Are There Irrelevant Utilities?

F. M. Kamm

in Morality, Mortality Volume I: Death and Whom to Save From It

Published in print July 1998 | ISBN: 9780195119114
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199872244 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Ethics Series

 Are There Irrelevant Utilities?

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Examines cases in which the choice faced is not between different numbers of lives but between equal numbers of lives when saving one group but not the other would be accompanied by some additional lesser good; the aim is to investigate whether and under what conditions substitution of equivalents and aggregation are incorrect and, accordingly, under what conditions additional utilities (goods) should be irrelevant to the choice made. Distinctions are made between direct and indirect need for aid and between extra utilities that would come to persons whose lives are at stake and those whose lives are not at stake; distinctions are also made between different types of irrelevance — one type based on different spheres of interest and considerations of fairness, and the other on relative insignificance of effect. Five principles for the second type of irrelevance, describing which extra utilities should be relevant and why (the Principle of Irrelevant Utility), are examined in this chapter and the following two (Chs 9 and 10); cases are dealt with in which not only each person has a right to have his life preserved, but also in which we merely take an interest in each person's special interest in his own survival; these three chapters also re‐examine the justification for counting numbers of lives. In connection with defending the Principle of Irrelevant Utility, the concept of ‘Sobjectivity’ is introduced, and a detailed description given of how subjective and objective, personal and impersonal, and partial and impartial perspectives interrelate when decisions are being made as to which extra utilities to count and which not to count. Ch. 8 looks at one possible justification for the Principle of Irrelevant Utility: that concerned with the particular combination of the objective and subjective that is to do with how we view the interests of those involved, here designated Sobjectivity1; it makes the point that we should not always make the move to substituting equivalents, since that move is not necessarily appropriate in those cases where, in helping one side, we can do all the good that we would do if we helped the other, as well as additional good.

Keywords: additional good; additional lesser good; additional utilities; aggregation argument; counting numbers of lives saved; direct need for aid; good; indirect need for aid; irrelevant utilities; lives at stake; lives not at stake; objectivity; Principle of Irrelevant Utility; saving equal numbers of lives; saving lives; Sobjectivity; subjectivity; substitution of equivalents

Chapter.  12468 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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