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Jeremy Bentham Concept of Utilitarianism - Book Report/Review Example

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Jeremy Bentham Concept of Utilitarianism

In order to understand Bentham's concept of right and wrong, a close examination of the context of which it was declared, should be put into consideration. It should be remembered that in Bentham's previous works, he had been critical of the concept and the proposed theories of natural rights which he dismissed as a 'rhetorical nonsense'1, mainly based on "imaginary laws...fancied and invented by poets and dealers of moral and intellectual poisons".2 For Bentham, these abstractions cannot replace specific legislations. Furthermore, he shows scepticism on the existence of universal absolutes - the preliminary foundation of human right laws - as there are rarely absolutes in multicultural and diverse societies. Rights, according to Bentham, are afforded by the state, instituted by an established government3 to which an individual belongs; endowing human beings with natural rights is akin to granting them imaginary rights. He argues that right and law "are correlative terms" whereas natural rights exist not only in the absence of law "but against the law". 4 Hence, the claim that natural rights gave rise to absolute rights undermines the force of law. Moreover, Bentham's critics tend to reduce the utilitarian argument into its simple form - one that only emphasizes on 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number.' What is overlooked in Bentham's argument is his inclusion of the 5measurement of the value of pleasures and pain by utilising the 'felicific calculus.' 6This calculation takes into account the 'sum total of pleasure and pain' which results from a particular action. This implies that if a certain act, causing the pain of an individual, of greater quantity than quantity of happiness of a greater number, this particular action should be deemed immoral and wrong. Oppositions to the concept point to the fact that utilitarianism excludes minorities and individuals as for instance, 7Frey asserts that everyone is within the scope of utilitarian 'sacrifice.'
Since the principle of utility purports for the greatest happiness, minorities and individuals shoulder the burden of the maximisation of this happiness. Bedau suggests that utilitarians cannot protect individuals as it puts more emphasis on bestowing privileges rather than focus on the advancement of human dignity and autonomy. 8 The utilitarian view of the individual as part of an aggregate rather than as separate entity undermines individuality and freedom and in turn results to the decrement of their happiness. Mills, however, argued that in maximising utility, freedom of expression is essential9 while other proponents of utilitarianism tried to reconcile human rights and the principles of utility 10 by arguing that human rights are moral values that society must adhere to in order to achieve the greatest happiness. Freeden, for instance, declare that a more controlled utilitarian values are perfectly consistent with human rights11 while others scholars opined that human rights needs to be quantified in order for us to see clearly if it is consistent with the concept of utility.12
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Summary

The measure of right and wrong, according to Jeremy Bentham, can be understood through the principle of utility which advocates "the greatest happiness of the greatest number." Although Bentham brought forth his controversial assertion more than two hundred years ago, contemporary scholars continue to deconstruct utilitarian ideals, while critics of the theory argue that the utilitarian principles are inconsistent with human rights…
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