5. Classical Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice

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Moral Foundations of Politics (PLSC 118)

Professor Shapiro continues his examination of Jeremy Bentham's formulation of classical utilitarianism, with a focus on the distributive implications of the theory of "maximizing the greatest happiness of the greatest number." He engages students in a discussion of a guiding principle of classical utilitarianism, the principle of diminishing marginal utility, and some traditional critiques of this principle. Professor Shapiro examines the capacity of classical utilitarianism as a radically redistributive doctrine. Bentham himself tried to avoid this consequence with his argument that the rich would burn their crops before giving them away, and he differentiated between "absolute" and "practical" equality. Professor Shapiro connects all of these concepts to Reagan's tax cuts of the 1980s, pre- and post-apartheid South Africa, and contemporary debates about economic stimulus.

00:00 - Chapter 1. The Measurement of Utility
05:57 - Chapter 2. Classical Utilitarianism, Distributive Justice and Diminishing Marginal Utility
25:57 - Chapter 3. Diminishing Marginal Utility, Practical and Absolute Equality
34:15 - Chapter 4. What about Rights?

Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website: http://open.yale.edu/courses

This course was recorded in Spring 2010.