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Human rights: Justice as Dignity or utility? Utilitarianism and Effective altruism

by: Leila Hoballah —

“God knows I fear the destruction of the world by the atomic bomb, but there is at least one thing I fear as much, and that is the invasion of humanity by the state” (Berenson. Qtd in Foucault 75).

As Bernard Berenson, an American art historian (1865-1959) in the Renaissance, approaching death at almost 100 years, he expressed his worries from the “state” as invading the humanity. Looking back through history, and living First and Second World War and the colonization era, Berenson had the right to question the legitimacy of the state over the humanity, the utility v/s dignity, authority v/s liberty.
In the year 1948, and upon the Declaration of Human Rights in the United Nation, millions of citizens have been expelled from their country Palestine, as refuges, and another state have been formed, Israel. At the moment of giving a group of people their rights, you automatically deprive others from it. This is not a case of contradicting concepts, but it is absolutely not a case of human rights. It could be related to the utilitarian philosophy as “The greatest good for the greatest number of people”. which is not either the case, but it seems to be utility of “the greatest good for the greatest power”.
The question, is utilitarianism philosophically compatible with human rights, could be answered by critically analyzing the history of both concepts in their western context. Not as opposite concepts but in an intertwine relation, that could reveal the areas of homogeneity and heterogeneity. We will try to argue in this paper that the concept of utility and human rights, as applied in the western context, is related in causal teleological manner.

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