Sago Boulevard

Monday, July 25, 2005

Utilitarian Silliness

I've been following the parentalism-utilitarian debate with some interest that began with Julian Sanchez's Reason article. Even if one is simpathetic to some utilitarian arguments, Brad DeLong's response is less than convincing: "My mind explodes when I read Julian's command to "'take as least as much satisfaction in the feeling of responsibility for our choices, in knowing that we have shaped a life that is ours even when we have chosen badly.'" Will Wilkinson suggests that
Maybe it would be helpful for DeLong if he were not to think like this:
(1) X is valuable iff X is a pleasurable mental state. (Axiom!)
(2) Someone just said A is valuable.
(3) But A isn't a pleasurable mental state!
Therefore,
(4) Head explodes. Aghh!

What he means is, as he spells out in his next paragraph, that (1) isn't obviously true. It may in fact even be false! I think Wilkinson is right that "something like autonomy or self-governance, or maybe existential self-creation, is valuable for its own sake."