greengiant wrote:For those asking why this would be a problem for utilitarianism, I would guess that skeptical scientist's problem is that for (some version of) utilitarianism, the only thing that would make cheating wrong is its negative side affects. Presumably he thinks (as I do) that this is not what makes cheating wrong; it's wrong in and of itself rather than as a result of whether it causes unhappiness.
Yes, that's exactly how I feel. Which is why I started having serious problems with utilitarianism after I came to this realization.
Vaniver wrote:Any moral system which tells you that you can lie to other people about deeply important things, and it's okay because they won't know about it, is a profoundly weak moral system.
This is also how I feel.
The reason I wanted to make all the assumptions I made in the OP was not that I thought they were very plausible (they're not) and not that I wanted to use utilitarianism to justify cheating (I don't). Rather, what I suppose I'm getting at is that on the basis of this hypothetical, utilitarianism seems to me to be a bad ethical philosophy, because it seems to give the wrong conclusion in this hypothetical scenario, saying that cheating in moral when in fact I believe it isn't. I would really prefer to focus on this question rather than continuing to discuss the plausibility of the assumptions; I'm more interested in discussing the theory of ethics than its practical application, since it is the theory that is giving me troubles. I think thc's suggestion in the previous post was a good one: rather than continue to discuss the cheating hypothetical, it might better focus the discussion to think about the more abstract question,
thc wrote:Is it unethical to abuse someone's trust if that person will never find out?
As I said before, I'm completely uneducated in ethical philosophy, and I'm sure that I'm not the first person to come up with this objection. So I'm not about to come right out and say, "Utilitarianism is a bad philosophy of ethics." Rather, I'm more interested in learning how people who subscribe to utilitarianism deal with this objection, and what alternative theories are out there which may be superior.
The two responses that I can think of to my objection tend to be of the following forms:
Response A: Utilitarianism is flawed, and this hypothetical points out one of the flaws. (A better philosophy would be...)
Response B: The belief that cheating is always wrong is flawed. Utilitarianism is valid, and therefore the conclusion is that cheating can be justified in the right circumstances.
I suppose there's also a possibility of a response C: utilitarianism is valid, but I'm using it incorrectly somehow and therefore the conclusion I'm coming to by applying it is not the conclusion I should be coming to. However, I would tend to discount this since I'm pretty sure that (under the assumptions I gave), utilitarianism really does come to the conclusion that cheating can be justified, as I explained in the OP. And of course I also can't rule out the possibly of responses D-Z, although I'm not sure what they might be.
My instinct is to reject response B in favor of response A, although I'm not sure what to put after the ellipsis. However, to be perfectly honest, I can't really justify the conclusion that cheating is always wrong, even though I strongly feel that that is the right conclusion. So I don't really have a strong argument against response B, other than gut instinct.)
I'm looking forward to the day when the SNES emulator on my computer works by emulating the elementary particles in an actual, physical box with Nintendo stamped on the side.
"With math, all things are possible." —Rebecca Watson