Bentham goes back to school

By Louise Seaward, on 13 July 2015

It is a bit strange to go back to secondary school after more than 10 years away.  I have recently been visiting Haberdashers’ Aske’s Knights Academy (HAKA) in Bromley to deliver a series of tutorials as part of The Brilliant Club.  The Brilliant Club is a non-profit organisation focused on widening access to top universities for high-achieving pupils from state schools.  PhD students and post-doctoral researchers work with The Brilliant Club to deliver University-style tutorials to sixth formers and younger pupils.  These sessions are designed to build a foundation for University learning by developing students’ knowledge, research skills and confidence.

I have been teaching a group of four sixth formers from HAKA who are studying a range of AS Levels including Sociology, History and Biology.  Our course is titled, ‘Because I’m Happy: Jeremy Bentham and his Ideas on Happiness’.  The course is an introduction to Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism and concentrates on the application of his philosophy in matters of politics, religion and penal reform.  As well as reading extracts from Bentham’s own writings, the students have been able to engage with Bentham scholarship – Michel Foucault’s perspective on the Panopticon generated a particularly interesting discussion!

I have been impressed by my students’ consideration of the meaning of happiness – how important is it, how can we measure it and can it be fairly distributed through society?  We have also spent time exploring the contemporary relevance of Bentham’s ideas.  The pupils all recognised that utilitarianism could play a significant role in current debates over the acceptability of government surveillance, the usefulness of religion and the inevitability of political spin.  It has been great to see the students grow in confidence as they weighed up the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism in each tutorial.

Now that school is out for the summer, the pupils have the next few weeks to complete an essay evaluating Bentham’s philosophy of utilitarianism.  Once their essays have been marked, they will have the opportunity to participate in a Brilliant Club graduation ceremony to congratulate them on their progress.   I would like to thank the pupils for their enthusiasm and hard work.  Studying Bentham can be challenging but their thoughtful contributions have made the experience an enlightening one for me, and hopefully for them too.

New online publication: ‘A Visit (in 1831) to Jeremy Bentham’, by George Wheatley

By Tim Causer, on 18 February 2015

The Bentham Project has published online for the first time the text of George Wheatley’s A Visit (in 1831) to Jeremy Bentham. Wheatley’s work, which describes in detail his visit to Queen’s Square Place, Bentham’s residence in Westminster, is also available as an open-access text in PDF or XML format from UCL Discovery.

Upon the death of his father Jeremiah in 1792, Bentham inherited the family home in Queen’s Square Place. Bentham referred to his abode as the Hermitage and himself as the Hermit. Despite this apparent reclusiveness, many notable statesmen, politicians, lawyers, and intellectuals visited him, although some equally prominent figures (such as Madame de Staël) were refused an audience. Apart from half the year spent at another notable Bentham residence, Ford Abbey, between 1814 and 1818, Bentham spent the majority of his later years at Queen’s Square Place. He died within its walls, aged 84, on 6 June 1832.

Bentham’s house was demolished in the 1880s. The site is now occupied by 102 Petty France, otherwise known as the building which houses the Ministry of Justice. Between 1978 and 2004 this building (then known as 50 Queen Anne’s Gate) was the main location of the Home Office. On 12 October 2004, Councillor Catherine Longworth, Lord Mayor of Westminster, and Professor Malcolm Grant, President and Provost of UCL, unveiled a commemorative plaque to Jeremy Bentham on the gateway of the building.

We are sure that this text will prove extremely popular amongst Bentham enthusiasts, since Wheatley provides a rich first-hand account of both the house (such as the front garden or ‘paddock’, the steam central-heating, and Bentham’s ‘workshop’ with attendant ‘platform’ and ‘ditch’) and its permanent and temporary inhabitants (such as Bentham himself, his secretaries, and his visitors). Details are given about Bentham’s peculiar meal times (and his ‘preprandial circumgyration’, when he did his pre-dinner jogging) as well as descriptions of the dishes served. Illumination is also given to Bentham’s working practices, such as his unique ink-conserving writing style and his preference for ‘preaching’ (dictating to an amanuensis) whilst being shaved.

The text has been transcribed and lightly annotated from the original which was privately printed in about 1853. It contains a brief editorial introduction by Dr Kris Grint.

