Obs: this is only a first VERY ROUGH & NON- CORRECTED draft trying to show the utilitarian foundation of ethics! The English was not corrected.
The most discussed sub-domain of practical philosophy is ethics (or moral theory). In general, ethics is concerned with a system of precepts envisaging the maximization of the common well-being by human action.
Normally, the good intention of the agent leads to a good action, which leads to good consequences, while his bad intention should lead to a bad action and a bad consequence... This justifies the historical existence of three groups of ethical theories. First, there is the ethics of virtues, finding the source of moral value in the moral qualities of the agents and their good intentions. Second, there is the deontological ethics, which finds the source of moral value in moral rules instantiated in the agent’s actions. Third, there is the consequentialist ethics, which finds the source of moral value in the good consequences of such actions.
The moral views of philosophers of Antiquity like Platon and Aristotle focused on virtues. For them, the important thing is the virtue because if you become a virtuous person, you will automatically do good things. For Aristotle, things have proper functions. Human beings are rational animals. The proper function of human beings is not only to grow and reproduce as animals but also to be rational and socially virtuous human beings. For this goal, nature has built into us the desire to be virtuous. But what means to be virtuous? Aristotle understood virtue as the golden mean – the midpoint – between two extremes. Take, for instance, the courage. Courage is a virtue because it is the golden mean between cowardness and recklessness. Generosity is also a virtue, since it is the golden mean between stinginess and prodigality. What the golden mean means depends on the circumstances.
According to Aristotle, a virtue is like the hability to throw darts at the target; it can be developed. A person’s character can be developed by habituation and imitation of exemplary characters. If you are virtuous, you can achieve eudaimonia, which is the ideal of humanity. Eudaimonia is the flourishing of a human life. It is a life of human achievements; a life of accomplishments in which a person is the best he could be. Finally, it is easy to understand why the Greeks were not very much concerned with rules of action and their consequences. They had a society of customs admonished by their gods. They didn’t feel very much the need to questioning their rules or the consequences of this.
Deontological ethics focuses on the rules exemplified in actions. These ethics were typical of our Judeo-Christian monotheism, from the Middle Ages to modernity. The Ten Commandments are a rough example of deontological ethics. Kant’s categorical imperative, building a meta-rule as a method to know what maxims exemplified in actions should be followed is also essentially deontological. His principle of universalizability is a meta-rule according to which the maxim exemplified by an action is legitim as far as it can be universalized. For instance, the maxim instantiated in “She kept her promise” can be universalized as “All people should keep their promises”. This legitimates the moral rule of keeping promises, since it would be desirable that all people are trustful. By another formulation of his categoric imperative persons have the duty not to use the humanity of themselves or of others merely as means to achieve some end, since they must respect the integrity of other human beings. Thus, you can use the humanity of the taxi driver to bring you to the local you wish, but in this case, you are not using him only as an end and vice-versa. However, neither you nor the taxi-driver can abuse these prerogatives.
The problem with these deontological rules is that they are not enough flexible to take account of the many exceptions. There is a famous (or infamous) attempt made by Kant to prove that one should not lie under any circumstances, once lying cannot be universalized. In its actualized version this example would be: suppose you were in Nazi Germany and you have hidden a jew in your home. One day a Nazi official comes to your home asking if you have hidden someone. According to Kant, you should still tell the truth since if you lie and your protected person escapes through a window and afterwards the official kills him, you will be responsible not only for the killing of an innocent person, but also for transgressing the holy principle of generalizability. Moreover, it seems that by lying you would not be treating the Nazi official also as an end in itself, but merely as a mean...
Nietzsche was the great philosopher who dedicated his work to the criticism of the judeo-christian morality and in this way, indirectly, also to criticize deontological ethics. As I tried to show in few words, deontology finds its limits in vagueness, arbitrariness and lack of flexibility of its rules. Even if only unconsciously, we still live in a world shaped by the Judeo-Christian-Mohamedhan monotheism, and it is difficult to change a paradigm when we are still inside it. As I intend to show later, the rule-utilitarianism is the best way to preserve the advantages of the deontological ethics without falling pray to its disadvantages. Because of this I agree with John Searle as he said: “The cathegorical imperative is a hippopotamus, death since long time, circled by very intelligent people who try to resuscitate him by means of mouth-to-mouth respiration.”
