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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2021

Callum Barrell
Affiliation:
New College of the Humanities
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Summary

This chapter examines contemporary responses to utilitarianism as a political tradition, and, contrary to accepted wisdom, argues that Bentham’s theory of utility was circumstantially and thus historically relative. It asks why Bentham has been perceived as both an ahistorical and an antihistorical thinker, despite his engagement with the ‘Enlightened’ historicisms of the eighteenth century: with Montesquieu, Barrington, Kames, and others. While he denied that history possessed an independent value that could determine or even effectively structure politics, we should not mistake these arguments for an unwillingness to contemplate politics historically, or to make occasionally significant concessions to time and place. Bentham’s point, rather, was that historical truths were categorically distinct from philosophical ones, and that sciences historiques observed the past while sciences philosophiques appraised it. The chapter also addresses Bentham’s overlooked work as a ‘historiographer’ who performed recognisably historical tasks, including the examination of evidence and the passing of historical judgements

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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  • Introduction
  • Callum Barrell
  • Book: History and Historiography in Classical Utilitarianism, 1800–1865
  • Online publication: 24 September 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009004718.001
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  • Introduction
  • Callum Barrell
  • Book: History and Historiography in Classical Utilitarianism, 1800–1865
  • Online publication: 24 September 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009004718.001
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
  • Callum Barrell
  • Book: History and Historiography in Classical Utilitarianism, 1800–1865
  • Online publication: 24 September 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009004718.001
Available formats
×