Ashford, Elizabeth, and . Utilitarianism, Integrity, and Partiality

2000, Journal of Philosophy 97(8): 421-439.

Introduction: Bernard Williams’s integrity objection against utilitarianism has made a very influential contribution to the view that utilitarianism is so demanding that it cannot be a serious option. Utilitarians, on the other hand, have generally denied that a suitably sophisticated version of utilitarianism is incompatible with agents’ integrity. I argue here that, if we examine what a valuable conception of integrity consists in, we can see that it actually commits us, in the current state of the world, to extremely demanding moral obligations, on any plausible account of our moral obligations, including Williams’s own. I then argue, however, that any such account of these obligations has difficulty in providing a rationale for how a fundamental conflict between them and agents’ pursuit of their personal projects can be avoided. I conclude that it is, in fact, a strength of utilitarianism that it acknowledges that this conflict cannot be resolved and makes explicit the extent to which our integrity is currently compromised. I lastly argue that there is a practically realizable state of the world in which utilitarian moral obligations would not seriously conflict with agents’ pursuit of their personal projects.

Comment: This text offers a discussion of some of the major objections to utilitarianism. It is useful as a core reading in teaching advanced modules on moral theories, or as a further reading in a more general ethics course.