The third kind of ethics is the consequentialism, according to which what the good or bad consequences of an action are the fundamental measure of its value.
There are three forms of consequentialism: ethical egoism, ethical altruism, and utilitarianism. The first two are problematic. Ethical egoism means that each agent must do the best for himself, notwithstanding the consequences for the others. Only a few philosophers came near to this view. The problem with ethical egoism is that it leaves no room for things that we value very much like love, friendship, loyalty, compassion. How could people be happy without these things? How could people worry about the future of the planet if only their selves count? How could people have confidence in the promises of a politician? In the worst case, a world of ethical egoists would be a world of nefarious persons, as we find in some penal institutions. In the best case, it would be a world full of rules forbidding actions, perhaps established by a strong sovereign, able to organize the villans for the benefit of himself.
Altruism would also have its misfits. It would only be possible in a world of altruist persons, once in a mixed world they would be cracked down by the less altruists. Closed societies like that of the Amishes have some proximity to an altruist society. However, they must pay a price in terms of the renunciation to personal freedom of choice.
By far, the most plausible form of consequentialism is utilitarianism. According to utilitarianism, the right action is the action that has as consequence the best for all people involved, including the agent. The most popular form of utilitarianism is hedonistic. According to the hedonist utilitarianism, the ethical good resides in the pleasurable consequences of action, while its opposite, the bad, is the painful consequence (understanding pleasure and pain in the broadest possible sense, which includes any kind of pleasure and suffering). As Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) famously wrote:
Nature has placed Mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.
This seems to be a fundamental truth. Some moral philosophers have denied this, arguing that pleasure and pain are neither the most worthful nor the most important things in life. There are other worthful things like knowledge, justice, beauty, freedom… However, hedonists like Bentham have seen that only pleasure and pain are intrinsically good and bad respectively. Things like knowledge, justice, beauty, and freedom are extrinsically good since they are ‘instrumental’ goods for the achievement of the intrinsically good, which is happiness, and happiness is nothing but the predominance of pleasure resulting from the good life.
A deep reason for the denial of hedonist utilitarianism would be prejudices, like the anti-hedonist bias incentived by the great monotheistic religions that have dominated our western civilization. It is reasonable to think that some people hold a biased view of life, hyposthasizing certain values in a dogmatic way, so that they can hold them without submitting them to rational scrutiny in order to withstand criticism. A hermit who lives alone believing that suffering purifies the soul can exemplify this point. The denial of hedonism is frequent, affecting even sophisticated people.
There are two forms of utilitarian hedonism: act-utilitarianism and rule-utilitarianism. Act-utilitarianism focuses on individual actions. Its general principle is that a good action must maximize pleasure and/or minimize pain to all people that can be involved. Jeremy Bentham, following Francis Hutcheson, has formulated the utilitarian principle by saying that:
The right action should lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number...
In some cases, this is very reasonable. If you wish to buy drinks for a dinner and your guests like red wine, you buy red wine, even if your personal preference is for white wine (maybe you buy both).
Utilitarians like Bentham have developed a hedonist calculation, constituted by a balance between the pleasures and pains caused by each alternative action and then choosing the action that would give the most positive balance. It is important to consider each dimension of the value:
1) intensity (how strong is a pleasure),
2) duration (how much time they take),
3) certainty (how probable they are to happen),
4) proximity (how much proxy is the effect to the action in time and space),
5) purity (the chance an action has of not being followed by sensations of the opposite kind),
6) fecundity (the chance the action has of being followed by sensations of the same kind: pleasure with pleasure, pain with pain), and
7) extension (how many people will be affected).
