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Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham Western Philosophers
19th-century philosophy

Full name School/ tradition Main interests Notable ideas

Jeremy Bentham Utilitarianism, Legal positivism Political philosophy, Ethics, Economics Greatest happiness principle

and a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law. He is best known for his advocacy of utilitarianism, for the concept of animal rights,[1][2] and his opposition to the idea of natural rights, with his oft-quoted statement that the idea of such rights is "nonsense upon stilts."[3] He also influenced the development of welfarism.[4] He is probably best known in popular society as the originator of the concept of the panopticon. He became known as one of the most influential of the utilitarians, through his own work and that of his students. These included his secretary and collaborator on the utilitarian school of philosophy, James Mill; James Mill’s son John Stuart Mill; and several political leaders including Robert Owen, who later became a founder of socialism. He is also considered the godfather of University College London. Bentham’s position included arguments in favour of individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the end of slavery, the abolition of physical punishment (including that of children), the right to divorce, free trade, usury,[5] and the decriminalization of homosexual acts.[6][7] He also made two distinct attempts during his life to critique the death penalty.[8]

Bentham was born in Spitalfields, London, into a wealthy Tory family. He was a child prodigy and was found as a toddler sitting at his father’s desk reading a multi-volume history of England. He began his study of Latin at the age of three.[9] He went to Westminster School, and in 1760 his father sent him to The Queen’s College, Oxford, where he took his Bachelor’s degree in 1763 and his Master’s degree in 1766. He trained as a lawyer and (though he never practised) was called to the bar in 1769. He became deeply frustrated with the complexity of the English legal code, which he termed the "Demon of Chicane". When the American colonies published their Declaration of Independence in July

Influenced by John Locke, David Hume, Baron de Montesquieu, Claude Adrien Helvétius, Thomas Hobbes Influenced John Stuart Mill, Michel Foucault, Peter Singer, Iain King, John Austin Signature

Jeremy Bentham (IPA: [’bεnθəm] or [’bεntəm]) (15 February 1748–6 June 1832) was an English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He was the brother of Samuel Bentham. He was a political radical,


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Jeremy Bentham
the subject. As a result of his correspondence with Mirabeau and other leaders of the French Revolution, he was declared an honorary citizen of France, but Bentham was an outspoken critic of the revolutionary discourse of natural rights, and of the violence which arose after the Jacobins took power (1792). In between 1808 and 1810 he held a personal friendship with Latin American Independence Precursor Francisco de Miranda, and paid visits to Miranda’s Grafton Way house in London. In 1823, he co-founded the Westminster Review with James Mill as a journal for the "Philosophical Radicals" - a group of younger disciples through whom Bentham exerted considerable influence in British public life.[13] Bentham is frequently associated with the foundation of the University of London, specifically University College London (UCL), though in fact he was 78 years old when UCL opened in 1826, and played no active part in its establishment. However, it is likely that without his inspiration, UCL would not have been created when it was. Bentham strongly believed that education should be more widely available, particularly to those who were not wealthy or who did not belong to the established church, both of which were required of students by Oxford and Cambridge. As UCL was the first English university to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief, it was largely consistent with Bentham’s vision, and he oversaw the appointment of one of his pupils, John Austin, as the first Professor of Jurisprudence in 1829. An insight into his character is given in Michael St. John Packe’s, The Life of John Stuart Mill: “ During his youthful visits to Bowood ” House, the country seat of his patron Lord Lansdowne, he had passed his time at falling unsuccessfully in love with all the ladies of the house, whom he courted with a clumsy jocularity, while playing chess with them or giving them lessons on the harpsichord. Hopeful to the last, at the age of eighty he wrote again to one of them, recalling to her memory the far-off days when she had ’presented him, in ceremony, with the flower in the green lane’ [citing Bentham’s

