SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Utilitarianism is a form of egalitarianism
(Ethics, English)

What does utilitarianism say about distributive policies? It is often criticised by egalitarians for being silent on the issue. Utilitarians, it seems, do not care who gets what or how we relate to one another, so long as overall well-being is maximised. Egalitarians, on the other hand, do care about these things, preferring distributions and systems of relations in which the differences between individuals are less.

There are many forms of egalitarianism. In this paper I will argue that utilitarianism should be considered one of those forms. My argument makes use of another of those forms: Martin O'Neill's "non-intrinsic egalitarianism" (NIE). I show that utilitarianism is just as egalitarian as NIE. Therefore, if NIE is a form of egalitarianism, so is utilitarianism.

I first outline the structural similarities between NIE and utilitarianism, then resolve the worry that because utilitarianism values only the sum and not the distribution of well-being it is necessarily silent on distributive questions. I then show that utilitarianism is likely to mandate egalitarian policies with similar frequency to NIE, and that both can be concerned with both the distribution of wealth and our relating to one another as equals. The fact that only NIE values the latter intrinsically, does not, I argue, constitute a difference between the two that is significant enough to justify considering one but not the other to be a form of egalitarianism. Lastly, I offer brief arguments for NIE's egalitarian credentials.

I conclude that we should treat utilitarianism as a form of egalitarianism. There are people who take their belief in utilitarianism to justify ignoring egalitarian concerns, and there are people who reject utilitarianism on the grounds that it ignores them. If I am right, both are mistaken.


Chair: Eva Bobst
Time: 14:40-15:10, 20 September 2019 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.004

Nikhil Venkatesh 
(University College London, United Kingdom)

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy at University College London. My current research is on the prospects for reconciling utilitarianism with the conceptions of equality and freedom found in socialist thought. My MPhilStud thesis reconstructed and responded to Bernard Williams's "Integrity Objection" to utilitarianism. I came to UCL from the University of Oxford, where I studied for a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

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