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Setting Health-Care PrioritiesWhat Ethical Theories Tell Us$
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Torbjörn Tännsjö

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190946883

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190946883.001.0001

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Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism

Pure or with a Prioritarian Amendment?

Chapter:
(p.82) 8 Utilitarianism
Source:
Setting Health-Care Priorities
Author(s):

Torbjörn Tännsjö

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190946883.003.0008

Utilitarianism and prioritarianism are compared. It may seem that only prioritarianism takes suffering seriously enough. Even if utilitarianism is more sensitive to suffering than is the maximin/theory or egalitarianism, it does not take suffering seriously enough. According to prioritarianism, we should help a person in deep distress rather than improving the situation of a very happy person, even if this means some waste of happiness (the person in distress gains fewer hedons that the happy person would do if instead we tended to her needs). The prioritarian needs to tell us exactly how much weight should be given to momentary suffering and happiness, however. They need to specify the relevant function. This has been shown to be a difficult task to undertake. Moreover, according to prioritarianism a life with a net surplus of happiness may be worth not living. Some may give up on prioritarianism because of this implication of the theory. Others may stick to the rationale behind it, bite the bullet, and amend utilitarianism with prioritarianism. Both moves are considered justifiable.

Keywords:   utilitarianism, prioritarianism, sensitivity to suffering, prudence and morality coming apart, notions of prudence

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