Philosophy’s longest sentences — Bentham edition

blah-blahPhilosophers are noted for their stylish prose as well as their profound insights. Or, to put that point in another, perhaps more felicitous, formulation, they are justly celebrated for their abilities in the words-putting-togetherness department.

Earlier I presented some 100-plus word monster sentences from philosophers —
Mill, Kant, Aristotle, Locke.

But now, via Stuart Hayashi, here is a new entrant: a 164-word punisher from Jeremy Bentham:

“But partial as the effects of this remedy have been — partial as the effects of this, together with the other causes of debility in the form of government, have been in their character of a remedy against misgovernment, — to such a degree has the whole form of government,jeremy_bentham_auto-icon taken together, been repugnant to the only legitimate end of government, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, that notwithstanding the partial evils produced by, and proportioned to, the general weakness in the form of government, such is its nature, that by every fresh degree of weakness introduced into it, the interest of the greatest number is served in a greater degree than it is disserved; and supposing the weakness to end in utter dissolution, the utmost quantity of evil attendant on such dissolution would not be nearly equivalent to the quantity of good, which its certain consequence, a real constitution, having for its end in view the greatest happiness of the greatest number, would produce.”

That sentence alone makes a great contribution to our overall happiness.

Sources: Jeremy Bentham, “Jury Trial,” Chapter 23 of The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2 [1843]. (Credit to Stuart Hayashi for finding and noting it.)
The Bentham image is of his auto-icon at the University of London, discussed here.

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4 Responses to Philosophy’s longest sentences — Bentham edition

  1. Stuart K. Hayashi says:

    Thank you for citing me about the quotation. ^_^

    But why did you have to include that photo of Bentham’s stuffed body? That’s gruesome. The sight of it results in 3,654 utils being subtracted from my life. *_*

  2. Lea Stern says:

    Try Henry James, even if he isn’t a philosopher.

  3. RJO says:

    I’d humbly submit the following 177-word specimen from “The Whiteness of the Whale” in Moby-Dick. Melville himself may not be thought of as a philosopher (although M-D does cite Kant, Locke, Plato, Aristotle, and more); but this sentence is plainly philosophical. And what makes Melville a literary master, as well as a sometime philosopher, is that he ends the chapter with this 177-worder, followed by two sentences of eleven and seven words, like a sharp and sudden chord at the end of a racing musical movement. All three sentences follow, for completeness.

    “And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues–every stately or lovely emblazoning–the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge–pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”

  4. You’ve landed a big whale there, RJO.

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