Christopher Meacham


A number of criticisms of Utilitarianism – such as “nearest and dearest” objections, “demandingness” objections, and “altruistic” objections – arise because Utilitarianism doesn’t permit partially or wholly disregarding the utility of certain subjects. A number of authors, including Sider (1993), Portmore (2008) and Vessel (2010), have responded to these objections by suggesting we adopt “dual-maximizing” theories which provide a way to incorporate disregarding. And in response to “altruistic” objections in particular – objections noting that it seems permissible to make utility- decreasing sacrifices – these authors have suggested adopting a dual-maximizing theory that permits disregarding one’s own utility. 


In this paper I’ll defend two claims. First, I’ll argue that dual-maximizing theories are a poor way to incorporate disregarding. Instead, I’ll suggest that “variable- disregarding” theories provide a more attractive way to incorporate disregarding. Second, I’ll argue that the right way to handle these “altruistic” objections isn’t to permit disregarding one’s own utility, it’s to permit disregarding the utility of those who consent. Together, these two claims entail that the best way to modify Utilitarianism to handle “altruistic” objections is to adopt a variable-disregarding view that disregards the utility of those who consent.