Act Utilitarianism and Promise Keeping

These wack-ass bitches who try to put down utilitarianism never learn, do they? You can't keep a good philosophy down! Y'all best step off, 'cause Joe Levy is stepping up to the plate to pinch-hit for my homie, J.S. Mill.

Mill couldn't be bothered to defend utilitarianism from the likes of you. You know why? 'Cause you got nothin'! You can't touch the Big U!

But Mill's dead, and y'all's runnin' around like you own the place: Talking trash, pointin' out so-called "flaws" and "inadequacies". Why you so smug? Someone gonna put you in your place, and that someone is me!

Today, we gonna bust a myth: This damn fool idea that you can't trust us utilitarian homies to keep their word! I'll tell ya right now, my word is gold. No, it is freakin' platinum! You better hope your words taste like chocolate, cause you gon' be eatin' them if you dare mess with me.

Now, the rest of y'all, chill. I'll 'splain. See, their goofball idea is that I make a promise today, but then tomorrow I gets a call, and someone shows me fo' certain that if I do what I said I'd do, somethin' freaky bad gonna happen. So now I gots to choose 'tween wreckin' a whole buncha people's lives, or breakin' my word. And of course, bein' a utilitarian, I go wit' the greater good — or the lessa evil — and break my word.

But shee-it, would you trust some fool who think it's cool to get fifty people killed, just as long as he keeps 'is promise? Yeah, didn't think so.

Now, those trippin' freaks who still thinks they got a point will say, "Yeah, but Joe, if you can choose not to keep your promise whenever you figure that it wouldn't be for the greater good, then how can I trust you to keep a promise?"

Now, ya gotta carefully consider a response to that. The best ya can do is to stuff his socks down his throat a bit, so he won't be interruptin' your rebuttal. Ya really gots to teach people respect, 'cause they don't always learn it on their own.

If any of y'all has read on this subject, ya know that there's lots of dicking around with issues that ain't got jack squat to do with it. But my opponent ain't got long to stay conscious, so I'll get right to the point. This sorry motha' is gagging on his socks because — get this — he reckons he places more value in promise keepin' than I do.

Look at 'im, shakin' 'is head "no". He means it, too. He just don't get that that's what he's really sayin'. All right, sucka', lemme get the tongs from the fireplace and extract those socks from yo' blue face.

Once he can talk, he'll be like, "You only value human happiness. That's all that goes into your decision about whether to keep a promise. Whereas I value promises, and the act of promise keeping, for their own sake."

I don't do no nitpickin' about happiness versus goodness. It's close enough, and I got my eyes on the prize. "Well, now aren't you DAY-angerously close to sayin' what I said you was sayin'?" I smile.

"Um! Okay, I'm sure you value promises too, but only insofar as they are a means toward people's happiness. That's necessary, right, with you being a utilitarian?"

"Ya damn right. Now, why don't you tell me what exactly it is that I value about promises?"

"Um, people will be mad at you if you break them?"

That's strike two. This time, I just punch him in the throat. He crumples like foil.

Of course, these suckas are persistent. And resilient. So he wakes up, an' I'm up in his face, askin' him to guess again. "Why. Do. I. Keep. Promises."

He squirms. "To earn and keep people's trust?"

I let go of his collar. "Not bad; that's da big one. Ya got a couple o' brain cells in there. But let's clue ya in a little more: We also gots reciprocity, meanin' that if you benefit from me keepin' promises, I expect to benefit from y'all keepin' ya own damn promises."

"Isn't that-"

"If you say 'Kantian' I'm gonna kick yo' ass. This is pure utilitarian, baby. An' here's another reason. If I promise you somethin', unless it's an ass-whoopin', it ain't gonna be somethin' you don't want; it's gonna be somethin' you value. And I'm promisin' it, 'stead of doin' it fo' myself, 'cause I don't give a damn about it. But if you gots value to me — IF — then whatever I promise got value by proxy, 'cause of yo' benefit. And maybe, if I knew enough about it, I'd value it jus' like you do. So I gets indirect value, and a chance o' some unknown, direct value, from whatever I promised. Got it?"

He nods. He's lying.

Like I care. I goes on, "But like I said, trust is da big one. If nobody trust you, ain't nobody gonna be yo' friend. (At least, nobody worth having fo' a friend.) Oh, and good luck gettin' that loan, or even writin' a check fo' some mo' bling."

He pipes up. "So you value the practice of promise keeping."

"Damn right."

"Doesn't that make you a 'rule utilitarian'?"

He see da look in my eye, and he back off fast. I lay it down. "Look, sucka, I breaks all da rules. Ain't that the problem you had wit' me in the first place?"

"Oh yeah."

"You ain't alone in thinkin' that, though. See, it's real temptin' for people like you — and even some tight folks — to attach mad value to yo' rule about keepin' promises ('cause you know it got value), but to assume that I ain't give it much cred 'cause I leave it open to question. Mainly, that's 'cause you don't get all the reasons for its cred. And even if you did, they ain't easy to consider at a moment's notice. So what you're really figurin' is that, when it's time to keep my promise, if I stop and weigh all the utilitarian concerns, da promise won't count for as much as it should. But that's only 'cause you suck at identifyin' and weighin' those concerns. And ya know what? That's not my problem. Heads up: I keep my promises. I don't need some hard and fast rule to tell me it's dope; I already knows it, so all I'd need's a guideline (or maxim) to remind me — if I ever needed to be reminded, which I fo' sho' don't!"

You'd think that would be enough. But like I said, these bee-atches are persistent. "But how can a 'guideline' be enough? When you say you 'promise' something, doesn't that obligate you to do it?"

"Of course. What's da problem?"

"Well, how can you claim obligation, if you're only following a general guideline? Doesn't that mean you don't really feel obligated?"

"Whachoo smokin'? I is obligated to do what's best. That mean keepin' promises, treatin' folks decent like, and takin' care o' myself. Dem's all guidelines. My guidelines ain't absolute, but if you insinuatin' that I ain't take dem seriously, yo' nose an' my needlenose pliahs gonna get real friendly. Ya digg?"

The poor fool just don't get it. "But doesn't making promises obligate you in a way that other rules — guidelines, sorry — don't? I mean, you're actually stating your intentions with a promise."

"So what? I gotta say shit out loud for it to count?"

"Well, no, but you're obligating yourself to another person when you make a promise. That gives the obligation extra weight."

Strike three. "That's yo' obligation right there," I says, an' he looks where I'm pointin'. I lay him out with the tongs. Tha' blood's gonna be a bitch to get outta the carpet, but I gots to finish the debate, so I type this note and staple it to 'is face, where he can't miss it if he wakes up:

Autopsy result: Terminal asshatery. Analysis: Even me and my homies know that obligations to others get a little extra weight, 'cause you never know when that shit'll do a lot more good than you think. And while there's all kinds of decisions that affect yo' peeps, this trippin' punk thought that promises were all that plus tax, just 'cause they're always O.P.P. Fact is, with utilitarians, promises don't need the help. We always represent.

In yo' face, muthafucka. R.I.P.

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