Utilitarianism is a great idea with an awful name. It is, in my opinion, the most underrated and misunderstood idea in all of moral and political philosophy.
Joshua Greene, Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, New York, 2013, pp. 106-107
[W]e can appeal to rights when moral matters have been settled. In other words, our appeals to rights may serve as shields, protecting our moral progress from the threats that remain. Likewise, there are times when it makes sense to use “rights” as weapons, as rhetorical tools for making moral progress when arguments have failed.
Joshua Greene, Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, New York, 2013, p. 308
Perhaps, as Kant thought, making transgressors suffer is a truly worthy goal, just for its own sake. But if that’s right, it’s a remarkable coincidence. How strange if the true principles of justice just happen to coincide with the feelings produced by our punishment gizmos, installed in our brains by natural selection to help us stabilize cooperation and thus make more copies of our genes. Knowing how our brains work and how they got here, it’s more reasonable to suppose that our taste for justice is a useful illusion.
Joshua Greene, Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, New York, 2013, p. 274
Another possibility is that our intuitive sense of justice is a set of heuristics: moral machinery that’s very useful but far from infallible. We have a taste for punishment. This taste, like all tastes, is subtle and complicated, shaped by a complex mix of genetic, cultural, and idiosyncratic factors. But our taste for punishment is still a taste, implemented by automatic settings and thus limited by its inflexibility. All tastes can be fooled. We fool our taste buds with artificial sweeteners. We fool our sexual appetites with birth control and pornography, both of which supply sexual gratification while doing nothing to spread our genes. Sometimes, however, our tastes make fools of us. Our tastes for fat and sugar make us obese in a world of abundance. Drugs of abuse hijack our reward circuits and destroy people’s lives. To know whether we’re fooling our tastes or whether our tastes are fooling us, we have to step outside the limited perspective of our tastes: To what extent is this thing—diet soda, porn, Nutella, heroin—really serving our bests interests? We should ask the same question about our taste for punishment.
Joshua Greene, Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, New York, 2013, p. 272