- One of the most notorious scandals of moral philosophy is this: no moral philosopher has presented a clear and plausible answer to the question "Why is it wrong to kill people?"
- In Chapter 10 I discussed two of the standard answers and explained why they fail.
- In Chapter 11, I propose a better answer of my own. I try to show that my view gives plausible results in a variety of very puzzling cases.
- One feature that makes my proposal especially unusual is that it is a form of utilitarianism – a view often thought to be incapable of dealing with the morality of killing.
Ideal Act Utilitarianism 
- Hedonic Act Utilitarianism has two components:
- Consequentialism: it is morally right to perform an act if and only if no alternative would have had a better outcome (this part alone is "ideal act utilitarianism")
- Hedonism: the outcomes should be measured in pain and pleasure alone.
- Can isolate component (1) and replace (2) with alternatives, so the outcomes are judged by different things from quantities of pleasure or pain. How about quantities of life?
Vitalistic Act Utilitarianism 
- VAU: an act is morally right if and only if its outcome maximizes universal length of life
(where "universal length of life" is the sum of all the individual lengths of life of all the people who would exist if the outcome were to take place)
- VAU-K: an act of killing is morally wrong if and only if it fails to maximize universal length of life
- Happy clerk case: VAU-K says it would be wrong
- Unhappy vagrant: ditto (so VAU-K appears to be an advance over HAU-K)
- BUT: problems for VAU-K:
- Torturing Smith: VAU-K sees no difference between (a) torturing Smith for 5 years and (b) NOT torturing him, if his length of life is unaffected.
- Commandant of Condoms: VAU-K advises us to conceive as many children as possible consistent with maximizing lengths of lives led, even if this makes most lives miserable.
Hedono-Vitalistic Act Utilitarianism 
- HVAU: an act is morally right if and only if it maximizes the combination of hedonic utility and universal length of life
- Assumptions of HVAU:
- There is a precise exchange rate of pleasure-length of life (i.e., these goods are comparable and 1 unit of one is equal to a certain quantity of the other, so that you can replace the 1 unit and have an equally valuable "bundle")
- Nothing besides pleasure and length-of-life has any intrinsic value
- One problem for 1 is that we have no clear way of working out the exchange rate, and that will make HVAU indeterminate for cases where we have to weigh pleasure gained against loss in life (e.g., smoking on p. 178)
- Torturing Smith: HVAU improves over VAU by agreeing with HAU that more pleasure is better (in other words, counting pleasure makes the combination view better than counting just life)
- Homeless vagrant: HVAU improves over HAU by agreeing with VAU that life is important (in other words, counting life makes the combination view better than counting just pleasure)
- So clearly HVAU is an improvement over hedonism or vitalism alone because it can handle both problem cases.
Problems for HVAU 
- Involuntary heart transplant3:
- Either: rich man dies soon and clerk lives long (but not very happy) life,
- OR: clerk’s heart is placed in rich man and he lives just as long but happier life.
- Seems HVAU should choose the second option (indeed, it would be morally obligatory for the butler to kill the clerk), but that’s not right!
- What’s wrong with the rich man getting the heart? It’s UNJUST.
- Justice is to do with desert (that is, people getting what they deserve). Two factors to desert:
- How much an individual has already experienced (if you’ve had a lot all ready, you may deserve less than someone who has not, other things being equal)
- Past behavior: if you’ve been good, you deserve more.
- But what is it you deserve more or less of? Life? Pleasure?
- Feldman says we don’t have to decide, we can just talk about "primary intrinsic goods" – that is, things that are intrinsically good.
- An Individual’s justice level in any outcome is the quality of the fit between her "desert level" and her "receipt level" in that outcome
- Universal justice level (UJL) is the sum of the individual justice levels for an outcome.
- Justicism is the view that the intrinsic value of an outcome is entirely determined by the UJL of that outcome.
Justicized Act Utilitarianism 
- JAU: an act is morally right if and only if it maximizes the UJL
- Popular store clerk: JAU says that it would be wrong to kill him because he doesn’t deserve death.
- Unpopular vagrant: again, the vagrant deserves life, and the killer wouldn’t deserve ill-gotten gains
- Vicious serial murderer: (apparently) the VSM deserves to die, and none of his victims deserves the death they will get. So kill him!
- Arthritis victim: she deserves her life, her friends deserve her company. She lives.
- Involuntary heart transplant4: the rich man does not deserve the heart, the current owner does. So the rich man should die – hard cheese.
- Challenges for JAU (not mentioned by Feldman):
- Where does the notion of "desert" come from? How do we decide who deserves what? Why does the poor man deserve his heart? He owns it, yes, but why does he deserve it?
- Should we give the hearts of healthy but lazy people to dying people who work hard for others and are therefore more deserving?
- Do fetuses5 "deserve" to be born?
- Do eggs deserve the chance to be fertilized, and are they therefore unjustly deprived this by contraception?
- In the serial murder case, why does the killer deserve death? True, his victims in the future do not deserve their deaths – but they haven’t happened yet. And if we can count them, can we count potential victims of a potential killer, and kill him before he’s done anything?
Footnote 1: Taken from "Feldman (Fred) - Introduction: Confronting the Reaper".
Footnote 2: Taken from "Cushing (Simon) - Fred Feldman: Confrontations with the Reaper".
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)