UCL Faculty of Laws


Who was the greater champion of literature, Bentham or Mill?

20 February 2018, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

Bentham arts

Part of the Bentham and the Arts seminar series

Event Information

Open to



UCL Laws


Room G10, Chandler House, 2 Wakefield Street, London WC1N 1PF

Speaker: Professor Anthony Julius (UCL)

About the seminar:

According to the received view of Bentham and Mill in the matter of literature, Bentham was a philistine, and dismissive of poetry’s claims, while Mill was an ardent admirer of poetry, who gave it an honoured place in liberal thinking. This is a view promoted by Mill himself, with some accusatory pointing at a passage in Bentham's Rationale of Reward. Though the view is not wholly wrong so far as it goes, it is seriously misleading in two respects. First, it supports misjudgements of Bentham as a Platonic enemy of literature, with nothing of interest to say about it, or the fine arts in general; and complementary misjudgements of Mill as an advocate of literary free speech, with an interesting theory of poetry. Not one of these misjudgements withstands scrutiny. Second, it encourages complacency regarding the adequacy of liberal thinking about literature, and the adequacy of liberalism's response to contemporary threats to creative writers’ and artists’ freedom of expression. Call these complacencies ‘liberalism's literature problem’. If we seek a solution to this problem (and one is urgently needed), we need to look beyond Mill—which means, among other things, looking behind him, to Bentham.

Book your place at this event