Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jeremy Bentham On the Politics of Global Warming

Jeremy Bentham was a late 18th and early 19th century philosopher. Only those crazy enough to actually read philosophy will run across his name from time to time, or, actually read his book. He founded the utilitarian school of philosophy, whose main contribution to philosophy was the definition of what is moral

" is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong,..." Jeremy Bentham, On Utilitarianism and Government, (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 2001), p. 3

His work on government was a reaction to the publication of Blackstone's Commentary on the Laws of England. He saw Blackstone as I see the global warming advocates. Blackstone denied that the law should be changed--it was 'settled law' to put it in a modern phraseology of some repute. Blackstone, according to Bentham, claimed that the law, the law of government couldn't be improved, it was settled.

"It is not here that he assures us in point of fact, that there never has been an alteration made in the Law that men have not afterwards found reason to regret." Jeremy Bentham, On Utilitarianism and Government, (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 2001), p. 19

The footnote in the book quotes Blackstone

"That whenever a standing rule of Law, of which the reason, perhaps, could not be remembered or discerned, has been [wantonly] broke in upon by statutes or new resolutions, the wisdom of the rule hath in the end appeared from the inconveniences that have followed the innovation," William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, quoted in Jeremy Bentham, On Utilitarianism and Government, (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 2001), p. 19 note

The law is settled. It can't be changed. I hear echoes of what the politically active global warming hysteriacs say. The science is settled, it can't be changed. So, read this next quotation by Bentham in the light of the settled science of global warming and in light of the data in previous posts that show that nothing unusual is going on in the modern climate, save the claim that the science is settled.

"Thus destitute of foundation are the terrors, or pretended terrors, of those who shudder at the idea of a free censure of established institutions. So little does the peace of society require the aid of those lessons which teach men to accept of anything as reason, and to yield the same abject and in discriminating homage to the Laws here, which is paid to the despot elsewhere. The fruits of such tuition are visible enough in the character of that race of men who have always occupied too large a space in the circle of the profession: a passive and enervate race, ready to swallow any" thing, and to acquiesce in any thing: with intellects incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, and with affections alike indifferent to either: insensible, short-sighted, obstinate: lethargic, yet liable to be driven into convulsions by false terrors: deaf to the voice of reason and public utility: obsequious only to the whisper of interest, and to the beck of power." Jeremy Bentham, On Utilitarianism and Government, (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 2001), p. 12

Notice that the claim that we can't question is viewed by Bentham as the claim of the despot and the willingness not to doubt is the character of those who will willingly swallow anything.


  1. Dad -- interestingly, a large number of people may have recently run across Jeremy Bentham's name. On Feb 25, 2009, ABC's Lost had an episode entitled "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham"... :-)


  2. As you know I don't want Lost because I am not. But fascinating coincidence.