Portrait of Jeremy Bentham by the studio of Thomas Frye, 1760-1762 1776, the British government did not issue any official response but instead secretly commissioned London lawyer and pamphleteer John Lind to publish a rebuttal.[10] His 130-page tract was distributed in the colonies and contained an essay titled Short Review of the Declaration authored by Bentham, a friend of Lind’s, which attacked and mocked the Americans’ political philosophy.[11] Among his many proposals for legal and social reform was a design for a prison building he called the Panopticon. Although it was never built, the idea had an important influence upon later generations of thinkers. Twentieth-century French philosopher Michel Foucault argued that the Panopticon was paradigmatic of a whole raft of nineteenth-century ’disciplinary’ institutions. It is said that Mexican prison "Lecumberri" was designed on the basis of this idea.[12] Bentham was in correspondence with many influential people. Adam Smith, for example, opposed free interest rates before he was made aware of Bentham’s arguments on


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memoirs]. To the end of his life he could not hear of Bowood without tears swimming in his eyes, and he was forced to exclaim, ’Take me forward, I entreat you, to the future – do not let me go back to the past.’[14]

Jeremy Bentham
one occasion. It is now locked away securely.[17] There is a plaque on Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster commemorating the house where Bentham lived, which at the time was called Queen’s Square Place.


Bentham has a complicated publishing history. Most of his writing was never published in his own lifetime; much of that which was published (see this list of published works) was prepared for publication by others. Works published in Bentham’s lifetime included: • "Short Review of the Declaration" (1776) An attack on America’s Declaration of Independence • Fragment on Government (1776). This was an unsparing criticism of some introductory passages relating to political theory in William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. The book, published anonymously, was well-received and credited to some of the greatest minds of the time. Bentham disagreed with Blackstone’s defence of judge-made law, his defence of legal fictions, his theological formulation of the doctrine of mixed government, his appeal to a social contract and his use of the vocabulary of natural law. Bentham’s "Fragment" was only a small part of a "Commentary on the Commentaries", which remained unpublished until the twentieth century. • Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation (printed for publication 1780, published 1789) • Defence of Usury (1787) • Panopticon (1787, 1791). • Emancipate your Colonies (1793) • Traité de Législation Civile et Penale (1802, edited by Étienne Dumont. 3 vols) • Punishments and Rewards (1811) • A Table of the Springs of Action (1815) • Parliamentary Reform Catechism (1817) • Church-of-Englandism (printed 1817, published 1818) • Elements of the Art of Packing (1821) • The Influence of Natural Religion upon the Temporal Happiness of Mankind (1822, written with George Grote and published under the pseudonym Philip Beauchamp)

Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon in University College London As requested in his will, his body was preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet, termed his "Auto-icon". Originally kept by his disciple Dr. Southwood Smith,[15] it was acquired by University College London in 1850. The Auto-icon is kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of the College. For the 100th and 150th anniversaries of the college, the Auto-icon was brought to the meeting of the College Council, where he was listed as "present but not voting".[16] According to the university, it is a myth that the Auto-icon casts the deciding vote in meetings in the event of a tie. The Auto-icon has always had a wax head, as Bentham’s head was badly damaged in the preservation process. The real head was displayed in the same case for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks including being stolen on more than


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• Not Paul But Jesus (1823, published under the pseudonym Gamaliel Smith) • Book of Fallacies (1824) • A Treatise on Judicial Evidence (1825) Several of Bentham’s works appeared first in French translation, prepared for the press by Étienne Dumont. Some made their first appearance in English in the 1820s as a result of back-translation from Dumont’s 1802 collection (and redaction) of Bentham’s writing on civil and penal legislation. John Bowring, a British politician who had been Bentham’s trusted friend, was appointed his literary executor and charged with the task of preparing a collected edition of his works. This appeared in 11 volumes in 1838-1843: Bowring based his edition on previously published editions (including those of Dumont) rather than Bentham’s own manuscripts, and did not reprint Bentham’s works on religion at all. Bowring’s work has been criticized, although it includes such interesting writings on international relations as Bentham’s A Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace written 1786-89, which forms part IV of the Principles of International Law. In 1952-54 Wilhelm Stark published a three-volume set, "Jeremy Bentham’s Economic Writings," in which he attempted to bring together all of Bentham’s writings on economic matters, including both published and unpublished material. Not trusting Bowring’s edition, he painstakingly reviewed thousands of Bentham’s original manuscripts and notes, a task made monumentally more difficult due to the manner in which they had been left by Bentham and organized by Bowring. Bentham left manuscripts amounting to some 5,000,000 words. Since 1968, the Bentham Project at University College London have been busy working on an edition of his collected work. So far, 25 volumes have appeared; there may be as many still to come before the project is completed.

