Williams, Bernard Arthur Owen (1929–2003)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD090-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved January 26, 2021, from

4. Utilitarianism

Williams also attacks utilitarianism, which shares with Kantianism the claim that morality has an impartial and objective foundation. Williams attacks the idea that the plurality of values can be reduced to a single metric. He probes the question of whether utilitarians can properly think that they are utilitarians. However, his central objection is again in terms of the impossible psychology that the moral theory demands.

In utilitarianism everything is justified by the consequences. In criticism, Williams wants to show that it is important not just what happens but also who does it. He takes the example of someone having the choice of doing a terrible thing, such as killing someone, in order to prevent more deaths being caused by someone else. For utilitarianism, which just counts the number of deaths, the answer is simple. But for Williams the answer is not simple; which shows that we are also concerned with who does the killing. He puts this in terms of people’s integrity: there are things which people cannot be expected to do, whatever the consequences, if they are to be able to preserve any sense of themselves as people, or agents, at all (see Utilitarianism).

Citing this article:
Harrison, Ross and Edward Craig. Utilitarianism. Williams, Bernard Arthur Owen (1929–2003), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD090-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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