Response to The Guardian’s review of Bentham’s Of Sexual Irregularities by Professor Philip Schofield

By T Philip Schofield, on 7 July 2014

In his review of Jeremy Bentham’s Of Sexual Irregularities (Guardian, 28 June 2014), Faramerz Dabhoiwala suggests that the Bentham Project, which is producing the new authoritative edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, has been culpable in not editing and publishing these writings before now. The new Bentham edition is a massive scholarly task (30 volumes hitherto published out of a projected total of 80) which is almost entirely reliant on winning competitive grants from the UK’s research councils and educational charities. Of Sexual Irregularities, for instance, was generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Given the enormous size and complexity of the task of producing a scholarly edition from handwritten manuscripts, and the need to rely on external funding, the surprise is that our small research team is as productive as it is. The wider issue is UK academia’s refusal face up to the question of how to fund long-term research projects in the humanities and social sciences. The research councils seem to be happy to disburse money to the latest flavour of the month, which promises some short-term impact, rather than scholarship that will continue to be of value for decades, if not centuries, to come.

Response to The Guardian’s review of Bentham’s Of Sexual Irregularities by Dr Michael Quinn

By Michael Quinn, on 7 July 2014

In his otherwise positive review of Of Sexual Irregularities (Guardian, 28 June 2014), Faramerz Dabhoiwala refers to the way in which the ‘official Bentham Project largely ignored this aspect of his thinking’, and regrets the fact that ‘Only three of Bentham’s documents from the 1810s are printed … so that the development and full range of his thoughts on sex are impossible to trace.’ One might be forgiven for concluding that a veritable army of ‘official’ editors had grudgingly placed in the public domain a disjointed fraction of a much more extensive and coherent discussion of sex and the law.

In order to obviate this misapprehension, two points require to be made. First, the ‘official Bentham Project’ relies entirely on funding from research councils, educational charities, and the generosity of UCL, whilst the task of its very far from ‘huge’, but rather tiny (and diminishing) staff, namely producing a critical edition of some 80 volumes, largely from semi-legible manuscripts, might be likened to that of emptying a bath full of water with a tea spoon without spilling a drop. Second, Bentham’s temporally disjointed discussions of sex form no coherent whole, having been undertaken at widely different times, for different purposes. To have combined the discussions on sex from the 1780s, which formed part of a putative work on penal law, with the discussions of 1816–18, which formed an integral part of Bentham’s sustained assault on the baleful influence of religion on popular morality, would have been contrary to the basic principles of a critical edition, whilst to have undertaken the editorial work on the earlier discussions necessary to provide proper cross-referencing would very likely, and not unreasonably, have strained the patience of the Leverhulme Trust, whose generosity funded this volume. Dabhoiwala also omits to note that the preliminary text of the closely related work Not Paul, But Jesus, Part III. Doctrine, has been freely available from the Bentham Project website since May 2013.

Of Sexual Irregularities, and Other Writings on Sexual Morality

By Kris Grint, on 3 February 2014

The Bentham Project is pleased to announce the publication of the 30th volume in the Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham series. Of Sexual Irregularities, and Other Writings on Sexual Morality was published by Oxford University Press on 30 January 2014.

The present volume contains three essays, ‘Of Sexual Irregularities’, ‘Sextus’, and ‘General Idea of Not Paul, but Jesus’, written in the mid-1810s but have never before been published in authoritative form. Bentham presents the utilitarian case for sexual liberty on the grounds that the gratification of the sexual appetite constituted the purest form of pleasure, in opposition to the traditional Christian view that the only morally acceptable form of sexual activity was between one man and one woman, within the confines of marriage, for the purpose of procreation. Bentham offers classical Greece and Rome, where certain male same-sex relationships were regarded as normal, as alternative models of sexual morality, condemns the hostile portrayal of homosexuals in eighteenth-century literature, and calls for the removal of sanctions, whether imposed by religion, law, or public opinion, from all forms of consensual sexual activity, at least in so far as practised in private. Bentham was, moreover, persuaded by Malthus’s argument that population growth tended to outstrip food supply. In these circumstances, non-procreative sexual activity had the additional benefit of not contributing to an increase in the size of the population. In the course of his discussion, Bentham expresses forthright views on various aspects of sexuality.

A discount of 30% on the list price is offered for online orders of this volume until 31 March 2014. Please download the promotional flyer for information on ordering.

A related text to the present volume, the preliminary version of volume 3 of Bentham’s Not Paul, but Jesus was published online by the Bentham Project in April 2013.

