UCL Faculty of Laws


‘Envy accompanied with Antipathy’: Bentham and Freud on the Psychology of Sexual Ressentiment

06 March 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 Stella Sandford (Kingston)

About the seminar:

Readers of Bentham’s writings on sexuality (c.1812–1823) will be struck at numerous points by the parallels between them and Freud’s writings on sexuality, particularly the latter’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). Like Freud, Bentham finds no moral distinction between same-sex and heterosexual sexuality. Understanding sexuality primarily in terms of pleasure (rather than reproductive teleology) and presupposing sexual orientation to be matter of taste, not morality, Bentham, like Freud, denies that same-sex desire is either pathological or unnatural and advocates for a measure of sexual freedom against its deleterious suppression by ‘civilization’. This means that, unlike the psychopathia sexualis of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries it is the pathology of the ferocious condemnation of homosexuality, not the seeker of same-sex pleasure, that Bentham’s analysis aims to understand.

This talk will explain how Bentham’s utilitarian defence of same-sex pleasure is grounded on a Humean conception of natural taste and thus excludes ‘natural antipathy’ as a justified basis for the condemnation of homosexuality. It will then investigate Bentham’s psychological explanation for the social antipathy towards same-sex sexuality, and its proximity to the psychology of ‘ressentiment’ that will later be familiar from the writings of both Nietzsche and Freud. Connecting this to Bentham’s principle of asceticism in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation and to his table of the ‘Springs of Action’ the talk will suggest that Bentham’s writings on sexuality reveal a more complicated picture of Bentham’s psychology than is generally known.

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