Kotarbinski's Early Criticism of Utilitarianism

Wlodek Rabinowicza1

a1 University of Lund, wlodek.rabinowicz@fil.lu.se


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.