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2012 Jack Smart Lecture - Two concepts of rule-utilitarianism

In Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism, Jack Smart showed decisively that restricted (or rule-) utilitarianism was an unstable moral theory, either collapsing into extreme (or act-) utilitarianism or implicitly constituting “a form of superstitious rule-worship.” In other words, he showed that if one is going to be a utilitarian, one had better be an extreme (or act-) utilitarian. This paper argues that the persuasiveness of Smart’s argument presupposes a certain way of thinking about morality and its proper role in our lives. If one identifies morality with a moral point of view, Smart’s argument stands. But if one thinks of morality as a practice, the theory identified as rule-utilitarianism can answer Smart’s objections.

Given the standard understanding of utilitarianism by moral philosophers today, this conception of rule-utilitarianism may not seem like a type of utilitarianism at all. Still, the theory has a lot going for it, and there is reason to think that a theory of this sort would be welcomed by John Stuart Mill.

Susan Wolf is the Edna J Koury Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her work ranges widely over topics in moral philosophy and the philosophy of mind. She is the author of such well-known articles as Moral Saints and Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility, as well as Freedom Within Reason, (Oxford, 1990), and Meaning In Life and Why It Matters (Princeton, 2010).

Presented by the School of Philosophy, ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences

Speaker/Host: Professor Susan Wolf, University of North Carolina
Venue: Sparke Helmore Lecture Theatre 1, ANU College of Law, Fellows Road
Date: Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Time: 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Enquiries: Di Crosse on 6125 2341

Professor Susan Wolf.
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