Conscientious Utilitarianism; or, the utilitarians who walk away from Omelas

Conscientious Utilitarianism; or, the Utilitarians Who Walk Away from Omelas

Andrew Dennis Bassford

University of Texas, Austin


This essay offers a revisionist defense of classical utilitarianism from the infamous objection brought up by Ursula Le Guin’s well-known short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” To that effect, the reply takes inspiration from Le Guin and John Stuart Mill in appealing to the natural law theoretical concept of conscience. I argue that a conscientious utilitarian ethic can escape Le Guin’s objection more satisfactorily than other popular utilitarian ethics. Along the way, this essay discusses at length conscience and its place in moral epistemology, both as it occurs in the natural law tradition and in Mill. The natural law account of conscience is defended and Mill’s account is critiqued. Consequently, this paper also provides an interesting synthesis of utilitarianism with natural law ethics.

Keywords: Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill, Ursula Le Guin, Conscience, Natural Law Ethics, Moral Epistemology.

Published: 2022 – 12 – 24

Issue: Vol 5 (2022)

Section: General Articles

Copyright (c) 2022 Andrew Dennis Bassford

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