Re: ETHICS: Utility First--> Fraud

Daniel Fabulich (
Sat, 16 May 1998 16:37:57 -0400 (EDT)

On Sat, 16 May 1998, Ian Goddard wrote:

> If my principle is utility first and I have
> a hypothesis about what nature is, then I do
> research, gathering data about nature, add
> it all up, and lo and behold the numbers
> suggest my hypothesis is not true, I
> have one of two options:
> 1) conclude that my hypothesis is not true.
> 2) alter the data to make my theory appear true.
> Option 1 adheres to a "truth first me second"
> principle, option two adheres to a "me first
> truth maybe later," principle. A "me first"
> principle is obviously useful to me, so a
> "utility first, truth maybe" standard
> will automatically promote fraud
> and abolish a code of ethical
> conduct that is the only
> hope for science & humanity...

First, if choosing 2 would hurt humanity, then utilitarianism demands that
we choose 1, not 2. You're arguing against EGOISM, the philosophy that
each agent should make choices in such a way as to maximize his-her OWN
utility, as opposed to utilitarianism which argues for greatest utility
for greatest number. Utilitarianism is, for this reason, often criticized
that it ISN'T "me first" enough: that it seems to require us to make some
rather extreme sacrifices for the well-being of others. I disagree with
these thinkers, but one thing I CAN say is that there's no possible way to
construe this philosophy as a "me first" principle.

> I think that we can say that a "utility first"
> principle is a definitionally open door to fraud
> (as just one example in a field of possible worst
> case examples), and fraud is an icon of that which
> I feel an Extropian community should be against. A
> "truth first" ethic instills a standard of ethics:
> a principle which the individual must subordinate
> him/herself for "the greater good," which, lets
> face it, is a defining principle of any com-
> minity, that I will agree to abide by a
> set of rules that includes your rights.
> I think that Daniel is correct to observe the
> utilitarian aspect of a truth-first principle,
> but this aspect is just as well as saying,
> "Utility dictates that some other standard
> than utility be the prime directive."

Not at all, it is simply a statement that utlitarianism and truth-first
are extensionally equivalent. Since utilitarianism is a philosophy of
action and total consequence, it states that acting according to
truth-first is just as good as doing the utilitarian thing, BECAUSE THEY

> Utility without ethics leads to Nazism.

This is silly. This would only sort of be an acceptable conclusion if you
counted Jews as non-people (an obvious Big Lie) or if WWII didn't happen.

Since Jews ARE people and WWII DID happen, utilitarianism states that
Naziism is WRONG.

> Ethics
> is a broad and subjective field of ideas, but I
> believe that we can extract one solid, reliable,
> and objective principle from it: truth, defined
> as a one-one mapping between "ideas and claims"
> and "physical reality."

Obviously, since your conclusions on what utilitarianism demands are
completely wrong, your rejection of its conclusions do not refute

Goddard, utilitarianism is a consequentialist philosophy, which means that
it evaluates choices and actions based on their consequences, just as you
do and have. It states that an action is right if and only if it results
in the best possible consequences. It evaluates consequences based on the
utility of all people, where utility is defind as their happiness,
satisfaction, etc. One consequence is better than another if it results
in greater happiness for a greater number. Thus, the right action results
in the greatest utility for the greatest number.

THIS is the philosophy you have so maligned, and so completely
misunderstood. Obviously, Naziism is completely incompatible with
utilitarianism: it involves killing people, which is bad, AND it results
in great unhappiness for the German people when WWII rolls around, which
is also bad. Utilitarianism DOES have problems, but supporting Naziism is
not one of them.