Towards a dialogue between utilitarianism and medicine.

Y. Michael Barilan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Utilitarianism focuses on the optimization of personal well being in ways that seems to make the practice of medicine irrelevant to the well being of the practitioners, unless given external incentives such as money or honor. Care based on indirect incentives is considered inferior to care motivated internally. This leads to the paradox of utilitarian care. Following Nozick's conceptual Pleasure Machine it is argued that in addition to the promotion of personal well being, people care about fulfilling their well being in a world which is real, just, good, and beautiful. Complete mechanization of social and personal life in accordance with a strict utilitarian regime is also incompatible with the kind of world people desire, even if it promises more fulfillments in terms of personal well being. This explains the so-called Taurek-Parfit paradox, according to which sometimes ethics seems "to count the numbers" and sometimes not. The very pursuit of utilitarianism does not contribute to any personal life plan. The helping professions make the world a better place for us to live in, even though they do not necessarily bear directly on the well being of any individual other than the recipients of care. This resolves the paradox of utilitarian care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-173
Number of pages11
JournalMedicine, Health Care and Philosophy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


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