Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham

Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham

Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham

Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham

Synopsis

Jeremy Bentham was an ardent secularist convinced that society could be sustained without the support of religious institutions or beliefs. This book illustrates the nature, extent, and depth of Bentham's concern with religion, from his Oxford days of first doubts through the middle years of quiet unbelief to the zealous atheism and secularism of his later life. Crimmins provides an interpretation of Bentham's thought in which his religious views are shown to be integral: on the one hand, intimately associated with the metaphysical, epistemological, and psychological principles which gave shape to his system as a whole, and, on the other, central to the development of his entirely secular view of society.

Excerpt

That Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was an ardent secularist convinced that society could be sustained without the support of religious institutions or religious beliefs, is a fact writ large in the books on religion he wrote and published during the last twenty-five years of his life. His earliest writings on the subject, however, date from the 1770s when as a young man he first embarked upon his calling as a legal theorist and social reformer. Indeed, religion was never far from the centre of his thoughts throughout his long and industrious intellectual career.

The present study has two objectives. First, to illustrate the extent, depth, and nature of Bentham's concern with religion, from his Oxford days of first doubts, to the middle years of quiet unbelief, and, finally, the zealous atheism and secularism of later life when he pondered the vision of a world without religion. Secondly, to provide an interpretation of his utilitarian philosophy in which his religious views are located as an integral concern: on the one hand, intimately associated with the metaphysical, epistemological, and psychological principles which gave shape to his system as a whole and, on the other hand, central to the development of his entirely secular view of society.

1. the writings on religion

To those unaware of the vast range of Bentham's writings it is probably not known that, with various kinds of assistance from willing hands, he produced three volumes on the subject of religion, copies of which are extremely rare today: Church-of-Englandism and its Catechism Examined (1818), An Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind (1822), and Not Paul, but Jesus (1823). To these we can add the pamphlet Swear Not at All (1817), primarily a legal tract, but the theme of which (the evil consequences of imposing compulsory oaths) has an obvious bearing on religious matters. This attack on the Church and its doctrines, though its historical genesis can be traced to the 1770s, was launched in earnest in 1809. When . . .

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