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Conway Memorial Lecture: Jeremy Bentham - Prophet of Secularism

In this year’s Conway Memorial Lecture, Philip Schofield, Director of the Bentham Project at UCL will be discussing the recently uncovered, almost prophetic writings of philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) concerning the teachings of St Paul and the nature of sexuality and morality.

To speak of a secular prophet appears nowadays to be a contradiction in terms. A prophet is usually understood to be a person who, inspired by supernatural agency, speaks on behalf of that agent and predicts the future. But Bentham himself pointed out that the original Greek meaning of the term referred simply to a person who ‘speaks out’, and in a more limited extent to a person who ‘foretells’.

In opposition to the prevailing mores of his day, Bentham proposed that all sexual activity that was consensual—whether with oneself, whether with partners of the same or the opposite sex, whether with partners of different species—should be made free from legislative interference. In the post-Malthusian age, non-prolific modes of sexual activity were rather to be welcomed than condemned. In short, Bentham saw sexual morality as a key battleground in the fight to divorce morality and legislation from the influence of religion. The thousands of manuscripts on homosexuality, Christian teachings and the influence of the church on the state that Bentham was reluctant to publish during his lifetime reveal that his thoughts were certainly well ahead of his time, and seemingly foretell the development of secular attitudes to sexual morality.

This is a remarkable opportunity to hear a world renowned expert discuss one of Britain’s greatest thinkers and will fascinate those interested in secularism, liberalism and the history of ideas. Chairing the lecture will be Dr Evan Harris, former Liberal Democrat MP and Vice-President of the BHA.


Professor Philip Schofield | talks | www
Dr Evan Harris | talks


Date and Time:

26 October 2011 at 6:30 pm


2 hours 30 minutes



Conway Hall
Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
0207 242 8034

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Tickets are free and are limited to two per person but must be booked in advance. You can register at Eventbrite - http://conwaymemoriallecture.eventbrite.com - or by emailing your details to programme@ethicalsoc.org.uk or calling 020 7242 8034.

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