To explain these dimensions: food and, particularly, sex, can be intensely pleasurable, and this pleasure is certain and proximal, but the duration isn’t so great; they are impure in the sense that they can bring pain (too much food generates sickness and with the time endanger health, sex can be viciating). Moreover, there is not much fecundity involved, since in excess they can be damaging. Classical literature and music, on the contrary, often do not produce the same intense pleasure, but this pleasure has fecundity, amplifying our understanding of the human world and leading us to other sources of aesthetic and non-aesthetic pleasure. Faust was only able to utter the sentence “stay forever!” (“Verweile doch, du bist so schön”) as he did something able to produce enduring pleasure for many others. Moreover, proximity in space and time is important. The utilitarian should try to do the best, first for those nearer to him in space because he knows better what is better for them, and secondarily for those who are distant and unknown. And considering the proximity in time, one should do the best for the proximal future and less for the more distant future. Probability (degree of certainty) is also important here, since actions aiming the future are less certain. People like Lenin and Trotsky, for instance, have convinced themselves that they would produce the paradise on earth only to bring their country to the gates of the hell.
This version of utilitarianism is called act utilitarianism. John Stuart Mill adapted it in order to protect it from the objection that this would lead us to a pig’s ethics since it seems to bring about the result that a world of satisfied pigs would be morally better than a world of unhappy philosophers. Against this, he distinguished two categories of pleasure: the lower and the higher. The first ones are bodily and physical, while the second ones are aesthetic, intellectual and cultural, like the intelligent conversation, the learning of a science, the appreciation of arts. This last category of pleasure has for Mill more value and should be preferred. It has the nobleness and human dignity that animals lack. This explains why we have more care and consideration to human beings than to the animals: the last ones are only able to lower pleasures. Because of this, one would prefer to live a short unhappy life as a human being than a thousand years’ life as an oyster…
Although it is to me obvious that there are higher and lower pleasures, it is not in my view a qualitative distinction able to explain why the first ones are more valuable. Defending Bentham, we could argue that the so-called superior pleasures have more value than the lower ones simply by the fact that they satisfy better the dimensions already considered by him. Think about the wrecked and short life of many sensualist people who lived only to satisfy lower pleasures. Consider that the pleasures obtained by the knowledge of arts, philosophy and sciences might even protect and prolong the life, satisfying conditions like purity, fecundity, and extension much more than the others. When we take into consideration what these conditions in the end mean, Mill’s distinction loss its categorical appearance. On the other hand, how many would in fact prefer to live a short miserable life of wisdom than a long happy life as an idiot? And how many would not prefer to be an oyster living a thousand years than to be a human being condemned to a short and painful life?
Against ethical hedonism, Robert Nozick imagined a pleasure machine, able to give the person a life of all conceivable pleasures given by direct stimulation of their brains. Nozik suggests that we would prefer to live in the real world and not in the world of the pleasure machine. Others have contested this example, considering that the answer would be dependent on circumstances that remained implicit. Indeed, under the warrant that the machine would work without the possibility of error and the awareness that the life outside will be full of miseries, many would chose to live in the pleasure machine (anti-depressives and drugs are chemical pleasure-machines and religious sects and psychoanalysts are masters in the construction of imaginary pleasure-machines).
To make clear that higher pleasures are not necessarily preferable, suppose that you had only two alternatives:
Alternative (A) You would live your life in a room having all the time the best conceivable orgasmic sex (in a level comparable to injections of heroin) and the best food, without any fear of pain or being in this way endangering your life (what means: the pleasures would be pure). Together with this, you would would receive an info that would make you immune to higher pleasures.
Alternative (B): You would live in the room of a monastery, but now vaccinated against any sexual desire or any special tastes for good food and any low pleasure, but with all possibilities of having superior pleasures, along with their expected purity and fecundity.
Assuming that you will live a warranted good life for the same extension of time and that no choice will be in any way harmful for your health, what alternative would you choose? I myself (assuming the given guarantee) would choose the first alternative. I would choose the first not as much because of its higher intensity and lack of pain, but also because I doubt the possibility of having very high pleasures without the capacities for the lower ones. If my preference (certainly unconceivable for a Victorian like Mill, with very poor sensual experience) is the most reasonable, even if there is no preference, then there is no greater intrinsic value belonging to the superior pleasures.
