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The Bentham Project


The blog of UCL's Bentham Project, producing the authoritative edition of 'The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham'


Bentham in China

By Tim Causer, on 22 May 2012

Dr Michael Quinn reports on a recent trip to China:

On 12 and 13 May 2012, what was almost certainly the first Chinese conference dedicated to the study of Jeremy Bentham was hosted by the Law School of Zhengzhou University. Professor Philip Schofield and Dr Michael Quinn from the Bentham Project were joined in attending by Professor David Lieberman from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Gerald Postema from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Dr Emmanuelle de Champs from the University of Paris VIII and the Centre Bentham.

Attendees at the Bentham Conference, Zhengzhou University, 12 and 13 May 2012

The conference proved to be a stimulating intellectual exchange, as both Chinese and Western scholars presented research on Bentham, before an audience of academics and students. Professor Schofield contributed both a lecture on Bentham’s critique of natural rights, in which he constructed a Benthamic response to contemporary critics of utilitarianism, such as John Rawls, and a paper based on his current editorial work on Bentham’s disinclination to regulate in matters of taste, particularly sexual taste. Professor Lieberman lectured on the idea of the mixed constitution, and read a fascinating paper on the connections between Bentham’s enthusiasm for codification and his democratic theory. Dr de Champs revealed the extent to which the early Bentham self-identified as an active citizen in a European Republic of Letters, and Dr Quinn discussed some of the tensions involved in responding to the pains experienced by an illiberal majority in consequence of the proposed decriminalization of ‘harmless’ actions to which they objected. The Chinese audience responded enthusiastically to the lecture by Professor Postema on ‘The Ethos of Law’, which stressed the individual and collective responsibility for creating an environment in which power, public or private, was held consistently to account. Dr Chen Jinghui presented a paper on Hart’s ‘Content-Independent Reasons’; Professor Guodong Xu explored the connections between Epicureanism and Utilitarianism; Dr Hongguo Chen investigated Bentham’s treatment of William Blackstone; Dr Danhong Wu painstakingly reviewed Bentham’s exhaustive discussion of the law of evidence; Professor Yanxin Su revealed the extent to which Bentham’s legal thought was influenced by his knowledge of Roman law; Professor Honghai Li sought to rehabilitate common law, in opposition to Bentham’s pejorative appellation ‘dog law’; and Professor Xiaobo Zhai presented a ground-breaking paper on Bentham’s ‘natural arrangement’. Professors Schofield, Lieberman and Postema were appointed honorary professors of Zhengzhou University, and Professor Schofield took part with the President of the University in inaugurating the new Bentham Centre at the University, under its Director Professor Xiaobo Zhai.

Professors Gerald Postema, Philip Schofield, and David Lieberman receive honorary professorships from Zhengzhou University

Inauguration of the Bentham Centre, Zhengzhou University


A fulsome tribute and accompanying thanks must be paid to the superb hospitality afforded by Zhengzhou University. All the foreign guests left harbouring wonderful memories of their time in China, and with the firm intention of broadening and deepening the new relationships forged during the trip. Their only regret concerned the recognition that they might never again be able to eat Chinese food in Europe or America: it’s just not the same as Chinese food in China!

We feel sure that Jeremy would be happy to know of the developing interest in his thought in a country with one fifth of the world’s population, and would be anxious to promote the translation of his works into Chinese.

Bentham artwork to be installed at UCL, 18 April 2012

By Tim Causer, on 16 April 2012

An artwork by Shirin Homann-Saadat has been installed alongside the Auto-Icon here at UCL, and will be on display for the next month. The piece is entitled ‘The Third Bentham Box‘ – after the first (containing the Auto-Icon), and the second (which contains Bentham’s head).


© 2010 Shirin Homann-Saadat


© 2010 Shirin Homann-Saadat

For those unable to visit the Auto-Icon, below is a translation of the German writing in the interior of the box:

Since 1850 a strange mahogany box has been located in the South Cloisters of University College London. It contains the stuffed skeleton of Jeremy Bentham in his original clothes, with his cane and glasses. Only his head was “reconstructed”. His real head is to be found in a second box in the College archives.

