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POLS Speaker Series: "Natural Law and Utility in American Political and Intellectual Discourse" - Jim Crimmins

Thursday, March 28, 2019
2:30 PM – 4:00 PM
Mackintosh-Corry Hall
Room: B313
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This lecture is sponsored by the Department of Political Studies. The event is free, and open to all. 

About the Lecture: The influence of utilitarianism—initially emanating from Britain, then later disseminated and applied by American thinkers and political reformers—has been given short shrift in histories of American political thought and philosophy in the antebellum period.  The reasons commonly offered to explain the failure of utilitarianism to have an impact include the “odium theologicum” that wafted around Bentham and his school, the crudeness of their moral principles, and the extent to which, from the early 18th century forwards, the Lockean doctrine of natural law and natural rights had become entrenched in American political discourse, epitomised in Jefferson’s statement of the “self-evident” truths of “unalienable” rights in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.   The aim of this presentation is to challenge the conventional wisdom by bringing to light the ways in which the language of utilitarianism surfaced in the political and intellectual discourse of the early American republic, to demonstrate the complexity of the relationship between rights and utility in this context, and to illustrate the influence of utilitarian ideas on moral, legal, economic and political thought.

About the Speaker: Jim Crimmins is Professor of Political Theory at Huron University College (Western) and a Fulbright Fellow.

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