The Philosophists

Ep 7 - Nested Utilitension (an Ethics to Rule Them All?)

August 16, 2022 The Philosophists | Declan McGrath, Simon Robertson Season 1 Episode 7
The Philosophists
Ep 7 - Nested Utilitension (an Ethics to Rule Them All?)
Show Notes Chapter Markers

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

In this one famous line from Star Trek, the ever-logical Spock seemingly nailed his flag to the mast of Utilitarianism. But what if Kant had been a member of the team aboard the USS Enterprise? He may have thrown a glass of cold water over Spock and exclaimed, "You're wrong! The needs of the few may triumph!" So, who should we side with here? What do we do when different philosophical systems disagree and guide us towards conflicting solutions? In this episode, Declan and Simon introduce a new ethical system they've been cooking up. Can we balance the needs of the many with the needs of the few? Let's see what Nested Utilitension can do!

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Main Talking Points

  • What are the problems with some of the existing ethical theories?
  • Rebooting the classic ticking time bomb thought experiment
  • Nested Utilitension
  • The Utility Plunge
  • The significance of nesting groups inside larger groups and expanding outwards when making ethical comparisons
  • Ethical circuit breakers
  • Does who you are change how you decide what's right?

Other Links

  • The Philosophists - Episode 2 covered Utilitarianism and Deontonology (including some Kantian ethics) and may be worth a listen first. The show notes are also worth a look
  • The Philosophists - Episode 4 covered the Trolley Problem and some more Utilitarian/Kantian discussion
  • The Repugnant Conclusion
    • Derek Parfit’s famous paradoxical conclusion that, for any world with all very happy individuals, there can exist a better world (in terms of the Utilitarian maths) with a much larger population of whose lives are barely worth living.
    • Good explainer video by Julia Galef but you'll still need your thinking hat on!
  • The Veil of Ignorance

Show Info, Contact Details & Credits
See here

Setting the stage for a new ethical theory
The problem with Deontonology (such as Kantian ethics)
Introducing a variant on the classic "ticking time bomb" interrogation thought experiment in order to set up Nested Utilitension
Simon's response
Declan's response
The conflict within as we figure out a solution
Finally! We actually introduce Nested Utilitension (the utility plunge, the circuit breaker, nested groups)
Challenging Nested Utilitension
Does one's perspective alter what is the right thing to do in this theory?
From avoiding relativism to the significance of nesting
Summarising the rationale for Nested Utilitension