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Jeremy Bentham
Full name Jeremy Bentham
Born 15 February 1748(1748-02-15)
London, England
Died 6 June 1832 (aged 84)
London, England
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophers
School Utilitarianism, Legal positivism, Liberalism
Main interests Political philosophy, Philosophy of law, Ethics, Economics
Notable ideas Greatest happiness principle
Signature

Jeremy Bentham (pronounced /ˈbεnθəm/ or /ˈbεntəm/) (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, 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] and his opposition to the ideas of natural law and natural rights, calling them "nonsense upon stilts."[2] He also influenced the development of welfarism.[3] 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; John Austin, legal philosopher; and several political leaders including Robert Owen, who later became a founder of modern 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[4] and the decriminalisation of homosexual acts.[5][6] He also made two distinct attempts during his life to critique the death penalty.[7]

Contents

Life

Portrait of Bentham by the studio of Thomas Frye, 1760-1762

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.[8]

He went to Westminster School; in 1760, at 12 years of age, 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 Chikane".

When the American colonies published their Declaration of Independence in July 1776, the British government did not issue any official response but instead secretly commissioned London lawyer and pamphleteer John Lind to publish a rebuttal.[9] 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.[10]

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 19th-century 'disciplinary' institutions. It is said that Mexican prison "Lecumberri" was designed on the basis of this idea.[11]

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 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. Bentham was an outspoken critic of the revolutionary discourse of natural rights and of the violence which arose after the Jacobins took power (1792). 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.[12]

Bentham is frequently associated with the foundation of the University of London, specifically University College London (UCL), though he was 78 years old when UCL opened in 1826, and played no active part in its establishment. 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. 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 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.'[13]

Auto-icon

Bentham's Auto-icon

As requested in his will, Bentham's body was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture. Afterward, the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the "Auto-icon", with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham's clothes. Originally kept by his disciple Thomas Southwood Smith,[14] it was acquired by University College London in 1850. It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of the college, but for the 100th and 150th anniversaries of the college, it was brought to the meeting of the College Council, where it was listed as "present but not voting".[15]

The Auto-icon has 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.[16]

Work

Bentham left manuscripts amounting to some 5,000,000 words. Since 1968 the Bentham Project at University College London has been working on an edition of his collected works. So far, 25 volumes have appeared; there may be as many still to come before the project is completed. Most of his writing was never published in his lifetime; much of that which was published (see this list of published works) was prepared for publication by others. Several of his works first appeared 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. Works published in Bentham's lifetime include:

  • "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). Jeremy Bentham wrote a series of thirteen “Letters” addressed to Adam Smith, published in 1787 as Defence of Usury. Bentham’s main argument against the restriction is that “projectors” generate positive externalities. Gilbert K. Chesterton identified Bentham's essay on usury as the very beginning of the 'modern world.' Bentham’s arguments were very influential. “Writers of eminence” moved to abolish the restriction, and repeal was achieved in stages and fully achieved in England in 1854. There is little evidence as to Smith’s reaction. He did not revise the offending passages in The Wealth of Nations, but Smith made little or no substantial revisions after the third edition of 1784. [17]
  • 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)
  • Not Paul But Jesus (1823, published under the pseudonym Gamaliel Smith)
  • Book of Fallacies (1824)
  • A Treatise on Judicial Evidence (1825)

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 criticised, 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 Werner 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 because of the manner in which they had been left by Bentham and organised by Bowring.

Utilitarianism

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 utilitarianism philosophy argued that the right act or policy was 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]

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.

Bentham proposed a classification of 12 pains and 14 pleasures and 'felicific calculus' by which we might test the 'happiness factor' of any action.[19] Nonetheless, it 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 ..."[20] 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 -- which would have completely contradicted the principle of utility from which Utilitarianism gets its name. 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."[21] It provides 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.

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.

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. He 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 legislation 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.

Economics

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 maximisation principle in the economics of the consumer, the firm and the search for an optimum in welfare economics.[22]

Animal rights

Bentham is widely recognised as one of the earliest proponents of animal rights. He argued that the ability to suffer, not the ability to reason, should be the benchmark, or what he called the "insuperable line." If reason alone were the criterion by which we judge who ought to have rights, human infants and adults with certain forms of disability might fall short, too.[23][24] In 1789, alluding to the limited degree of legal protection afforded to slaves in the French West Indies by the Code Noir, he wrote:

The day has been, I grieve to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing, as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The 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. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. 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 a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? [25]

Gender and sexuality

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.[26] Bentham spoke for a complete equality between sexes.

