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Diagnosis at all costs won't make Bentham turn in his grave

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 09 March 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:610

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Bentham - Intuition, Uncertainty and Asperger's Syndrome

Editor –

Bentham may have agreed with Barraclough’s utilitarian conclusion (1)
but would have been uncomfortable with the concept of ‘intuition’. He was
notoriously suspicious of such abstract terms which he designated
‘fictitious entities’ (he described ‘rights’ as ‘nonsense on stilts’). He
was also deeply intolerant of uncertainty and unpredictability: ‘the
banishment of chance and the consolidation of certainty is what Bentham’s
work is all about' (2).

There is considerable evidence that Jeremy Bentham suffered from
Asperger’s syndrome (AS) (3), an autistic spectrum disorder in which
unpredictability is dreaded. IQ is normal or high, there may be ‘savant’
abilities but social interaction is characteristically impaired (4). AS
may have made possible Bentham’s extreme utilitarian world view so
radically 'in advance' of the majority of his contemporaries. Most of them
found completely incomprehensible his desire for the dissection of his
corpse after his death and the preservation of his embalmed remains (5).
AS renders more understandable the oddness of these utilitarian desires.

Philip Lucas

Consultant in Forensic Psychiatry
Camlet 2, Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield, EN2 8JL

(1) Barraclough K (2006) Medical intuition. BMJ;332: 497. (25

(2) Bahmueller, C.F. (1981) The National Charity Company: Jeremy
Bentham’s Silent Revolution. Berkley: University of California Press p56

(3) Lucas P, Sheeran A (2006) ‘Asperger’s syndrome and the
eccentricity and genius
of Jeremy Bentham’ Proceedings of The John Stuart Mill Bicentennial
Conference, University College, London, 5-7 April 2006

(4) Frith, U. (2003) Autism: Explaining the Enigma (second edition)
Blackwell: Oxford

(5) Lehman, R (2006). Diagnosis at all costs won't make Bentham turn
in his grave
BMJ;332:610 (11 March)

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

12 March 2006
Philip Lucas
Consultant forensic psychiatrist
Camlet 2, Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield EN2 8JL