In his last will Bentham decreed that his friend Dr Southwood Smith should “auto-iconise” his body for posterity. Experts still debate whether Bentham’s wish to be “auto-iconised” was a case of exaggerated self-importance or the practical joke of an eccentric.

However, Many years later a female philosopher and passionate enthusiast of Bentham’s support for animal rights, women’s suffrage and the abolition of the monarchy commissioned a third box…

The third Bentham Box

On 28th November 1973 the female philosopher attended a lecture on Bentham’s panopticon and prison reforms at the Collège de France. Using Bentham’s panopticon drawings she carefully pointed out some inaccuracies in the panopticon interpretations of the French lecturer. The French lecturer, a man called Foucault, is reported to have answered:

“Mais Madame, who will check Monsieur Bentham’s little Panopticon drawings? I reason and I talk, parce que I am interested in Auto-Iconisation!”

The female philosopher realised that the Frenchman had a point, so she left Paris. Back in London she immediately commissioned a third Bentham Box:

She decided to carve in stone what she felt was Bentham’s most important question. And she arranged to place the stone box next to Bentham’s wooden auto-icon for posterity


Shirin Homann-Saadat and two Bentham boxes


This is the interpretative text which will also be displayed with the box:

This work asks us many questions. At UCL we simply stroll past the auto-icon, it’s part of the furniture which we stop seeing. Instead, we are now invited to reflect not only on just what Bentham is doing here, but on space, and how we live in it, on what makes us us, and not some body or some thing else, and on how the spaces we inhabit inform our self-perception. Bentham and Foucault disagreed about all these issues. What do you think?

We are thoroughly delighted to be hosting this work, and look forward to reading your comments upon it – and Bentham’s Auto-Icon – in the space below.

New addition to this year’s Bentham Seminars

By Tim Causer, on 23 January 2012

A new paper has been added to this year’s Bentham Seminar series, for 13 June 2012 when Professor James Murphy of Dartmouth College will give a paper entitled ‘A Commentary on the “Comment”: Jeremy Bentham on Custom‘.

Please see below for the full schedule:

29 February 2012

Dr Emmanuelle de Champs (Paris VIII), Bentham in the Twentieth Century: A Survey of the Times Literary Supplement

7 March 2012

Dr Tim Causer (UCL), Jeremy Bentham’s and Alexander Maconochie’s Theories of Punishment

14 March 2012

James Shafe (UCL), Utilitarian Public Reason

21 March 2012

Professor Claire Grant (University of Leicester), Law and Oppression

13 June 2012

Professor James Murphy (Dartmouth College), A Commentary on the ‘Comment’: Jeremy Bentham on Custom

All of the seminars will be held between 11am and 1pm in the Committee Room in the School of Public Policy at UCL (Rubin Building, 29/30 Tavistock Square).

For further information, please contact Phil Baker (philip.baker@ucl.ac.uk). All are welcome!

Journal of Bentham Studies relaunched

By Tim Causer, on 13 December 2011

The Bentham Project has recently been working in association with UCL Library Services on the JISC-funded EPICURE project (E-Publishing Infrastructure Capitalising on UCL’s Repositories), which has introduced a model for e-publishing across the college.

Our open-access forum for debate and discussion of all aspects of Bentham’s life and thought, and utilitarianism more generally, the Journal of Bentham Studies, was selected as the pilot publication for this project. Work was carried out to reformat all of the articles published since the journal’s inception in 1997, and transfer them to new, more attractive home. The Bentham Project are delighted to say that this work is now complete. The Journal can now be accessed via http://ojs.lib.ucl.ac.uk/index.php/jbs, and its archive from http://ojs.lib.ucl.ac.uk/index.php/jbs/issue/archive.

This year’s volume (vol. 13) contains the following papers:

If you have any queries or comments regarding the journal, please contact Tim Causer (t.causer@ucl.ac.uk).We are very grateful to the generous funding from JISC which made this work possible.

