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.