It’s Teleology All the Way Down (Blogathon 4/12)

This post is number four of twelve for the Secular Student Alliance Blogathon.  I’m responding to comments in the “Go Ahead, Tell Me What’s Wrong with Homosexuality” thread all day.  You can read an explanation of the Blogathon and a pitch for donations (even if you’re religious) here.

And now to disagree with someone who’s technically on my side (kind of). Smrda wrote:

I find utilitarian ethics perfectly satisfying – if an action doesn’t produce a victim, then it isn’t wrong. If a relationship makes people happy and nobody is being oppressed, go for it.

Your idea of taking a ‘disinterested point of view’ and seeing what in accordance with flourishing is no such thing – you are clearly invested in a particular perspective and its assumptions about what ‘flourishing’ entails are shaping how you perceive human relationships.

Previously, commenters have accused every moral system being utilitarianism in disguise, with varying definitions of the utils we’re trying to maximize.  I’d like to turn the tables on Smrda.  If you think people can be mistaken about what makes them happy, or that they can substitute a lower pleasure for a higher one, then you can’t accept “happy people not oppressing others” as the best goal.

Trying to figure what will make people happy is at least as hard as figuring out what will make them flourish, and it’s a lot less fortified against questions about duties to ourselves and obligations against self harm.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011 and lives in Washington DC. She works as a news writer for FiveThirtyEight by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."