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...
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