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Consequently, the utilitarian can argue that we need a body of laws which will be respected, even when breaking one of these on a particular occasion would, if it were permitted, lead to an increase in happiness. This can be called indirect utilitarianism. The idea is that if we all reason directly in utilitarian terms things will go very badly. Hence we need to follow non-utilitarian reasoning —obey the laws to maximize happiness.
It will help illustrate the point to make an analogy with an individual’s search for happiness. A discovery made over and over again by lotus-eaters everywhere is that if you personally set out with the single goal of becoming happy, and do, everything you can to become happy, more likely than not you will fail. But if you aim at something else—form and pursue an ambition, get a hobby, make some good friends—you may well find happiness as a side-effect or indirect consequence. So, it is claimed, the direct search for happiness, both individually and socially, can be self-defeating. The best we can do is set ourselves other goals, or follow other rules, in the hope or expectation that happiness will follow as a consequence. The utilitarian political philosopher should recommend a system of law which each person must follow, at least under normal circumstances. It is not, then, for the individual to consider the effect of following the law on the level of happiness within society.


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