Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was an eminent man of letters & British philosopher, economist, jurist and Mr. Utilitarianism ; born in London on February 15, 1748. He was also one of those annoying grim Victorian agnostics whose life accomplishments lead one to suspect people just got a lot more done back then. He started plowing through political tracts and social treatises at age three, played the violin at five, mastered Latin and French at six, entered the University of Oxford at 12.
In 1785 he vacationed with his brother Samuel, in Russia, where was inspired to produce a serious volume of work, and while there even devised a plan for the now infamous 'Panopticon'- - which was to be a model prison where all prisoners would be observable by (unseen) guards at all times--a project which he had hoped would interest the Czarina Catherine the Great. After his return to England in 1788, and for some 20 years thereafter, Bentham still attempted to develop practically the idea of the panopticon (an idea which re-surfaced with Oscar Wilde's writings of prison life, then in the critical theory of Michel Foucault in the 70s, and which is beginning to get thrown around again in the coverage of Survivor, Big Brother, Echelon, Carnivore, et al).
In any case, he later was admitted to the bar but choose to campaign instead for legal reform while elaborating a general theory of law and morality, through numerous short publications, the most well-known of which was his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789). His father's death in 1792 left him financially set, and so for 40 years he lived quietly in Westminster, producing between ten and twenty sheets of manuscript a day up until he died.
Bentham soon headed the then-labeled 'Philosophical Radicals', who included James Mill and his
son, John Stuart Mill (that's radical?), who soon established the Westminster Review, a broadsheet devoted to their reformist ideas. Bentham died in London on June 6, 1832 and as he willed his body was dissected before friends. His skeleton, fully clothed, provided with a wax head (his real head was mummified - and also lovingly stored) is still in a glass case at University College, London (incidentally, the body's still there : see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project/images/auto_il.gif)
His major theory, Utilitarianism (an elaboration of philosophical realism and precursor to moral pragmatism) claimed that one could "scientifically ascertain what was morally justifiable by applying the principle of utility," and that acts were just if they tended to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. This theory also argued, if values were based on pleasures and pains, then natural rights and natural law were invalid, a concept which had serious ramifications in the latter part of the 19th century, especially with the machinery of the British government, criminal law, and legal procedure.
Bentham, Jeremy, 1748-1832.. Rights, representation, and reform : Nonsense upon stilts and other writings on the French Revolution / edited by Philip Schofield, Catherine Pease-Watkin and Cyprian Blamires. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2002..
---. Political tactics / edited by Michael James, Cyprian Blamires and Catherine Pease-Watkin. Oxford Oxfordshire : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1999..
---. An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation / Jeremy Bentham ; an authorized edition by J.H. Burns and H.L.A. Hart ; with a new introduction by F. Rosen ; and an interpretive essay by H.L.A. Hart. Oxford : Clarenden Press, 1996..
---. Deontology ; together with a table of the springs of action ; and the Article on Utilitarianism / Jeremy Bentham ; edited by Amnon Goldworth. -- Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1983..
---. An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation / Jeremy Bentham ; edited by J.H. Burns and H.L.A. Hart. -- London ; New York : Methuen, 1982 c1970. ---
---. The correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, edited by Timothy L. S. Sprigge. -- London, Athlone P., 1968--
---. The limits of jurisprudence defined, being part two of An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation / by Jeremy Bentham. Now first printed from the author's manuscripts, with an introduction by Charles Warren Everett. -- New York, Columbia university press, 1945..
---. Bentham's theory of fictions. -- New York : Harcourt, Brace and co., 1932..
---. Plan for an universal and perpetual peace; with an intro. by C. John Colombos. London, Sweet, 1927..
---. The works of Jeremy Bentham / published under the superintendence of his executor of John Bowring. Edinburgh : W. Tait, 1843.
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