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A classical utilitarian position implicates that individuals have no moral rights

Summary:
From Tanja von Egan-Krieger and RWER . . . the World Bank builds on a utilitarian definition of efficiency, which is of course a normative criterion. It is a criterion of judgement. The implicit aim is increasing the net value or total wealth. The World Bank refers to this idea in terms of a “social benefit”: “Even investments that are highly profitable for an investor will generate sustainable social benefits only if they are not associated with environmental externalities”. An ethical reflection immediately raises the question for whom the net value is produced. Who does benefit from the increasing total wealth? From a utilitarian point of view this question doesn’t matter. The ethical maxim of classical utilitarianism is to maximise the sum of pleasure and pain and thereby the

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from Tanja von Egan-Krieger and RWER

. . . the World Bank builds on a utilitarian definition of efficiency, which is of course a normative criterion. It is a criterion of judgement. The implicit aim is increasing the net value or total wealth. The World Bank refers to this idea in terms of a “social benefit”: “Even investments that are highly profitable for an investor will generate sustainable social benefits only if they are not associated with environmental externalities”.

An ethical reflection immediately raises the question for whom the net value is produced. Who does benefit from the increasing total wealth? From a utilitarian point of view this question doesn’t matter. The ethical maxim of classical utilitarianism is to maximise the sum of pleasure and pain and thereby the overall utility. The economy, and ultimately society at large which encompasses the economy, is thus regarded as a collective subject. An action is ethically right if the overall utility, in case of the economy the total wealth, is increased. Thereby individuals become mere “represents” of utility quanta. They are off-settable assets.

It was Gunnar Myrdal who named this construction of social harmony sarcastically a “communistic fiction”. By taking no account of potential social conflicts between individuals endowed with moral rights, and of questions of distributional justice, prima facie legitimation is attributed to every possible distribution, as long as the sum of utilities, however these are qualified, grows. We can detect an interesting friction in classical utilitarianism. On the one hand classical utilitarians claim that there is no such thing as community because it is just the individual which can experience pleasure or pain and therefore it is just the individual which has to count.

On the other hand the ethical maxim of maximising the trans-personal sum of pleasure and pain seemingly leads to the contrary. To transfer this maxim e.g. to the collective entity of “the economy” implicates that it is just the collective body which counts. A classical utilitarian position implicates that individuals have no moral rights besides the claim that their utility, however measured, counts as much as everybody else’s. Even if economic activity comes along with a distribution which violates what is seen from other ethical perspectives the moral rights of individuals, this does not matter for utilitarianism as long as the overall utility increases. This is why classical utilitarianism conflicts with nearly all other ethical theories.

read more: http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue95/Egan-Krieger95.pdf

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