Rights versus utils

Does this make me a bad person? I wasn’t wowed by John Dewey’s

. This wasn’t because of any disagreement with its arguments so much as finding it a rather waffly, even dull read.

[amazon_image id=”0271055693″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ][amazon_image id=”0271055707″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Public and Its Problems: An Essay in Political Inquiry[/amazon_image][/amazon_image]

In fact, the opening argument is persuasive, drawing the distinction between a public – a collective identity beyond the household or immediate community, with principles and officials for mediating different interests – and the abstraction of ‘the state’ that features in political thought. In my translation, Dewey is in the camp of Elinor Ostrom in looking for a natural history of how collective institutions and decision-making mechanisms emerge, albeit on the scale of the nation or beyond.I like, too, his insistence on the importance of understanding concrete circumstances, including when it comes to understanding the powerful special interests that get in the way of the public interest and effective democracy.

One interesting point he makes is the way the economic doctrine of laissez faire, built on economics based on utilitarian philosophy, has merged with the philosophy of natural rights, despite the contradiction between the two approaches. The laissez faire approach said private profit served social prosperity, in the absence of any meddling, because of the harmonious character of natural law, or divine providence. Jeremy Bentham was particularly critical of the natural rights doctrine.

, “Simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense, — nonsense upon stilts.” He said they encouraged mischievous individualism and revolution against established governments. Rights are, “The fruits of the law, and of the law alone. There are no rights without law—no rights contrary to the law—no rights anterior to the law.” The law being properly determined by the greatest good of the greatest number – nothing could trump the hedonic calculus.

[amazon_image id=”B005MJJEUQ” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Anarchical Fallacies (With Active Table of Contents)[/amazon_image]

Anyway, I’m sure there’s more of his work I ought to read but that will do me for the time being on Dewey.



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