Mill’s account does provide some protection for the individual. He argues that individual rights do exist. They are grounded in utility, and are essential for well-being; thus, they are binding in a way that other utility concerns are not. The individual is protected because individual security is necessary for general security. The issue of whether this protection is adequate is more difficult. Mill would argue that the individual does receive sufficient protection—that to say that rights exist outside of the context of utility is nonsense. Furthermore, all individuals’ happiness is valued equally in utilitarianism.

While it is possible that one person’s rights might be violated in a particular case, it is because she is not being treated as any more important than any other individual. However, one could argue that by aggregating happiness, utilitarianism diminishes the individual. It is also fairly easy to come up with situations where violating rights might increase the total amount of happiness. Even if rights are to be weighted very heavily, it seems likely that having a few people suffer could benefit society as a whole; slaveholders in the antebellum American South may have made this argument regarding slavery, for example. The concern, then, is that individual rights are left to the contingencies of a calculation. 

Popular pages: Utilitarianism