INTRODUCTION TO POLITICAL THEORY

10. Justice in Utilitarian Tradition

Utilitarian conception of justice argues that a principle of justice should promote overall welfare of community. Utilitarianism is a ‘teleological political theory’ based upon the 9 Institute of lifelong Learning, University of Delhi notion- ‘maximization of happiness of society’.2 It argues that ‘human action is guided by the principle of maximizing happiness’. Jeremy Bentham and J.S Mill were regarded as early founders of utilitarian thought. Utilitarianism advocates that government should be founded upon the principle of ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’3 . (Bentham, 2000; 14-15) Under this proposition, any action is morally rightful if it produces common happiness, or if it prevents ‘pain’ or ‘mischief’. Any act is righteous only if it promotes overall happiness of society. Utilitarian proposition has two essential features: ‘a principle of good (happiness)’ and ‘a theory of righteousness’ based upon the maximization of good. However, righteousness of an act is subordinated to the happiness of the society. In other words, ‘what is right’ is what produces maximum happiness of maximum number. Human action is therefore judged on its consequence. It means moral worth of an action is determined by the utility which produces happiness or pleasure summed among all the human sentiments. Essentially, human action is classified into two strands depending upon its consequence. First, it argues that our moral action should be judged by its outcome. Second consequence is an analogy of the first principle and frames just criteria of outcome. (Ibid) To him, an outcome is just if it increases pleasure of the greatest number of the society.4 In the heart of utilitarian proposition, justice allows to subordinate individuals happiness for the overall happiness of the society. In other words, Utilitarian principles of justice allow us to override individual’s rights and liberty for the welfare of community if the violation promotes overall welfare of society or it prevents maximum pain. Consequently, human beings have become impartial, neutral and benevolent. 2 Jeremy Bentham is generally