Bentham on Liberty focuses on the crucial formative years, when the English social philosopher Jeremy Bentham was in his twenties and thirties between 1770 and 1790, and draws on the unpublished manuscripts held at University College, London, to throw a new light on his early intellectual development. Using also both private correspondence and published works, it shows how Bentham's legal training and enthusiasm for Enlightenment ideas steadily broadened his horizon from criminal law to constitutional law to social theory.
Bentham's desire to create a science of man and society modelled on the physical sciences led his systematic exposition of the conception of utilitarianism. His broad perspective came to encompass aspects of what are now called psychology, sociology, political science, moral philosophy, and jurisprudence.
A central theme of this study is the way in which, in Bentham's mind, liberty became subordinated to security as an end of social action. The arguments he used to defend this characteristic but controversial principle were novel and significant.
The common opinion of Bentham as a liberal and a democrat has been superficial, Professor Long suggests; the evolution of Bentham's thought is to be understood, not in terms of political radicalization, but rather in relation to his commitment to ap articular and growing conception of social science. The implications of that conception are explored in the concluding part of the book, which compares features of Bentham's 'scientific' social theory with the ideas of a modern 'designer of cultures,' B.F. Skinner.