Jonathan Swift's Critique of Consequentialism?

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Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people from being a burthen to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public can be regarded as a critique of consequentialism, perhaps the finest and most effective that has ever been written. Swift’s argument is not explicit but his use of consequentialist reasoning shows how it is possible to rationally justify a course of action which is grotesque and barbaric. This interpretation of Swift’s pamphlet is supported by considering it in relation to works by Bernard Mandeville and William Petty. Both authors employed consequentialist reasoning and Swift is likely to have been familiar with their work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-297
Number of pages17
JournalCambridge Journal of Economics
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


  • Consequentialism; political arithmetic, Swift, Petty, Mandeville,

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


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