Posted by: Becoming Gaia | May 26, 2010

“Goal Utilitarianism” vs. “Preference Utilitarianism”

Russell Blackford has helpfully commented that he believes my position to be preference utilitarianism.

I argue that my position is more properly labeled goal utilitarianism with the distinction being illustrated by the following definition:

Addiction is the state where an entity’s preferences harmfully outweigh their goals.

It is one of the most common mistakes in ethics to mistake gameable status indicators (happiness, well-being, preferences) for the realities that they are supposed to measure and evaluate.  Shortsighted happiness utilitarians are at a loss as to why humanity shouldn’t wirehead itself out of existence.  Preference utilitarians need to invent additional distinctions to explain why children desiring a diet limited to candy should be denied.

If our preferences optimally led to our goals then these two terms would be identical.  Unfortunately, we humans have numerous cravings that are not in our own best* interest (as well as many that are).

* “best” arguably being that which allows us to achieve maximal goal satisfaction



  1. How can you decide a child’s goals?

    Please explain which of a child’s goals is blocked by denying the candy diet they ‘prefer’…

  2. […] Kedaw’s question “How can you decide a child’s goals?” rather surprised me while providing an […]

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