U and I

The odd thing about utilitarianism is that what makes it most attractive is also what makes it most implausible. It seems good to require impartiality, so that no one is treated as privileged in making a moral decision–hence U doesn’t discriminate with respect to whose happiness is maximized. But this very feature of the theory is what leads to its hyperbolic demandingness–as when it obliges us to give away all our money to charity and neglect our own children in order to benefit remote individuals. The altruistic aspect of U comports well with the intuitive content of morality, but the slide into excessive altruism is immediate. To prevent this, we have to insist on partiality, but then we are back discriminating against certain people. Stressing special relationships quickly leads to favoring our own tribe at the expense of others. It’s either demandingness or discrimination.

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