Being a Human According to Old Testament

Compare the view of a human being in the Old Testament with that of a Utilitarianism. In both of them what is the person? What is the person’s value? How is that value arrived at? Which of them provides a healthier or better view of a person? Why do you think so?

It can be argued that the view of the human being (and his/her worth) is very different from the view of a human being in the Old Testament. In utilitarianism, concept of social good, utility or welfare as one of the founding cores of moral philosophy. The concept of good, utility and welfare puts humans at the centre when defining what is good and right and when distinguishing evil from praiseworthy.

However, on the other hand, in Old Testament, humans appear as insignificant beings. The purpose of human beings is to serve as a means to an end for God’s schemes and plans. Often on, the human beings are shown as feeble, weak, ignorant and unaware of the world around them. The human beings lack power over their destiny and are said to be in a constant need for guidance. If humans are left at their own, the stories of the Old Testament reveal that they will break into chaos and anarchy. In the Old Testament, what is good and right is defined not through the means of logic or reason as we understand it in modern times. In fact, the legitimacy of human actions, and the meaning to human life and its value is determined by God’s will. Thus, in Old Testament, humans appear a helpless and vulnerable beings and God appears as a Subject-Proper of all their endeavors. The view of a person then is not of a person who’s capable of living a successful life on his/her own. In fact, as many tales in the Old Testament reveal, humans are devices through which God gives meaning to the world. The worldview of the Old Testament thus provides a view of an incomplete being that’s vulnerable and incapable of living a successful, healthy and complete life without reference to divine intervention. The purpose and value of human life is thus determined according to divine frames of reference.

In contrast, utilitarianism argues for promotion of social good and utility. The purpose of human life is hence to live a life which is successful. The moral compass here is the idea of utility. Although, utilitarianism would argue that actions and things are righteous if they maximize people’s pleasure and utility, it can be argued that in some ways utilitarianism is like the Old Testament. For instance, in the Old Testament, life of a single individual can be sacrificed for God’s will. Likewise, the utility of one person, his/her preferences, desires, wishes and even his/her life can be sacrificed and ignored if doing so leads to the maximum utility of the maximum number of people.  Thus, recalling the famous trolley problem, it would be perfectly alright for utilitarianism if a trolley kills one innocent person on track A, if doing so would prevent the lives of 10 people on track B. In a way utilitarianism and Old Testament substitute individuals’ worth for something greater than themselves, i.e. either the Will of God or the Collective Social Good.

However, one can argue that utilitarianism and Old Testament are completely poles apart in the sources through which they derive their meaning. Old Testament, obviously takes a religio-centric perspective and sees human beings as serving God’s purpose. Whereas, utilitarianism is secular in nature. To define what the purpose of a meaningful human life is, reference is not drawn towards anything extrinsic to the human society. The focus of utilitarianism is to promote social good and hence consequences of an action determine what would be good for the society as a whole.

On the whole, one can argue that the Old Testament provides a pessimistic view of mankind. Whereas, although utilitarianism prefers social collective good over individual rights, its view of human beings is more positive.