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Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832)
"No power of government ought to be employed in the endeavor to establish any system or article of belief on the subject of religion. "

-- Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy 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.

Bentham 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 [citation needed].

He 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 health insurance.

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".

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 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.

Bentham 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 (1792).

In 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.

As 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.

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.

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.

Other 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.

An 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

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 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 objectives.
(Bentham 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 legislation."

It 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.

His 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 economics.

The information on which this page is based has been drawn from research on the Internet. For example, much use has been made of, to whom we are greatly indebted. Since the information recording process at Wikipedia is prone to changes in the data, please check at Wikipedia for current information. If you find something on this page to be in error, please contact us.
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