Indirect Utility and Fundamental Rights

A TRADITIONAL VIEW OF UTILITY AND RIGHTS According to a conventional view, no project could be more hopelessly misconceived than the enterprise of attempting a utilitarian derivation of fundamental rights. We are all familiar – too familiar, perhaps – with the arguments that support this conventional view, but let us review them anyway. We may begin by recalling that, whereas the defining value of utilitarianism – pleasure, happiness or welfare – contains no mention of the dignity or autonomy of human beings, it is this value which utilitarianism in all its standard forms invokes as the criterion of right action. Worse, insofar as utilitarian policy must have as its goal the maximization of welfare conceived as an aggregate summed over the utilities of everyone affected, legal and political utilitarianism seems bound to have a collectivist bias, trading on the dangerous fiction of a social entity and ignoring the distinctness of separate selves with their several incommensurable claims. It seems that, if individuals can appear in the utilitarian calculus at all, it will only be as ciphers, abstract place-holders for units of welfare. For, as an aggregative value, utility must be indifferent to distribution, and insensitive to the preeminently distributive considerations marked by claims about rights. So, if whatever has utility can be broken down into units or elements which are subject to measurement or at least comparison by a common standard, then it will always be possible that a very great loss of welfare for one man or a few men can be justified if it produces a great many small increments of welfare for a vast multitude of men
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DOI 10.1017/S0265052500003885
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