Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham, 1748–1832, English philosopher, jurist, political theorist, and founder of utilitarianism. Educated at Oxford, he was trained as a lawyer and was admitted to the bar, but he never practiced; he devoted himself to the scientific analysis of morals and legislation. His greatest work was his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), which shows the influence of Helvétius and won Bentham recognition throughout the Western world. His utilitarianism held that the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the fundamental and self-evident principle of morality. This principle should govern our judgment of every institution and action. He identified happiness with pleasure and devised a moral arithmetic for judging the value of a pleasure or a pain. He argued that self-interests, properly understood, are harmonious and that the general welfare is bound up with personal happiness. Bentham's contribution to theoretical ethics has had less lasting effect than his thorough application of utilitarian principles to economics, jurisprudence, and politics. Devoting himself to the reform of English legislation and law, he demanded prison reform, codification of the laws, and extension of political franchise. The 19th-century reforms of criminal law, of judicial organization, and of the parliamentary electorate owe much to the influence of Bentham and his disciples.

See his Correspondence, ed. by T. L. Sprigge et al. (9 vol., 1968–89); biographies by R. Harrison (1985) and J. Dinwiddy (1989); study by G. J. Posthema (1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
Jeremy Bentham.
Clarendon Press, 1996
The Classical Utilitarians: Bentham and Mill
J. H. Troyer.
Hackett, 2003
Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham
James E. Crimmins.
Clarendon Press, 1990
In the Interest of the Governed: A Study in Bentham's Philosophy of Utility and Law
David Lyons.
Clarendon Press, 1991 (Revised edition)
Essays on Ethics and Method
Henry Sidgwick; Marcus G. Singer.
Clarendon Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 24 "Bentham and Benthamism in Politics and Ethics"
The Uses and Abuses of Economics: Contentious Essays on History and Method
Terence Hutchison.
Routledge, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Jeremy Bentham as an Economist"
The Political Economy of Public Finance in Britain, 1767-1873
Takuo Dome.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Jeremy Bentham"
Legal Theory at the End of the Millennium
M. D. A. Freeman.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Jeremy Bentham: Legislator of the World" begins on p. 115, "Bentham, Truth and the Semiotics of Law" begins on p. 493, and more
Work and Welfare: The Social Costs of Labor in the History of Economic Thought
Donald R. Stabile.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Malthus, Ricardo and Bentham: The Fund for Maintaining Labor"
Bentham's Prison: A Study of the Panopticon Penitentiary
Janet Semple.
Clarendon Press, 1993
Literature and Legal Discourse: Equity and Ethics from Sterne to Conrad
Dieter Paul Polloczek.
Cambridge University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Reinstitutionalizing the Common Law: Bentham on the Security and Flexibility of Legal Rules"
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