Jeremy Bentham and the escaped convicts

By Tim Causer, on 13 January 2014

The Bentham Project is delighted to announce the publication, for the first time, a detailed, online annotated edition of the Memorandoms of the transported convict, James Martin, which is the only extant first-hand account of perhaps the most famous escape by prisoners transported to Australia. The manuscripts upon which this work are based are part of UCL’s vast Bentham Papers collection, having seemingly been collected by Bentham when he was writing his attack on convict transportation, Panopticon versus New South Wales.

On the night of 28 March 1791, Martin, in company with his fellow prisoners William Bryant, his wife Mary Bryant (née Broad) and their two young children Charlotte and Emanuel, William Allen, Samuel Bird alias John Simms, Samuel Broom alias John Butcher, James Cox alias Rolt, Nathaniel Lillie, and William Morton, stole the governor’s six-oared cutter. In it, the party sailed out of Port Jackson, and up and along the eastern and northern coasts of the Australian continent, where they encountered Aboriginal peoples, and were fortunate to survive several ferocious storms. They crossed the Gulf of Carpentaria, avoided capture by Torres Strait Islanders, and eventually landed at Kupang, West Timor, on 5 June. There, they successfully (for a while, at least) posed as survivors of a shipwreck and enjoyed the hospitality of their Dutch hosts. Theirs was an incredible feat of endurance and seamanship, in surviving a two-month journey of over five thousand kilometres in an open boat.

The Memorandoms, edited and introduced by Tim Causer, are now freely available to read online, and can also be downloaded as a PDF. For those interested, an XML version of the text is also available.

The introduction to the edition provides information about the manuscripts, Bentham’s interest in convict Australia and his acquisition of the manuscripts, context and background to the escape, and a summary of previous works dealing with this famous absconding. This is followed by annotated versions of Martin’s narrative, which are linked to digital versions of the original manuscripts, allowing readers to fully explore this fascinating primary resource.

We are, as always, very grateful to UCL Library Special Collections for permission to reproduce transcripts of manuscripts in their possession, and for their continuing support, and to UCL Creative Media Services, who created the digital images of the manuscripts for our Transcribe Bentham project. We would welcome any comments or feedback about this edition of Martin’s Memorandoms, or additional information which could further improve the resource. Please send them to t.causer [at] ucl.ac.uk.

The Return of Demonic Bentham

By Michael Quinn, on 26 November 2013

Jeremy Seabrook provides an arresting and provocative challenge to the rhetoric underlying cuts in welfare spending, and is acute in pointing out historical echoes of the effort—undertaken in tandem with the contradictory assurance that we are all in this together—to divide the recipients of such spending into the deserving and undeserving poor. I know of the stresses and paralyzing anxieties imposed on recipients of disability benefits by the fitness for work assessments, and agree that singling out the most vulnerable (and therefore least able to resist?) to bear a disproportionate burden is wrong, however effective as a political strategy. However, I do want to take issue with Seabrook over the attitude of Jeremy Bentham to poor relief in general, and to the deserving/undeserving dichotomy in particular.

For Bentham, the question of poor relief highlighted the conflicting imperatives of the two most important subordinate ends of legislation, namely subsistence and security. In 1796 he began a detailed analysis of poor relief, fundamental to which was the distinction between poverty (i.e. dependence on investment of labour for subsistence), the unavoidable condition of almost all mankind, and indigence (i.e. exposure to starvation through lack of property, and inability either to labour, or to procure subsistence despite labour). Relief of poverty was neither possible, nor desirable: upon the ‘natural’ connection between investment of labour and acquisition of subsistence depended the production of both the matter of subsistence, and, by accumulation of surplus productivity, the matter of abundance, or wealth. Bentham was thus an unapologetic advocate of economic competition between individuals as the motor of increasing wealth, while the energy for driving the motor was derived from individual responsibility for individual subsistence in the first place, and for that of helpless dependents in the second.

Bentham analysed the contingencies responsible for indigence, rejecting desert as a criterion for receipt of relief, to which the fact of indigence alone constituted the legitimate claim. He refused, that is to say, the attempt to allocate relief according to a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor: ‘Neither by good nor by ill desert, can anything be added to, or taken from, the quantum of demand on the score of indigence.’ That said, the state could and should impose deterrent conditions upon relief, since their absence enhanced the attractiveness of dependence on relief as an alternative to self-maintenance, and since making relief more eligible than (i.e. preferable to) independent labour ultimately threatened generalized indigence or widespread starvation. I hesitate to detail Bentham’s conditions, for fear of putting ideas into heads at the Department of Work and Pensions, but they are: first, since the aim was to prevent starvation, relief should be limited to ‘the necessaries of life’. Second, since labouring for subsistence was mankind’s inescapable condition, the indigent too, excepting only those utterly incapable, should be required to labour. Third, since out-allowances, that is cash welfare payments, were incompatible with the efficient extraction of labour, the indigent should be obliged to enter large-scale Industry-Houses.

