In this paper, I will refute the utility monster objection to utilitarianism by showing that it trades on questionable presuppositions about moral expertise. To make this point, my argument will hinge on a complete understanding of what it means to become an expert in general. My intention in delineating what is required of someone who wants to become an expert is to illustrate how expertise is a privilege earned through hard work, not a right endowed upon us at birth.
In order to successfully make this point, I will first explain the utility monster objection in its entirety, and then go on to present hat might be seen as a sufficient response. All of these endeavors, ultimately, are geared towards demonstrating how utilitarians can respond to the utility monster adequately. One primary concern with utilitarianism is its concern for how much good is produced, and not how that good is distributed. This moral insouciance lends to utilitarianism’s most formidable challenge: the utility monster.
Under a utilitarian worldview, someone who garners fantastic amounts of utility from, say, torturing children would be acting morally insofar as his pleasures outweigh his victim’s pain. After all, utilitarianism asserts that an action’s moral worth can be determined by analyzing its consequences, and calculating whether net utility increased or decreased. If it net utility increased, as in the case of the utility monster, then it appears as if utilitarians are obliged to regard the utility monster’s actions as moral.
As philosopher Robert Nozick, creator of the utility monster, said: “Utilitarian theory is embarrassed by the possibility of utility monsters who get enormously greater sums of utility from any sacrifice of others than these others lose … the theory seems to equire that we all be sacrificed in the monster’s maw, in order to increase total utility. ” Although this argument appears convincing at first, further examination reveals that this appearance is, at best, misleading.
Namely, The utility monster is predicated on questionable presuppositions about moral expertise. Specifically, the utility monster presupposes that moral expertise can be achieved irrespective of what one values. However, one can question the veracity of this assertion. Take, for instance, the case of science. Science is predicated upon values such as the respect for vidence, peer review, and so on. Now, if one is openly violating these principles, while flying under the banner of science, then we reserve the right to label said person as unscientific.
Someone whose sole aim in life is to square biochemistry with, say, The Book of Mormon can claim that their endeavors embody what science ought to accomplish, but his claim that this is the case does not, in fact, make it so. Genuine scientists dedicated to studying evidence for its own sake are entirely entitled to remind everyone of the partition between their a posteriori heuristic and the a priori one of their counterparts.
While said Mormon-biochemist might regard himself as a proper scientist, dedicated to the study of empirical evidence, other in the scientific community are free to say not only that he is mistaken, but that he is misusing the word “science. ” What this example demonstrates is how people who don’t share the values of science, cannot engage in science. What’s more is how this fundamental presupposition of science, about what we should value, cannot, by definition, render science as unscientific for, as Sam Harris notes, if science is unscientific, then what is?
The same is true, as I will argue, with morality. A oral framework undergirded by a valuing of well-being, and how best to maximize it within the confines of reality, need not be a cause for chagrin. Just as an unsubstantiated hypothesis riddled with personal bias and questionable research is called “unscientific” (with respect to an enterprise that values honest and unbiased inquiry) so too does a utility monster pushing everyone to the summum malum behave “immorally” ( with respect to an enterprise predicated on a concern for everyone’s well-being).
In other words, it is entirely possible that someone who believes himself to be a moral expert can be mistaken, and uite dangerously so, all because of adopting the wrong values. The achilles heel of utilitarianism is apparently to insist that said moral agent could not, in principle or in practice, be incorrect. To see the error in this reasoning consider, for a moment, the case of human beings. We know, as a simple statement of fact, that human beings are a complicated conglomeration of elements, bacteria, and particles that, when put together, function as humans tend to everyday.
Now, what might we say to someone who doubted this proposition? Suppose she was a biblical iologist, convinced that human beings were created with supernatural material. How could we convince her that she is mistaken about this simple fact, without appealing to why she should value evidence, and how evidence would correct her error in reasoning? It seems as though it impossible. And more importantly, it appears as though her miscalculations would in no way undermine the fact that humans are products of evolution.
In the same way, it seems that the utility monsters miscalculations about how best to achieve the summum bonum do not lay waste to our best theories about how to achieve the ood life. What this example demonstrates is that having a laboratory jacket is a necessary but insufficient condition for being a scientific expert; one must also have the right values. In a similar vein, the primary presupposition of the utility monster, which claims that personhood is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for becoming a moral expert, is ruled out.
Personhood is undoubtedly a necessary condition for moral expertise, but it is not a sufficient one. In order to be revered as a moral expert, one must acquire the requisite moral knowledge. As I have rgued, for expertise to mean anything, there must be certain gradations of enlightenment in said field. What expertise, in other words, could exist in a field without experts? It seems as though none can, and this admission is sufficient grounds for undermining the assertion that everyone can be a moral expert.
For if everyone, including the utility monster, is a moral expert, then no one can truly be a moral expert; again, including the utility monster. In light of this reasoning, the utility monster appears to fall victim to its questionable presupposition that anyone can be a moral expert. In short, utilitarians are fully capable of responding to the utility monster objection by highlighting how it hinges on questionable presuppositions.
Moral expertise, as I have shown, is something that must be earned through arduous work, not claimed through casual caprice. Being a person who is bound my morality is, to this extent, a necessary but insufficient condition for earning any credentials as a moral expert, in much the same way as walking through a rainstorm does not make one a weatherman. Simply put, the utility monster fails as an objection because it predicates itself upon dubious presuppositions.