Utilitas 10 (2):129-143 (1998)

This article considers Bentham's response to the criticism of utilitarianism that it allows for and may even require the sacrifice of some members of society in order to increase overall happiness. It begins with the contrast between the principle of utility and the contrasting principle of sympathy and antipathy to show that Bentham regarded the main achievement of his principle as overcoming the subjectivity he found in all other philosophical theories. This subjectivism, especially prevalent in theories of rights, might well lead to the sacrifice of the individual. The principle of utility was presented as an ‘objective’ theory that avoided the difficulties of other moral and political theories. The article also considers the importance of universally applicable ends, such as security and equality, as part of the principle of utility, and especially Bentham's view of maximizing pleasure as being a distributive rather than an aggregative idea. The article concludes by criticizing H. L. A. Hart's interpretation of the role of equality and rights in Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and argues that Mill's doctrine of moral rights builds on foundations originally established by Bentham, foundations which would preclude the sacrifice of individuals.
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DOI 10.1017/S0953820800006051
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