Bentham was one of the earliest philosophers to argue for decriminalisation of homosexuality and equal rights for homosexuals.[27] In two extended essays unpublished during his lifetime (1785 and 1814), he put forward a detailed logical argument against the stigmatisation of same-sex relations.

The essay Offences Against One's Self, argued for the liberalisation of laws prohibiting homosexuality.[28] The essay remained unpublished during his lifetime for fear of offending public morality. It was published for the first time in 1931.[29] While Bentham clearly disapproves of homosexuality as "irregularities of the venereal appetite," the essay chastises the society of the time for making a disproportionate response to what Bentham appears to consider a largely private offence–public displays or forced acts being dealt with rightly by other laws.

See also

References

  1. ^ ThinkQuest Article on Animal Rights; The Moral Status of Animals, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Benthall, Jonathan. "Animal liberation and rights", Anthropology Today, volume 23, issue 2, April 2007, p. 1; Sunstein, Cass R. and Nussbaum, Martha. Animal rights. Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 3-4.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Jeremy Bentham: His Life and Impact--jk
  4. ^ Defence of Usury
  5. ^ OFFENCES AGAINST ONE'S SELF
  6. ^ Boralevi, Bentham and the Oppressed. p. 37.
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ "Jeremy Bentham". University College London. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project/info/jb.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  9. ^ Declaring Independence: The Origin and Influence of America's Founding Document. Edited by Christian Y. Dupont and Peter S. Onuf. University of Virginia Library (Charlottesville, VA: 2008) pp. 32-33. ISBN 978-0-9799997-0-3.
  10. ^ "Short Review of the Declaration" (1776) as found in The Declaration of Independence: A Global History by David Armitage
  11. ^ See page 85 of Muy interesante (No. 2, 2008), a Mexican journal for the diffusion of science published by Editorial Televisa Internacional (ISSN 0188-0659.
  12. ^ Joseph Hamburger, Intellectuals in politics: John Stuart Mill and the Philosophical Radicals (Yale University Press, 1965); William Thomas, The philosophic radicals: nine studies in theory and practice, 1817-1841 (Oxford, 1979)
  13. ^ St. John Packe, Michael. The Life of John Stuart Mill. 1952, p. 16.
  14. ^ C.F.A. Marmoy, "The 'Auto-Icon' of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London". University College London. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project/info/marmoy.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-03.  "It seems that the case with Bentham's body now rested in New Broad Street; Southwood Smith did not remove to 38 Finsbury Square until several years later. Bentham must have been seen by many visitors, including Charles Dickens."
  15. ^ "History-Chemical History of UCL-The Autoicon". University College London. http://www.chem.ucl.ac.uk/resources/history/chemhistucl/hist03.html. Retrieved 2007-07-06. 
  16. ^ "UCL Bentham Project". University College London. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project/Faqs/auto_icon.htm. Retrieved 2009-02-11. 
  17. ^ Bentham, Jeremy. Jan 2008. Gulphs in Mankind’s Career of Prosperity: A Critique of Adam Smith on Interest Rate Restrictions. Econ Journal Watch 5(1): 66-77. [1]
  18. ^ Bentham, Jeremy. The Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) Ch I, p. 1.
  19. ^ Bentham, Jeremy. The Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) Ch IV
  20. ^ Postema, Gerald J. Bentham and the Common Law Tradition, p. 148.
  21. ^ Kelly, P.J. Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice: Jeremy Bentham and the Civil Law. p. 81.
  22. ^ Spiegel (1991). "The growth of Economic Thought", Ed.3. Duke University. ISBN 0-8223-0973-4., p. 341-343.
  23. ^ Bentham, Jeremy. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1789. Latest edition: Adamant Media Corporation, 2005.
  24. ^ Benthall, Jonathan. "Animal liberation and rights", Anthropology Today, volume 23, issue 2, April 2007, p. 1.
  25. ^ Bentham, Jeremy. Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, second edition, 1823, chapter 17, footnote.
  26. ^ Miriam Williford, Bentham on the rights of Women
  27. ^ [2]
  28. ^ Boralevi, Bentham and the Oppressed. p. 40
  29. ^ Boralevi, Bentham and the Oppressed. p. 37

