In the Interest of the Governed: A Study in Bentham's Philosophy of Utility and Law

In the Interest of the Governed: A Study in Bentham's Philosophy of Utility and Law

In the Interest of the Governed: A Study in Bentham's Philosophy of Utility and Law

In the Interest of the Governed: A Study in Bentham's Philosophy of Utility and Law

Synopsis

Although known as the founder of modern utilitarianism and the source of analytical jurisprudence, Bentham today is infrequently read but often caricatured. The present book offers a reinterpretation of Bentham's main philosophical doctrines, his principle of utility and his analysis of law, philosophical doctrines, as they are developed in Bentham's most important works. A new reading is also given to his theory of law, which suggests Bentham's insight, originality, and continued interest for philosophers and legal theorists. First published in 1973, this revised edition contains a new Preface, a revised Bibliography, and two new Indexes, one of Names and one of Subjects, which together replace the original index.

Excerpt

The essay that follows falls into two main parts. The first concerns Bentham's utilitarianism, the second his theory of law. One is primarily an interpretation of the famous work, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, the other seeks an understanding of that little-known study, Of Laws in General. These topics and books are very closely connected, and the examination of one naturally leads to the other. But the two parts of the present study are somewhat independent and may be judged on their separate merits.

I propose a new interpretation of Bentham's utilitarianism. It is argued, first, that Bentham is not a 'universalist', and this is relatively easy to show. It also appears, however, that Bentham has a dual standard, with community interest the criterion of right and wrong in public or political affairs and personal interest the proper standard for 'private ethics'. The evidence that leads to these conclusions also suggests, moreover, that Bentham has a still more basic principle, which could be glossed as the idea that government should serve the interests of those who are governed.

I also offer a new reading of his theory of law. In the first place, it now seems clear that Bentham does not embrace a simple 'imperative theory', the notion that laws are to be understood as a 'sovereign's' coercive commands. For he acknowledges basic types of law that are essentially permissive, and these cannot be coercive. In the second place, even those laws that he thinks of as a sovereign's commands are not held to be, in a strict conceptual sense, essentially coercive. And it is interesting to see how Bentham develops these ideas by constructing what must be one of the earliest systems of 'deontic logic'.

It appears that Bentham has been misinterpreted. Perhaps this is because all but his most devoted champions have underestimated his depth, his subtlety, and his originality. My main . . .

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