Concerning our difference with animals, the case is more complicated. Things like dignity, which only humans have, protect our well-being and therefore the happiness by their fecundity and purity. Moreover, we avaliate the life of human beings more than than animals because men are able not only to lower, but also to higher pleasures…
Things are made complicated by the fact that not all other people are utilitarians. It makes no sense to be a utilitarian in a society of ethical egoists, each one searching for the well-being of him- or herself and disconsidering the well-being of others. Treating ethical egoists in accordance with utilitarian principle would be naïve and counterproductive. It would be socially prejudicial, increasing the total unhappiness. Moreover, we are all to a greater or less extent different, what means that we could apply the hedonist calculus in different ways, what does not make moral judgment anything easier. Anyway, it is when we are under similar moral expectations that moral agreement comes to the fore. If we see that we are able to increase the total happiness by following some reciprocally accepted rules, and being consciously or unconsciously utilitarians we make the mutual promise to follow them, we arise to what is called contractualist ethics. Our moral contracts need to be based on reason, and reason is based on the maximization of utility. Contractualism assumes utilitarianism.
Another objection is that good action can have further effects that are bad. If in 1938 one saves a person to drown and this person is Hitler, who will be later responsible for the death of 56 million persons, the ultimate consequence of the action is very bad. It suggests that in order to evaluate an action we should consider not the actual consequences, but the foreseeable consequences…
The answer, however, is not difficult. The limits of the action are the limits of the intention associated with the action. The fact that the person was Hitler or that he would be responsible for the Second World War was fully outside the intention that led the person to the action. Consequently, the act of saving him, though not very good, could not be measured by these posterior terrible effects. That the person will be responsible for the death of 56 million human beings is far distant from the narrow limits of the intention of saving a person who is drawing, even if this person was Hitler.
There are also the cases of actions intended as good but that lead to bad consequences. This is the case of a physician who doing his best accidentally causes the death of his patient. We should distinguish the goodness of the person, which is evaluated by his good intention, from the goodness of the action, which is evaluated by its consequences. The action was bad because the consequence was bad; but the person had a good intention, what indicates his goodness.
Nonetheless, act-utilitarianism alone is a deeply wrong doctrine. There is a number of serious objections to act-utilitarianism, which makes it in the end indefensible. It can have terrible consequences, it is too onerous, and it is disconcerned with special duties. The examples seem to speak for themselves:
1) A utilitarian judge knows that if he liberates a small thief that should be condemned to a year of prision he will make the not only the thief happy, but also his family, shorting the costs of the imprisionment. It seems that the utilitarian advantage of letting the thief out would be greater.
2) A utilitarian surgeon has four patients that need transplantation: one of the hearth, the other of kidneys, a third of liver, and a fourth of lungs. There is a patient who has only a feverish cold and whose organs are perfectly compatible with the needs of each of the four patients. Consequently, it would be correct that the surgeon sacrifices the life of the last patient in order to save the lives of the four other patients since he would by this means increase the happiness in the world.
3) The ten thousand people in the Roman circus have a huge happiness in seeing some Christians being eaten alive by the lions (without counting the happiness of the lions, who are also sentient beings and according to Bentham subjects to moral judgment).
4) Another case is that of a utilitarian rich man who should donate most of his fortune in order to increase the general happiness.
5) A good utilitarian should work all the time without rest for the benefit of the humanity.
6) A father should do what is the best to all the children more than what is the best to his own children at first place.
6) Five utilitarians are lost in a lifeboat. They are dying of starvation. Always when the situation turns critical the utilitarian who is nearest to his death is sacrificed by the others so that the chance that some utilitarian survive and be rescued increases.
