Monday 2 May 2022

Disutility bleg

We're all familiar with Nozick's utility monster - the counterexample that eats utilitarianism. 

If someone exists who will always get more utils out of the next dollar than anyone else, then utilitarianism winds up saying you have to keep feeding the monster. And you wind up in spots that obviously conflict with common sense intuitions. Sure, it doesn't seem possible that the utility monster can exist: surely maximum utility is bounded such that it's impossible. But the thought experiment seems damning against straight utilitarianism.

But what about a disutility monster: one for whom the next dollar always provides less utility than it would for any other person. Obviously, utilitarianism says not to waste money on the disutility monster. But would this kind of disutility monster by a problem for Rawlsean setups that demand that outcomes must be set to maximise the position of the worst-off? If you maximise the position of the worst off, and the disutility monster begins from a very low-utility position and is always terrible at turning transfers into utils, you have to wind up with everyone being alike in misery right? 

And aren't disutility monsters more plausible than utility monsters? It's easy to imagine miserable people who really can't be made much less miserable; it's hard to imagine unbounded positive utility. 

Cowen's first rule is that there's a literature on everything, but I've not found this version of a disutility monster written up - at least on a quick search. 

Hence the bleg. 

1 comment:

  1. A redit post along the same lines, roughly speaking, from 5 years ago: