Two-level Utilitarianism - Criticisms


Apart from the criticisms that are commonly made of utilitarianism in general, there are several criticisms made specifically against two-level utilitarianism.

One objection is that two-level utilitarianism undermines an agent's commitment to act in accordance with his or her moral principles. For example, a theist will comply with his/her moral code because he/she sees it as based upon God's will. However, a two-level utilitarian knows that his everyday set of moral rules is merely a guideline, and as such any breach of these rules is unlikely to accompany the same degree of guilt as would someone who believed that it was wrong in principle to act in that way. In reply to this objection, some utilitarians have put forward a "radical proposal"; although they accept utilitarianism as the correct moral theory, it would be more beneficial if we do not proclaim this fact, and keep it a well-guarded secret. "Utilitarianism would then become an esoteric doctrine, accepted by only a few philosophers who would, if challenged, deny its existence in public."

David McNaughton argues that, even if the agent's commitment to his/her principles is not undermined, two-level utilitarianism does not succeed in its goal of showing, "how, on utilitarian principles, it is a good idea to think and reason in a pluralist and non-consequentialist manner." It is impossible, he claims, to compartmentalise one's thinking in the way the two-level account requires—to simultaneously think like a utilitarian and act in a non-utilitarian way. Hare's response to this type of criticism is that he does his own moral thinking in this way, therefore the challenge that this type of moral thinking is impossible must be false.

A third variety of objection somewhat related to the problem of 'weakness of will' is that difficulties arise when we try to keep critical thinking separate from intuitive thinking.

Read more about this topic:  Two-level Utilitarianism

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