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Brian Barry on Utilitarianism - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 418
Utilitarianism/Barry/Weinstein: With Barry, (...) we clearly have unadulterated liberalism, which is nevertheless deeply informed by English utilitarianism. As Kelly recently notes, 'there is a very real sense in which most of Barry's work has involved an engagement with utilitarianism' (1998(1):44). Contractualism: These debts aside, Barry has emerged as one of the leading champions of Anglo-American contractualism.* Like Thomas Nagel, Rawls and Thomas Scanlon, Barry holds that the existence of incompatible conceptions of the good necessarily prioritizes the right over the good. Justice as impartiality adjudicates 'between the conflicting demands that arise from the pursuit of those conceptions of the good' by giving citizens a 'veto over proposals [principles of justice] that they could not reasonably be expected to accept' (Barry, 1998(2): 229, 223).** The sieve of disapproval makes surviving principles impartial: nobody is unreasonably privileged by what survives in pursuing his respective conceptions of the good. >Contractualism.
Impartiality/Problem: Utilitarian justice is precluded because reasonable citizens would purportedly veto it. Few would be prepared to bear the self-sacrificing burdens of agent neutrality. Justice as impartiality is therefore self-limiting, excluding utilitarian impartiality as too extreme. In the name of impartiality, it constrains impartiality. Being impartial about competing conceptions of good does not entail such indifference towards them that one is always prepared to sacrifice one's own interests for the general interest.***
Privacy/public goods: Justice as impartiality thus preserves the liberal public versus private goods distinction that feminists have claimed reinforces patriarchy. Barry nevertheless concedes that domestic violence and marital rape are public concerns. >Feminism/Barry.

* Dunn perceptively argues that contractualism has recently 'recaptured a considerable degree of attention, especially in North America'. But unlike seventeenth- century versions, which focused on political obligation, contemporary versions concentrate on distributive justice (1996(3): 60).

** For Scanlon, principles of justice must pass the test of reasonable rejectability. And like Barry, reasonable rejectability endorses principles favouring the worst-off.

***2See especially Barry (1991(4): ch. 2). For Barry's full treatment of justice as impartiality, see Barry (1995)(5).


1. Kelly, P. (1998) 'Taking utilitarianism seriously'. In P. Kelly, ed., Impartiality, Neutrality and Justice. Edinb
. Edinburgh University Press, 44_59.
2. Barry, Brian (1998) 'Something in the disputation not unpleasant'. In P. Kelly, ed., Impartiality, Neutrality and Justice. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 186-257.
3.Dunn 1996
4. Barry, Brian (1991) Liberty and Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
5. Barry, Brian (1995) Justice as Impartiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Weinstein, David 2004. „English Political Theory in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

EconBarry I
Brian Barry
Sociologists,economists, and democracy Chicago 1970

Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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