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  • Last time, we argued about

  • the case of the Queen vs. Dudley & Stephens,

  • the lifeboat case, the case of cannibalism at sea.

  • And with the arguments about the lifeboat in mind,

  • the arguments for and against what Dudley and Stephens did in mind,

  • let's turn back to the philosophy, the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham.

  • Bentham was born in England in 1748. At the age of 12, he went to Oxford.

  • At 15, he went to law school. He was admitted to the bar at age 19

  • but he never practiced law.

  • Instead, he devoted his life to jurisprudence and moral philosophy.

  • Last time, we began to consider Bentham's version of utilitarianism.

  • The main idea is simply stated and it's this:

  • The highest principle of morality, whether personal or political morality,

  • is to maximize the general welfare, or the collective happiness,

  • or the overall balance of pleasure over pain;

  • in a phrase, maximize utility.

  • Bentham arrives at this principle by the following line of reasoning:

  • We're all governed by pain and pleasure,

  • they are our sovereign masters, and so any moral system

  • has to take account of them.

  • How best to take account? By maximizing.

  • And this leads to the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number.

  • What exactly should we maximize?

  • Bentham tells us happiness, or more precisely, utility...

  • maximizing utility as a principle not only for individuals

  • but also for communities and for legislators.

  • "What, after all, is a community?" Bentham asks.

  • It's the sum of the individuals who comprise it.

  • And that's why in deciding the best policy,

  • in deciding what the law should be, in deciding what's just,

  • citizens and legislators should ask themselves the question

  • if we add up all of the benefits of this policy

  • and subtract all of the costs, the right thing to do

  • is the one that maximizes the balance of happiness over suffering.

  • That's what it means to maximize utility.

  • Now, today, I want to see whether you agree or disagree with it,

  • and it often goes, this utilitarian logic,

  • under the name of cost-benefit analysis,

  • which is used by companies and by governments all the time.

  • And what it involves is placing a value,

  • usually a dollar value, to stand for utility on the costs

  • and the benefits of various proposals.

  • Recently, in the Czech Republic, there was a proposal

  • to increase the excise tax on smoking. Philip Morris, the tobacco company,

  • does huge business in the Czech Republic.

  • They commissioned a study, a cost-benefit analysis

  • of smoking in the Czech Republic, and what their cost-benefit

  • analysis found was the government gains by having Czech citizens smoke.

  • Now, how do they gain?

  • It's true that there are negative effects to the public finance

  • of the Czech government because there are increased health care

  • costs for people who develop smoking-related diseases.

  • On the other hand, there were positive effects

  • and those were added up on the other side of the ledger.

  • The positive effects included, for the most part,

  • various tax revenues that the government derives from the sale

  • of cigarette products, but it also included

  • health care savings to the government when people die early,

  • pension savings... you don't have to pay pensions for as long...

  • and also, savings in housing costs for the elderly.

  • And when all of the costs and benefits were added up,

  • the Philip Morris study found that there is a net public finance gain

  • in the Czech Republic of $147,000,000,

  • and given the savings in housing, in health care, and pension costs,

  • the government enjoys savings of over $1,200 for each person

  • who dies prematurely due to smoking.

  • Cost-benefit analysis.

  • Now, those among you who are defenders of utilitarianism

  • may think that this is an unfair test.

  • Philip Morris was pilloried in the press

  • and they issued an apology for this heartless calculation.

  • You may say that what's missing here is something that the utilitarian

  • can easily incorporate, namely the value to the person

  • and to the families of those who die from lung cancer.

  • What about the value of life?

  • Some cost-benefit analyses incorporate a measure for the value of life.

  • One of the most famous of these involved the Ford Pinto case.

  • Did any of you read about that?

  • This was back in the 1970s.

  • Do you remember what the Ford Pinto was,

  • a kind of car? Anybody?

  • It was a small car, subcompact car, very popular,

  • but it had one problem, which is the fuel tank

  • was at the back of the car and in rear collisions,

  • the fuel tank exploded and some people were killed

  • and some severely injured.

  • Victims of these injuries took Ford to court to sue.

  • And in the court case, it turned out that Ford

  • had long since known about the vulnerable fuel tank

  • and had done a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether it would be

  • worth it to put in a special shield that would

  • protect the fuel tank and prevent it from exploding.

  • They did a cost-benefit analysis.

  • The cost per part to increase the safety of the Pinto,

  • they calculated at $11.00 per part.

  • And here's... this was the cost-benefit analysis that emerged in the trial.

  • Eleven dollars per part at 12.5 million cars and trucks

  • came to a total cost of $137 million to improve the safety.

  • But then they calculated the benefits of spending all this money

  • on a safer car and they counted 180 deaths

  • and they assigned a dollar value, $200,000 per death,

  • 180 injuries, $67,000, and then the costs to repair,

  • the replacement cost for 2,000 vehicles,

  • it would be destroyed without the safety device $700 per vehicle.

  • So the benefits turned out to be only $49.5 million

  • and so they didn't install the device.

  • Needless to say, when this memo of the

  • Ford Motor Company's cost-benefit analysis came out in the trial,

  • it appalled the jurors, who awarded a huge settlement.

  • Is this a counterexample to the utilitarian idea of calculating?

  • Because Ford included a measure of the value of life.

  • Now, who here wants to defend cost-benefit analysis

  • from this apparent counterexample?

  • Who has a defense?

  • Or do you think this completely destroys the whole

  • utilitarian calculus? Yes?

  • Well, I think that once again, they've made the same mistake

  • the previous case did, that they assigned a dollar value

  • to human life, and once again,

  • they failed to take account things like suffering

  • and emotional losses by the families.

  • I mean, families lost earnings but they also lost a loved one

  • and that is more valued than $200,000.

