One of the themes of recent historiography in Enlightenment Studies focuses on how political economy gathers up so many of the key themes of the philosophers and reformers of the age into a discourse that crosses boundaries, national, institutional and linguistic. This lecture will examine this notion critically and re-assess the claim that political economy is the defining and unifying discourse of the European Enlightenment. Brief case studies will illustrate the intellectual transfer of key aspects of political economic doctrines between countries within Europe and beyond, including Latin America and India.

Jeremy Bentham has two very strong commitments in his thought: one is to the principle of utility, or the greatest happiness principle, as the fundamental principle of morality; the other is to truth, as indicated, for instance, in his opposition to falsehood and fiction in the law. How, then, did Bentham view the relationship between utility and truth? Did he think that utility and truth simply coincided, and hence that falsehood necessarily led to a diminution in happiness, and conversely truth led to an increase in happiness? This lecture will focus in particular on two bodies of material: the first consists of Bentham’s writings on religion under the heading of ‘Juggernaut’ and dating from 1811 to 1821; and the second consists of the writings on judicial evidence dating from 1803 to 1812 and which appeared in Rationale of Judicial Evidence.

Until the foundation of the Economics Tripos in 1903 the teaching of political economy in Cambridge was directed almost entirely to the Moral Sciences Tripos. Alfred Marshall’s strenuous efforts to detach the teaching of economics from the Moral Sciences Tripos have tended to distort subsequent understanding of “Cambridge Economics” from Marshall, through Pigou, to Maynard Keynes. In any case, Marshall’s own economics developed from his studies of John Stuart Mill. And so to understand how this could happen, we need to examine the nexus between utilitarianism, ethics and political economy, to the construction of which Mill, Grote and Sidgwick made important contributions.