Some people have been going around recently saying that I hold that whatever pleases the majority is right.
Some of these people have little or no interest at all in what I actually believe. Their purposes are best suited by creating a caricature of what I believe - a straw man - that is easy for them to attack. After demonstrating the errors in this pathetic theory that is, in fact, their own creation and not mine, they stroke their own egos by boasting that they have discovered a devastating blow in my own theory.
These are people for whom 'bearing false witness' has no moral significance whatsoever. Perhaps they think that if they use God favorably in a sentence that they earn a special "Get Out Of Hell Free" card whereby moral prescriptions against lying and other forms of misrepresentation do not apply to them. It is as if the Commandments state, "Thou shalt not bear false witness, unless thou speaketh favorably of me thy God in which case thou shalt not be bound in any way by any obligation to seek or present the truth."
Be that as it may, desire utilitarianism does not say, "The right act is the act that favors the majority." It says, "The right act is the act that a person with good desires would have performed."
"Good desires" in turn are "Those desires that tend to fulfill the most and the strongest desires of others."
One of the implications of this is that a smaller number of relatively strong and stable desires will outrank a larger number of weaker and transient desires. The torture of one person to bring a weak pleasure to several would not be justified on this theory - even if those who experience the weak pleasure are able to outvote those who would be tortured.
This is one of the significant faults with democracy. Democracy gives each person one vote. Yet, there are few policies that affect all people equally - where everybody has an equal interest in the outcome. It is often not the case that, where the majority of the people support something, that it is the best option for society. Instead, we have a situation where a majority gets a weak benefit by imposing disproportionately high costs on a minority.
But, more importantly, desire utilitarianism gets its name from the fact that the focus of moral evaluation is not on actions (the right act is the act that pleases the majority), but desires themselves (a good desire is the desire that tends to fulfill other desires).
The desire to torture is not a desire that tends to fulfill other desires. It thwarts the desires of those who are being tortured. We can look at the value of this desire by asking the question, "What desires would be fulfilled or thwarted if this desire were reduced? Well, the desires of those who value torture would not be thwarted because they would not have such a desire. Plus, we would be preventing the desire-thwarting of those who would be tortured. So, we have good reason to get rid of, as much as possible, any desire to torture and replace it with an aversion to torture.
We have the tools of praise and condemnation available to do this. Identifying such a person as evil not only reports the objective fact that he has desires that tend to thwart other desires - desires that people generally have many and strong reason to condemn. It also serves as an act of condemnation. It is, at the same time, both descriptive (this person has desires that, in fact, stand in a particular relation to other desires), and prescriptive (he should not have that desire).
We can look at other desires on the same model.
There are many and strong reasons to condemn the desire to rape and promote an aversion to sex without consent. It helps to safeguard the general population. We promote this aversion to sex without consent by condemning all instances of sex without consent.
We do not seek to replace it with "sex with somebody who seems to enjoy it" because we know full well that there are far too many people who will see "seems to enjoy it" where it does not exist. We also have them seeing consent where it does not exist. However, on the issue of consent, we can at least identify huge regions where we know that consent is not possible, even if in a few cases "seems to enjoy it" might be true.
All in all, we have many and strong reason to promote an aversion to sex without consent. This is not an aversion to having sex without consent, but an aversion to sex without consent existing. The latter includes the former but it includes much more. It motivates the agent who has such an aversion to act so as to prevent sex without consent even when he is not the perpetrator of the crime - to stop others from having sex without consent and, thus, help to protect those who would otherwise suffer harm.
The safer option - the option that there is the most and strongest reason to promote - is to promote an aversion to sex without consent and to create in people generally an aversion to such things whenever and wherever it occurs.
In making these evaluations, we are not looking at what the majority in society actually wants. We are looking at what the majority in society should want. A majority in society, perhaps, sees no aversion to slavery. Yet, that same majority at the same time fails to recognize the many and strong reasons for action that exist for promoting an aversion to slavery.
Though they lack such an aversion, they should not lack such an aversion. They "should not" in the sense that many and strong reasons for action exist for promoting such an aversion. They exist as a matter of fact, quite independent of whether the agents realize that they exist.
This position, I argue, is a bit more difficult to challenge than the position that what is right is what pleases the majority. This is why, I suspect, some people might want to accuse me of holding the latter position rather than the former. They have an interest - a dishonest interest, but an interest nonetheless - of saddling me with ideas that they can easily attack. It certainly can be a lot easier than responding to what I actually write.
And what I write is that the majority is not always right, and what pleases the majority is not always good.