Jeremy Bentham: British Jurist | Philosopher | Social Reformer | Utilitarianism

law articles for llm phd students
  1. British jurist, philosopher, social reformer
  2. As for social reform, he wrote many things on this topic including:
    • Women’s rights
    • Animal rights (he was against harming animals although he accepted that they could be used for food; he also accepted that they could be used for medical experiments if it resulted in the greater happiness)
    • The abolition of usury (interest or ‘riba’)
    • Rights for homosexuals
    • He was very much ahead of his time – many of his ideas were not published in his lifetime
  3. The founder of “utilitarianism”
  4. He ridiculed natural law – he called it “nonsense upon stilts”
  5. He also did not believe in God – he was an atheist
  6. He called for all of the common law to be codified into a single set of statutes
  7. He wanted an underlying principle for the law
  8. He said that the goal of people (and society) is happiness
  9. What is happiness? The presence of pleasure and the absence of pain
  10. Individuals (and society) should aim at maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain
  11. The happiness principle: It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong
  12. He created a way of calculating how much “happiness” any action would create. That calculation was called the “felicific calculus”
  13. His ideas were carried on and developed by his student, John Stuart Mill (J.S. Mill)
  14. How did he calculate whether something would produce more pleasure than pain? He created the “felicific calculus”
  • Intensity: How strong is the pleasure?
  • Duration: How long will the pleasure last?
  • Certainty or uncertainty: How likely or unlikely is it that the pleasure will occur?
  • Propinquity or remoteness: How soon will the pleasure occur?
  • Fecundity: The probability that the action will be followed by sensations of the same kind.
  • Purity: The probability that it will not be followed by sensations of the opposite kind.
  • Extent: How many people will be affected?
  1. After he died he gave instructions for his body to be dissected, for his skeleton to be used to create an “Auto-Icon” which is still on display
  2. He left more than 30,000,000 words in manuscripts – they are still being digitalized and placed online.

For further reading on Jeremy Bentham see:

Criticisms of his utilitarianism:

  1. No underlying ‘natural law’ ideals to bind all mankind might lead to abuses of power by legislatures
  2. The ‘happiness principle’ might lead to abuse by the majority against the minority
  3. Society might condone “torture” and other morally bad things if it leads to the happiness of the majority


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