Killing the White Bull: Essays on Bentham on Sex and Religion
CitationKoh, Tsin Yen. 2019. Killing the White Bull: Essays on Bentham on Sex and Religion. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractIn his long writing career, Jeremy Bentham wrote on many things, including sex and religion. This dissertation examines the writings on sex and religion, which have not received much critical attention so far, and argues that they should be read as part of Bentham’s political thought in two aspects. First, they provide an example of the principle of utility as a critical principle – when applied to the punishment of sodomy and other sexual irregularities, for example, and to the grounds of such punishment, which Bentham identified as asceticism and antipathy. Second, they should be read, alongside Bentham’s mature political writings (from the 1800s), as part of and the result of his political radicalization. They provide a study of the means and mechanisms by which political power may be established, perpetuated and expanded.
The first essay considers the political implications of the principle of asceticism. It argues that Bentham objected to the principle of asceticism because it could be used to provide practical and ideological support for tyranny: through the elevation of ascetic rulers above the common run of humanity, the generation of conditions of fear and isolation, and, most importantly perhaps, the justification of tyrannical laws.
The second essay is on antipathy and cruelty. It argues that Bentham thought that the deprivation of pleasure for no good reason – just for the sake of antipathy, for example – was in itself an act of cruelty, separate from the infliction of pain. On the one hand, the pleasures of cruelty were real pleasures, and to be accounted for as such. On the other hand, there was something troubling about taking pleasure in cruelty. The pleasures of cruelty are the pleasures of power, when freed from responsibility: the pleasures of indulging one’s antipathy without restraint, or, which comes to the same thing, the pleasures of tyranny.
The third essay is about religion and judgment. It argues that Bentham thought that religion in general, and the Church of England in particular, had a corruptive effect on judgment. He accused the Church of aiming at the intellectual and moral depravation of its followers, in order to establish greater influence over them, and to that end of discouraging them from exercising their own judgment and encouraging them instead to submit uncritically to ecclesiastical authority. But even without the weight of establishment behind it, natural religion also had a corrosive effect on judgment: the reward offered for faith (future happiness instead of future misery) could turn our attention away from the facts, and skew our consideration of the evidence and thereby our judgments. This had deleterious implications for representative democracy and utilitarian government, the success of which depended on the judgment of voters.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029587
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