Further reading

  • Lea Campos Boralevi (1980). 'Bentham and the Oppressed'. Walter De Gruyter Inc, 1984 ISBN 3110099748
  • Burns, J. H. (1989). "Bentham and Blackstone: A Lifetime's Dialectic". Utilitas 1: 22. doi:10.1017/S0953820800000042. 
  • John Dinwiddy (1989), Bentham, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0 19 287622 8.
  • J. A. W. Gunn (1989). 'Jeremy Bentham and the Public Interest'. In J. Lively & A. Reeve (eds.) 'Modern Political Theory from Hobbes to Marx: Key Debates, London, pp. 199–219
  • Jonathan Harris (1998),'Bernardino Rivadavia and Benthamite "discipleship"', Latin American Research Review 33, pp. 129–49
  • R. Harrison (1983) Bentham. London.
  • P. J. Kelly (1990). Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice: Jeremy Bentham and the Civil Law. Oxford.
  • F. Rosen (1983). Jeremy Bentham and Representative Democracy: A Study of the "Constitutional Code". Oxford.
  • F. Rosen (1990) 'The Origins of Liberal Utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham and 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.

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Submit not to any decree or other act of power, of the justice of which you are not yourself perfectly convinced.

Jeremy Bentham (IPA: ['benθəm]) (15 February 17486 June 1832) was a British gentleman, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He is best known as an early advocate of utilitarianism and animal rights.

Contents

Sourced

  • The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.
    • The Commonplace Book, reprinted in Collected Works, x, p142.
  • Prose is when all the lines except the last go on to the end. Poetry is when some of them fall short of it.
  • To what shall the character of utility be ascribed, if not to that which is a source of pleasure?
    • Théorie des peines et des récompenses, 1811; translation by Richard Smith, The Rationale of Reward, J. & H. L. Hunt, London, 1825, Bk. 3, Ch. 1
  • Judges of elegance and taste consider themselves as benefactors to the human race, whilst they are really only the interrupters of their pleasure [...] There is no taste which deserves the epithet good, unless it be the taste for such employments which, to the pleasure actually produced by them, conjoin some contingent or future utility: there is no taste which deserves to be characterized as bad, unless it be a taste for some occupation which has mischievous tendency.
    • Théorie des peines et des récompenses, 1811; translation by Richard Smith, The Rationale of Reward, J. & H. L. Hunt, London, 1825, Bk. 3, Ch. 1

Anarchical Fallacies (1843)

  • Submit not to any decree or other act of power, of the justice of which you are not yourself perfectly convinced. If a constable call upon you to serve in the militia, shoot the constable and not the enemy; — if the commander of a press-gang trouble you, push him into the sea — if a bailiff, throw him out of the window. If a judge sentences you to be imprisoned or put to death, have a dagger ready, and take a stroke first at the judge.
    • Vol. 2
  • That which has no existence cannot be destroyed — that which cannot be destroyed cannot require anything to preserve it from destruction. Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense — nonsense upon stilts. But this rhetorical nonsense ends in the old strain of mischievous nonsense for immediately a list of these pretended natural rights is given, and those are so expressed as to present to view legal rights. And of these rights, whatever they are, there is not, it seems, any one of which any government can, upon any occasion whatever, abrogate the smallest particle.
    • Vol. 2

An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (Second edition, 1823)

  • I. 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.
  • The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that the number of 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 a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a 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?
    • Chapter 17

Unsourced

  • Every law is an infraction of liberty.
  • Lawyers are the only persons in whom ignorance of the law is not punished.
  • The greatest good for the greatest number.
  • Human beings are motivated solely by the desire to gain pleasure and avoid pain.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JEREMY BENTHAM (1748-1832), English philosopher and jurist, was born on the 15th of February 17 4 8 in Red Lion Street, Houndsditch, London, in which neighbourhood his grandfather and father successively carried on business as attorneys. His father, who was a wealthy man and possessed at any rate a smattering of Greek, Latin and French, was thought to have demeaned himself by marrying the daughter of an Andover tradesman, who afterwards retired to a country house near Reading, where young Jeremy spent many happy days. The boy's talents justified the ambitious hopes which his parents entertained of his future. When three years old he read eagerly such works as Rapin's History and began the study of Latin.

