Sunday, 7 November 2010

Layered utilitarianism

I've recently been reading Michael J. Sandel's Justice. I've found the arguments against utilitarianism to be unsatisfying (probably due to my staunch belief in utilitarianism). The argument about the total utility of feeding christians to lions is interesting (and perhaps provocative as the majority of Sandel's audience are likely to be christian). It led me to think about a layered version of utilitarianism that perhaps accords with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The bottom layers of the pyramid take precedence over the upper layers. This way, in a life or death situation the utilitarian principle can be applied in saving the most number of lives (even if this requires sacrificing the few), but a self-actualisation situation would not infringe on basic needs.

Obviously this model shows up the lack of justice in the world, where the wealthy self-actualise whilst the poor starve.

I note there has been some criticism of Maslow's ranking, suggesting therefore that research is necessary to properly define the layers.

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