nep-hpe New Economics Papers
on History and Philosophy of Economics
Issue of 2006‒03‒25
one paper chosen by
Erik Thomson
University of Chicago

  1. Mill on Slavery, Property Rights and Paternalism By Mauricio Pérez Salazar

  1. By: Mauricio Pérez Salazar
    Abstract: J. S. Mill’s statement that “an engagement by which a person should sell himself, or allow himself to be sold, as a slave would be null and void; neither enforced by law nor by opinion” has sparked a lively debate on his supposed paternalism and on its consistency with his views on individual liberty. Mill consistently opposed slavery as an iniquity. However, his critique was also founded on the principle that certain property rights should neither be recognized nor protected. The example he chose was very unusual (people in his day did not sell themselves as slaves); its importance lies in the analogy with marriage and the practical impossibility of a divorce being obtained by the vast majority of women at that time. The essence of Mill’s argument would thus be antipaternalistic: society ought not to enforce a kind of contract (indissoluble marriage) that limits the individual liberty of women in order to further the family as an institution that is supposedly good for them. This is not to say that in other matters (such as colonialism) Mill might not be charged with inconsistent paternalism.
    Date: 2006–02–01

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