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Modern Theories of Politics

Series:

Evangelia Sembou

Everything you ever wanted to know about modern political theory, but never dared to ask …
This book offers a concise introduction to the main ideas and arguments of the major political thinkers of modernity. It considers the following key thinkers: Hobbes, Locke, Bentham, J. S. Mill, Rousseau, Burke, Hegel and Marx.
Perhaps the best way to understand the ideas of a thinker is to read from their work. This book devotes each chapter to the main writings of a single thinker, providing excerpts from their work and explaining their views in detail. Readers are not expected to have any previous knowledge of the writings of these eight political philosophers, but by the end they should have a solid grasp of their central ideas. This book serves as an essential guide to some of the most important writings on political philosophy of modern times.

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Chapter 3 Jeremy Bentham

Extract

Jeremy Bentham was born in London in 1748. His talents were recognized early on by his father, who entertained high ambitions for young Jeremy. He went to Westminster School at the age of seven and to Queen’s College, Oxford at twelve. He graduated from Oxford in 1763 at the age of fifteen. His father wanted his son to pursue a legal career and hoped that Jeremy would become Lord Chancellor. In this sense, Jeremy disappointed his father when, having been admitted to the Bar in 1769, he did not practise the legal profession. We know that Jeremy was withdrawn by character and so the social obligations of a legal career would have been a great burden to him. Jeremy Bentham devoted his life to theoretical studies. He wrote on law, government, social administration, economics and philosophy, his writ- ings inf luencing a variety of writers and having an impact on a wide range of fields. So far as method is concerned, he introduced a rigorous method of analysis and minuteness – not employed since Aristotle – and changed the way in which the above-mentioned subjects were studied.1 What is important, however, is that Bentham was not just a person of theory but of practice as well; he wanted to see his theories implemented in practice and his theoretical studies were directed to this ef fect. His views formed the basis of ‘philosophic radicalism’2 – a doctrine combining utilitarianism, classical political economy, a jurisprudence whose object was to rationalize the law and a justification...

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