Transcribe Bentham and the 2011 Digital Heritage Award

By Tim Causer, on 8 December 2011

Hot on the heels of Transcribe Bentham‘s Award of Distinction in this year’s Prix Ars Electronica, the world’s premier digital arts competition, we learned in mid-October from Dr Melissa Terras, of UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities and part of the TB team, that the project had been nominated for the 2011 Digital Heritage Award. This award was to be voted on and presented at the Digital Strategies for Heritage conference in Rotterdam, from 6 to 9 December.

The other nominees for the award were as follows:

The award focused specifically upon crowdsourcing projects, and it was a great honour to be nominated among such exalted company – any of these four would be more than worth winners.

Melissa, who is giving a full paper on Transcribe Bentham at the conference today, presented the project to the conference attendees to a warm reception. Here is an extract from Melissa’s blog:

Yesterday was a fairly big day: Transcribe Bentham was one of the 5 international projects nominated for the Digital Heritage Award 2011 (you can see our specific nomination here). I had to give a 3 minute pitch in front of the entire crowd on behalf of the project team, bright lights and all, in the opening plenary session, followed by manning an information booth, above, in all the breaks to solicit votes. You can see the voting system above – people had to place a sticker on our sheet. By the end of the day we had filled quite a few of these – fantastic to have such support, and I talked to a lot of very interesting and interested people about the project. The winner of the award was Digital Koot, well done all! – a little bird tells me we came a close runner up. But to be honest, having the opportunity to pitch to such a large audience, and meet so many interesting people, was wonderful, and it was an honour to be nominated. All good fun.

A hearty well done to the Digital Koot team from all here at the Bentham Project and Transcribe Bentham, and congratulations to Melissa for running it so close! Many, many thanks too to all for the support shown to the project.

ISUS XII: Call for Papers

By Tim Causer, on 21 November 2011

The 12th Conference of the International Society for Utilitarian Studies (ISUS) will be held from 8 to 11 August at the Stern School of Business, New York University, 40-44 West 4th Street, New York.

ISUS XII welcomes proposals for papers and sessions on all subjects related to utilitarianism, including moral philosophy, economics, psychology, political theory, intellectual history, environment, law and jurisprudence.

Proposals should be submitted as abstracts of about 400 words for a 15-20 minute paper, or of 600 words for a session of three to four papers (together with abstracts of the session papers) by no later than 15 March 2012 to isus2012@gmail.com. All proposals should include the title and subject of each paper, the presenter’s name, institutional affiliation, and any technology requests (e.g. Powerpoint, video etc).

The ISUS Committee will award a prize of £250 for the best paper presented at the conference by a graduate student.

Important dates:

  • Deadline for proposal submissions: 15 March 2012
  • Notification of accepted/rejected proposals: 1 May 2012
  • Deadline for submission of full papers: 15 July 2012

Confirmed Panels and Plenary Speakers
Opening Keynote Address

  • Roger Crisp (Oxford, Philosophy): ‘What is Utilitarianism?’

Neuroscience and Ethics Panel

  • Joshua Greene (Harvard, Psychology): Principal speaker
  • Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke, Philosophy): Chair

Jeremy Bentham in the History of Political Thought

  • David Armitage (Harvard, History): Principal speaker
  • Philip Schofield (UCL, Laws)

 History of Utilitarian Thought

  • James Moore (Concordia University, Political Science): Principal speaker, ‘Hume’s Influence on the Development of Utilitarianism’

Environment and Utilitarianism

  • Tim Mulgan (St Andrews, Philosophy): Principal speaker, ‘Ethics for a Broken World’


The International Society for Utilitarian StudiesISUS – provides a forum for scholarly debate and research on utilitarianism and its historical development, and on its present-day relevance in such fields as ethics, law, economics, political theory, and public policy.   http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project/isus

ISUS also publishes the journal Utilitas, a leading international review presenting original research in all aspects of utilitarian theory and encompassing the disciplines of moral philosophy, economics, psychology, political theory, intellectual history, law and jurisprudence.

