Utilitarianism and Natural Rights

H. L. A. Hart

in Essays in Jurisprudence and Philosophy

Published in print November 1983 | ISBN: 9780198253884
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191681431 | DOI:
Utilitarianism and Natural Rights

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Bentham's successful attacks on the doctrine of natural rights endured throughout the 19th century. This chapter considers a little more closely the detail of his attack as it appears in the essay on Anarchical Fallacies which is the most elaborate expression of his view. The chapter also discusses John Stuart Mill's attempts to furnish individual rights with a utilitarian foundation. Bentham's utilitarianism met with much criticism even during the 19th century, at the time of its greatest influence on the thought of political and social reformers. But very few of those criticisms were accompanied by any revival of the doctrine of natural right. The doctrine of human rights has at least temporarily replaced the doctrine of maximizing utilitarianism as the prime philosophical inspiration of political and social reform.

Keywords: utilitarianism; natural rights; human rights; John Stuart Mill; Bentham; political reform; social reform

Chapter.  6397 words. 

Subjects: Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law

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