A year or two later he learnt to play the violin and to speak French. At Westminster school he obtained a reputation for Greek and Latin verse writing; and he was only thirteen when he was matriculated at Queen's College, Oxford, where his most important acquisition seems to have been a thorough acquaintance with Sanderson's logic. He became a B.A. in 1763, and in the same year entered at Lincoln's Inn, and took his seat as a student in the queen's bench, where he listened with rapture to the judgments of Lord Mansfield. He managed also to hear Blackstone's lectures at Oxford, but says that he immediately detected the fallacies which underlay the rounded periods of the future judge.

Bentham's family connexions would naturally have given him a fair start at the bar, but this was not the career for which he was preparing himself. He spent his time in making chemical experiments and in speculating upon legal abuses, rather than in reading Coke upon Littleton and the Reports. On being called to the bar he "found a cause or two at nurse for him, which he did his best to put to death," to the bitter disappointment of his father, who had confidently looked forward to seeing him upon the woolsack. The first fruits of Bentham's studies, the Fragment on Government, appeared in 1776. This masterly attack upon Blackstone's praises of the English constitution was variously attributed to Lord Mansfield, Lord Camden and Lord Ashburton. One important result of its publication was that, in 1781, Lord Shelburne (afterwards first marquess of Lansdowne) called upon its author in his chambers at Lincoln's Inn. Henceforth Bentham was a frequent guest at Bowood, where he saw the best society and where he met Miss Caroline Fox (daughter of the second Lord Holland), to whom he afterwards made a proposal of marriage. In 1785 Bentham started, by way of Italy and Constantinople, on a visit to his brother, Samuel Bentham, a naval engineer, holding the rank of colonel in the Russian service; and it was in Russia that he wrote his Defence of Usury. Disappointed after his return to England in 1788 in the hope which he had entertained, through a misapprehension of something said by Lord Lansdowne, of taking a personal part in the legislation of his country, he settled down to the yet higher task of discovering and teaching the principles upon which all sound legislation must proceed. The great work, upon which he had been engaged for many years, the Principles of Morals and Legislation, was published in 1789. His fame spread widely and rapidly. He was made a French citizen in 17 9 2; and his advice was respectfully received in most of the states of Europe and America, with many of the leading men of which he maintained an active correspondence. In 1817 he became a bencher of Lincoln's Inn. His ambition was to be allowed to prepare a code of laws for his own or some foreign country. During nearly a quarter of a century he was engaged in negotiations with the government for the erection of a "Panopticon," for the central inspection of convicts; a plan suggested to him by a building designed by his brother Samuel, for the better supervision of his Russian shipwrights. This scheme, which it was alleged would render transportation unnecessary, was eventually abandoned, and Bentham received in 1813, in pursuance of an act of parliament, 2 3 ,000 by way of compensation. It was at a later period of his life that he propounded schemes for cutting canals through the isthmus of Suez and the isthmus of Panama. In 182 3 he established the Westminster Review. Emboldened perhaps by the windfall of 1813, Bentham in the following year took a lease of Ford Abbey, a fine mansion with a deer-park, in Dorsetshire; but in 1818 returned to the house in Queen's Square Place which he had occupied since the death of his father in 1792. It was there that he died on the 6th of June 183 2 in his eighty-fifth year. In accordance with his directions, his body was dissected in the presence of his friends, and the skeleton is still preserved in University College, London.

Bentham's life was a happy one of its kind. His constitution, weakly in childhood, strengthened with advancing years so as to allow him to get through an incredible amount of sedentary labour, while he retained to the last the fresh and cheerful temperament of a boy. An ample inherited fortune permitted him to pursue his studies undistracted by the necessity for earning a livelihood, and to maximize the results of his time and labour by the employment of amanuenses and secretaries. He was able to gather around him a group of congenial friends and pupils, such as the Mills, the Austins and Bowring, with whom he could discuss the problems upon which he was engaged, and by whom several of his books were practically rewritten from the mass of rough though orderly memoranda which the master had himself prepared. Thus, for instance, was the Rationale of Judicial Evidence written out by J. S. Mill and the Book of Fallacies by Bingham. The services which Dumont rendered in recasting as well as translating the works of Bentham were still more important.

