UCL News


Review: 'Utility and Democracy: The Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham'

26 January 2007

For someone so indefatigably devoted to making himself clear, Jeremy Bentham remains a singularly elusive figure.

Professor Philip Schofield's (UCL Laws) study of Bentham's political thought, 'Utility and Democracy'', has many admirable qualities and will greatly assist anyone setting out to take Bentham's measure today. …

Schofield has devoted his intellectual lifetime to Bentham's service and is now Director of the Bentham Project and general editor of his 'Collected Works'.

The 'Collected Works' have been in train for 45 years already and now run to 26 volumes, with many previously published works yet to be reissued to the same exacting standards, quite apart from the manuscript residues with their legendary illegibility.

'Utility and Democracy' has the ease and familiarity that comes from living for more than two decades in such intimacy with the intellectual and material legacy Bentham left behind him: as much a milieu of existence as a simple place of work. …

He makes an unusually determined attempt to present the development of Bentham's political thought on the basis of his vision of nature, the place of human beings within it and the ways in which they can and cannot hope to know reliably about it and communicate stably and accurately what they know. …

Where Schofield is at his best is in the detailed working-out of Bentham's changing conception of politics more conventionally construed and the varying appeal that representative democracy held for him as a form of government. Here, his treatment is fuller and more reliable than any predecessor, as he plainly means it to be. …

John Dunn, 'Times Higher Education Supplement'