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Is Objective List Theory "Spooky"?

[I'm currently working on a new introduction to theories of welfare for utilitarianism.net, and am wondering whether to include the following.  Two big questions: Do you agree that "spookiness" worries seem like a common basis (especially amongst students / non-specialists) for rejecting objective list theories?  And if so, do you find the substantive discussion here to be helpful?]Resistance to objective list theories may sometimes stem from the sense that there is something metaphysically extravagant, disreputable, or “spooky” about the objective values that it posits. But competing theories of welfare are arguably in no better position with regard to such metaethical concerns. Wellbeing is an inherently normative notion: it is that which is worth pursuing for an individual’s sake. (If you are not describing something that matters in this way, then whatever it is that you are giving an account of, it cannot truly be welfare. A thoroughgoing normative skeptic or nihilist must deny that there is any such thing.)^[Expressivists may give an anti-realist gloss on what “mattering” amounts to. But then they can just as comfortably extend this gloss to the kind of first-order “objectivity” posited by objective list theories.]Utilitarians, especially, regard welfare as objectively valuable: if someone claims that others' interests don't matter, we think they're making a serious moral mistake. Given this ultimate commitment to a kind of first-order normative objectivity, [More]

Conscientious Sadism

I've previously argued that sadistic pleasure (in oppressing the innocent) lacks value. But consider a complication.  Suppose this time that the sadistic majority are all conscientious utilitarians who would never willingly increase net suffering in the world.  They all appreciate that their victim's suffering is a bad thing in itself, and so would genuinely prefer to realize the same amount of pleasure without any suffering at all, if possible.  But alas, this just isn't possible in the circumstances.  We may further suppose that they would each be willing to themselves be tortured in order to generate greater net pleasure for their companions.  But alas, this isn't possible, either.  Their only options are to torture an unwilling innocent person, generating population-wide sadistic pleasure, or do nothing and have uniformly neutral experiences throughout the population.In this revised case, many will of course still think it would be wrong to torture the innocent.  But I wonder whether this assimilates it to a standard sort of rights-violation scenario (e.g. involving non-sadistic pleasure), or whether we should still regard the sadistic pleasure itself as entirely lacking in value?One possible test: suppose that, while the torture is ongoing, you're able to temporarily disable the pleasure-centers in all the sadists' brains.  Would disabling their sadistic pleasure in this way be good, bad, or neutral?  In the [More]

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