Jeremy Bentham

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Bentham, Jeremy,

1748–1832, English philosopher, jurist, political theorist, and founder of utilitarianismutilitarianism
, in ethics, the theory that the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by its usefulness in bringing about the most happiness of all those affected by it.
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. 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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bentham, Jeremy


Born Feb. 15, 1748, in London; died there June 6, 1832. English sociologist, jurist, and founder of utilitarianism, a school of English philosophy.

Bentham was the son of a lawyer. An ideologist of the bourgeoisie in the epoch of the industrial revolution in England, he glorified “sober” bourgeois common sense and considered the English capitalist system to be the natural and ideal social structure and the English bourgeois to be “reasonable” man. Bentham’s ethics, expounded in Deontology, or the Science of Morality (vols. 1–2, 1834), are metaphysical, based on the principle of “utility,” according to which people’s actions and relationships are given a moral evaluation depending on the benefits they bring. Man’s personal interests were taken into account in defining utility. In Bentham’s treatment, the teachings of the Enlightenment lost their revolutionary content: the idea of a rational, harmonious union between personal and social interests was turned into the principle of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number of individuals” and into a call for attaining personal happiness, as if this would automatically increase the overall sum of happiness.

Bentham sharply criticized Rousseau’s theory of a social contract for its tendency to inspire a spirit of rebellion. However, he supported the demands to reform the English parliament by broadening the electoral enfranchisement. Bentham defended the idea of free trade and unrestricted competition, which, in his opinion, was supposed to guarantee social tranquillity, justice, and equality.

Karl Marx called Bentham a “genius of bourgeois stupidity” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 624, note). The classics of Marxism-Leninism considered Bentham’s views a typical expression of vulgar prejudices regarding “freedom” and “equality” under capitalism.


The Works of J. Bentham, vols. 1–2. Edinburgh, 1838–43. Published by J. Bowring.
The Correspondence of J. Bentham, vols. 1–2. London, 1968.
In Russian translation:
lzbrannye sochineniia, vol. 1. St. Petersburg, 1867.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vols. 2–4, 23, 27. (See Name Index.)
Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5thed., vol. 38, pp. 346, 376; vol. 39, pp. 132–33.
Istoriia politic he skikh uchenii. Moscow, 1955. Pages 374–80.
Atkinson, M. J. Bentham: His Life and Work. London, 1905.
Manning, D. J. The Mind of Jeremy Bentham. [London, 1968.]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(27.) Hamburger claims that Mill's "heresy" as an orthodox Benthamite had been primed by his flirtation with Saint-Simonism and ignited by Macaulay's critique.
Benthamite attacks on the Bill of Rights reflected an attractive general theory separating substance from procedure and assigning procedure the limited role of accurate fact-finding.
(6) Benthamites, also known as Utilitarians, were "a small group of well-educated people who followed the ideas of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)....
Benthamites clashed, however, with local employers and poor law officials who assumed, in the words of a correspondent from Boreham, Essex, that "it was contrary to reason that any person should pay a man for his work sufficient to support a whole family." [23] The Benthamite poor law commissioner Edwin Chadwick believed that if poor law administrators withdrew men from the labor market by taking them into the workhouse, rather than subsidizing their wages, employers would be forced to pay men enough to support their families without parish allowances.
[45] Benthamites and poor law administrators did not generate the notion that women's work was necessarily degrading and immoral; it was Tory radicals, trade unionists, and anti-poor law radicals, who portrayed working women as passive victims of capitalism.
Conflicts over the breadwinner wage reveal the limitations of the Benthamite effort to impose their centralised authority over local employers and guardians.
(2) The positivist, Benthamite view of property rights upon which I have based this Article is one of two competing views of property rights in modern American legal discourse.
Some writers, especially in the Benthamite economic analysis tradition, say that since damages for breach of contract are awarded in many cases in which the breach was amply justified, we should not persist in thinking of "breach of contract" as the name of a legal wrong.
It became the accepted wisdom, most conspicuous in the Benthamite tradition but equally taken for granted among Kantians, that at every moment we start again from tabula rasa, rationally speaking.
There is no need to argue in Benthamite vein that reparative damages are optimally deterrent or in Kantian vein that they are a way of reestablishing respect for persons.
The conventional view of the process of secularization as a gradual "lessening" of the influence of religious authority, creeds, and the like is misleading, certainly with respect to Benthamite utilitarianism and its descendants.
the obligation to minister to general hap piness, [is found to be] an obligation paramount to and inclusive of every other." (21) As suggested, the immanentist consequentialism that derives from Benthamite utilitarianism, combined with the religious valorization of the "social" in the thought of Mill, was one of the steppingstones toward the development of a full-blown "social"-ist or collectivist ethic in the Anglo-American context.