Jeremy Bentham
that which would cause "the greatest good for the greatest number of people", also known as "the greatest happiness principle", or the principle of utility. He wrote in The Principles of Morals and Legislation: “ Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think...[18] ”

Bentham’s ambition in life was to create a "Pannomion", a complete utilitarian code of law. Bentham not only proposed many legal and social reforms, but also expounded an underlying moral principle on which they should be based. This philosophy, utilitarianism, argued that the right act or policy was

Bentham was influenced by the work of Joseph Priestley.


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In constructing the greatest happiness principle, he was influenced by the work of Joseph Priestley: "Priestley was the first (unless it was Beccaria)[19] who taught my lips to pronounce this sacred truth:- That the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation."[20][21] Bentham writes that he found the phrase “greatest happiness of the greatest number” in a pamphlet written by Priestley, but if so, this has never been identified. Priestley’s 1768 work The First Principles of Government and Liberty seems to have influenced Bentham at least, containing the phrase: "The good and happiness of the members, that is the majority of the members of the state, is the great standard by which every thing relating to that state must finally be determined."[22] He also suggested a procedure for estimating the moral status of any action, which he called the Hedonistic or felicific calculus. Utilitarianism was revised and expanded by Bentham’s student, John Stuart Mill. In Mill’s hands, "Benthamism" became a major element in the liberal conception of state policy objectives. People are often impressed by Bentham’s classification of 12 pains and 14 pleasures and ’felicific calculus’ by which we might test the ’happiness factor’ of any action. Nonetheless, it is should not be overlooked that Bentham’s ’hedonistic’ theory (a term from J.J.C. Smart), unlike Mill’s, is often said to lack a principle of fairness embodied in a conception of justice. In "Bentham and the Common Law Tradition", Gerald J. Postema states, "No moral concept suffers more at Bentham’s hand than the concept of justice. There is no sustained, mature analysis of the notion ..."[23] Thus, some critics object, it would be acceptable to torture one person if this would produce an amount of happiness in other people outweighing the unhappiness of the tortured individual - cf. However, as P. J. Kelly argued in his book, Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice: Jeremy Bentham and the Civil Law, Bentham had a theory of justice that prevented such consequences. According to Kelly, for Bentham the law "provides the basic framework of social interaction by delimiting spheres of personal inviolability within which individuals can form and pursue their own conceptions of well-being."[24] They provide security, a precondition for the formation of expectations. As the hedonic

Jeremy Bentham
calculus shows "expectation utilities" to be much higher than natural ones, it follows that Bentham does not favour the sacrifice of a few to the benefit of the many. In contrast, J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams’s Utilitarianism: For and Against provides a more complete picture with both sides of the argument in relation to the theory. Jeremy Bentham’s Principles of Legislation focuses on the principle of utility and how this view of morality ties into legislative practices. His principle of utility regards "good" as that which produces the greatest amount of pleasure, and the minimum amount of pain; and "evil" as that which produces the most pain without the pleasure. This concept of pleasure and pain is defined by Bentham as physical as well as spiritual. Bentham writes about this principle as it manifests itself within the legislation of a society. Bentham lays down a set of criteria for measuring the extent of pain or pleasure that a certain decision will create. The criteria are divided into the categories of intensity, duration, certainty, proximity, productiveness, purity, and extent. Using these measurements, he reviews the concept of punishment and when it should be used as far as whether a punishment will create more pleasure or more pain for a society. He calls for legislators to determine whether punishment creates an even more evil offense. Instead of suppressing the evil acts, Bentham is arguing that certain unnecessary laws and punishments could ultimately lead to new and more dangerous vices than those being punished to begin with. Bentham follows these statements with explanations on how antiquity, religion, reproach of innovation, metaphor, fiction, fancy, antipathy and sympathy, begging the question, and imaginary law are not justification for the creation of legislature. Instead, Bentham is calling upon legislators to measure the pleasures and pains associated with any legislature and to form laws in order to create the greatest good for the greatest number. He argues that the concept of the individual pursuing his or her own happiness cannot be necessarily declared "right," because often these individual pursuits can lead to greater pain and less pleasure for the society as a whole. Therefore, the legislation of a society is vital to maintaining a society with optimum pleasure and the minimum degree of pain for the greatest amount of people.


