Pluralistic Theories of Value: GE Moore and Preference Utilitarianism

The English philosopher G.E. Moore (1873-1958) was, like Mill and Bentham, a utilitarian.
He held that moral action should be guided by that which yields the greatest “value”. Contrary to monisticutilitarianism and hedonism which claim that the principles of "happiness" and "pleasure" should guide our actions, Moore argued that there exists more than one intrinsic value that guides moral action[2]

Moore adopted the pluralistic theory of value which observed pleasure or happiness as one of the many items of ultimate, irreducible value. Pluralism allows the acceptance of more than one set of beliefs, opinions, or ways of understanding concepts or ideas. As a theory, it is applicable to a wide range of topics and fields of study.
In this approach knowledge and experience are also included in the theory as value because individuals have intrinsic utility from them[3]. Some individuals value knowledge and experiences for themselves like any other materialistic thing. They feel that knowledge and experiences add to their education, and life experiences which cannot be taken from anyone else. For example, if I am a chef, food gives me the most happiness (or utility in this world) which is different from my friend the artist, who gains the same amount of utility from her paintings. Utility is a difficult to measure because individuals have different utilities and different preferences; there is no rational for measuring utility in these cases.

Another bar to value-pluralism was excessive demands for unity or system in ethics. It is hard to measure value for so many individuals since you do not have a system to measure with. Moore, along with Rashdall, Ross, and others said that “to search for unity, and ‘system’ at the expense of truth, was not proper business of philosophy (Principia Ethica 270)[4]. If intuition reveals a plurality of ultimate goods, then an adequate theory must recognize that plurality[5]. It is easy to give examples of some of the ideas we may have, sometimes it is difficult to come up with the definitions because they can be quite broad.
Modern utilitarians tend to take a different approach; utilitarians claim that we should seek to satisfy people’s preferences or perhaps their rational preferences. The difficulty comes when we have to compare values between two competing experiences. How does one have more importance over another? Some have said that comparing pleasure (or pain) for different individuals can be like comparing apples to oranges[6 Waluchow, 2003]. How can say that my masters’ degree means a lot more to me, than your masters’ degree means to you?

In //Principia Ethica//, (1903) Moore acknowledges that a plurality of “intrinsic goods”, such as friendship and aesthetic experience (appreciation of beauty), are of no less intrinsic value than "happiness" or "pleasure". Each of these irreducible “goods” has its own value that is not derived from another.


“...pleasure is certainly not the sole good...It is, I think, universally admitted that the proper appreciation of a beautiful object is a good thing in itself…”


Many contemporary utilitarians suggest that an even greater plurality of "intrinsic goods" exist. Preference utilitarianism theorizes that any experience, object or state of affairs can be the subject of someone’s preference and can therefore be of ultimate value[7].

We all have our own set of beliefs and/or values. We all hold different things close to our hearts, and deep in our soul. It is incorrect to say that people feel the same amount of pleasure, or the same amount of pain. At the end of the day, there is no way to tell who is better off, and who is worse off. Feelings are feelings!



[1]
Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough, ON: Broadview press.
[2] Schroeder, Mark, (2012) "Value Theory", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2012/entries/value-theory
[3] Schroeder, Mark, (2012) "Value Theory", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2012/entries/value-theory
[4] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moore-moral/
[5] Schroeder, Mark, (2012) "Value Theory", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2012/entries/value-theory
[6] Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough, ON: Broadview press.
[7] Schroeder, Mark, (2012) "Value Theory", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2012/entries/value-theory