Bentham’s Rhetorical Sophistication

face of a prisoner

After the lofty opening paragraph of his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Jeremy Bentham interjects:

But enough of metaphor and declamation: it is not by such means that moral science is to be improved.^

Those who would question the sincerity of that declaration should consider Bentham’s proposed text for a legislator’s inaugural declaration. In “Section 13 / XII. Insincerity Abjured,” Bentham has the legislator declare:

Never, by deception or delusion in any shape – never will I seek, to compass any point, either in framing of Legislative ordinances or other authoritative instruments, or in debate. In all such discourses, my endeavors shall be constantly directed to the giving to them the greatest degree of transparency, and thence of simplicity, possible.^

Bentham wrote many diffuse, arcane texts. His principle of utility was largely rhetorical. He issued anonymously A Fragment on Government (1776).^ That text savaged William Blackstone. Bentham also issued under a pseudonym Not Paul, But Jesus (1823).^ That text savaged Paul of Tarsus. The latter work is particularly revealing, since Bentham had little respect for Paul, Jesus, or any traditional religion.

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