Philip Schofield on “Jeremy Bentham: Prophet of Secularism” (Conway Memorial Lecture 2011)

In this year’s Conway Memorial Lecture, Philip Schofield, Director of the Bentham Project at UCL discussed the recently uncovered, almost prophetic writings of philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) concerning the teachings of St Paul and the nature of sexuality and morality.

The Conway Memorial Lecture is organised by South Place Ethical Society, and this podcast was recorded on the 26th October 2011. They’ll be an interview with Professor Schofield on Pod Delusion episode 108.


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A prophet is usually understood to be a person who, inspired by supernatural agency, speaks on behalf of that agent and predicts the future. But Bentham himself pointed out that the original Greek meaning of the term referred simply to a person who ‘speaks out’, and in a more limited extent to a person who ‘foretells’.

In opposition to the prevailing mores of his day, Bentham proposed that all sexual activity that was consensual—whether with oneself, whether with partners of the same or the opposite sex, whether with partners of different species—should be made free from legislative interference. In the post-Malthusian age, non-prolific modes of sexual activity were rather to be welcomed than condemned. In short, Bentham saw sexual morality as a key battleground in the fight to divorce morality and legislation from the influence of religion. The thousands of manuscripts on homosexuality, Christian teachings and the influence of the church on the state that Bentham was reluctant to publish during his lifetime reveal that his thoughts were certainly well ahead of his time, and seemingly foretell the development of secular attitudes to sexual morality.

This is a remarkable opportunity to hear a world renowned expert discuss one of Britain’s greatest thinkers and will fascinate those interested in secularism, liberalism and the history of ideas.

Philip Schofield is Professor of the History of Legal and Political Thought, Director of the Bentham Project and General Editor of the Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham. Chairing the lecture will be Dr Evan Harris, former Liberal Democrat MP, Honorary Associate of the NSS and Vice-President of the BHA.

One thought on “Philip Schofield on “Jeremy Bentham: Prophet of Secularism” (Conway Memorial Lecture 2011)

  1. This was magnificent. Thank you for bringing Bentham back onto my radar screen, and thanks to Dr. Schofield for not using Power Point. So refreshing compared to the other recent lecture (which I won’t name) which was marred by “next slide” every 30-90 seconds.

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