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Jeremy Bentham
week or even a month old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?[26]

His opinions about monetary economics were completely different from those of David Ricardo; however, they had some similarities to those of Thornton. He focused on monetary expansion as a means of helping to create full employment. He was also aware of the relevance of forced saving, propensity to consume, the saving-investment relationship and other matters that form the content of modern income and employment analysis. His monetary view was close to the fundamental concepts employed in his model of utilitarian decision making. Bentham stated that pleasures and pains can be ranked according to their value or “dimension” such as intensity, duration, certainty of a pleasure or a pain. He was concerned with maxima and minima of pleasures and pains, and they set a precedent for the future employment of the maximization principle in the economics of the consumer, the firm and the search for an optimum in welfare economics.[25]

Bentham said that it was the placing of women in a legally inferior position that made him choose the career of a reformist, at the age of eleven.[27] Bentham spoke for a complete equality between sexes.

Bentham was one of the earliest philosophers to argue for decriminalization of homosexuality and equal rights for homosexually inclined people. In two extended essays unpublished during his lifetime (1785 and 1814), he put forward a detailed logical argument against the stigmatization of same-sex relations. In his book, Not Paul but Jesus, he also argued that Paul had introduced an anti-pleasure ethic into Christianity, which Jesus had never endorsed. (Louis Crompton, Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th Century England [1985]).

Animal rights
Bentham is widely recognized as one of the earliest proponents of animal rights. He argued that animal pain is very similar to human pain, and that "[t]he day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny."[26] Bentham argued that the ability to suffer, not the ability to reason, must be the benchmark of how we treat other beings. If the ability to reason were the criterion, many human beings, including babies and disabled people, would also have to be treated as though they were things. He wrote: “ It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a ”

See also
• List of liberal theorists • Liberalism

[1] ThinkQuest Article on Animal Rights [2] The Moral Status of Animals (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) [3] Harrison, Ross. Jeremy Bentham, in Honderich, Ted. (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford, 1995, pp. 85-88. See also Jeremy Bentham, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [4] Jeremy Bentham: His Life and Impact--jk [5] Defence of Usury [6] OFFENCES AGAINST ONE’S SELF [7] Boralevi, Bentham and the Oppressed. p. 37. [8] Bedau, Hugo Adam (1983). "Bentham’s Utilitarian Critique of the Death Penalty". The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-) 74: 1033. doi:10.2307/1143143. [9] "Jeremy Bentham". University College London.


