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Saturday, September 11, 2021

Virtues for Real-World Utilitarians

Schubert, S., & Caviola, L. (2021, August 3)


Utilitarianism says that we should maximize aggregate well-being, impartially considered. But utilitarians that try to apply this principle will encounter many psychological obstacles, ranging from selfishness to moral biases to limits to epistemic and instrumental rationality. In this chapter, we argue that utilitarians should cultivate a number of virtues that allow them to overcome the most important of these obstacles. We select virtues based on two criteria. First, the virtues should be impactful: they should greatly increase your impact (according to utilitarian standards), if you acquire them. Second, the virtues should be acquirable: they should be psychologically realistic to acquire. Using these criteria, we argue that utilitarians should prioritize six virtues: moderate altruism, moral expansiveness, effectiveness-focus, truth-seeking, collaborativeness, and determination. Finally, we discuss how our suggested list of virtues compares with standard conceptions of utilitarianism, as well as with common sense morality.


We have suggested six virtues that utilitarians should cultivate to overcome psychological obstacles to utilitarianism and maximize their impact in the real world: moderate altruism, moral expansiveness, effectiveness-focus,  truth-seeking,  collaborativeness,  and  determination.  To  reiterate,  this  list  is tentative, and should be seen more as a starting point for further research than as a well-consolidated set of findings. It is plausible that some of our suggested virtues should be refined, and that we should add further  virtues  to  the  list.  We  hope  that  it  should  inspire  a  debate  among  philosophers  and psychologists about what virtues utilitarians should prioritize the most.