Jeremy Bentham

T. L. S. Sprigge (ed.), The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 1: 1752–76

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Editor’s Note158To John Lind27–28 March-1 April 1776 (Aet 28)

A word or two I must trouble you with on the subject of the 3d. and 4th. Letters of Attilius. I would have called on you: but I pg 310am detained at home, expecting a Surgeon whom I have appointed to consult with about my face.

In these 3d. and 4th. letters you give a definition of the word Liberty: in those that are to follow you mean to give a definition of the word Right. For the latter you meant to quote my book; had it been out time enough: which it would have been, if you had waited to publish your attack on the Dr. all together in form of a pamphlet, as you first intended. With respect to the former you did not that I recollect express any such intention.

My title to the one of them is much the same as to the other. It may have been half a year or a year or more. I do not precisely recollect the time, since I communicated to you a kind of discovery I thought I had made, that the idea of Liberty, imported nothing in it that was positive: that it was merely a negative one: and that accordingly I defined it ' the absence of restraint': I do not believe I then added 'and constraint': that has been an addition of your own. You mentioned it to me t'other day with this addition. pg 311In the mean time I had discovered the defect: and had changed in my papers, the word restraint into coercion, as that which would include both restraint and constraint. This new term I then communicated to you, and you have adopted it in preference to the other two.

Whither you will say does all this lead? To this, that you should find some means of exculpating me from a charge of plagiarism I may otherwise stand exposed to. The Definition of Liberty is one of the corner stones of my system: and one that I know not how to do without. I must make use of it; and perhaps at no long time hence. When I do, my enemies (of whom I shall not fail to have abundance) will be objecting to me that what I have said is stolen from a man who wrote in a newspaper. The disproof of that charge is what will come with a much better grace from you than from myself. What I expect from you in that view then is simply this: not that you should make any acknowledgement about the matter in a newspaper—that would be preposterous: but only that when you publish the letters together in form of a pamphlet you should insert a note to this effect, viz. that the idea you found occasion to give of liberty you took from a person who has not permitted you to give his name.

Time was when I knew no distinction of property where you were concerned: that time you have chosen should be at an end. I have still the same opinion of your honour that I ever had: and to that honour I trust for your doing what is necessary, to save mine.

As to any hints that it may be within my capacity to afford you without prejudice to myself, you have more convincing proofs, I hope, than mere assurances of my readiness 〈to give〉

〈…〉 〈…〉2 such as they are to make you master of them.

Forgive my plainness—having once banished the language of reserve and ceremony, I find it impossible to resume it.

Linc. Inn. Monday Morng.

What I can tell you without ceremony and without compliment is that I admire your letters much, and am impatient for their continuance.

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Notes

Editor’s Note
158. 1 B.M. II: 79–80. Autograph. Docketed by Lind[?]: 'London |   | 1776.
Bentham. On his right to the Definitions of Liberty and Right. With one from Mr. Wilson to him enclosed.'
This letter concerns the use Lind made of certain definitions of Bentham's in some letters he published in The Gazetteer signed 'Attilius'. They began to appear there on 2 March 1776. The fourth letter appeared on Wednesday 27 March and the fifth on Friday 29 March. The eighth and last appeared on 9 April. They were shortly afterwards published (anonymously) as Three Letters to Dr. Price, containing Remarks on his Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America. By a Member of Lincoln's Inn, f.r.s., f.s.a Bentham says that this book has just come out in letter 173 dated 5 July 177G. The main part of this letter then was presumably written on 27 or 28 March, and the last paragraph on Monday 1 April.
The letters were an attack upon Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America (1776), by the economist and moral philosopher Dr Richard Price (1723-91), a nonconformist minister. This work which reached nine editions that same year is regarded as one of the inspirers of the Declaration of Independence. It was out early in the year, for it is reviewed in the Gentleman's Magazine for February. On page 42 of this work Price criticizes Lind's Remarks on the Principal Acts of the 13th Parliament of Great Britain etc. for claiming (re taxation of the Americans) that a people has no rights other than those allowed by its civil governors. Bentham complains at Lind's using the definitions of Liberty and Right which Bentham presents in his Fragment on Government before its publication, thus seeming to be their originator. The Fragment appears to have come out towards the end of April (cf. letter 160). When Lind's letters appeared in book form he made a number of complimentary references to the Fragment, and met Bentham's request for an acknowledgement as follows:
'That liberty is nothing positive, that it means only the absence of restraint, was an idea first suggested to me by a very worthy and ingenious friend, whose name I am not now permitted to mention. In turning this idea over in my mind, I thought the definition imperfect; a man may be compelled to do as well as to forbear an act; liberty therefore I thought meant the absence of constraint, as well as of restraint.
I mentioned this some time after to my friend from whom I received the original idea; he had already perceived the defect, and had substituted the general term of coercion to the partial one of restraint. It was on many accounts necessary to make this acknowledgement; on one more especially, that this notion of liberty will make a leading principle in a work which this gentleman means, and I hope soon, to give the world. In that work, whenever it appears, Dr. Price may learn, what he already professes to teach, without having learned—to give "correct ideas", "distinct and accurate views"' (pp. 16–17, footnote).
Bentham himself prepared a note on Richard Hey's Observations on Civil Liberty (another rejoinder to Price) for possible inclusion in Lind's pamphlet (cf. U.C. lxix: 57–68).
Editor’s Note
2 These words have been scored out.
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