Desktop version

Home arrow Philosophy arrow The handy philosophy answer book

Who was Jeremy Bentham?

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was the founder of the moral system of utilitarianism, which is considered to be one of the three major systems of ethics in Western philosophy, along with Aristotelian virtue ethics and Kantian deontology, or duty ethics.

What were Bentham's life and career like?

Bentham was born in Houndsditch, London, and began studies at Queen's College, Oxford, when he was just 12 years old. After his graduation, he entered Lincoln's Inn to become a lawyer and was called to the bar in 1767. He never practiced law, though, instead dedicating himself to reforming the entire system of civil and criminal law. Existing legal theory seemed incoherent, he felt, and the penal system was cruel and very expensive to administrate. Bentham's legal writings began with work on legal reform that was not published until 1811, and his Comment on Blackstone's Commentaries was not published until 1928. Bentham wrote voluminously, but there was a certain disorganization in his methods of completing any one thing. He published part of his Blackstone criticism as A Fragment on Government (1776) and Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789).

Bentham attempted to gain Catherine the Great of Russia's support for his Constitutional Code. He was made a citizen of France after the Revolution, in 1792, and his ideas also reached the United States. But he was most influential politically in England, where he was leader of the philosophical radicals and an inspiration to the Benthamites. Both of these groups thought that Bentham's pleasure principle or principle of utility could be used to change the world for the better. James Mill, father of John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), the great nineteenth century English utilitarian, was a close friend of his. Bentham also founded the journal Westminster Review, as well as University College.

What was Bentham's Principle of Utility?

Jeremy Bentham intended it to guide legislators for the sake of reforming the legal system. He thought that legislators were too influenced by "the principle of sympathy and antipathy," which he called "ipse-dixitism." They punished what they did not like, even if, as in the case of sexual transgressions, no one was harmed, and they failed to punish sources of great suffering. Bentham wanted legal obligations to be based on the goal of increasing happiness and lessening pain and suffering. This was his principle of utility. With this principle, no other value was necessary, and legal fictions could be abolished. Concerning rights, Bentham believed that they were "nonsense upon stilts."

What is hedonic calculus?

According to Jeremy Bentham, courses of action should be chosen based on their consequences in terms of the pleasure and pain experienced by all involved. Everyone counts for one, and no one counts for more than one. All pleasures are on the same level, and in Bentham's famous words, "all quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry." (Pushpin was a bowling-type game of the time.) The value of justice reduces to its greater utility over injustice. Punishment, for example, is only just or unjust in terms of its consequences as a deterrent to future crime. Bentham's hedo-

What is the "Auto-icon"?

Jeremy Bentham founded University College in London and bequeathed to it something called the "Auto-icon," which contains his own embalmed body. After his death in 1832, the philosopher had his remains preserved and put on display in this large cabinet. It is said that the College Council depends on Bentham to resolve tied votes, a rumor the Council denies utterly. The head on display in the Auto-icon is bogus, however, as the original head was stored more securely elsewhere after it was damaged by student pranksters.

nic calculus consisted of literally quantifying pleasures and pains according to these factors: how near or far, how long-lasting, how intense, how likely to cause pleasure or pain of the same kind, and how many are affected.

What was Betham's main proposal for prison reform?

In his Panopticon Letters Jeremy Bentham proposed a new type of prison building so that every prisoner would be under continual observation. He drew elaborate blueprints for this kind of building, which would regulate every aspect of the lives of prisoners. It was intended as a humane but highly effective method for controlling the minds of prisoners.

 
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics