A FAILURE TO RECONCILE THE IRRECONCILABLE? SECURITY, SUBSISTENCE AND EQUALITY IN BENTHAM'S WRITINGS ON THE CIVIL CODE AND ON THE POOR LAWS

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Abstract:

The starting point for this paper is the idea that Bentham's subordinate ends of legislation are best understood as universalizable human interests, which each human agent within a political community can be understood to desire. It is argued that, in terms of ideal theory, Bentham does appear to have endorsed equality in the distribution of resources. However, the pursuit of distributional equality by redistributive taxation conflicts directly with superior subordinate ends, particularly security and subsistence. Bentham's proposals for resolving this tension by promoting equality without prejudicing security are examined, and revealed as leaving large-scale structural inequalities intact. Evidence from Bentham's Poor Law writings is adduced to support the view that Bentham, despite viewing the welfare of human individuals as equally valuable, also saw human identity as inescapably class-bound. In the final analysis, Bentham is prevented from advocating a move to equality through redistributive taxation by his conviction that economic growth depends fundamentally upon the opportunity to acquire, and remain secure in the possession of, greater wealth than one's fellow citizens, who are also one's economic competitors.

Keywords: Aggregation and distribution in Betham's utilitarianism; Bentham; of legislation; security versus equality; tensions amongst Bentham's subordinate ends

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Bentham Project, University College London, Bentham House, Endsleigh Gardens, London WC1H 0EG, Email: m.quinn@ucl.ac.uk

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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