Rebuttal target: Ustupidtarianism in 4 Stupids, by Shane Killian (video against utilitarianism)

Short preface: I'm not a utilitarian, I'm a consequentialist with a more intricate value system that that, and the guy Shane responds to says a lot of stupid stuff; he's definitely a horrible representation of consequentialism in general, but that doesn't excuse Shane's egregious stream of fallacies and contradictions.


Shane accuses him multiple times of wanting central planning, but he never says that; his thesis is just that it's more moral to do something that causes more total happiness. Believing or practicing this doesn't necessitate believing in any individual or group having authority.

<3:40> But if everyone sacrifices themselves, you won't have the maximum happiness you say you want.

Completely false. "Sacrifice" here didn't even mean dying in its original context, it meant doing a favor, so when someone makes a sacrifice, other people can receive more benefit, and the original sacrificer can later receive a compensatory benefit from someone else's sacrifice. (or not; it's also possible within utilitarianism for some people to make sacrifices for others and not get repaid and for this to still result in more total happiness).

Also, this "what if everyone did that" is itself a fallacy, since one's own decision is independent of other people's. A strict libertarian like Shane of all people should recognize that the truth of an idea doesn't depend on the consequences of everyone believing it.

<5:30> Does the person being an asshole make a difference? Only if you believe it's morally justifiable to have the death penalty for the crime of being an asshole in the subjective judgement of whoever's in charge of this collective!

Wow, talk about fallacies.

  1. Strawman; it doesn't necessitate believing in killing people for being assholes, it means killing assholes when doing so will save an innocent. There's a huge difference between killing someone just for being an asshole and killing an asshole to save a non-asshole.

  2. From whence comes the premise that the opinion that someone is an asshole is subjective? An asshole in this context is someone who acts un-admirably but without violating other people's rights. No one really believes that's subjective. Shane has nonaggressive actions he thinks are deplorable - maybe choosing to believe in statism despite seeing evidence to the contrary, or spending all day pursuing your own happiness compared to trying to spread libertarianism. Obviously there's such thing as objectively good and bad behavior outside of criminality. To claim otherwise as an argument against his opponent is both circular and disingenuous.

"This is how you can spot an authoritarian: they always treat their subjective opinion as if it's the one true objective fact".

Let me rephrase that for you... "This is how you can spot a nihilist: they always treat any disapproval of an action they don't disapprove of (being a nonviolent asshole) as if it's just a subjective opinion, rather than arguing as to why it's a good action or why it's an area where objective standards are impossible".

"But a principled libertarian ... can easily explain why switching the track is the right thing to do: because it's a difficult situation and you're just trying to minimize the damage. As long as you do only what's necessary to minimize the damage and no more, and you weren't the one who created the situation to begin with, then none of it is your fault."

... What?!? This exact same argument justifies the murder scenario described in the beginning. Didn't you say yourself earlier on that switching the track in this situation is no different from shooting the one person to save the others? You were right! If you can justify this, why can't you also justify the afore-described murder or any other variant of the backpacker scenario? You're doing only what's necessary to minimize the damage and you weren't the one who created the situation to begin with. The same argument also justifies UBI or whatever other partial communism program. If neither scenario is about preventing an intentional murder, there should be no difference of kind between the "damage" of some number of people dying a few decades sooner and the "damage" of many people going hungry when others could easily feed them.

Obviously, as a consequentialist myself, I'm in full support of switching the track, killing the backpacker, or whatever other variant scenario. My principles acknowledge that, but for the argumentation ethics-adhering Shane Killian, it's blatantly inconsistent.

His quote at the end (these are usually really clever and good, so of course, this one is clever and bad):

If the only thing that matters is maximum happiness for all, why not just hand out free heroin?

What an intentional strawman. A utilitarian would respond that heroin only provides short-term happiness and causes far more unhappiness in the long term, hence handing it out is completely counter to utilitarian principles.


I posted this rebuttal as a Youtube comment, but I also wanted to post it here because Youtube comments suck, and I might as well use the opportunity to add more good content here.