Next talk is 'Liberty and Harm: can utilitarianism save us from each other?' Tuesday 12 April 2016

You can't keep all the people happy all the time, but it seems plausible to aim to keep as many people as happy as possible. From Epicurus through to Mill, many philosophers have identified "the good" as whatever causes pleasure, or reduces pain. But where does this leave justice and integrity, and can pleasure really be a noble enough foundation for our ethics and politics? 

I will explore various criticisms of utilitarianism - that it's impossible in practice, leads to absurd conclusions, fails to explain some fundamental aspects of human morality, and in some situations could even prove dangerous. As we seek to shore up and defend utilitarianism, it tends to retreat to the sidelines, providing less practical assistance than we might hope.