Natural Rights Vs Utilitarianism

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Natural rights and utilitarianism are two ethical philosophies based on human nature and dictates on the fundamentals of humankind. The two concepts are incompatible since they are disparate in aspects such as; their principles on human nature and judgement, beliefs of the government’s purpose and responsibility, and their application of principles to achieve social and political unity. Natural rights are heavily based on the entitlement of rights, whereas utilitarianism emphasises the notion of self-interest and consequentialism.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, John Locke and Thomas Jefferson both had an influential impact on the development of liberal ideology. Due to this, the term ‘rights’ is commonly prevalent in politics.
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There is an emphasis on the idea of ‘self’ and materialistic value. Unlike natural rights, the concept of the establishment of moralities is rejected because utilitarianism underlines every person can be the judge of their own actions. The concept of utilitarianism is based on the notion that humans act and think dependently on their desires to gain happiness. Consequently, this suggests individuals will only do things of their self-interests and will only follow the law if it is representative of their perspectives. For example, it is considered more crucial to satisfy the needs of the majority, instead of considering every single person in different circumstances. Critics suggest utilitarianism has an inadequate protection of rights due to the constant changes in society and claim everything cannot be measured only by the same standard and assessment of only satisfaction. However, theorists upholding this concept highlight satisfying every person’s needs is not possible. They insisted efficiency will result from decisions based on the majority’s choice on how they would like to be governed and live. Jeremy Bentham supported this notion by stating government cannot meet all the demands placed by the doctrine of natural rights. He also estimated that it will suppress the people’s freedom as well as cause complications and tension which will prevent the government from serving its purpose. Thus, Bentham completely rejects the methods and notion of natural rights, stating legislation should be initiated only through the assessment of “the impact of a given law on the greatest happiness for the greatest number”. He expresses utilitarianism does not allow hasty revolution and rebellion from the people, unlike how natural rights might. Bentham asserts rights should be established directly from the law

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