Christopher Riley (UCL) - 2014-15 Students

Jeremy Bentham and the Utility of History

I am attempting to disprove the accusations made by numerous commentators on the work of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), that he was entirely ignorant of history and a completely ‘ahistorical’ thinker.

By analysing his critique of the English common law, and on the laws of ancient Rome, my aim is to demonstrate that he advocated a conscious rejection of these antiquated systems based upon a detailed historical awareness. I also believe that Bentham can even be seen to be applying what we may regard as his own Utilitarian historical methodology, grounded upon his theory of evidence.

I hope to conclude that, rather than ignore its lessons, Bentham used history in a very specific, methodical way. His aim was to end the belief that length of existence was an overriding factor in evaluating a system of law, and to warn against attempting historical enquiry without a rigorous examination of the evidence.

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