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

Final Report Summary - UTILITARIANFICTION (Utilitarian fiction: Bentham's view of language in its theoretical and historical context)

UTILITARIANFICTION was a project dealing with Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832) and his general philosophical approach to language, science and politics. It had three specific aims:

(1) giving a detailed account of Bentham's unpublished manuscripts on logic and language, and in particular:
(a) emphasising elements concerning the succession and the different formulations in the original manuscripts of Bentham's arguments about a central notion in his theory of meaning, i.e. the dichotomy between names referring to real entities and names of fictitious, i.e. non-existent, entities;
(b) highlighting the differences between the original manuscripts and the edition of them made by John Bowring in the 19th century;
(c) enlightening the textual story of the manuscripts;
(2) providing a general assessment of Bentham's philosophy of language, in connection with the intellectual development of his utilitarianism;
(3) considering Bentham's views of language in its historical context.

It soon appeared that Bentham's manuscripts on mathematics and geometry, contained in the boxes cxxxiv and cxxxv stored at the Special Collection library at UCL, deserved careful inspection and consideration, and sometimes complete transcription. On the other hand, the manuscripts are often incomplete, some of them are mere drafts and rough copies, and there are no clear elements both in the manuscripts themselves and in Bentham's correspondence or other works concerning the exact sequence of them. This required extra-work of interpretation and research.

By contrast, the study of the other manuscripts on logic and language turned out to be much easier, since they have been entirely transcribed by other scholars in the Bentham projects, and those transcriptions have also been revised by Professor Philip Schofield. For these reasons, detailed handling of those manuscripts has been done in the later stage of the research, in light of drawing definitive conclusions about Bentham's overall views of language.

Concerning the manuscripts on mathematics and geometry contained in UC cxxxiv and cxxxv, the main operations performed have been the following:

(a) study of the contents, and detailed description of the manuscripts;
(b) transcriptions of some of the manuscripts, according to their relevance - in particular the following manuscripts have been completely transcribed: UC cxxxiv 2; cxxxv 1-4, 32, 34-36, 43, 45-60, 68;
(c) classification of the manuscripts according to their content and hypothesis about the sequence of them;
(d) enquiry about the purpose and the origins of the manuscripts;
(e) comparison between those manuscripts and later materials on mathematics (in particular the appendix VIII of Bentham's Chrestomathia, at pp. 330-94, which is devoted to various techniques of teaching mathematics to young pupils).

Some of the results of the activities above have been used to produce a paper on Bentham's involvement with the study of mathematics - in particular with Euclidean geometry (the title of the article is: 'The Benthams' Euclidean Training: Mathemathics, Truth and Utility in Bentham's Early Manuscripts'. The paper has a first part providing an analysis of the manuscripts in UC cxxxv, a hypothesis about their origin and purpose, a comparison of them with other Benthamic materials on mathematics. Another part of the paper focusses on the relation between Bentham's treatment of geometry and the dichotomy between real and fictitious entities that appears for the first time in these manuscripts. Finally, the paper considers Bentham's conception of mathematics and science in its historical context. This article has been submitted to the Journal of the History of Philosophy. This article will be the first detailed discussion of Bentham's view of natural sciences, and mathematics in particular. Moreover, the discussion in it relies mainly on the original manuscripts, a source never considered in detail. It will be of interest to historians of philosophy in general, to Bentham's scholars and to historians of science.

As to the study of the manuscripts on language and logic, examination of the transcriptions made by prof. Schofield made clear that these texts, albeit fragmentary and incomplete, can be considered corresponding to two substantially polished works, one dealing with universal grammar, the other concerning logic and its uses. While substantial continuity with the notion of the dichotomy between fictitious and real entities appearing in the earlier manuscripts on mathematics has been noticed, a completely different context, and quite different purposes, characterise the use of the dichotomy in those texts. Bentham put the dichotomy between fictitious and real entities within a complex picture of language, mind and logic, where the dichotomy lost the centrality it had in the context of the philosophy of mathematics sketched in the earlier manuscripts. A detailed description of this shift, of the new function of the dichotomy in these later manuscripts, and of Bentham's overall conception of science, language and logic, in connection with Bentham's political and moral views, has been sketched in some preparatory materials for a book, entitled Truth, Science and Politics. Bentham's Scientific Politics. A book proposal has been submitted to Oxford University Press. The book will be of interest to historians of philosophy in general, to historians of pragmatism and analytic philosophy, to historians of philosophy of language, to historians of political philosophy, to Bentham's scholars. It will rely on manuscript sources that have never been considered. It will provide the first comprehensive account of Bentham's philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and philosophy of natural social science.

Moreover, a selection of the transcriptions of the later manuscripts on logic and language - the essay on universal grammar and the first eight chapters of the essay on logic - has been proposed for publication to Harvard University Press. If accepted, the book will contain an introductory essay on the influence of Bentham's ideas on 20th century analytic philosophy (by S. Bronzo and J. Conant) and an essay on Bentham's texts on language and logic by the present writer. This selection will be of use for any academic course on the history of philosophy, or on the history of analytic philosophy, as well as for any historical introductory course in philosophy of language.

The study of Bentham's ideas on psychology contained in the later manuscripts on language (Bentham wrote an appendix devoted to 'the phenomena of the human mind') stimulated the production of a paper concerning Bentham's view of hedonist motivation. This paper, now complete, was presented at the ISUS conference, held in Pisa in June 2011. This version of the paper was discussed there by the audience and later by other members of the Bentham project. A new version of the paper has been submitted to the British Journal for the History of Philosophy. The paper is entitled 'Benthamic Motivation: Hedonist, not Egoist'. A follow-up of this paper is an article on Hume's theory of motivation ('Why Only Hedonic Beliefs Motivate. Hume's Motivational Hedonism'), presented to the XII Humean Readings at La Sapienza University of Rome, on June 2012. A new version of this paper has been submitted to Hume Studies. These papers will be of interest for historians of philosophy in general, as well as for historians of moral philosophy and moral psychology and Bentham's or Hume's scholars.

The study of Bentham's political ideas, especially in connection with his liberal and democratic claims, stimulated the production of two further papers: an encyclopaedia entry on Bentham's political thought, submitted to The Encyclopedia of Political Thought, ed. by M. Gibbons, Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming , and a paper on Bentham's argument for liberal neutrality, presented at the ISUS conference, held in New York on August 2012 (title of the paper: 'The Impossibility of the Happiness Pill. Bentham, Mill and Isaiah Berlin on Determinism and Liberal Neutrality'). The encyclopedia entry will be of interest for a general audience, wanting to have an introductory appreciation of the main contributions that Bentham gave to political philosophy. The paper on Bentham's liberalism will be of interest for scholars concerned with the history of political thought, and in particular for scholars concerned with I. Berlin, J.S. Mill and Bentham.

On the whole, the study of Bentham's thought in this period led to a project for an introductory book on Bentham, in Italian, under contract with the publisher Carocci, to be published in mid-2013. The book is addressed to undergraduate students and the general public.