Williams and Utilitarianism

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In his critique of Utilitarianism, Williams finds fault in the Utilitarian commitment to maximum utility in that it undermines the integrity of moral agents and denies people the projects and relationships they inherently value. Famously known as his “Integrity Objection”, this proposition is immediately very enticing in that it appeals to the idea of the invaluable and imperative nature of benevolence and compassion, versus the cold, impartial hand of Utilitarianism. That is not to say, however, that Utilitarians have been dealt a hefty criticism from which they have no defense. While Williams may be correct in claiming that abandoning commitments or devaluing personal relationships may be counterintuitive, a Utilitarian could argue that his construction of “integrity” is equally counterintuitive in that it would require one to override their intrinsic pursuit of self- preservation. Additionally, if we were to presuppose Williams’ correctness, a Utilitarian could argue that the only plausible implementation of such a theory would mean valuing these emotional engagements above one’s own agency, a scenario even more demanding and sacrificial of one’s identity than the Utilitarian proposal. Williams directs this objection specifically toward Act-Utilitarianism, a branch of Utilitarian thought that deems the morally correct action as the one that produces the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. He claims that such a theory is incompatible with the aspect of human happiness that is found in the commitment to personal projects and relationships: “Utilitarianism would do well then to acknowledge the evident fact that among the things that make people happy is not only making other people happy, but being taken up or involved in any of a vast range of projects.”1 While Utilitarians actually need lower order projects comprised of relationships and commitments in order to validate their higher order projects, the lower order projects will...
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