Thursday, 1 February 2018

Emmanuelle de Champs gives a working paper on 'Greatest or Public Happiness ? Condorcet and Bentham on interest, representation and the public good.'

Bentham and Condorcet are two prominent figures in European history. Both born in the 1740s, they each played a major part in national politics, Condorcet among the statesmen of the French revolution and Bentham as a radical campaigner for parliamentary reform in the decade preceding the Reform Bill in England. Unlike many others eighteenth-century philosophers, who were either dead or too much connected to Ancien-Régime aristocracy, Bentham and Condorcet provide rare examples of established Enlightenment thinkers who embraced revolutionary ideas and who became, with time, increasingly radical.
Built around the vocabulary of “happiness” in the early thought of the two authors, this study attempts to map out the points where they converge and those on which they do not, attempting to locate their distinct positions in broader contemporary debates. First, it compares their respective positions on happiness to that of Claude-Adrien Helvétius, who in many respects provided the framework for the political and moral discussion of happiness in politics in the second half of the eighteenth century. Secondly, it examines the positions of Bentham and Condorcet on a series of political issues directly related to public happiness in the early years of the French Revolution, that is to say up until the end of 1791. After that, the paths of the two philosophers regarding the political situation in France sharply diverged. While Bentham’s interest in French events was on the wane, Condorcet became a member of the  club des jacobins and later a  prominent girondin. As the conclusion points out, the debate over the means of reaching happiness in politics cannot be limited to one which pits utility against rights or the well-being of the community against
that of the individual.

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