AUSTIN, Texas — A philosophical discussion with a dead visionary is the focal point of an international conference that will take place Feb. 15-16 at The University of Texas at Austin, in conjunction with the Bentham Project at University College in London.
The interdisciplinary symposium will mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Jeremy Bentham, an Englishman who founded utilitarianism and who had an enormous influence on the law, philosophy, politics, economics and public policy in several countries in the Americas.
The conference also will celebrate UT Austin’s new link with the Bentham Project of University College, London. The link will facilitate scholarly exchanges of research, students and faculty.The aim of the Bentham Project is to produce a new scholarly edition of his works and correspondence. According to the Bentham Project Web Page, “the case for producing a new edition of Bentham’s works rests partly on the importance of his thought, and partly on the inadequate and incomplete fashion in which his works were previously published. His writings are remarkable for their range, originality and influence. He was one of the greatest reformers, perhaps the greatest, in the history of English law.”About 20 scholars from all of these fields, representing universities throughout the United States and other countries, will convene at the UT Austin School of Law to take part in a teleconference with scholars in London on “what Bentham got right and what he got wrong” in light of 250 years of further discussion and history, said UT Austin Professor James S. Fishkin, who is directing the conference in Austin. He said Bentham, who lived from 1748 to 1832, envisioned “conversation tubes” presaging both the telephone and the Internet.
Bentham will be present, in body if not also in spirit, with the scholars in London during the teleconference and celebration of his birthday. By his own specifications, Bentham is an “auto-icon,” a statue of himself at University College. His remains, dressed in the attire of his day, are on exhibit in a glass case at the college. It is arranged for him to be present, but not voting, during scholarly discussions and events, Fishkin said.
“Bentham’s influence on economics, politics, public policy and the law has been quite extraordinary,” said Fishkin. “For example, whenever the government does ‘cost benefit analysis,’ it is applying his legacy.” Bentham corresponded with political leaders in the Americas, including Simón Bólivar, and his ideas about government are reflected in the philosophies of many of those leaders, Fishkin said.
For additional information, contact Fishkin at (512) 471-5121, or send e-mail inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. The website address for information on the UT Austin conference is http://www.la.utexas.edu/research/jb250/intro.html. The website for the Bentham Project in London is http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project.