Thoughts on Bentham



By Phin Upham

I recently re-read “Bentham’s Philosophical Politics” by James E. Crimmins, included in my book Space of Love and Garbage. James E. Crimmins is Professor of Political theory at Huron College, Ontario. His publications include Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham, Religion, Secularization and Political Thought: Thomas Hobbes to J.S. Mill, Utilitarians and Religion, Bentham’s Auto-Icon, and Related Writings, and On Bentham in the Wadsworth Philosophers series. He is currently researching the writings of American utilitarians and critics, and working on a multi-volume collection of death penalty tracts in Britain and America, 1925–1867.

Here is the bio (above) from the essay and a quotation of my favorite paragraphs of the essay (below).

Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) is most well-known as a utilitarian legal philosopher. However, he is often encountered in the history of ideas as a radical democrat, a political theorist and reformer of consequence. It is commonly remarked that though Bentham wrote extensively in the area of political philosophy, he did not write one single work—like Hobbes’s Leviathan or Rousseau’s Du Contrat Social—that encompasses all the primary features of his political thought. Rather we find interesting material scattered in voluminous published and unpublished writings, produced at various times through a long, industrious, and extraordinarily productive career. My subject is the “political” Bentham—the political thinker, political actor, and agitator for reform, the theorist of politics, government and its attendant institutions and the insatiable public policy enthusiast. My purpose is to suggest a more appropriate conception of Bentham’s politics than is generally held, and to indicate a problem at the heart of our understanding of his political thought.

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