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Personality Traits of Utilitarians

A study by Daniel Bartels of Columbia University and David Pizarro of Cornell University sought to discover what kinds of people have a utilitarian outlook on life. The study “found a strong link between utilitarian answers to moral dilemmas…and personalities that were psychopathic, Machiavellian or tended to view life as meaningless.” This finding has led some utilitarians to reason that “[i]f we really want the greatest happiness of the greatest number, we should be electing psychopathic, Machiavellian misanthropes.” However, I find this line of reasoning to be seriously misguided and agree with Will Wilkinson when he writes:

Since it seems implausible that we are best off governed by Machiavellian psychopaths, I take the findings of Bartels and Pizarro–that those attracted to utilitarianism tend toward the psychopathic and Machiavellian–as prima facie evidence that utilitarianism is “self-effacing,” that it recommends its own rejection. This is a study about how, if you are a utilitarian, you should probably do the world some good and shut up about what you really think is best.

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