Innate value

Utility is not an adequate ethical foundation
I have a dim recollection of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy from a course in college. Utilitarianism appealed to me at a time when I was more certain of myself intellectually and more academically confident that I have been since. It had something to do with being a sophomore, I believe. For utilitarians, moral behavior is that which increases happiness and reduces human suffering. Who can argue with that?

Peter Singer of Princeton University brings the common sense of utilitarianism to the ethical dilemmas of the 21st century with ruthless consistency. The worth of a single human life is not in the equation for utilitarians if that life gets in the way of increasing the well-being and happiness or reducing the suffering of the community. As Mark Oppenheimer notes, for Singer this means it can sometimes be “OK to kill babies." I have a problem with that.


This article is available to subscribers only. Please subscribe for full access—subscriptions begin at $2.95. Already have an online account? Log in now. Already a print subscriber? Create an online account for no additional cost.

This article is available to subscribers only.

To post a comment, log inregister, or use the Facebook comment box.