  • Right and... wait, wait, wait, that's good. What's your name?

  • Julie Roteau.

  • So if $200,000, Julie, is too low a figure

  • because it doesn't include the loss of a loved one

  • and the loss of those years of life, what would be...

  • what do you think would be a more accurate number?

  • I don't believe I could give a number. I think that this sort of analysis

  • shouldn't be applied to issues of human life.

  • I think it can't be used monetarily.

  • So they didn't just put too low a number, Julie says.

  • They were wrong to try to put any number at all.

  • All right, let's hear someone who...

  • You have to adjust for inflation.

  • You have to adjust for inflation.

  • All right, fair enough.

  • So what would the number be now?

  • This was 35 years ago.

  • Two million dollars.

  • Two million dollars? You would put two million?

  • And what's your name?

  • Voytek.

  • Voytek says we have to allow for inflation.

  • We should be more generous.

  • Then would you be satisfied that this is the right way of

  • thinking about the question?

  • I guess, unfortunately, it is for...

  • there needs to be a number put somewhere, like, I'm not sure

  • what that number would be, but I do agree that

  • there could possibly be a number put on the human life.

  • All right, so Voytek says, and here, he disagrees with Julie.

  • Julie says we can't put a number on human life

  • for the purpose of a cost-benefit analysis.

  • Voytek says we have to because we have to make decisions somehow.

  • What do other people think about this?

  • Is there anyone prepared to defend cost-benefit analysis

  • here as accurate as desirable? Yes? Go ahead.

  • I think that if Ford and other car companies

  • didn't use cost-benefit analysis, they'd eventually go out of business

  • because they wouldn't be able to be profitable and millions of people

  • wouldn't be able to use their cars to get to jobs,

  • to put food on the table, to feed their children.

  • So I think that if cost-benefit analysis isn't employed,

  • the greater good is sacrificed, in this case.

  • All right, let me add. What's your name?

  • Raul.

  • Raul, there was recently a study done about cell phone used by a driver

  • when people are driving a car, and there was a debate

  • whether that should be banned.

  • Yeah.

  • And the figure was that some 2,000 people die as a result

  • of accidents each year using cell phones.

  • And yet, the cost-benefit analysis which was done by the

  • Center for Risk Analysis at Harvard found that

  • if you look at the benefits of the cell phone use

  • and you put some value on the life, it comes out about the same

  • because of the enormous economic benefit of enabling people

  • to take advantage of their time, not waste time, be able to make deals

  • and talk to friends and so on while they're driving.

  • Doesn't that suggest that it's a mistake to try to put

  • monetary figures on questions of human life?

  • Well, I think that if the great majority of people try to

  • derive maximum utility out of a service,

  • like using cell phones and the convenience that cell phones provide,

  • that sacrifice is necessary for satisfaction to occur.

  • You're an outright utilitarian.

  • Yes. Okay.

  • - All right then, one last question, Raul. - Okay.

  • And I put this to Voytek, what dollar figure should

  • be put on human life to decide whether to ban the use of cell phones?

  • Well, I don't want to arbitrarily calculate a figure,

  • I mean, right now. I think that...

  • You want to take it under advisement?

  • Yeah, I'll take it under advisement.

  • - But what, roughly speaking, would it be? You got 2,300 deaths. - Okay.

  • You got to assign a dollar value to know whether you want

  • - to prevent those deaths by banning the use of cell phones in cars. - Okay.

  • So what would your hunch be? How much? A million?

  • - Two million? Two million was Voytek's figure. - Yeah.

  • - Is that about right? - Maybe a million.

  • - A million? - Yeah.

  • - You know, that's good. Thank you. - Okay.

  • So, these are some of the controversies that arise these days

  • from cost-benefit analysis, especially those that involve placing a

  • dollar value on everything to be added up.

  • Well, now I want to turn to your objections,

  • to your objections not necessarily to cost-benefit analysis specifically,

  • because that's just one version of the utilitarian logic in practice today,

  • but to the theory as a whole, to the idea that the right thing to do,

  • the just basis for policy and law is to maximize utility.

  • How many disagree with the utilitarian approach to law

  • and to the common good?

  • How many agree with it?

  • So more agree than disagree.

  • So let's hear from the critics. Yes?

  • My main issue with it is that I feel like you can't say

  • that just because someone's in the minority, what they want

  • and need is less valuable than someone who is in the majority.

  • So I guess I have an issue with the idea that the greatest good

  • for the greatest number is okay because there are still...

  • what about people who are in the lesser number?

  • Like, it's not fair to them.

  • They didn't have any say in where they wanted to be.

  • All right. That's an interesting objection.

  • You're worried about the effect on the minority.

  • Yes.

  • What's your name, by the way?

  • Anna.

  • Who has an answer to Anna's worry about the effect on the minority?

  • What do you say to Anna?

  • Um, she said that the minority is valued less.

  • I don't think that's the case because individually,

  • the minority's value is just the same as the individual of the majority.

  • It's just that the numbers outweigh the minority.

  • And I mean, at a certain point, you have to make a decision

  • and I'm sorry for the minority but sometimes,

  • it's for the general, for the greater good.

  • For the greater good. Anna, what do you say?

  • What's your name?

  • Yang-Da.

  • What do you say to Yang-Da?

  • Yang-Da says you just have to add up people's preferences

  • and those in the minority do have their preferences weighed.

  • Can you give an example of the kind of thing

  • you're worried about when you say you're worried about utilitarianism

  • violating the concern or respect due the minority?

  • - OK. - And give an example.

  • Okay. So, well, with any of the cases that we've talked about,

  • like for the shipwreck one, I think the boy who was eaten

  • still had as much of a right to live as the other people

  • and just because he was the minority