Seabrook is also absolutely correct in seeing Bentham as an advocate of the private provision of welfare services. Bentham proposed transferring responsibility for relief to a joint-stock company, the National Charity Company, subsidized by receipt of the existing poor rates. The company would build two hundred and fifty panopticon industry-houses in England and Wales, each accommodating two thousand people. Paupers would be occupied largely in ‘self-supply’, that is the production of their own subsistence. It should also be noted, however, that Bentham’s company would differ from modern private providers in the transparency of its management. It should also be noted that Bentham would have rejected utterly the notion of a cap on benefit spending. He called this idea the ‘Limited or Inadequate Provision System’, and he thought it both intellectually disreputable, in drawing an arbitrary ceiling on that spending, so that once that ceiling is reached, no further claims can be met—‘it admits the propriety of a provision at the public charge, and, at the same time, as far as the deficiency extends, refuses to make any such provision’— and morally bankrupt—pregnant ‘with profusion on one side, homicide on the other’.

Finally, it really is time that Bentham’s reference to ‘that part of the national live stock which has no feathers to it, and walks upon two legs’ was recognized for what it is, namely a humorous allusion to Plato’s definition of man in The Statesman, and its parody by Diogenes the Cynic, rather than as an example of Bentham’s own casual inhumanity. Bentham alluded to the definition twice in his poor law writings, the second time in the admittedly complacent and underwhelmingly funny reference quoted by Seabrook, but first in attacking the notion of the rights of man:

‘the pompous, the wordy, the nonsensical, the pretending Plato, fancying he had discovered and was explaining the secret of man’s nature, defined him a two-footed animal without feathers. Stripping a fowl of its feathers and tossing it down into the street among the by-standers, there, cried a contemporary philosopher of more acuteness and pleasantry than humanity, there, cried he, runs Plato’s man. Take a new-born infant, and setting it down in a cart-rut just before a Cart were passing by, thus (might a philosopher of like complection say to a French Constitution-maker) there lies your man, with all his rights. Hold! What are you about? Dare you snatch him up without his consent?—if you do, he is your slave.’

The relentless economies of the National Charity Company are rebarbative enough to a twenty-first century reader—even when set against the raft of ancillary services which they helped to make possible—without adding ill-founded character assassination.

Michael Quinn is Senior Research Associate at the Bentham Project, UCL and editor of two volumes of Jeremy Bentham’s Writings on the Poor Laws (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2001 and 2010).

Bentham and Colombia

By Kris Grint, on 29 July 2013

Bentham and Colombia posterIn July 2013 we welcomed Professor Gonzalo Ramírez from the Universidad Externado de Colombia to the Bentham Project as part of UCL’s International Teaching Excellence Bursary Scheme. In the course of his stay, Professor Ramírez  delivered two fascinating seminars on the subject of Jeremy Bentham and the influence of his philosophy on Colombia.

Professor Ramírez’s first seminar attracted scholars from a wide range of disciplines, from legal philosophers and historians to to those with interests in South American studies. Commencing with an overview of the constitutional history of nineteenth-century Colombia, Professor Ramírez went on to trace the specific influence of Bentham’s thought on this topic. Although Bentham himself never visited Latin America, his philosophy was diffused via the Spanish translation of Dumont’s Traités (published in 1821) and through his extensive correspondence with important Latin American political figures, such as General Francisco de Miranda, Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander. The seminar also included a survey of scholarly work which has hitherto focused on Bentham and Colombia, and several hints at where future research should be directed. We are excited to see where this line of study will take Professor Ramírez in the hopefully not-too-distant future!

Gonzalo Ramírez at UCL

In the second seminar, focus switched from the historical to the pedagogical, with Professor Ramírez discussing the novel teaching methods he has employed whilst teaching a course on Bentham at the Universidad Externado de Colombia. Highlighting the use of blogs, social media and podcasts, Professor Ramírez offered valuable advice on how to adopt and utilize these new technologies for teaching purposes. Indeed, perhaps the most impressive feature of the Colombian Bentham course is the weekly podcast produced by the students, which both builds upon the ideas discussed in the seminars and allows distant learners to develop a taste for Bentham scholarship. The seminar also featured a video of Professor Philip Schofield’s (Director of the Bentham Project) recent Skype appearance at the Universidad Externado de Colombia – another example of the innovative use of new technology in academic teaching.

