The epistemic and informational requirements of utilitarianism

Breakey, Hugh (2009) The epistemic and informational requirements of utilitarianism. Utilitas, 21 1: 72-99. doi:10.1017/S0953820808003373

Author Breakey, Hugh
Title The epistemic and informational requirements of utilitarianism
Journal name Utilitas   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0953-8208
Publication date 2009-03
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1017/S0953820808003373
Volume 21
Issue 1
Start page 72
End page 99
Total pages 28
Editor Paul Kelly
Place of publication United Kingdom
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Collection year 2010
Language eng
Subject C1
220305 Ethical Theory
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 partly 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 to bridge 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.
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: 2010 Higher Education Research Data Collection
School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 2 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
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Created: Thu, 12 Nov 2009, 11:59:45 EST by Mr Andrew Martlew on behalf of School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry