Bentham was an English gentleman, jurist, philosopher, and legal
and social reformer. He is best known as an early advocate of utilitarianism
and animal rights.
was one of the most influential (classical) liberals , partially
through his writings but particularly through his students all
around the world, including James Mill, who was his secretary,
his collaborator on the utilitarian school of philosophy (and
James Mill's son), John Stuart Mill, and several political leaders
(and Robert Owen, who later became the founder of socialism).
He is believed to be the innovator of classical liberalism, a
term first coined in the 19th century .
argued in favor of individual and economic freedom, including
the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal
rights for women, animal rights, the end of slavery, the abolition
of physical punishment (including that of children), the right
to divorce, free trade, and no restrictions on interest. He supported
inheritance tax, restrictions on monopoly power, pensions, and
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. He
went to Westminster School, and in 1760 his father sent him to
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
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".
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 in later generations
of thinkers and influenced the radial design of Pentonville Prison
as well as several other prisons. The Panopticon also inspired
French philosopher Michel Foucault's work on the role of prisons
and metaphorical social prisons in Discipline and Punish where
Foucault directly refers to Bentham's ingenious prison design
and how it applies to various forms of societal controls.
was in correspondence with many influental people. E.g., Adam
Smith had opposed free interest rates before Bentham's arguments
convinced him on the subject. Due to his correspondence with Mirabeau
and other leaders of the French Revolution, he was declared an
honorary citizen of France, but then he strongly criticized the
violence that had already arisen when the Jacobins took power
1823, he co-founded the Westminster Review with John Stuart Mill
as a journal for philosophical radicals.
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, he 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. It is likely that without his inspiration, UCL would
not have been created when it was.
requested in his will, his body was preserved and stored in a
wooden cabinet, termed his "Auto-Icon," at University
College London. It has occasionally been brought out of storage
for meetings of the Council and at official functions so that
his eccentric presence can live on. 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 one occasion.
It is now locked away securely.
is a plaque on Queen Anne's Gate, Westminster commemorating the
house where Bentham lived, which at the time was called Queen's
In 1776, Bentham published his Fragment on Government anonymously,
a criticism of Blackstone's Commentaries. He disagreed with Blackstone's
espousal of natural rights, among other things. In 1780 his Introduction
to Principles of Morals and Legislation was published.
works were Panopticon, in which he suggested improvements on prison
discipline, Discourse on Civil and Penal Legislation (1802), Punishments
and Rewards (1811), Parliamentary Reform Catechism (1817), and
A Treatise on Judicial Evidence.
essay of his, Offences Against One's Self: Paederasty,
which argued for the liberalisation of laws prohibiting same-sex
attraction, egalitarian as well as pederastic, remained unpublished
during his lifetime for fear of offending public morality. It
was finally published in for the first time in 1978 (summer and
fall issues of Journal of Homosexuality).Text of the essay
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 1843.
Bentham is the first and perhaps the greatest of the "philosophical
radicals" — not only did he propose many legal and
social reforms, but he also devised moral principles on which
they should be based. This philosophy, utilitarianism, argued
that the right act or policy was that which would cause "the
greatest happiness for the greatest number" — a phrase
of which he is generally, though erroneously, regarded as the
author — though he later dropped the second qualification
and embraced what he called "the greatest happiness principle."
Bentham also suggested a procedure to mechanically estimate the
moral status of any action, which he called the Hedonic 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
said: "Priestley was the first (unless it was Beccaria) who
taught my lips to pronounce this sacred truth:- That the greatest
happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and
is often said that Bentham's theory, unlike Mill's, faces the
problem of lacking a principle of fairness embodied in a conception
of justice. Thus, some critics object, it would be moral, for
example, to torture one person if this would produce an amount
of happiness in other people outweighing the unhappiness of the
tortured individual. (Compare "The Ones Who Walk Away From
Omelas".) 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." (ibid, p. 81) They provide
security, a precondition for the formation of expectations. As
the hedonic 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.
opinions about monetary economics were totally different from
those of Ricardo; however, they had some similarities to those
of Thorton. He focused on monetary expansion as a means to full
employment. He was also aware of the relevance of forced saving,
propensity to consume, the saving-investment relationship and
other matters which 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