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Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

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+1 vote
utilitarianism is an moral philosophy that says the more happiness a action does, the more moral it is (the reserve is also true).
do you mean can a person hold both viewpoints (anarchy and utilitarianism) without contradiction?

if not, could you explain what you mean by "is anarchy justifiable with"?

wow! so i *am* a moralist after all - all my actions are intended to bring myself (and sometimes others) happiness.

interesting that utilitarianism targets happiness, as opposed to, say, utility (practicality?).

so, because killing someone that has caused suffering to others will (at least potentially) bring happiness to so many others, it is a highly moral act!

but surely i jest. fuck moralism in all its forms!!!!!!   no offense intended.
I could construct an argument but I hate utilitarianism, so I am not gonna.

Squee's answer to this question destroys the idea of anarchy as a better world or a world of more good. An anarchist might turn to a utilitarian justification to win an argument or convert, but they would surely rely on a logical fallacy somewhere or other.

By the way, you left out the part that hold one of the great problems with utilitarianism: the more happiness for whom? The greatest number. Screed on herd mentality and mass society aside, expecting people to perform mathematical estimations at the point of their decision-making reaches an absurdist peak. And beside, anarchists reasonably respond to such quantification with distrust.

4 Answers

+3 votes
Best answer
One problem with utilitarianism (at least as defined by Mill) is that it states that the best action is the one that creates the most happiness, of the highest quality, for the greatest number of people, in the long run.

This kinda sounds like a good idea, till you realize that clauses like "for the greatest number of people" is, implicitly, a justification for letting some people fall through the cracks.

One idea that underlies a lot of anarchist thinking is that any social structure that automatically, arbitrarily disempowers or excludes anyone is fucked up.

So, that's one way in which the two are, potentially, fundamentally incompatible -- much less either one being able to provide any sort of justification for the other.
by (480 points)

" till you realize that clauses like "for the greatest number of people" is, implicitly, a justification for letting some people fall through the cracks."

i'd raise similar issues regarding "highest quality" and "in the long run".

i believe one main problem is that happiness is such a vague idea, i certainly don't want to be a constant ball of bouncing happyness
Utilitarianism does not necessarily condone "letting some people fall through the cracks", but rather puts it forward as a viable alternative to not letting them fall through and consequently suffering a loss of net societal happiness.
+1 vote
of the definitions i looked at that seemed most like yours (based on happiness) human happiness was what they mentioned, making this -- among other things -- humanist (which is addressed elsewhere on this site).

but my main issue with it is the idea that most every government of the modern era (not to mention religions of almost every stripe) would claim to be working for the good of the most people.
another way to put that would be a) how does one know what causes happiness? b) how does one assess what "most" is? c) how does one determine what "happiness" is?
by (53.1k points)
I don't think utilitarianism is quite as humanist as you interpreted it to be (and on another level, I do). As it regards non-humans, utilitarianism is the school of thought most cited by animal rights types. Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Peter Singer are all utilitarians and have had things to say about the needless suffering of animals.

My problem is that it is really a philosophy of capitalism. The reason animal suffering is rejected is that the benefits of it aren't seen to outweigh the negative impact - it is all a balance sheet. As appealing as some of it's conclusions are, it is not the basis on which I want to rest my personal ethical framework.
0 votes
I believe it depends on your own personal views on morality and which anarchist thinkers you are most influenced by. William Godwin one of the first modern anarchists endorsed a proto utilitarian stance, although his anarchist views are perhaps too tame for some. In my opinion utilitarianism can be compatible with anarchism eapecially social and collectivist forms, although it can be said that utilitarianism is an endorsement of liberal capitalism especially that which was espoused by Bentham and Mill, which ultimately will lead to a stagnant society. The problem is that most political systems can be supported by utilitarianism with little evidence needed because the results are impossible to predict.
by (180 points)
A recent prolific anarchist author which adheres to a utilitarian point of view is the hedonist french philosopher Michel Onfray. He has positioned himself in that way but sadly he has not been translated too much in english. i have read him in spanish.
0 votes
Absolutely. I'm both a (preference) utilitarian and an anarchist - I believe that anarchism, or libertarian socialism, will result in the greatest net happiness and the greatest number of preferences satisfied.

In a society without the state, without religion, and without capitalism, people will be happier and freer.

One significant aspect of anarchism is that direct democracy will be implemented, and this principle implicitly endorses the core statement of utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number. Both philosophies are collectivist in nature, and yet both preference utilitarianism and anarchism respect individual autonomy too.
by (140 points)
hi viddy9. would you like to explain what preference utilitarianism is, and how it's different from not-preference utilitarianism?
I believe preference utilitarianism is the "good" of an action is determined by the extent that it fulfills the interests of the one involved in whichever action according to their own perspective.

edited to make more clear.