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Utilitarian Fiction: Bentham's View of Language in its Theoretical and Historical Context

GoTriple's project summary

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) is very well known for his utilitarian ethics. However, he based his ethical views on a specific conception of language and mind. The project aims at giving a new account of Bentham’s philosophy of language, in its connection both with Bentham’s more known utilitarian claims in ethics, political theory and philosophy of law, and with the broad context of the Enlightenment debate on ethics, language and mind in Europe. This new account will be based on Bentham’s original manuscripts concerning philosophy of language and logic. These manuscripts have been very poorly edited in the 19th century edition of Bentham’s work, and this fact distorted the received view of Benham’s ideas on language. Bentham’s ideas on language have not yet received a comprehensive and satisfactory treatment, both from a conceptual point of view and from a historical perspective. A typescript of the original materials has been recently prepared at the Bentham Project, University College London, in the preliminary operations for the new authoritative edition of Bentham’s work on language, which has not yet been published. The research will take this typescript as its main ground, and will contribute to the the work needed for the new edition of Bentham’s writings on logic and language. Moreover, a detailed study of Bentham’s explicit and implicit sources in British and French thought will be conducted. In particular, three groups of authors will be considered: British Empiricists such as Locke, Hume, and Berkeley; French Enlighteners such as D’Alembert and Condillac; authors engaged in the discussion about language, grammar and etymology in Britain, such as James Harris and John Horne Tooke. These authors are explicitly mentioned by Bentham. Moreover, an inquiry of the semiotic tradition present in Hobbes’ philosophy of language and its influence on Bentham will be conducted. Finally, a view of the relations between language and ethics in Bentham will be produced.

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