The popular notion that Bentham was a morose visionary is far removed from fact. It is true that he looked upon general society as a waste of time and that he disliked poetry as "misrepresentation"; but he intensely enjoyed conversation, gave good dinners and delighted in music, in country sights and in making others happy. These features of Bentham's character are illustrated in the graphic account given by the American minister, Richard Rush, of an evening spent at his London house in the summer of the year 1818. "If Mr Bentham's character is peculiar," he says, "so is his place of residence. It was a kind of blind-alley, the end of which widened into a small, neat courtyard. There by itself stands Mr Bentham's house. Shrubbery graced its area and flowers its window-sills. It was like an oasis in the desert. Its name is the Hermitage. Mr Bentham received me with the simplicity of a philosopher. I should have taken him for seventy or upwards. Everything inside the house was orderly. The furniture seemed to have been unmoved since the days of his fathers, for I learned that it was a patrimony. A parlour, library and dining-room made up the suite of apartments. In each was a piano, the eccentric master of the whole being fond of music as the recreation of his literary hours. It is a unique, romantic-like homestead. Walking with him into the garden, I found it dark with the shade of ancient trees. They formed a barrier against all intrusion. The company was small but choice. Mr Brougham; Sir Samuel Romilly; Mr Mill, author of the well-known work on India; M. Dumont, the learned Genevan, once the associate of Mirabeau, were all who sat down to table. Mr Bentham did not talk much. He had a benevolence of manner suited to the philanthropy of his mind. He seemed to be thinking only of the convenience and pleasure of his guests, not as a rule of artificial breeding as from Chesterfield or Madame Geniis, but from innate feeling. Bold as are his opinions in his works, here he was wholly unobtrusive of theories that might not have commended the assent of all present. When he did converse it was in simple language, a contrast to his later writings, where an involved style and the use of new or universal words are drawbacks upon the speculations of a genius original and profound, but with the faults of solitude. Yet some of his earlier productions are distinguished by classical terseness." - (Residence at the Court of London, p. 286.) Bentham's love of flowers and music, of green foliage and shaded walks, comes clearly out in this pleasant picture of his home life and social surroundings.

Whether or no he can be said to have founded a school, his doctrines have become so far part of the common thought of the time, that there is hardly an educated man who does not accept as too clear for argument truths which were invisible till Bentham pointed them out. His sensitively honourable nature, which in early life had caused him to shrink from asserting his belief in Thirty-nine articles of faith which he had not examined, was shocked by the enormous abuses which confronted him on commencing the study of the law. He rebelled at hearing the system under which they flourished described as the perfection of human reason. But he was no merely destructive critic. He was determined to find a solid foundation for both morality and law, and to raise upon it an edifice, no stone of which should be laid except in accordance with the deductions of the severest logic. This foundation is "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," a formula adopted from Priestly or perhaps first from Beccaria. The phrase may, however, be found in writers of an earlier date than these, e.g. in Hutcheson's Enquiry, published in 1725. The pursuit of such happiness is taught by the "utilitarian" philosophy, an expression used by Bentham himself in 1802, and therefore not invented by J. S. Mill, as he supposed, in 1823. In order to 'ascertain what modes of action are most conducive to the end in view, and what motives are best fitted to produce them, Bentham was led to construct marvellously exhaustive, though somewhat mechanical, tables of motives. With all their elaboration, these tables are, however, defective, as omitting some of the highest and most influential springs of action. But most of Bentham's conclusions may be accepted without any formal profession of the utilitarian theory of morals. They are, indeed, merely the application of a rigorous common sense to the facts of society. That the proximate ends at which Bentham aimed are desirable hardly any one would deny, though the feasibility of the means by which he proposes to attain them may often be questioned, and much of the new nomenclature in which he thought fit to clothe his doctrines may be rejected as unnecessary. To be judged fairly, Bentham must be judged as a teacher of the principles of legislation. With the principles of private morals he really deals only so far as is necessary to enable the reader to appreciate the impulses which have to be controlled by law.

