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The political realism of Jeremy Bentham

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jats:p Jeremy Bentham is usually seen as an anti-realist political thinker, or a proponent of what Bernard Williams has termed ‘political moralism’. This article questions that prevalent view and suggests instead that there are good grounds for considering Bentham a political realist. Bentham’s political thought has considerable commonalities with that of the sociologist and political realist Max Weber: both agree that politics is a unique domain of human activity defined by its association with power; that consequently, ethical conduct is unavoidably inflected by power in politics; that a commitment to truth in politics can only ever be contingent; and that politics has a set of basic conditions that it would be not only misguided but dangerous to attempt to transcend. Whilst it is often held that Bentham advanced a reductive framework for understanding politics, in fact, his utilitarianism was a far more realistic approach to political ends and means than has generally been acknowledged, and one that contemporary political theory realists would benefit from taking seriously. </jats:p>


Peer reviewed: True


5003 Philosophy, 4408 Political Science, 50 Philosophy and Religious Studies, 44 Human Society

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European Journal of Political Theory

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SAGE Publications
Cambridge Commonwealth, European and International Trust (Vice Chancellor's Scholarship)
Christ's College, University of Cambridge (JH Plumb Scholarship)