What is the alternative to utilitarianism?

Shower upon him every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him economic prosperity, such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even then out of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some nasty trick. He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire the most fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical absurdity, simply to introduce into all this positive good sense his fatal fantastic element. … If you say that all this, too, can be calculated and tabulated—chaos and darkness and curses, so that the mere possibility of calculating it all beforehand would stop it all, and reason would reassert itself, then man would purposely go mad in order to be rid of reason and gain his point! I believe in it, I answer for it, for the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key! It may be at the cost of his skin, it may be by cannibalism! And this being so, can one help being tempted to rejoice that it has not yet come off, and that desire still depends on something we don’t know?

You will scream at me (that is, if you condescend to do so) that no one is touching my free will, that all they are concerned with is that my will should of itself, of its own free will, coincide with my own normal interests, with the laws of nature and arithmetic.

Good heavens, gentlemen, what sort of free will is left when we come to tabulation and arithmetic, when it will all be a case of twice two make four? Twice two makes four without my will. As if free will meant that!

Fyodor Dostoevsky

You see it’s broke nigga racism
That’s that “Don’t touch anything in the store”
And it’s rich nigga racism
That’s that “Come in, please buy more”


I’ve seen much of the rest of the world, it is brutal and cruel and dark. Rome is the light.

Aelius Maximus Decimus Meridius

When I tell my utilitarian friends that I don’t like utilitarianism, they always ask me: what is the alternative? Here’s a few:

Appendix: Why don’t I like utilitarianism?

  1. If your goal is to maximize utility of conscious beings and there appear beings utility of which is easier to maximize than utility of humans, you’re going to switch sides.
  2. Utilitarianism is exploited by beings that can change their utility functions (this actually happens in real life with utilitarians when they encounter people with “strong preferences”).
  3. A movie that was going great until the last minute when it was ruined is a bad movie but integrating its goodness over its duration will tell you that it’s a good movie.
  4. The Telegraph on Jeremy Bentham: “he was notably eccentric, reclusive and difficult to get hold of. He called his walking stick Dapple, his teapot Dickey, and kept an elderly cat named The Reverend Sir John Langbourne. … In 2006, researchers Philip Lucas and Anne Sheeran suggested his unique character was driven by Asperger’s syndrome, after studying biographies which described a young Bentham as ‘having few companions his own age’; and being ‘morbidly sensitive.’”
  5. Lexicographic preferences.
  6. From my observations, taking utilitarianism seriously means giving up its foundational elegance and instead pursuing all kinds of wacky heuristics that make it actionable.
  7. From my observations, people who try to take utilitarianism seriously have their brains break.

Appendix: Alternatives to utilitarianism from GPT-3

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