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This article argues that a commitment to individual freedom plays a crucial role in William Godwin’s utilitarian political theory. In his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Godwin argues that morality is grounded not in rights but rather in duties and that each individual has a constant obligation to act in the way most conducive to the general good. Yet, despite this apparently strict act-utilitarianism, he does defend one key individual entitlement: the right to a sphere of discretion in which agents can exercise their own private judgment, a right that directly informs Godwin’s critique of various social and political institutions. I argue that though his defence of individual freedom is an ultimately utilitarian one, its value is not contingent on consequentialist calculations.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Politics, Amory Building, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon EX4 4RJ, Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2007

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