Skip to main content Accessibility help

Nature and Natural Authority in Bentham*

  • J. H. Burns (a1)


My object in this paper is to suggest a few reflections on some themes in Bentham's work which others as well as (and even more than) I have noted, without perhaps developing them as fully as might with advantage be done. There will be nothing like full development in the limited compass of what is said here, but what is said may at least indicate possible directions for further exploration. The greater part of the paper will be concerned with the notion of natural authority; but I want to begin by taking a broader, though no doubt rather superficial, view of the role in Bentham's thinking of the concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘the natural’.



Hide All

1 See, on homosexuality, Boralevi, L. C., Bentham and the Oppressed, Berlin and New York, 1984, ch. 3, esp. pp. 67–8; and, on the general theme of ‘Repugnancy to Nature’, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, ed. Burns, J. H. and Hart, H. L. A., London, 1970 (The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham), pp. 27–8.

2 IPML(CW), p. 298 n.

3 Of Laws in General, ed. Hart, H. L. A., London, 1970 (The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham), p. 120. Cf. Long, D. G., Bentham on Liberty: Jeremy Bentham's idea of liberty in relation to his utilitarianism, Toronto and Buffalo, 1977, ch. 7. On the ‘universal law of liberty’, see also Lysaght, L. J., ‘Bentham on the aspects of a law’, Bentham and Legal Theory, ed. James, M. H., Belfast, 1973, pp. 118–20.

4 OLG (CW), p. 70.

5 Constitutional Code, vol. i, ed. Rosen, F. and Burns, J. H., Oxford, 1983 (The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham), p. 188. The phrase ‘naked right’ is a direct translation of the Roman-law term jus nudum: I am grateful to Andrew Lewis for having brought this to my attention. See also Hart, H. L. A., Essays on Bentham: Studies in Jurisprudence and Political Theory, Oxford, 1982, ch. 7, pp. 162–88.

6 OLG (CW), pp. 227–31.

7 Laird, J., The Device of Government: An Essay on Civil Polity, Cambridge, 1944.

8 ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’, The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, 8 vols., London, 17921827, v. 172; ‘An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs’, in Works, vi. 217.

9 See on this Burns, J. H., ‘Utilitarianism and Reform: Social Theory and Social Change, 1750–1800’, Utilitas, i (1989), 211–25.

10 Mack, M. P., Jeremy Bentham: An Odyssey of Ideas 1748–1792, London, 1962, p. 189; UC c. 107. Mack does not quote the third sentence; and, in the second, she omits the words ‘the young’ before ‘children’. These words are an interlinear insertion in the MS, and Bentham's afterthought is of some little significance: cf. p. 214 below.

11 The date 1780 is suggested, in an unknown hand, on a wrapper in which this group of MSS was at one stage enclosed; but a slightly later date is perhaps more likely.

12 The point has been most fully dealt with by Long (Bentham on Liberty, pp. 34–7), to whose discussion I am greatly indebted.

13 UC lxxxviii a.69. Cf. Long, , Bentham on Liberty, pp. 166–7, where, however, the MS reference is given as ‘87a.69’.

14 A Comment on the Commentaries and A Fragment on Government, ed. Burns, J. H. and Hart, H. L. A., London, 1977 (The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham), p. 431; A Fragment on Government (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought), Cambridge, 1988, [hereafter, Cambridge edn.], p. 42.

15 Comment/Fragment (CW), 431 n; Cambridge edn., pp. 42–3 n. At this point it is worth recalling Bentham's indication elsewhere that the parent/child relationship is one of ‘absolute subjection’ in regard to young children: cf. p. 212 above.

16 Comment/Fragment (CW), p. 438; Cambridge edn., pp. 49–50.

17 Comment/Fragment (CW), p. 439; Cambridge edn., p. 50.

18 OLG (CW), pp. 22–3.

19 IPML (CW), pp. 250–1.

20 IPML (CW), pp. 67–8.

21 UC c. 108–9.

22 The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the superintendence of Bowring, John, 11 vols., Edinburgh, 18381843, [hereafter Bowring], ii. 542. Cf. UC xxv. 14: the words ‘to him’ are an editorial insertion in the Bowring text.

23 Rosen, F., Jeremy Bentham and Representative Democracy: A Study of the Constitutional Code, Oxford, 1983, pp. 187–8.

24 IPML (CW), p. 174.

25 Bahmueller, C. F., The National Charity Company: Jeremy Bentham's Silent Revolution, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1981, p. 147; and cf. Bowring, , iii. 7.

26 UC cliiA. 109 (from Essays relative to the subject of the Poor Law, 1796).

27 Ibid. 168.

28 UC cli. 4 (‘Poor plan—contents [marginal outlines]’, 17961797).

29 UC clii. b.389 (‘Systems Compared — Minors’, 1797).

30 UC cxxxiii. 102 (‘Poor plan — heads; pauper education’, 1789); cf. Bahmueller, , National Charity Company, p. 176.

31 UC cliii a. 93 (‘Poor plan — pauper education’, 1798).

32 It may be worth noting that children are not among the victimized categories discussed by Boralevi, L. C. in Bentham and the Oppressed.

* A revised version of a paper read to the Bentham Seminar, University College London, on 10 March 1993.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
  • URL: /core/journals/utilitas
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed