Kant vs. Mill: Human Rights and Utilitarianism

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One of the main reasons why human rights have been put in place is to protect the public life and public space of every individual being. One fundamental characteristic of human rights is that they are equal rights; they are aimed at providing protection to every person in an equal way. These rights have been entrenched through laws that are passed by states and international conventions. Human rights laws have evolved over time, and have been shaped by several factors, including philosophical theories in the past. This paper looks at the theories of two philosophers, Emmanuel Kant and John Stuart Mills, and how their teachings can be used to explain the sources of human rights. Kant’s moral philosophy is very direct in its justification of human rights, especially the ideals of moral autonomy and equality as applied to rational human beings. John Stuart Mills’ theory of utilitarianism also forms a solid basis for human rights, especially his belief that utility is the supreme criterion for judging morality, with justice being subordinate to it. The paper looks at how the two philosophers qualify their teachings as the origins of human rights, and comes to the conclusion that the moral philosophy of Kant is better than that of Mills.
Emmanuel Kant
Kant’s moral philosophy is built around the formal principles of ethics rather than substantive human goods. He begins by outlining the principles of reasoning that can be equally expected of all rational persons regardless of their individual desires or partial interests. It creates an ideal universal community of rational individuals who can collectively agree on the moral principles for guiding equality and autonomy. This is what forms the basis for contemporary human rig...

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