7) Jim is on a botanical expedition in South America when he happens upon a group of twenty indigenous people and a group of soldiers. The whole indigenous group is about to be executed for protesting their oppressive regime. For some reason, the leader of the soldiers offers Jim the chance to give the first shot. The leader says to Jim that if he does it he will let the 19 remaining Indians go. Otherwise all the 20 will be shot. According to act-utilitarianism, assuming that Jim is no Indiana Jones, he should shot someone.
There are many counterexamples like these. They make us doubt if act-utilitarianism as able to furnishing a general rule of action. There is, however, a strategy that might be able to save utilitarianism from most if not from all objections. It is what we may call a two-tiered utilitarianism, a version of this once proposed by R. M. Hare, but whose implicit origins can be traced back even to Mill and Bentham. The idea is that we should combine act-utilitarianism with rule-utilitarianism. We can understand rule-utilitarianism as a theory according to which we should be act in accordance with a system of rules that increases the happiness and/or minimize the unhappiness of the greatest number of persons. Indeed, in most of our actions with moral implications, we do not apply any act-utilitarian calculations; we simply follow already existent explicit or implicitly or, in any way, easily deductible conventions. We do it because we are unable to know the complexity of their effects and we would not be able to make sense of our actions in society without knowing what to expect as reactions from others. Therefore, we follow those rules that society would agree and that have proved themselves to maximize the utility by promoting the higher amount of social happiness. These rules are full of exceptions that are also explicitly or implicitly known by us. A rule like “You should not kill” is excessively poor to cover many exceptions. Trying to complement it, we could state the rule as: “You should not kill, except in self-defense, except if it is to protect the life of innocent people, except in the case you are a soldier fighting in a just, inevitable war…” Consequently, the form of these rules is “You should do (or not do) X, except in the circumstances C1, C2… Cn”. It is true that there is no limit to the sub-rules added to the main rule, but usually, insofar as we know the system, we can intuitively (that is, using utilitarian shoes) derive them.
Sometimes there is a conflict between the rules. If Mary is a physician and she stops her car in a forbidden place in order to attend a man who had a heart attack, it is clear that the rule that one should not be parking in a forbidden place is overridden by the rule that one should try to save the life o someone in risk of life. Still here the reason is utilitarian: one weight more heavily the rule that says that one should save the life of people than the rule that one should not produce disturbance by stopping a car in a forbidden place, since we feel that the first rule maximize happiness more than the second one. This is not as the case of breaking a rule without a serious reason since this would give the right of any other to break them also, what would endanger the whole system or relevant sub-system. – A society could not work efficiently without the observation of its system of moral rules.
Concerning the case (1) of the judge, our conclusion is that there should be rules like “A judge should not hide evidences that could influence his judgement”. Our trust in the word of the judges is based on rules like that.
Te assumption that the normal moral tire must be rule-utilitarianism disarms the case (2) of the utilitarian chirurgeon. The implicit rule is: (i) “one should not sacrifice the health of a person to increase the health of others.” This rule brings more happiness to more people, for example, it prevents the commerce of organs. Moreover, imagine who would have the courage to let be interned in a hospital knowing that he could be arbitrarily harmed for the benefit of other patients! Our certainty that physicians follow this rule increases the general happiness.
Rule utilitarianism also answers the problem (3) of the Roman circus. There should be a rule (i) according to which “The happiness of a person arbitrarily produced by the unhappiness of other persons should not be allowed”. Following this rule would produce greater happiness for the majority since it would break the production of arbitrary unhappiness overall.
However, the Romans could accept rule (i) without seeing it as deterring the functioning of their sadist spectacles, since the killing of Christians was for them seen as a non-arbitrary deterrence of the evil. Would then be it moral? From their perspective yes, though obviously not from our own moral perspective.
It is worth to notice that pleasures are to a great extension culture-relative. This means that hedonist utilitarianism must be relativized to a culture, even if we agree that cultures are not relativizable among them. For the Romans, as for the people in the Middle Ages, to see people suffering could be a source of pleasure, and spectacles of public torture of condemned were for them morally justified. For us, these spectacles are repugnant. We live in a world where technology and knowledge have made possible a very meaningful incrementation of moral values.
