Books By: Letwin, Shirley Robin

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Pursuit of Certainty The

The Pursuit of Certainty: David Hume, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Beatrice Webb By Shirley Robin Letwin

Political Thought

By examining the thought of four seminal thinkers, Shirley Robin Letwin in The Pursuit of Certainty provides a brilliant record of the gradual change in the English-speaking peoples’ understanding of “what sort of activity politics is.” As Letwin writes, “the distinctive political issue since the eighteenth century has been whether government should do more or less.” Nor, as many historians argue, did this issue arise because of the Industrial Revolution or “new social conditions [that] aggravated the problem of poverty” but, Letwin believes, because of the “profoundly personal reflection” of major thinkers, including Hume, Bentham, Mill, and Webb. David Hume, for example, believed that to “reach for perfection, to seek an ideal, is noble, but dangerous, and is therefore an activity that individuals or voluntary groups may pursue, but governments certainly should not.”