Utilitarian Theory & Human Rights

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Utilitarian Theory and Human Rights

Utilitarianism can be defined as a moral theory by which the public welfare of a community is dependent on the “sum welfare of individuals, which is measured in units of pleasure and/or pain”, requiring governments to make decisions based on the “largest sum of pleasure” (Postema, 2006). However Bentham argued that "every individual in the country tells for one, no individual for more than one", meaning that the weight of an individual’s happiness should always remain equivalent to that of another’s happiness regardless of personal status (Postema, 2006). Using this moral theory as a basis, Bentham asserted that the ultimate goal of government and all of morality was the advancement of public welfare (Postema, 2006). This theory of political morality consisted of four components: communal consequentialism, social welfarism, individual welfarism, and compositionalism. The first component, communal consequentialism, describes morality as being the basis of promoting the public welfare of the community. Social welfarism is understood as the concerns of the community, based on the “good of the community” or it’s well-being as a whole. Individual welfarism argues that all other moral concerns must be based on the “welfare of individuals”. Lastly, compositionalism ties social welfarism to individual welfarism, so that the welfare of the community is strictly compounded by the welfare of individuals (Postema, 2006). Bentham’s theory of political morality gave way for the theory of universal interest, defined as “a set of interests held in common by all members of the community in the realization of which each member has a distinct and positive share” (Postema, 2006). Three features are used to define and identify universal interest. First, universal interest rules out the interests of individuals that are not shared by the rest of the community. These individual interests are referred by Bentham as “particular interests”. Second, the common interests of the community are included and understood by all as being common interests. Lastly, each member of the community has a stake in the universal interest. The theory of universal interest is applied to human rights through the adoption of standards by which governments should be held accountable for the treatment of its citizens (Nickel, 2010) by the global community. In this paper I will identify specific human rights violations and rank the resolutions based on the theory of utilitarianism.

The first human rights violation identified is specific to the issue of racial profiling in law enforcement. The Stop-And-Frisk statute of 1964 in New York states that police officers have the right to stop any person in a public place where the officer has a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed or about to commit a serious crime. However recent cases have shown that the application of this statute disproportionately targets minorities, as the standard of reasonable suspicion “does not account for differences in an officer’s ability to judge potentially criminally behavior” (Richardson, 2012). According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), New Yorkers were stopped by the New York Police Department (NYPD) 685,724 times in 2011. Among those who were stopped, 53% were black, 34% were Latino, and only 9% were white (New York Civil Liverties Union). Eighty-eight percent of everyone stopped were innocent of any wrong doing. Richardson argues that the accuracy of an officer’s judgment is affected by his experience, and that those policing in urban environments tend to have a “higher level of implicit racial bias” than those working elsewhere. In addition, this bias can often result in officers being less accurate in their judgment (Richardson, 2012) and therefore the argument that training and experience provides a basis for good judgment in these cases is weak. The current application of the Stop-And-Frisk...
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