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Economy and Polity in Bentham's Science of Legislation

  • Author(s): Lieberman, David
  • et al.
Abstract

The article examines the account of human nature and social action which Bentham adopted in his legislative theory, or what might be considered the sociology informing Bentham's jurisprudence. I first explore what for numerous scholars has seemed the single most important feature of Bentham's thought: his reliance and valorization of "rational economic man" in his legislative program. Drawing on recent scholarship on Adam Smith and eighteenth-century political economy, I counter these interpretations by emphasizing Bentham's frequently limited and pragmatic use of economic theory. Economics did not furnish Bentham with a master-sociology, and market-oriented conduct was not taken to be characteristic of social action in general.

The final part of the article takes up a neglected element of Bentham's legislative program: his reliance on publicity and critical public opinion to ensure the operation of responsible government in the Constitutional Code. I argue that the past preoccupation with Bentham's "economic presuppositions" has prevented scholars from recognizing his no less fundamental and contestable assumptions concerning the active, political orientation of social actors.

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