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Kotarbinski's Early Criticism of Utilitarianism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 January 2009

Wlodek Rabinowicz
Affiliation:
University of Lund, wlodek.rabinowicz@fil.lu.se

Abstract

Apart from a short introduction, this contribution consists of a translation of Tadeusz Kotarbinski's ‘Utilitarianism and The Ethics of Pity’ (1914). In that concise and relatively unknown early note, written before he embarked on his long and influential career as a nominalist logician and philosopher of science, Kotarbinski formulates four astonishingly ‘modern’ objections to utilitarianism. Unlike Christian ‘ethics of pity’, utilitarian ethics (i) disregards the normative importance of the distinction between preventing suffering and promoting happiness, (ii) leaves no room for supererogation, (iii) leaves no room for agent-relativity in morality in so far as it disallows ‘inefficient’ self-sacrifice, and (iv) rejects the possibility of genuine ethical dilemmas. To what extent was Kotarbinski a pioneer in his critique? This question is posed but not answered.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2000

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References

1 Elementy teorii poznania, logiki formalnej i metodoiogiis nauk, Lvov, 1929 (3rd edn., Warszawa, 1986)Google Scholar ; Dziela wszystkie: Ontologia, teoria poznania i metodologia nauk, Wroclaw, 1993. Cf.Google ScholarWolenski, Jan (ed.), Logic, Semantics, Ontology, Dordrecht, 1990CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

2 Traktat o dobrej robocie, Warszawa, 1958Google Scholar . Cf. Gasparski, Wojciech, A Philosophy of Practicality: A Treatise on the Philosophy of Tadeusz Kotarbinski, Helsinki, 1993Google Scholar .

3 Medytacje o zyciu godziwym, Warszawa, 1985Google Scholar , re-publ. in Pisma etyczne [Ethical Writings], ed. P. J. Smoczynski, Wroclaw, 1987, pp. 361–420.

4 Utylitaryzm w etyce Milla i Spencera, Cracow, 1915Google Scholar , re-publ. in Pisma etyczne, pp. 25–84.

5 Published in a journal, PolishNowe Tory [New Tracks], i–ii (1914)Google Scholar. Repr. in Pisma Etyczne, pp. 85–8.

6 I am grateful to Kotarbinski's family for permission to publish this translation, and to Paul Needham for checking my English. The remaining linguistic infelicities are my own responsibility; I may have been too anxious to emulate the special style of the original!

7 The author here makes use of a neologism, ‘chrystianizm’, instead of the standard ‘chrzescijanstwo’ (‘Christianity’).

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