Utilitarianism: Are Basic Rights Important? Utilitarianism is based on the greatest happiness principle: choose the act that in general will produce the most pleasure while, at the same time, avoiding the most pain. Some agree and some disagree with this principle but the biggest difficulty with this is that it does not leave room for other values and does not take our basic rights as human beings into account. In this paper I will try to make sense of a Utilitarian view of basic rights.
Utilitarianism fails to take rights seriously because a Utilitarian focuses on the greatest happiness and nothing else. If I decide to kill someone because it gives me pleasure to do so, and that person didn?t have a family so no one would miss them, a Utilitarian say that in that case killing is ok because it promotes pleasure. What about that person?s right to life? How about if one of my friends decides they want to torture and kill a dog.
This dog is a non-reasoning individual and my friend would get more pleasure out of torturing and killing this dog than the dog would have or give in its whole life. Does this make it right for my friend to torture and kill this dog? A good Utilitarian would say yes.
?Bentham, indeed, thought that except in legal context, all talk of rights was nonsense? (Ryan, 16). This author knows as well that Utilitarianism does not take rights seriously. Suppose I tell a slanderous lie about you to an acquaintance of mine, who has never had and never will have any sort of interaction with you, and swear him to secrecy. This makes no difference whatever to your future happiness. I get complete joy out of this. Does that make it ok? I don?t...