Rothbard’s Arguments Against Utilitarianism

In ‘towards a new liberty’ chapter 2 Rothbard makes among others two arguments against utilitarianism. The first is that if it is legitimate to apply value judgements to the consequences of x then why is it not equally legitimate to apply value judgements to x itself? May not certain actions be good or evil by their very nature? The second argument is that utilitarians do not adopt a principle as an absolute and consistent yardstick (other than utility of course) to apply to the real world and so use their principle as a vague guide line, tendency or aspiration. Historically this resulted in the fatal compromise of the libertarian creed and thus the failure of the British radicals to make progress towards liberty.

The first argument makes the question begging fallacy since it gives no reasons for why x can be inherently good or evil. The second argument isn’t in fact an argument against utilitarianism but actually is a utilitarian argument. He is stating that thinking in utilitarian terms has bad consequences since it ensures that liberty, whose implementation has good consequences, is not achieved. A utilitarian can therefore respond that if Rothbard’s argument is true then it maximizes utility to view moral rules as more absolute and less as rules of thumb. Therefore both arguments fail.

Although Rothbard’s understanding of utilitarianism is at least better than Molyneux’s…


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