Friday, December 7, 2012

One More Against Maximization

There's one more counter-example from Scanlon I'd like to give against the maximization of value central to consequentialist theories. I'm doing several posts on this because I think maximization, initially, seems like a very appealing way to go in terms of moral theory. Many people who seek moral theories, who are coming from a non-religious standpoint, find consequentialism very plausible in it's relative simplicity. If we can decide that somethings are valuable, and then decide that we should promote value, there's no need to invoke anything supernatural to inform us about morality. However, I think when you really start to imagine what consequentialism prescribes, it produces some very counter-intuitive results. And there's no reason to prioritize the intuitive appeal of simplicity over our intuitive reactions to these cases.

So here's the case. You're a technician at a television station, broadcasting the World Cup. Millions of people are watching, obviously getting a lot of pleasure out of the game. Accidentally, a co-worker of yours trips and gets entangled in the equipment, where he starts getting painful electrical shocks. You know the only way to save him from the severe pain is to turn off the equipment. It takes awhile for the equipment to turn on, so most of the game will not be televised. Millions of people will experience a lot of disappointment due to the fact that the game is not televised.

I think almost everyone would save the co-worker. Clearly, the disappointment of millions of fans would, in the aggregate outweigh the pain that your one co-worker is feeling. It's not hard to imagine that disappointment is at least one-millionth as bad as being shocked. But despite the mass number of people who would mildly suffer, the dire need of one individual in severe seems to be a much stronger reason for action. And I think it only helps my case that if all the millions of people were informed of what happened, they would like agree it was the right thing to save the co-worker.

On Scanlon's theory, what makes this the right thing to do is that no one could reasonably reject a principle that required such action. Any of the individuals watching the game could not reasonably claim that they were more entitled to see the game than the co-worker was not to get shocked. And the co-worker could reasonably reject a principle that allowed you to act otherwise.

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