Lecturer: John Capaccio
Teacher bio: http://peoplescolloquium.org/teacher-bios/
Morality as the Greater Good
It’s almost time for Christmas! And you know what that means….Santa will be checking his list, checking it twice. Have you been bad or good this year? But what does it mean to be bad or good and how can we know? Is morality merely a matter of opinion, taste and preference or are there truly absolute moral principles?
This lecture explores the most common approach to moral judgements: the principle that morality consists of doing that which achieves the greatest amount of good for the greatest number. This principle, the principle of utility, was made famous by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. What many people don’t know is that Bentham was a progressive social reformer who advocated for issues like the rights of women, decriminalizing homosexuality, abolishing slavery and prison reform. He developed his moral principles out of his concern that laws should be just, i.e. laws should benefit the greatest number of people while reducing suffering to the greatest degree possible.
On the face it, morality does seem to be about maximizing pleasure and decreasing suffering. But what are some challenges to this idea? If morality is not about achieving the greater good, is there some other principle that is better? In what ways does our society follow or reject this principle in our laws and policies?
In this lecture we will look at a few famous thought experiments as well as some humorous and serious scenarios which may offer insight into our moral lives and our moral principles. It might even help you get on Santa’s list!