Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Funding for this program is provided by: Additional funding provided by: Last time, we argued about the case of The Queen v. 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 use 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.