A New Argument against Critical-Level Utilitarianism

Date

2021

Authors

Williamson, Patrick

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Publisher

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract

One prominent welfarist axiology, critical-level utilitarianism, says that individual lives must surpass a specified 'critical level' in order to make a positive contribution to the comparative status of a given population. In this article I develop a new dilemma for critical-level utilitarians. When comparatively evaluating populations composed of different species, critical-level utilitarians must decide whether the critical level is a universal threshold or whether the critical level is a species-relative threshold. I argue that both thresholds lead to a range of axiological puzzles and objections as yet undiscussed within the literature, and therefore conclude that critical-level utilitarianism should not be taken as a morally plausible welfarist axiology. I show that certain competitive formulations of critical range utilitarianism are subject to the argument too, and that further attempts to relativise critical levels to a particular group or category of welfare bearer (in particular, individual-relative critical levels) are unsustainable.

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Citation

Source

Utilitas

Type

Journal article

Book Title

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Access Statement

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DOI

10.1017/S0953820821000133

Restricted until

2099-12-31