Consider, to give another example, the case of slavery. During the ancient times, it was certainly unavoidable: a nation without slavery would be soon itself enslaved by other competing nations. In the present world we have the material conditions for more social justice. Esclavery would not only be unnecessary but would produce an increase of general unhappiness, diminishing utility. To accept these historical facts does not bring us to relativism since we can say that these old civilizations could only sustain themselves under the hardness of lower moral standards.
It should be seen as a fact that some degree of injustice is for utilitarian reasons inevitable. Under the Romans there were the punition of decimation: one under ten soldiers should be randomically punished with death in the case of a severe indiscipline committed by the legion. This barbarous procedure was accepted as a minor bad. Today we have efficient penal systems, but where is justice there is also the possibility of judicial error: the possibility of a judicial error is always present, though we would agree that it is better to accept this possibility than to have a faulty kind of justice. The unavoidableness of the bad is often artistically articulated, as in Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, which celebrates a rite of pagan Russia, in which a maiden should be sacrificed in order to propitiate the wonder of the spring.
This also solves the problems (4) and (5). We do not wish that the rich man donates his fortune (assuming that he has reached it by honest means) as far as we recognize that he deserves what he has achieved and because he has the capacity to invest money in a reasonable way for the benefit of the majority. Because of this, we agree that it can be immoral or insensible that one does not donate his money more than it is reasonable. The second is that we do not wish that utilitarians work until exhaustion, because this would increase general unhappiness. Laws forbidding extra-hours work are there in order to satisfy similar aims.
Moreover, rule-utilitarianism solves the problem of impartiality created by act-utilitarianism. Often our search for well-being is partial and necessarily so. We take care of our family more than of strangers, of our children more than of the others, of our fellow people more than of the others. This partiality of behavior is not only expected but it promotes a kind of “division of work” that provides for the general well-being, remaining beyond consideration only for pure act-utilitarianism.
Case (6) is caricatural. Anyway, there are reports of occurrences like that, as the case of the four sea-men that after the naufrage of their ship and many days of hunger and thirst in a small saving-boat turned themselves into act-utilitarians. They decided to kill the weakest fellow who was indeed almost death in order to survive eating his body and drinking his blod for the next four days, when they were rescued. It is true that without this they would probably not survive, but one can ask if they should at least wait until the weakest fellow die… Indeed, a case of cannibalism without killing was that of the rugby team that survived the plane crash on a desert glacier in the Andes in 1972. They survived for more than two months eating the bodies of their death fellows in order to survive. Shortly after the crash, the Catholic Church announced that according to the religiose doctrine they had committed a sin by eating the flesh of the death. This only highlights the inflexibility of the deontological rules based on “God’s commandment” or “pure reason”. However, two-tiered utilitarians would explain that there would be no alternative in such particular circumstance – in two and half months they would all die of starvation. There are extreme cases in which utilitarian rules preventing acts like murder and cannibalism are to be withdrawn. Here I agree with Nietzsche: what prevents many people to accept these exceptions is the load of two thousand years of Christian deontology.
Case (7) is our final example. Jim is in a situation in which he must actively break the moral rule of not killing innocent people. Assuming that he is no Indiana Jones and that there is no alternative to choose in order to save the major quantity of lives possible, he would be right in killing one innocent Indian. Many of us would not have the courage to do it, but this has nothing to do with the fact that Jim should do it in order to save the lives of 19 Indians.
The observance of moral rules is important because our social mechanism is dependent on it: it generates trust and allows cooperative action. Without the cooperation generated by these rules, no social life would be possible. Moreover, the maximization calculi are complex, disputable and time-consuming. We could not cope with normal social life if we should make a utilitarian calculus each time we bought a bread in the bakery.
However, there are situations in which it is clearly advantageous end even necessary to make ourselves act-utilitarians. These are at least the cases when (i) there are no rules, and (ii) the utilitarian advantages of breaking the rules would be so great that they overthrow the disadvantages of breaking with the system of rules.
