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Public interest

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S050-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

The concept of the public interest can be used in a wide variety of ways, and this has led many to say that it is devoid of meaning. However, the concept enables us to evaluate the tendency of policies and institutions to promote the interests of the members of a society considered in their broadest relations, for example in connection with policies to promote public health. In this sense it has significance. Historically, the concept of the public interest has drawn upon three main traditions of thought: the utilitarian idea of utility maximization; the tradition of civic republicanism; and Rousseau’s idea of the general will. Nowadays, three main ways of meeting the public interest are distinguishable: the supply of certain indivisible goods like clean air; the preservation of identity-conferring social goods like a distinctive language; and the balancing of competing considerations in the making of public policy. Although the provision of goods in the public interest may be associated with injustice, there is no reason in general to think that justice and the public interest must conflict.

Citing this article:
Weale, Albert. Public interest, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S050-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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