Jeremy Bentham, 1748-1832

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Biographical note

Writer on jurisprudence and politics, born in London, son of a prosperous attorney, educated at Westminster and Oxford, was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, but disliking the law, he made little or no effort to practise, but devoted himself to physical science and the theory of jurisprudence. In 1776 he published anonymously his Fragment on Government, an able criticism of Blackstone’s Commentaries, which brought him under the notice of Lord Shelburne, and in 1780 his Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation. 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. By the death of his father he inherited a competency on which he was able to live in frugal elegance, not unmixed with eccentricity.

Bentham is the first and perhaps the greatest of the “philosophical radicals,” and his fundamental principle is utilitarianism or “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” a phrase of which he is generally, though erroneously, regarded as the author. The effect of his writings on legislation and the administration of the law has been almost incalculable. He left his body to be dissected; and his skeleton, clothed in his usual attire, is preserved in University College, London.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]


English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. 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, and his opposition to the idea of natural rights, with his oft-quoted statement that the idea of such rights is "nonsense upon stilts." 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; and several political leaders including Robert Owen, who later became a founder of socialism.

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, and the decriminalization of homosexual acts.

[From Wikipedia]

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