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Is The Concept Of Rights A More Appropriate Instrument Than Utilitarianism In Determining Morality?

2194 words - 9 pages

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 liberty. However, the difficulty this presents is that the concept is judged not on the opinion of the masses but on the judgement of the governing few, whether that be judiciary, legislative, elected or not. It is because of the subjective nature of rights theory, and the differing ways these views can be applied, that there is perhaps more of a justifiable argument to support utility theory as a means by which morals can be determined. However, the fact that rights theory is perhaps more subjective than the removed and objective theory of utility does not necessarily mean that the conclusions reached by utility are any more justifiable than those reached by rights theory.After all, when one is dealing with determining moral correctness they are doing it with an intention to serve the emotional and largely subjective creatures that are human beings. With this fact in mind, I therefore believe that both principles have an equally justifiable though not equally valid claim that they may best serve to determine that which is moral.The conflict between the two theories over determining what is moral is perhaps best summed up by the contemporary debate that is presently...

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