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Jeremy Bentham

Project/info/jb.htm. Retrieved on [20] Bentham’s Commonplace Book in Works, 2007-01-04. vol. X, page 142, quoted in Joseph [10] Declaring Independence: The Origin and Priestley,, retrieved 3 Influence of America’s Founding March 2007. Document. Edited by Christian Y. Dupont [21] ’Extracts from Bentham’s Commonplace and Peter S. Onuf. University of Virginia Book’ The Works of Jeremy Bentham, Library (Charlottesville, VA: 2008) pp. published under the superintendence of 32-33. ISBN 978-0-9799997-0-3. ... John Bowring, 11 vols., (Edinburgh: [11] Tait, 1843) vol. x., p. 142. via UCL books?id=0lYI1yGO38gC&pg=RA1-PA73&lpg=RA1-PA73&dq=%22Short+Review+of+the+Declarati Bentham Project [12] See page 85 of Muy interesante (No. 2, [22] Joseph Priestley,, 2008), a Mexican journal for the retrieved 2 February 2009. diffusion of science published by [23] Postema, Gerald J. Bentham and the Editorial Televisa Internacional (ISSN Common Law Tradition, p. 148. 0188-0659. [24] Kelly, P.J. Utilitarianism and Distributive [13] Joseph Hamburger, Intellectuals in Justice: Jeremy Bentham and the Civil politics: John Stuart Mill and the Law. p. 81. Philosophical Radicals (Yale University [25] Spiegel (1991). "The growth of Economic Press, 1965); William Thomas, The Thought", Ed.3. Duke University. ISBN philosophic radicals: nine studies in 0-8223-0973-4., p. 341-343. theory and practice, 1817-1841 (Oxford, [26] ^ Bentham, Jeremy. An Introduction to 1979) the Principles of Morals and Legislation, [14] St. John Packe, Michael. The Life of John 1789. Latest edition: Adamant Media Stuart Mill. 1952, p. 16. Corporation, 2005. [15] C.F.A. Marmoy, "The ’Auto-Icon’ of [27] Miriam Williford, Bentham on the rights Jeremy Bentham at University College, of Women London". University College London. info/marmoy.htm. Retrieved on • Lea Campos Boralevi (1980). ’Bentham 2007-03-03. "It seems that the case with and the Oppressed’. Walter De Gruyter Bentham’s body now rested in New Inc, 1984 ISBN 3110099748 Broad Street; Southwood Smith did not • Burns, J. H. (1989). "Bentham and remove to 38 Finsbury Square until Blackstone: A Lifetime’s Dialectic". several years later. Bentham must have Utilitas 1: 22. doi:10.1017/ been seen by many visitors, including S0953820800000042. Charles Dickens." • John Dinwiddy (1989), Bentham, Oxford [16] "History-Chemical History of UCL-The University Press. ISBN 0 19 287622 8. Autoicon". University College London. • J. A. W. Gunn (1989). ’Jeremy Bentham and the Public Interest’. In J. Lively & A. history/chemhistucl/hist03.html. Reeve (eds.) ’Modern Political Theory Retrieved on 2007-07-06. from Hobbes to Marx: Key Debates, [17] "UCL Bentham Project". University London, pp. 199-219 College London. • Jonathan Harris (1998),’Bernardino Bentham-Project/Faqs/auto_icon.htm. Rivadavia and Benthamite "discipleship"’, Retrieved on 2009-02-11. Latin American Research Review 33, pp. [18] Bentham, Jeremy. The Principles of 129-49 Morals and Legislation (1789) Ch I, p. 1. • R. Harrison (1983) Bentham. London. [19] See Joseph Priestley, • P. J. Kelly (1990). Utilitarianism and "massima felicità divisa nel maggior Distributive Justice: Jeremy Bentham and numero" from Italian political the Civil Law. Oxford. philosopher Beccaria’s Essay on Crimes • F. Rosen (1983). Jeremy Bentham and and Punishments (1764) was translated Representative Democracy: A Study of the to English in 1767. There are a number "Constitutional Code". Oxford. of earlier sources with similar ideas, • F. Rosen (1990) ’The Origins of Liberal though these may not have influenced Utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham and Bentham directly.

Further reading


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Liberty’. In R. Bellamy, ed., Victorian Liberalism: Nineteenth-century Political Thought and Practice, London, pp. 5870 • Robinson, Dave & Groves, Judy (2003). Introducing Political Philosophy. Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-450-X.

Jeremy Bentham
• Benthamism - Catholic Encyclopedia article • The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an extensive biographical reference of Bentham. • Utilitarianism as Secondary Ethic A concise review of Utilitarianism, its proponents and critics. • "Jeremy Bentham at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007" A play-reading of the life and legacy of Jeremy Bentham. • Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation Persondata NAME ALTERNATIVE NAMES SHORT English jurist, philosopher, DESCRIPTION and legal and social reformer DATE OF BIRTH PLACE OF BIRTH DATE OF DEATH PLACE OF DEATH 15 February 1748 O.S. (26 February 1748 N.S.) Spitalfields, London 6 June 1832 London Bentham, Jeremy

External links
• Online Library of Liberty - Jeremy Bentham, partially including Bowring’s (1843) The Works of Jeremy Bentham, and additional titles. • Jeremy Bentham, "Critique of the Doctrine of Inalienable, Natural Rights," in Anarchical Fallacies, vol. 2 of Bowring (ed.), Works, 1843. • Jeremy Bentham, "Offences Against One’s Self: Paederasty", c. 1785, free audiobook from LibriVox. • The Bentham Project at University College London. Includes a history and a FAQ on the Auto-Icon, and details of Bentham’s will. • Bentham Index, a rich bibliographical resource • Jeremy Bentham. Extensive collection of links to writings by and about Bentham. • Jeremy Bentham, categorized links • Jeremy Bentham’s Life and Impact

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