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Hume, Bentham, and the Social Contract

  • Jonathan Wolff (a1)


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1 Bentham, Jeremy, Comment on the Commentaries and A Fragment on Government ed. Burns, J. H. and Hart, H. L. A., London, 1977, (The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham), Ch. 1, § 36, p. 439.

2 For discussion of Hume, see Brownsey, P. F., ‘Hume and the Social Contract’, Philosophical Quarterly, xxviii (1978), 132–48.

3 Hume, David, ‘Of the Original Contract’, in his Essays Moral Political and Literary, ed. Miller, E. F., Indianapolis, 1985, pp. 465–87.

4 It is certainly far from obvious that all the arguments are consistent. Hume does not seem to have decided whether contract theory fails in principle (as the argument I discuss in this paper seems to suggest) or only in practice. The following passage indicates the latter: ‘My intention here is not to exclude the consent of the people from being one just foundation of government where it has place. It is surely the best and most sacred of any. I only pretend, that it has seldom had place in any degree, and never almost in its full extent.’ ‘Of the Original Contract’, p. 474.

5 Hume, , ‘Of the Original Contract’, pp. 479–81; Bentham, , Comment/Fragment (CW), p. 444.

6 For example, Brownsey, , ‘Hume and the Social Contract’, p. 144.

7 Long, Douglas G., ‘“Utility” and the “Utility Principle”: Hume, Smith, Bentham, Mill’, Utilitas, ii (1990), 24.

8 Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. Selby-Bigge, L. A., 2nd Ed., Oxford, 1978, Bk. III, Pt. ii, §. 2, esp. p. 489.

9 Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice, Oxford, 1972, pp. 32–3.

10 Hume, , Treatise, Bk. III, Pt. ii, § 7, pp. 536–7.

11 Bentham, , Comment/Fragment (CW), ‘Preface’, p. 393.

12 Bentham, Jeremy, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, ed. Burns, J. H. and Hart, H. L. A., London, 1970 (The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham), Ch. 1, § 11, p. 13.

13 Thanks to Tim Crane and Jerry Valberg for helpful discussions on this topic.


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