Accounting for Justice: Entitlement, Want and the Irish Famine of 1845-7. (Interfaces)

By Funnell, Warwick | Accounting Historians Journal, December 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Accounting for Justice: Entitlement, Want and the Irish Famine of 1845-7. (Interfaces)


Funnell, Warwick, Accounting Historians Journal


Focal text: R. Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974).

Abstract: The evolution of modern accounting consists essentially of a series of pragmatic responses to the needs of capital. Accounting is implicated, therefore, in the maintenance and creation of societies in which relations are primarily defined in terms of property, however it is distributed, and justice is determined by the sanctity of property rights. Accounting historians are encouraged to broaden the compass of their research to include the association between accounting and justice which is already well recognised in the critical accounting literature. Theories of justice, especially those of 19th century political theorists such as Bentham and Senior, and more recently that of Nozick, are used to explore the close association between property, accounting and justice at the time of the Irish potato famine of 1845-7.

INTRODUCTION

Societies are founded on some understanding of justice, however objectionable the dominant meanings of justice may be perceived by those not favoured. All laws of government emanate from this essential feature of social relations for no government will survive without the assistance of significant force if it is not able to convince a sufficient number of citizens that their society is just. For David Hume, Aristotle and Adam Smith justice was first among all the virtues. Smith stipulated that "(j)ustice ... is the main pillar that upholds the whole edifice. If it is removed ... the immense fabric of human society ... must in a moment crumble into atoms" [1976, Section II, Chapter ii, parts 4 and 6]. Smith did not have in mind the distributive justice which we now associate with the achievement of social justice, notably that portrayed by Marshall [1992]. Rather, Smith adopted a Lockean stance and identified justice with the absence of any harm to either an individual's person or to their property; "preservat ion of property being the end of government" [Locke, 1884, Book II, Chapter IX, section 138, also Chapter XIX, section 222]. Thus, the foundation of justice in capitalist societies is securing property rights [Smith, 1976, Section VII, Chapter ii, part 10; see also Carter, 1989, p.9]. Any threats to property rights, suggested Hume, were equivalent to an attack on the sacred laws of God, the result of which would be tyranny and the destruction of society [Hume, 1960, Book II, section 2, paragraph 2]. The intention of this paper is not to promote one form of justice over another, rather to show how accounting is compatible with, and essential to, an interpretation of justice derived from the rights of property. It is accepted that meanings attributed to justice are not absolute but instead are the products of particular social contexts.

The intimate association between property rights and justice has long been recognised in theories of justice from Aristotle [1905] to Thomas Aquinas [1969], through to the writings of political theorists such as Rousseau and Bentham during the 18th and 19th centuries and most recently the highly influential work of Robert Nozick [1974]. Nozick's entitlement theory of justice, which owes much to Adam Smith and the utilitarianism of Bentham, proposes that distributions of wealth are just if people are entitled to their holdings as a result of being acquired through the exercise of the initial capacities with which they were born or if their property was transferred to them justly as a result of freely entered into exchanges [Nozick, 1974, pp.150-153, 1993, p.286; see Sen, 1981, p.2 for a similar approach (1)]. Nozick rejects the idea of the state taking responsibility for achieving social justice if this relies upon a conception of distributive justice in which voluntarism is corrupted. The state, according to Nozick [1974, p.ix; 1993, p.285], should limit itself to ensuring that entitlement rights, once confirmed as just, are secure. The dependency that Nozick sees between justice, markets and the sanctity of entitlements derived from property offers an attractive lens through which accounting historians can examine the relationship between accounting and matters of justice.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Accounting for Justice: Entitlement, Want and the Irish Famine of 1845-7. (Interfaces)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?