Preference Utilitarianism

James Hill

Time: Monday 10.50-12.25

Place: Room 218 in the Philosophy Faculty

This course will be devoted to the thought of two recent utilitarian thinkers, Richard Hare and Peter Singer, who can both be described as preference utilitarians. Preference utilitarianism is a modification of classical utilitarianism which dispenses with the problematic attempts to quantify happiness or suffering, concentrating instead on the interests or “preferences” of individuals. Richard Hare’s work actually offers a synthesis of preference utilitarianism and Kantianism in his emphasis on the “universalisability” of any moral prescription. We shall also explore Hare’s account of two levels of moral thought—the intuitive and the critical. In the second part of the course we shall critically examine how Peter Singer, Hare’s pupil, applies the theory of preference utilitarianism to a range of significant practical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, poverty relief and the treatment of nonhuman animals.