Most utilitarian theories deal with producing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. Negative utilitarianism (NU) requires us to promote the least amount of evil or harm, or to prevent the greatest amount of suffering for the greatest number. Proponents like Karl Popper, Christoph Fehige and Clark Wolf argue that this is a more effective ethical formula, since, they contend, the greatest harms are more consequential than the greatest goods. Karl Popper also referred to an epistemological argument: “It adds to clarity in the fields of ethics, if we formulate our demands negatively, i.e., if we demand the elimination of suffering rather than the promotion of happiness.”(Karl R. Popper,1945) Most forms of utilitarianism hold that we ought to do that which maximises the good and minimises the bad. There is some disagreement about what the good and the bad are-- whether the good is people being happy and the bad is people being unhappy, or the good is people getting what they want and the bad is people not getting what they want, or whatever--but most utilitarians agree that whatever the good and the bad are, we ought to bring about as much of the former and as little of the latter as is possible. Negative utilitarians disagree. Negative utilitarians are concerned only with minimising the bad. They don't think we ought to maximise the good and minimise the bad, and that when we must choose between the two we must weigh the difference that we can make to the one against the difference that we can make to the other; rather, negative utilitarians hold just that we ought to minimise the bad, that we ought to alleviate suffering as far as we are able to do so. Suppose that I have a choice to make: I can either make the happiest man in the world even happier than he already is, or I can alleviate some of the suffering of the unhappiest man in the world. Suppose further that the difference that I can make to the happy man is much greater...
References: (Karl R.Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, London 1945)
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