As a teacher of legislation he inquires Of all institutions whether their utility justifies their existence. If not, he is prepared to suggest a new form of institution by which the needful service may be rendered. While thus engaged no topic is too large for his mental grasp, none too small for his notice; and, what is still rarer, every topic is seen in its due relation to the rest. English institutions had never before been thus comprehensively and dispassionately surveyed. Such improvements as had been necessitated were mere makeshifts, often made by stealth. The rude symmetry of the feudal system had been long ago destroyed by partial and unskilful adaptations to modern commercial life, effected at various dates and in accordance with various theories. The time had come for deliberate reconstruction, for inquiring whether the existence of many admitted evils was, as it was said to be, unavoidable; for proving that the needs of society may be classified and provided for by contrivances which shall not clash --?

- 4 with one another because all shall be parts of a consistent whole. This task Bentham undertook, and he brought to it a mind absolutely free from professional or class feeling, or any other species of prejudice. He mapped out the whole subject, dividing and subdividing it in accordance with the principle of "dichotomy." Having reached his ultimate subdivisions he subjects each to the most thorough and ingenious discussion. His earlier writings exhibit a lively and easy style, which gives place in his later treatises to sentences which are awkward from their effort after unattainable accuracy, and from the newly-invented technical nomenclature in which they are expressed. Many of Bentham's phrases, such as "international," "utilitarian," "codification," are valuable additions to our language; but the majority of them, especially those of Greek derivation, have taken no root in it. His neology is one among many instances of his contempt for the past and his wish to be clear of all association with it. His was, indeed, a typically logical, as opposed to a historical, mind. For the history of institutions which, thanks largely to the writings of Sir Henry Maine, has become a new and interesting branch of science, Bentham cared nothing. Had he possessed such a knowledge of Roman law as is now not uncommon in England, he must doubtless have taken a different view of many subjects. The logical and historical methods can, however, seldom be combined without confusion; and it is perhaps fortunate that Bentham devoted his long life to showing how much may be done by pursuing the former method exclusively. His writings have been and remain a storehouse of instruction for statesmen, an armoury for legal reformers. "Pille par tout le monde," as Talleyrand said of him, "it est toujours riche." To trace the results of his teaching in England alone would be to write a history of the legislation of half a century. Upon the whole administrative machinery of government, upon criminal law and upon procedure, both criminal and civil, his influence has been most salutary; and the great legal revolution which in 1873 purported c :to accomplish the fusion of law and equity is not obscurely traceable to the same source. Those of Bentham's suggestions which have hitherto been carried out have affected the matter or contents of the law. The hopes which have been from time to time entertained, that his suggestions for the improvement of its form and expression were about to receive the attention which they deserved, have hitherto been disappointed. The services rendered by Bentham to the world would not, however, be exhausted even by the practical adoption of every one of his recommendations. There are no limits to the good results of his introduction of a true method of reasoning into the moral and political sciences.

Bentham's Works, together with an Introduction by J. Hill Burton, selections from his correspondence and a biography, were published by Dr Bowring, in eleven closely printed volumes (1838-1843). This edition does not include the Deontology, which, much rewritten, had been published by Bowring in 1834. Translations of the Works or of separate treatises have appeared in most European languages. Large masses of Bentham's MSS., mostly unpublished, are preserved at University College, London (see T. Whittaker's Report, 1892, on these MSS., as newly catalogued and reclassified by. him in 155 parcels); also in the British Museum (see E. Nys, Etudes de droit international et de droit politique, 1901, pp. 2 9 1 -333). See farther on the life and writings of Bentham: J. H. Burton, Benthamiana (1843); R. von Mohl, Geschichte and Literatur der Staatswissenschaften, bk. iii. (1858), pp. 595-635 R. K. Wilson, History of Modern English Law (1875), pp. 133-170; J. S. Mill, Dissertations (1859), vol. i. pp. 330-392; L. Stephen, The English Utilitarians (1900), vol. i.; A Fragment on Government, edited by F. C. Montague (1891); The Law Quarterly Review (1895), two articles on Bentham's influence in Spain; A. V. Dicey, Law and Opinion in England (1905), pp. 125-209; C. M. Atkinson, Jeremy Bentham (1905). (T. E. H.)


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[[File:|thumb|Jeremy Bentham]] Jeremy Bentham (February 15, 1748June 6, 1832) was an English, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He is best known as one of the first people for 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 John Stuart Mill and several political leaders (and Robert Owen, who later became started the idea of socialism). He is believed to be the innovator of classical liberalism, a term first coined in the 19th century. After he died, his body was preserved.








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