the case that moving to the city creates more utility in total, you are not a utilitarian (at least in all circumstances), but rather an egalitarian."

Did you mean to write that moving to the suburbs creates more utility in total?

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Unless these thought experiments consider the circumstances of the individual making the decision, it doesn’t actually reflect anything useful. One might select “living in the city” because going to the hospital so often is a major pain in the posterior, which living in the suburbs would only exacerbate. Any gain or loss regarding utility/etc where the children are concerned is incidental, and drawing conclusions about egalitarianism in that case is a serious error.

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