Exemplifying the case (i) there is the construction of a barrage to retain the water that falls from the mountains always when tempests occur, destroying houses and plantations. There is no rule in sight, but it is clear to all inhabitants of the region that it would bring more happiness to the great majority, even if this should mean the removal of the people living in the small village at the center of the place. After all, these people will receive a compensation. Act utilitarian choice in circumstances when there is no rule are common.
Concerning the case (ii), we can consider cases like that of the innocent dick man who leads seven others in a cave at the shore at the level of the water. Since the tide is growing and the level of the water is growing, the cave will be soon full of water. As he tries to get out through the only hole that can lead the people outside the cave, he get stuck in the hole and can neither go outside neither come back. If this situation remains for long all the seven people will drawn. Luckely, one of them has a dynamite`s banane with him, and they are able to explode the hole together with the innocent dick man and in this way save themselves. The action would be immoral if we think deontologically that lifes of innocent people are sacred under any circumstance. However, the action is correct and it is even a moral obligation from the utilitarian point of view, since it would be a sign of moral weakness not to explode the dynamite. This case is not essentially different from cases (6) and (7). According to the two-tiered utilitarianism, the advantage of breaking the rule is in this and similar cases so great that the involved persons must forget the rule-utilitarian rule according to which we should respect the life of an innocent person and turn themselves to the second tire: the act utilitarianism. They should calculate what action maximizes utility, that is, diminish the pain for the most people in a way similar to that proposed by Bentham.
Most cases are easy to identify. However, consider Feynman`s rule of active irresponsibility: “do what only you are prepared to do and let for the others to do the work that they also can do”. This was the maxim used by this physicist in order to economize time. In doing this, he followed a personal utilitarian rule that was not inscribed in the university institution. Non-utilitarians would complain that this is immoral.
There are difficult cases in which breaking the rules would be for many immoral. Consider the case of the painter Paul Gauguin, who abandoned his woman with five children in France and went to the Pacific islands searching for inspiration in a more natural human world. Some would say that it was immoral to break the rules of marriage in such an irresponsible way since he caused harm to his family. However, when we think about the new world discovered by his art, and the fact that these admirable discoveries were posthumously shared to the world, giving pleasure to many further generations, we see that he was right in breaking the rules. The compensation in form of collective happiness was in the long run much greater than the harm that he could have caused to his family and I guess that he was aware of this. Real artists might have a moral bonus concerning the responsibility for their actions, even if this prerogative is easily exaggerated. This example can give us a glimpse into the difficulties that are involved in judging the morality of a person’s decision by inside.
The two-tiered utilitarianism helps us to understand the extensional limits of act utilitarianism. We do not need to worry about the happiness of people in an unknown planet of a distant Galaxy as well as we should not worry about the life of uncontacted Indians who live in a forest unrelated to the world outside. The reason is that we do not know anything about their system of values and we do not have the right to project our system of rules to them under the danger of promoting unhappiness. They might be even happier than we are through the oblibion of living within they autoctone culture and outside any contact with our civilization.
I can summarize my point so: our intention to follow the rule-utilitarian system or even to override it by means of act-utilitarian actions can be extended only to the limits of the system of rules within which we are acting. If we find reasons to break with our system of rules, this gives us no reason to break with a completely different, unknown system. We should simply let it outside our concerns.
There are also some additions to what I have said until now. One of them is that pain (in a broad sense) seems to have a heavier value than pleasure: with exception of masochists, we refrain to feel pain mixed with equal amount of pleasure. Hence, we should not do something that spreads pain with a surplus of pleasure unless our fellows were a bunch of masochists.
Moreover, there is the clever objection that rule-utilitarianism collapses into act-utilitarianism. The argument, which seems particularly applicable to two-tiered utilitarianism, runs as follows: The form of our rules is: “Do x (or not x), unless x (or not x) does not maximize utility”. However, this is the same as “Do always whatever maximizes utility”.