Bentham Seminar Series, 2012

By Tim Causer, on 2 November 2011

This year’s series of Bentham Seminars have been confirmed, and will take place during February and March 2012. They will be held between 11am and 1pm in the Committee Room in the School of Public Policy at UCL (Rubin Building, 29/30 Tavistock Square).

For further information, please contact Phil Baker (philip.baker@ucl.ac.uk). All are welcome!

The speakers will be as follows:

29 February 2012

Dr Emmanuelle de Champs (Paris VIII), Bentham in the Twentieth Century: A Survey of the Times Literary Supplement

7 March 2012

Dr Tim Causer (UCL), Jeremy Bentham’s and Alexander Maconochie’s Theories of Punishment

14 March 2012

James Shafe (UCL), Utilitarian Public Reason

21 March 2012

Professor Claire Grant (University of Leicester), Sex and Pleasure


New Directions in Bentham Studies: An International Symposium, 9 December 2011

By Tim Causer, on 7 September 2011

To help mark the relaunch of the Journal of Bentham Studies in a new online home as part of UCL’s open-access repository of research, the Bentham Project is hosting a one-day international symposium exploring recent developments and new avenues of research in Bentham studies, at which several distinguished scholars will speak.




Malik Bozzo-Rey (Catholic University of Lille):Could Indirect Legislation be Normative?

Marco Guidi (University of Pisa): ‘Is there a Political Economy of Legal Procedure in Bentham’s Thought?




Gianfranco Pellegrino, (Bentham Project, UCL): ‘The Benthams’ Euclidean Training: Jeremy Bentham’s Writings on Mathematics in their Historical and Theoretical Context

Vincent-Emmanuel Mathon, ‘Bentham’s Geometrics as Applied to the Internet Age and the Global Economy




Peter Niesen (Darmstadt University of Technology): ‘Bentham on Deliberation

Michael Quinn (Bentham Project, UCL): ‘Which Comes First, Bentham’s Chicken of Utility, or His Egg of Truth?




Philip Steadman (Emeritus Professor of Urban and Built Form Studies, Bartlett School, UCL): ‘Samuel Bentham’s Panopticon’.


Philip Schofield (Bentham Project, UCL): Closing Remarks, and a New Discovery

Venue: Keeton Room, Bentham House, UCL

Attendance is open to all, and is free, but to register your place please email Phil Baker (philip.baker@ucl.ac.uk). For directions to Bentham House, please visit

This event is supported by the JISC-funded UCL E-Publishing Infrastructure Capitalising on UCL’s Repository (EPICURE) project.

Conway Memorial Lecture, 26 October 2011, by Professor Philip Schofield

By Tim Causer, on 7 September 2011

Professor Philip Schofield, Director of the Bentham Project, will this year give the Conway Memorial Lecture, entitled ‘Jeremy Bentham: Prophet of Secularism’.

The event is held at Conway Hall in Holborn, and takes place at 6.30pm on Wednesday 26 October. Tickets are free, but restricted to two per person.

Latest ‘Collected Works’ volume published

By Tim Causer, on 2 August 2011

Hot on the heels of Writings on the Poor Laws (vol II) and Of the Limits of the Penal Branch of Jursprudence,  we are delighted to announce that the latest volume of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham has been published by Oxford University Press.

Church-of-Englandism and its Catechism Examined – edited by James Crimmins (University of Western Ontario), and Catherine Fuller (Bentham Project, UCL) – was first published in 1818. It constitutes part of Bentham’s rigorous critique of the political, legal, and ecclesiastical establishment. Bentham argued that the Church’s educational system instilled habits of insincerity into the population, and protected a system of abuses which were profitable to clergymen and the ruling classes. Bentham called for the ‘euthanasia’ of the Church, since government-sponsored proposals to ‘reform’ the system of abuse would in fact propagate it.

This authoritative edition of the text includes and editorial introduction, and an appendix – published for the first time – examining the relationship between church and state.  The volume also features comprehensive annotation, collations of extracts published during Bentham’s lifetime, and subject and name indexes.

For more information on the volume, and on ordering it, please see the OUP website