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Daylight Atheism 8: Universal Utilitarianism


Lee defends atheists from the accusation of immorality, and then sketches his own views on ethics. He also confronts moral relativism and divine command theory. His universal utilitarianism can be summed up as follows:

“Always minimize both actual and potential suffering; always maximize both actual and potential happiness.” (159)

There are some basic building blocks to his theory. First Lee sees morality as trying to solve the problem of practical prisoners’ dilemmas (151). Next, he points out empathy as a reason to act pro-socially (154). The principle of pragmatism rules that the moral code must be achievable and consistent (155), and his principle of verification (156) states that moral facts must be based on true and relevant statements about how the world really is. Finally, Lee claims that happiness is the one fundamental goal that humans have, the one intrinsic good (157).

I was actually expecting this part to be much worse than it is. Really, I’m not sure what premises I’d question. Perhaps the happiness one. I’d sacrifice some things for happiness, no doubt. Maybe that means that Lee defines happiness more broadly than I do, but Lee doesn’t even begin to define the word. I’ll have to think about this one.

His take-down of both relativism and divine command theory are great, and he goes through two rounds, responding, I think successfully, to the common reply to the Euthyphro problem.

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