The Bentham Project wishes to thank Professor Ramírez for his excellent contributions whilst at UCL and Ciarán Moynihan and Lorraine Dardis at UCL’s Office for International Affairs for their assistance in organizing the visit.

View or download the slides for these seminars: Bentham and Colombia slides 1Bentham and Colombia slides 2

 

Transcribe Bentham on display

By Tim Causer, on 6 June 2013

Earlier this year, UCL opened its new Octagon Gallery, a new exhibition space for displaying research being carried out at the College. Each exhibition lasts six months, and the newest is on the theme of ‘Digital Transformations’, curated by Claire Ross, Research Assistant at UCL’s Department of Information Studies and Centre for Digital Humanities (amongst other things, Claire is the lead researcher on the award-winning QRator project).

Claire has very kindly included Transcribe Bentham in her exhibition. Four Bentham manuscripts have been installed in the exhibition: JB/027/026/004 (transcribed by Diane Folan), in which Bentham recalls setting fire to ear-wigs as a child; JB/107/110/001 and JB/107/110/002 (transcribed by Joy Lloyd, Chris Leeder, and Melissa Rogers), in which Bentham sets out a series of recipes for his panopticon prison; and JB/079/047/001 as an (admittedly extreme) example of the challenges faced by Transcribe Bentham volunteers in attempting to decipher Bentham’s manuscripts. Below the manuscripts is an interactive ‘data rail’, which shows the transcripts and some contextual information.

Needless to say, we are delighted that the work of Transcribe Bentham‘s volunteers is being showcased in such a prominent spot, and will show off both their considerable efforts and the sort of discoveries which are being made through their transcripts.

We hope that those in the London area might be able to visit, and for those further away, below are a few pictures of the TB part of the exhibit.

(Thanks again to Claire for having TB included in the exhibition, and to UCL Special Collections for their work in preparing and installing the manuscripts).

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Foreign language Bentham scholarship

By Tim Causer, on 10 May 2013

International Bentham scholarship has rarely been in a more healthy shape, and is if to prove the fact, we have received several non-English works on Bentham which we are delighted to tell you about

 

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First is Ο Ιερεμίας Μπένθαμ και η Ελληνική Επανάσταση (Jeremy Bentham and the Greek Revolution), published by the Greek Foundation for Parliamentarism and Democracy (Athens, 2012). The volume was composedby Konstantinos Papageorgiou (scientific direction, Introduction, Appendix, translation, and commentary), Filimon Peonidis (Introduction, Appendix, translation, and commentary), Andreas Takis (translation and commentary), and Yiannis Tassopoulos (translation and commentary).

The book seeks to study the relationship between Bentham and the revolutionary Greek governments, and presents the first critical Greek translations of the many essays and letters Bentham addressed to the Greeks, in the hopes that his philosophy might be put into practice.

Cover Das PanoptikumCover Der radikale Narr des Kapitals

Bentham’s Panopticon is given attention in two German works. First, Panoptikum, oder Das Kontrollhaus (Panopticon, or the Inspection House), published by Matthes & Seitz (Berlin, 2013), edited by Christian Welzbacher and translated by Andreas Leopold Hofbaueur, provides the first critical German translation of Bentham’s Panopticon writings.

Also by Christian Welzbacher is Der Radikale Narr des Kapitals: Jeremy Bentham, das Panoptikum und die Auto-Ikone (The Radical Fool of Capital: Jeremy Bentham, the Panopticon, and the Auto-Icon), published again by Matthes & Seitz (Berlin, 2011). According to the publisher’s website, Welzbacher explores Bentham’s ideas, and ‘shows how the Panopticon and the Auto-Icon were developed in a cosmos of bourgeois cultural history full of abysses and scurrilities’.

Another work in German is Eine Einführung in die Prinzipien der Moral und Gesetzgebung, a translation of Bentham’s Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, published by Verlag Senging (2013), and translated by Irmgard Nash and Richard Seidenkranz.

Finally, is Una Protesta Contra las Tasas Judiciales, a translation of Bentham’s Protest Against Law Taxes, introduced and edited by Andrés de la Oliva Santos, and translated by Guadalupe Rubio de Urquía, published by Thomson Reuters (Madrid, 2013).

If you know of any other recent translations of Bentham’s works, or scholarship on Bentham, do let us know!