Our friendly opponents over at Marginal Revolution are good cases in point of the absolute insanity of utilitarian ethical thinking, and the insanity of bean-counting ethics in general…
Tyler asks, following philosopher Alastair Norcross, whether it could ever satisfy a cost-benefit test for one person to die a terrible and tortured death in order to alleviate the headaches of billions of others by one second. Tyler begs off with “a mushy mish-mash of philosophic pluralism, quasi-lexical values” and moral conceit. I will have none of this. The answer, is yes.
The clearest reason to think that we should trade a terrible and tortured death of one in order to alleviate the headaches of billions is that we do this everyday. Coal miners, for example, risk their lives to heat our homes and to generate the electricity that drives this blog. We know that some of them will die horrible deaths but few of us think that we are morally required to give up electricity.
This whackjob would seriously force a person to “die a terrible and tortured death” in order to alleviate people’s headaches for one second. Talk about complete cuckoo. This is where bean-counting with people’s LIVES leads you.
Coal mining is also not a good example: in any sane society, we’d be trying to make their jobs safer, not glorify them as sacrificial lambs. We are “morally required” to not participate in someone’s unwilling death, even if it is for our own interests. The sense of capitalist self-importance (“well, I won’t give up ELECTRICITY for the life of a mere coal miner!”) is insufferable. However good he is as a marginalist economist, he is a horrible human being.