Friday, May 19, 2006

Indirect? Utilitarianism

Richard looks at indirect utilitarianism
Usually indirect utilitarianism sounds like rule utilitarianism - richard explains how it is beter to follow rules than to try direct utility calculations repeatedly BUT apparently

"I don't think I.U. is the same as Rule Util...
If it's true that there are situations where, faced with subjective evidence E, we are transparently in a position to reliably employ direct utility calculations, then this will be included in the globally optimal strategy! The best rules will include one to the effect that "If you find yourself in situation E, then ignore the other rules and directly maximize utility!""

Sounds amazingly like act utilitarianism to me. It seems od that utilitarians owuld be so eager to surrender the term “utilitarianism” to an incorrect/intellectually deficient belief of how it might be applied.

Anyway first are my objections to rule/indirect utilitarianism

1) I am very concerned that indirect utilitarianism or rule utilitarianism might be used as a "cop out" (which, actually, I propose is usually the case). For example the person might want to excuse the fact they don’t act in a utilitarian manner so they might find a set of reasonable rules they live by and declare them the indirect rules.
this is reflected in me hearing utilitarians saying "I dont apply utilitarianism in my life - but maybe that is a good thing because I'm a rule/indirect utilitarian". Of particualr interest is their assumption that their unguided behaviour with little consideration for utility is almost ideal!

I think it obscures some of the most important topics there are. And I think these questions are valid from all moral perspectives.

Related to this is that much of the debate on morals is treated by people already as a debate over what general rules people can live by - taking it a level higher potentially leaves even the philosophers to give the details lip service.

It seems like a staw man is being set up regarding act and even rule utilitarianism to seperate them.
First lets be clear that we are jsut talking about a subset of actiosn that this will apply to - fundimentally you can't apply a moral calculation (or a rule) to every action, some things you will just do instinctively or selfishly or from habit, so we must be talking about some sub set of actions that we will control.
1) Calculations and rules must be combined – it is nonsense to imagine you would reinvent yourself every time you had a thought (that just wouldn’t work) or that you would mindlessly obey rules without some sort of analysis – at a bare minimum which of some pre prepared rules were appropriate.
a) you could say that any algorithm is a rule but then you have merged the forms of utilitarianism.
2) If we do divide the algorithm into rules and calculations and admit that people are using a combination of both and are debating how that should be shared then there is a question as to how this works
a) does an individual apply calculations from day to day which then are used to form templates and rules?
b) Do they create rules and at some point declare them fixed in order to work on other rules?
How it should be done?
3) Clearly we can say it is easier to follow a reverse justified set of rules
but it may be (I can think of some reasons why it probably is) harder to get marginally better utility out of following theoretically justified rules as compared to utility calculations.
a) Applying calculations takes effort - but so does applying rules where those rules differ from normal actions. It is debatable which will be easier because some rules might make that easier but then again so might some utility calculation algorithms. (e.g. a rule may well conflict with normal behavior more often than a calculation)

finally, if we accept there isa difference then for a utilitarian the bottom line is - does trying to be an act utilitarian or an indirect utilitarianism improve this system?
and from a strategy point of view - is the debate about marginal improvement or is it about who’s dogmatic position is closer to the happy middle?


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