ELCS6073 - Baiting Bentham: Challenges to Utilitarianism in Post-Enlightenment France and Britain (1789-1900)
Value: 0.5 course units
Tutor: Dr Benjamin Bâcle
Assessment: Two assessed essays.
This module takes Jeremy Bentham's assertion that 'nature
has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain
and pleasure' as its starting point. Whilst this reduction of human
intellectual and moral experience to pain and pleasure stimuli is still
very influential today, various thinkers, in nineteenth century France
and Britain, endeavoured to prove Bentham wrong. Using principles and
concepts that already seemed a little anachronistic at the time, they
tried to show that there was more to human nature than pure sensory
receptivity and mechanical reaction. Just like Bentham's, their
reflections on this subject led them to a number of socio-political
conclusions and projects, but also to try and implement those projects,
in order to counteract the effects of what they saw as a dangerous
partnership between growing industrialisation and Utilitarianism.
This series of seminars aims at familiarising students with those sometimes forgotten thinkers and with the questions they raised about morals and fulfilment - many of which are still relevant today.
Preparatory Reading and Set Texts:
- Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (originally published 1869)
- Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (originally published 1789)
- Victor Cousin, Lectures on the True, the Beautiful and the Good (originally published 1836)
- John Grote, An examination of the Utilitarian Philosophy (originally published 1870)
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (originally published 1859)
- John Ruskin, On Art and Life (London: Penguin, 2004)
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (originally published 1835 (vol. I) and 1840 (vol. II). The second volume is the one which will be studied in class)
Useful Supplementary Reading:
- Thomas Hill Green, Prolegomena to Ethics (originally published 1883)
- John Stuart Mill, On Bentham (originally published 1838) and On Coleridge (originally published 1840)
- Félix Ravaisson, On Habit (originally published 1838)
Many of these works are available for free on the internet.
Only a selection of chapters, for each work, will be discussed in detail in class.