18th/19th century English philosopher and legal scholar, an early proponent of utilitarianism
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  • Jeremy Bentham

    Jeremy Bentham (15 February 1748 [4 February 1747 O.S.] – 6 June 1832) was an English philosopher, jurist and social reformer regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism.


    Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832), by T. Patrick Burke, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
    Biographical essay
    "Jeremy Bentham is known today chiefly as the father of utilitarianism. ... In Bentham's time, law, judicial procedures, and life in general were governed, to a much greater degree than in our own, by historical precedent and beliefs not subjected to critical examination. We owe much of the difference between his time and ours to Bentham. ... Bentham argued that a policy or procedure was in accordance with reason when it maximized utility, understood as human happiness. One must judge a program in the light not of unproven assumptions, no matter how venerable, but of its consequences for people."


    15 Feb 1748, in Spitalfields, London


    6 Jun 1832, in London


    Who Was Jeremy Bentham?
    Hosted by the Bentham Project at University College London
    "Even for those who have never read a line of Bentham, he will always be associated with the doctrine of Utilitarianism and the principle of 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number'. This, however, was only his starting point for a radical critique of society, which aimed to test the usefulness of existing institutions, practices and beliefs against an objective evaluative standard. ... A visionary far ahead of his time, he advocated universal suffrage and the decriminalisation of homosexuality."

    Web Sites

    Bentham Project - UCL - London's Global University
    Includes biography of Bentham, information about the project and works by and about Bentham, and other related resources
    "This website gives information on Jeremy Bentham and about the work of the Bentham Project. We are the world centre for Bentham Studies and our main activity is the production of the new edition of Bentham's Collected Works. We are part of UCL's Faculty of Laws."


    Bentham, by John Stuart Mill, London and Westminster Review, Aug 1838
    Opens by contrasting Bentham as a Progressive and Coleridge as a Conservative, then proceeds to examine and criticise Bentham philosophical method, and then his theories of life, law, government and utility
    "This, then, is our idea of Bentham. He was a man both of remarkable endowments for philosophy, and of remarkable deficiencies for it; fitted, beyond almost any man, for drawing from his premises, conclusions not only correct, but sufficiently precise and specific to be practical; but whose general conception of human nature and life furnished him with an unusually slender stock of premises. It is obvious what would be likely to be achieved by such a man; what a thinker, thus gifted and thus disqualified, could do in philosophy."
    Libertarianism and Legal Paternalism [PDF], by John Hospers, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1980
    Discusses laws "designed to protect people from themselves" arguing that in general such laws are illegitimate
    "In his book Principles of Morals and Legislation, the eighteenth-century philosopher and legislator Jeremy Bentham divided all laws into three kinds: (1) laws designed to protect you from harm caused by other people; (2) laws designed to protect you from harm caused by yourself; and (3) laws requiring you to help and assist others. Bentham held that only the first kind of laws were legitimate ... The third class of laws, sometimes called 'good Samaritan' laws, are greatly on the increase today ... Bentham argued persuasively against these laws as well; but he also condemned laws of the second kind ..."
    Reasoning on the Nature of Things, by Clarence B. Carson, The Freeman, Feb 1982
    Discusses how natural law doctrines were repudiated by utilitarians, why natural rights are important from an economic viewpoint, how the rights to life, liberty and property can be construed and what the author understands as the "social contract"
    "Some thinkers repudiated, denounced, and denigrated the very idea of natural laws. The utilitarians were among the more outspoken of these. Jeremy Bentham said of those who believed in natural law that they 'take for their subject the pretended law of nature; an obscure phantom, which in the imaginations of those who go in chase of it, points sometimes to manners, sometimes to laws; sometimes to what law is, and sometimes to what it ought to be.' ... In his efforts at legal reforms, Bentham encountered natural law exponents as an obstacle and simply repudiated the theory."
    Security Cameras' Slippery Slope, by Gene Healy, The Washington Examiner, 11 May 2010
    Discusses the use of surveillance cameras in New York City, in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom and in the United States, as well as drones by British police
    "In 1787, utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham dreamed up 'a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind,' the 'Panopticon' — a building designed so that all the occupants could be monitored from a central point, 'always feel[ing] themselves as if under inspection.' This would work well in prisons, Bentham thought, but also in schools and factories. There's more than a little of Bentham's vision in Britain's burgeoning surveillance state. The Panopticon's no panacea, though. ... An internal study by London police showed that for every 1,000 cameras, fewer than 'one crime is solved per year' using video evidence."
    Sowell and Spying, by William L. Anderson, 9 Feb 2006
    Criticizes Sowell for his 7 Feb 2006 column titled "Point of no return" in which he defended the George W. Bush administration's warrantless domestic phone surveillance program on utilitarian grounds
    "Yet, Sowell defends the wiretapping, at least in part, by claiming that its harmful effects are innocuous, but that its good effects overwhelm any negative ones. To put it another way, his defense is pure utilitarianism, something that would have made Jeremy Bentham proud. But suppose that for every 100 people that the FBI kills at random, one or two might have been planning a terrorist attack, and that each attack would kill on average at least 200 people. Could we not then justify such an attack using Sowell's Benthamite logic?"
    Related Topics: Government, Thomas Sowell
    The Courts and the New Deal, Part 1, by William L. Anderson, Future of Freedom, Jun 2005
    First part of a four-part series examining how Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal affected federal courts and other legal practices; contrasts the thoughts of Blackstone and Bentham
    "Perhaps it is deeply ironic that in 1776 ... the 'champion' of modern law made his own intellectual debut in England. Jeremy Bentham, who sat in Blackstone's Oxford lectures as a student, penned an anonymous attack on Blackstone entitled 'A Fragment on Government.' 'Fragment' took the opposite approach to every ideal Blackstone laid out in his writings and lectures. Government's role in society, wrote Bentham, was not to protect the innocent or to be restrained in what it could do, but rather to have near-unlimited powers to ensure the overall happiness of society, or 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number.'"

    The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Jeremy Bentham" as of 27 Jul 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.