Are Millennials the First Utilitarian Generation?

While it may appear that I love to blast out NOLA education research on twitter all day, I actually do not. But I think it’s important, so I do it.

On to other topics.

Scott Sumner just had an interesting post on the rise of utilitarianism. He writes:

If I might be allowed a bit of armchair philosophical speculation, it seems to me that the advance of technology and utilitarianism are two of the most relentless trends in world history. The growing importance of technology is easy to see, while utilitarianism requires a bit more explanation…

Do read the whole post.

I think Scott may be right: utilitarianism does appear to be on the rise, especially amongst the elite. I see this in two ways: (1) viewing all people of equal worth and (2) a willingness to transfer wealth to those with less.

Gay rights is an example of the first. Trends in philanthropy (Give Well, Give Directly, etc.); bipartisan support for the EITC, and the growing Open Borders movement are all examples of the second.

Scott discusses much of the above in his post.

I view this as an incredibly important trend, one may that dwarf most other social trends, as it has the potential to greatly affect government policy.

While any philosophy breaks down if you ask “why?” enough times, versions of utilitarianism hold up longer than most, and their widespread adoption would likely increase the ability of more people to lead good lives.

So I do hope that Millennials are the first utilitarian generation. From a doing good perspective, this may make them the greatest generation to date.

As for the generation after the Millennials, perhaps they will be the generation of scientific truth. One of my friends works at a high status private sector company. Somehow or another, the topic of free will came up, and a 22 year old analyst said something along the lines of: “Of course we don’t have free will. None of my friends believe in that nonsense.”

Which of course begs the question: can you be a utilitarian if you don’t have free will?

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