However, two-tired utilitarianism has a very reasonable answer to this objection. It is necessary a particularly strong utilitarian justification for disavowing a utilitarian rule. It is not fell as correct, for instance, to jump a queue, even if you have something you believe is more important to do. It is also not correct that a judge releases an already small theft, only because he knows that his family needs him and that this will maximize happiness. The ground is that if you break rules for unimportant reasons you are jeopardizing the trust people should have in the system of rules. And, as John Hospers noted, there is nothing more demoralizing than the corruption of laws through the people who should apply them.
Thus, we shall not break the rules only because of small utilitarian advantages. We should do this only in extreme cases, when the utilitarian advantages greatly surpass the disadvantages of demoralizing the system of rules. And we should do this by creating new consensual means, when the reality shows that it is necessary to change some rules of the system in order to adapt it to the changing reality, what is often the case.
The conclusion seems to be that a two-tiered hedonist utilitarianism is the best and the most fundamental ethical theory. What makes things complicated is the unavoidable fact that its application always demands an examination of the concrete circumstances involved. These circumstances can make the ethical praxis much more complex than the utilitarian principles are able to foreseen.
Finally, what to think when we compare the two-tired utilitarianism with the deontological ethics and the ethics of virtues? The answer is that the rules exemplified in the action and the ethics of virtue must be subordinated to utilitarians ends. The deontology gives way to rule-utilitarianism. If the ten commandments and the categorical imperative have a value – and I believe they have – then they need to lose their absolute status and be seen as rule-utilitarian rules. And the virtues are virtues only insofar as in the majority of their application they contribute to maximizing utility. This explains why virtues are changeable according to times and circumstances. McIntyre noticed this point. In the Homeric Greece, pure physical force was considered a virtue. During the beginning of Christianity piety and selflessness were great virtues. According to McIntyre, in the XIII Century, for Jane Austen, constancy as an important virtue, since in her Romances, after being deceived by the young lover the hero, usually ended up marrying a dedicated, loyal older man. If virtues are changeable according to circumstances, it is because they are dependent on the consequences that establish what kind of action is a good action.
This dependence of circumstances can be illustrated by the case of the millionaire great sailboat that enrolled by a tempest ended up crashing on an uninhabited island where they needed to live for ten years until they found rescue. The person who turned out to be the organizer of this society of castaways were not the millionaires that owned the ship, but a young waiter. In this situation, his courage and unknown skills transformed themselves in virtues that maximized the happiness in the new society of shipwrecked, while the probable virtues of the millionaires were unuseful under the same conditions.
A point to notice is that two-tired utilitarianism furnishes the otherwise unexplained grounds for contractualism. The idea is that we are able to make implicit or explicit reasonable agreements, which are reasonable because if we follow them they promote collective happiness. Contractualism is rule-utilitarianism warranted by mutual agreement able to maximize the social cooperation and therefore the collective happiness.
Another point to notice is that utilitarianism opposed deontology and virtue theory of morality, inverting the direction of their values. Well understood, a sufficiently sophisticated form of utilitarianism is a progressive form of ethics opposing any law, moral code, tradition, tabu and divine order, as far as they do not serve the aim of increasing human happiness. In fact, it relativizes what these theories have to say, attracting against it the weight of tradition that builds much of human consciousness, even if only unconsciously. As the result of more than thousand years of inculcated deontological doctrine opposing virtue theory, many people have a biased perception of the conclusions of two-tired hedonist utilitarianism as exposed here. It is not easy to counter prejudices sedimented over centuries, even millennia. The hardness of the moral ‘must’ tests our capacity of conscious endurance regarding real life.
 I remember to have heard this sentence in his course at the UCLA-Berkeley.
 Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Moral and Legislation, J. H. Burns, ed. (Oxford: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1996), Ch. I, sec. 1.
 R. M. Hare, Moral Thinking (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981)
 Michael J. Sandel, Justice (Farrar, Straugh and Giroux, 2009), ch. 2.
 Kai Nielsen: ``Against Moral Conservatism``, Ethics 82, 1972.
 John Hospers, Human Conduct? An Introduction to the Problem of Ethics (Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1961).