Bentham-Homosexuality - HOMOSEXUALITY Jeremy Bentham An...

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HOMOSEXUALITY Jeremy Bentham An Essay on "Paederasty" UCflON TO BENTHAM'S ESSAY I hal'{? been tormenting myself/or years to find. If possible. a su/ficiel1l ground/or treating them [homosexuals] wilh the severity l1'ith which they are treated al this time 0/ day by all European nations: but upon the principle o/utility I can find none . . Had these words been penned by a famolls social philosopher of the : 1980s, they would be noteworthy hilt not exceptional: written by a social 'philosopher of the 1880s. they would have been bOlh noteworthy and exceptional: but since the passage was written byafamous English social philosopher of the 1780s. Jeremy Bentham. and since it prefaces what .. ' appears to be the first philosophical treatment of homosexuality in the English language. the passage is extraordinary indeed. Bentham and his fellow utilitarians sought a rational standard against which they could measure the customs and laws of their society. The device they hit lIpon was the calcuilis of wility. To emplo)' the calcllllls one had to conceptualize the social world in terms of acts that were morally nelllral in and of themselves. hilt which acquired vallie in terms of their consequellces. A cts were tlten held to be moral inwfar as their consequences were conducive to hllman happiness. and immoral insofar as their effects militated against happiness and/or promoted pain. slifjering. or an.v other form of hllman misery. n,e utilitarian project was to measllre all cllstoms alld 1011'S in terms of the calculus of utility-including, as it turned out, those relating to 353
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.... ,- ... ": ;:r "lInnatural" sexual acts. Bentham appraised the moral natl/rc. oj thcsc :",110 acts and thc lall's that criminalizc thC111 in thrcc differcnt scts 0/ lI'ri/ings dilted c. 177-1. c. 1785. alld 1814-18/6, /11 l'Gcll ('(1St'. ll'iI£'1I tiIe sexual acts ill tlf('lIlseh'cs II'crc regarded as moralfl' lIelltral (Jml appraiscd only in terms oj their consequences he Jound that. except in cases oj hOlllosexual rape. the most certain comeqllence 0/ a homosexllal act ll'as thc plcasure expcrienced ".I' t"c participants. Therc lI'as, thcrc/ore. a Slrollg prima facie case hoth agaillSt Ihl! moral opprobrium with which Iwmose:walit,l' was cuslOmari~1' viewed and against imposing criminal sallctiollS 011 homoscxual aclS. (According to some scholars! more than sixty people were hangcd/or "sodomy" and other l/t,lmo.~exllal acts in EnglGlld dllring the ycars 1806-1835.) Bentham carcJul~I' examined all oj the purported negmi\'c consequences oj homosexllal intercourse sllg- gested by his nOl1l1filitarian contemporarics. Blackstolle. Montesqlliel/. alld Voltaire-Jor example. its supposed tendency to corrupt and de- bilitate practioners. its effects on pOPlllation. and so on. Weighing these c01!iectllrcd e.rfects agaimt the historical data slIpplied hy Greck homo- st'\lIality. Bt'1Ifha/ll ('(Jill'll/tied that sillce the /leI COllsequences 0/ homo- sexllal sex appear not to be harmflli. IItilitarians mllst reject the proscription and crimil1alization of homosexuality.
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