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Benthamite Radicalism and its Scots Presbyterian Contexts


This article argues that James Mill's immersion in Presbyterianism inspired an aversion to hierarchical government and a bias in favour of the Church of Scotland. These views are discernible in Bentham's Church-of-Englandism. Bentham argued for disestablishment on principle but, praising the Scottish Church as a ‘model of perfection’, omitted the Kirk from his church reform manifesto. His position on disestablishment, however, and his endorsement of Presbyterianism were aligned with a voluntaryist strain of Presbyterian ecclesiological theory; Presbyterian dissenters and Benthamite Radicals began to protest against the Kirk's established status. Underpinned significantly by Presbyterian tradition and laced with Benthamic influence, a radical voluntary campaign emerged in Scotland which sought to dismantle the old order and usher in a new era of political democracy and religious voluntaryism. Radicalism in Scotland was not solely characterized by the ‘programmatic atheism’ which J. C. D. Clark believes defined Benthamite ideology; Benthamism, it transpires, was not straightforwardly secularist.

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J. Crimmins , Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham (Oxford, 1990)

K. Haakonsen , ‘James Mill and Scottish Moral Philosophy’, Political Studies 33 (1985), pp. 628–41

A. Plassart , ‘James Mill's Treatment of Religion and the History of British India’, History of European Ideas 34 (2008), pp. 526–34

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  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
  • URL: /core/journals/utilitas
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