Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007 - "Jeremy Bentham The Pursuit of Happiness"

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007

The importance of presenting a play about Jeremy Bentham at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe


As my wife and I joined in the anti-war march in Edinburgh, I walked from the American Consulate to the Scottish Parliament with an Iraqi Kurd who was a law student. He was carrying a banner which highlighted the suffering of the Kurds in Iraq by Saddam Hussein
, wanting to avoid suffering from the Turks, and pleading for Bush not to add to their suffering by going to war but to find another means. My banner was a tennis racquet with the words, "Go to Court, not to War". We talked about Jeremy Bentham and putting on a play reading at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Jeremy Bentham was an English lawyer, economist and philosopher who is known as the Father of Utilitarianism, the theory that the principle of good moral behaviour should be to provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Bentham acknowledged that he (and his friend, John Stuart Mill) made use of the word "utility" as introduced by David Hume. The Bentham family and the Hume family lived on the estate where the poet John Milton, who wrote Paradise Lost, had lived in Westminster, London.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007

But for our purposes we will single out Benthams lifetime commitment (based on his observations of the moral and intellectual defilement of English courts as centres of deceit, hypocrisy, greed, corruption and fraud) to seek better legal methods for security, justice and social progress for our world. He dedicated his life to offering a radical critique and reconstruction of all English institutions: moral, religious, educational, political, economic and legal. Bentham drafted laws for a number of countries on five continents, including in them the phrase, "the pursuit of happiness" which came to replace John Lockes phrase, "the ownership of property," in the US Constitution.

Bentham's writings laid out the legal foundation for permanent international peace through
- social and economic reforms for justice,
- the emancipation of the British colonies, and
- the fundamental structure for what was to become for the League of Nations, the United Nations, and above all for a non-coercive arbitral tribunal for the settling of international disputes such as we now have in the UN Security Council and its International Court at The Hague.

Although brought up in the Church of England, Bentham attacked the heritage of the Christian Church in its intellectual submissiveness which allowed its theological creeds to be abusive - as they were in the days of the crusades and inquisitions justifying the greatest pain for the greatest number, slaughtering Jews, Muslims and other supposed infidels by the tens of thousands. To Bentham, while there should be religious tolerance for a person to believe what he wants to believe, only the beliefs that effectively provoke the greatest happiness for the whole international community ought to be allowed to be pursued through ones action.

For Bentham, the pursuit of national honour and dignity, with its flag-waving and exuberant singing of nationalistic, patriotic songs, were directed towards the pursuit of empty and even pernicious objectives of selfish, national interests above altruistic international ones and the equal dignity of all in a truly human family. Bentham believed that one should challenge critically the meaning and use of words used for motivation, not least the word "orthodoxy" which can demand the rejection of freedom of belief. Such words Bentham called, "the Tyranny of Sounds". He rejected the "Tyranny of Sounds" which have led to the xenophobic actions of Neo-conservatives and the Religious right as they are found in America and elsewhere in our world today.

Jeremy Bentham autoicon

Bentham was a founder of University College London and today he is on display there, seated in a chair with his walking stick, called Dapple, lying across his legs, a replacement head on his shoulders and his real head between his feet. This is how, in his will, he instructed his body to be displayed when he died.

Jeremy Bentham offers to us in our journey a stepping-stone not one that builds a faith that condones tyranny (such as that of Saddam Hussein) nor justifies war (such as that with Iraq). Jeremy Bentham offers us the stepping-stone of peace and justice provided by an international court. This play, based on the correspondence and writings of Jeremy Bentham, has been written with that purpose in mind. His other stepping-stones need to be highlighted as well. (He and Rev. Dr. Smith coined the phrase "the Pursuit of Happiness")

It is appropriate that a venue for presentation is artSpace, St. Marks Unitarian Church, Edinburgh, for four reasons:

1. The doctor who with Bentham helped coin the phrase "the Pursuit of Happiness" and presided at his autopsy giving the final oration was the Rev. Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith-- who was the minister of St. Marks Unitarian Church (from 1812-1816) which had been founded by tradesmen from the Borders in 1776.

2. The one who edited the first two volumes of Benthams correspondence is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Edinburgh University, Prof.Timothy Sprigge, a long-time member of St. Marks.

3. The one who wrote this docudrama is a member of St. Marks due to his friendship with its most recent minister, Rev. Andrew Hill, through their shared participation in the Edinburgh Inter-Faith Association and other organisations in this capitol city.

4. And Benthams secretary, biographer and close friend, Sir John Bowring, was an eminent Unitarian.

Philosophy Plays, Philosophy Lessons & Philosophy Activities

Our philosophy plays are a great way to perform and learn about David Hume, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and Socrates during your philosophy lesson for University Philosophy, High School Philosophy and College Philosophy class? We have advice for helping you perform your philosophy lesson. We have had great feedback and reviews of our philosophy plays as performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007, 2008 & 2009 as a resource for those wanting to learn about philosophy.

If you have found our "Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007 production on Jeremy Bentham" valuable then please see our notes on how to use our philosophy plays, philosophy lessons and philosophy activities in your class.


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