Was Bentham on the autistic spectrum?

“Bentham, the father of utilitarianism, was an eccentric character. In some ways he prefigures the child-like adults for whom Dickens had so keen an eye. He has many of he features would suggest a mild degree of autism, and more specifically deficits in the right-hemisphere functions. He was socially awkward: according to J.S. Mill he ‘probably never talked to women at all, except for his cook and housemaid’, and according to Mill’s biographer, Packe, ‘courted women with a clumsy jocularity’. He had a peculiarly pedantic way of talking, and referred to his morning walks as ‘antejentacular circumgyrations’. With inanimate objects he was more at home, and had pet names for them: his stick was Dapple, and his teapot, through an impish uprising of his much-repressed unconscious, was Dick. Mill wrote of him that

he had neither internal experience nor external…He never knew prosperity and adversity, passion nor satiety…He knew no dejection, no heaviness of heart. He never felt like a sore and a weary burthen. He was a boy to the last…How much of human nature slumbered in him he knew not, neither can we know. Other ages and other nations were a blank to him for purposes of instruction. He measured them but by one standard: their knowledge of facts, and their capability to take correct views of utility, and merge all other objects in it…KNowing so little of human feelings, he knew still less of the influences by which those feelings are formed: all the more subtle workings both of the mind upon itself, and of external things upon the mind, escaped him and no one, probably, who, in a highly instructed age, ever attempted to give a rule to all human conduct, set out with a more limited concept either of the agencies by which human conduct is, or of those by which it should be, influenced.”

~Ian McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, p. 339


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Filed under Philosophy, Psychology, Random

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