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Jeremy Bentham and the Utility of History

Riley, CP; (2018) Jeremy Bentham and the Utility of History. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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The present thesis will challenge the received view that Jeremy Bentham was ignorant of history. In response, it will be argued that Bentham had a rich and multifaceted interpretation of history, and even his own historical methodology. Bentham’s interpretation of history had three core aspects: the ‘psychological’ aspect, consisting of the treatment of all historical actors as pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding individuals, who were ‘actuated’ by the very things that all individuals were ‘actuated by’; the ‘civil’ aspect, consisting of the argument (after his political radicalisation) that the ‘subject many’ had been perpetually subservient to the ‘ruling few’; and the ‘judicial’ aspect, consisting of the extension of his theory of evidence to encompass all written historical artefacts. It will be shown that, in his attempted exposure of the real motives of historical actors and narrators, Bentham adopted the role of the judge, appropriated the language of the courtroom, and judiciously scrutinised the available written evidence. He argued that any ‘disconformities’ to the ‘ordinary course of nature’ that appeared in sacred and classical histories—especially those which occurred the longest ago, and had been used in support of a religion or ruler—destroyed their plausibility. In also challenging the received view that he ignored the histories of English law and ancient Roman law, it will be shown that Bentham disbelieved that anyone in either system had possessed the intelligence or information that were necessary for creating the best laws and institutions. While his interest in proposing reforms for the present always prevailed over his interest in the past, it will be concluded that Bentham did not ignore history entirely. Rather, Bentham’s ideas directly inspired the works of James Mill and George Grote—the two utilitarian historians who were intimately familiar with his writings on evidence and religion, and thus with his historical methodology.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Jeremy Bentham and the Utility of History
Event: UCL
Language: English
Keywords: Law, History, Jeremy Bentham, Utilitarianism.
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10049909
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