Is the concept of rights a more appropriate instrument than utilitarianism in determining morality?

Essay by firestar_erosUniversity, Bachelor'sB-, April 2004

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In order to respond to whether the concepts of rights is more appropriate in determining morality than utilitarianism it is important to firstly define each of the concepts independent of one another before attempting to compare them. Although rights theory is perhaps the most widely applied theory in the Western world this does not necessarily mean that the evolution of these circumstances invalidates the usefulness of utilitarianism, in fact it may be the case that in the wake of acts such as September the 11th that a utility principle protecting the greater good against the feelings of a perhaps fundamentalist minority may well be more popular, providing of course the advocates of that theory are in the majority.

Firstly, utilitarianism is simply defined as the ethical doctrine by which 'the right thing to do is that which brings about the greatest good for the greatest number'. Although the simplicity of the theory is not so easily applied in practice the above quote does capture the essence of the principle in its simplest terms.

However, as the argument progresses I will look into the developments that have occurred within utility theory itself and with that see how those developments have affected the ability of the theory to determine what is moral action and also that, which is immoral.

Secondly, there is Rights theory that concerns itself largely with a few key principles. These are namely the protection of minorities against the masses, sometimes regarded as protection against the tyranny of the majority yet also incorporates the prevention of acts by states, societies or even individuals to harm directly or indirectly the lives of others. Rights theory often shields itself under the banner of what is moral and just, and more often than not what is considered to be a civil...