utilitarianism This is the idea
that the ultimate criterion of *morals is utility, and so whatever actions appear to maximize
overall utility (in the long term and as far as we can tell) are at least *legitimate
and probably mandatory. Several points need to be made in a *libertarian
context. What follows relates only to *persons and not to non-person *animals.

1)
Conception of utility. If ‘utility’
is understood as a mental state, as
it was originally and often still is, then it is hard to defend it as desirable
in principle because most people want at least some real states of affairs.
They do not want the *happy or pleasurable delusion of having the things they
want, nor some zombie-like state of wellbeing. The more recent preference utilitarianism, by contrast, means
having more of your preferences or wants satisfied, even if you can never know
it (such as a lost friend’s wellbeing or what happens to your paintings after
your own *death). Only one’s unimposed wants (not those induced by
*fraud or force) will count, because we do not value *proactively-imposed
wants however happy, etc., they might make us. Thus (unimposed-)want-satisfaction
is a criterion of *welfare, although not an exclusively *self-interested
one, that people would choose for themselves if they could. *Economics
should be interpreted as referring to this sense of utility.

2)
Conceptual connection with liberty.
There are conceptual connections between preference utilitarianism and
libertarianism: individual persons have more *liberty
and utility to the extent that they are not proactively imposed on; and liberty
and utility are necessarily desired. These connections are not ad hoc: they involve
interpretations of liberty and utility that independently withstand *critical
scrutiny. These connections do not make the overlap between utility and liberty
tautological: we can coherently imagine the *state’s being able to
increase overall utility by infringing liberty.

3)
Contingent connection with liberty. There
is no logical incompatibility between preference utilitarianism and *laissez
faire; contra, for instance, Bernard Williams (1929-2003) (see *unintended consequences). And, contingently, it
appears from economics, primarily, that the *free market and liberty are
just what does maximize want-satisfaction. There seem to be no systematic
clashes between them, at least (see relevant topic entries if this is doubted).
Thus ‘rule utilitarianism’ can be interpreted as requiring the rule of
observing libertarian *rights (rather than calculating the consequences for
each act as ‘act utilitarianism’ entails; but
see
*consequentialism).

4)
Significance of connection with liberty.
Neither preference-utility nor liberty are ultimate values (goals we would uphold
as ends in themselves no matter what the consequences): both are only moral frameworks,
or can even be mere egoistic modus vivendi (possibly arising from a *social
contract), within which diverse values and ends may be pursued. That utility
and liberty do not clash is not a *‘justification’ of either by the other. Correctly understood,
they can both float as unrefuted practical moral conjectures. But it allays
criticisms of each that, if either were to be maximised, it would damage the
other too much. And liberty and utility are the two biggest, supposed, rivals
in Western moral theory; so they make an overwhelming alliance. Ultimately, one
is a libertarian or utilitarian first and foremost to the extent that one would
favor liberty or utility in the event of a clash. Not many people would favor
liberty regardless of the consequences for utility, or vice versa. But as they
do not clash in systematic practice one need not choose.

See *utility monsters, etc.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism