Jeremy Bentham philosophy, Life and Legacy

The life & legacy of Philosopher Jeremy Bentham : Summary

The philosopher Jeremy Bentham is both the Father of Utilitarianism ("the greatest happiness principle") and the Father of International Law. (Indeed, it was Bentham who coined the word international and multicultural.) He was an English lawyer, economist and philosopher who was born in London 15th February, 1748, and died there 6th June, 1832. He was a child prodigy who read Latin at the age of 4 and attended Oxford at the age of 12, graduating at the age of 15 having studied political and social institutions. He then studied law at Lincolns Inn and his father hoped that he would become an eminent lawyer of the establishment. However, his observations of the moral and intellectual defilement of the courts as centres of lying, hypocrisy, greed, corruption and fraud, turned him from the practice of law to philosophical enquiry where he found the offer of better values and methods for security, justice and social progress. As medicine should relieve pain and make pleasure possible, so, by analogy, Bentham believed that institutions and the legal system should be structured to remove pain and produce pleasure.

Jeremy Bentham - The Pursuit of Happiness


The docudrama Jeremy Bentham - "The Pursuit of Happiness" as performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007 is available to purchase from for £9.74.

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Philosopher Jeremy Bentham received legacies from his parents that freed him from having to earn a living and he chose to dedicate his life to offering a radical critique and reconstruction of all English institutions: moral, religious, educational, political, economic and legal. For each, his method was to make a critical analysis of the institution as it was and then to provide a detailed structure for what it ought to be. His concept of the welfare state was truly utopian. He designed what he called &Panopticon Hill Villages& as refuges for all with special social and economic needs (whether the orphan or the widow, the unemployed, the aged, or the mentally or physically disabled) where their needs would be met by employment exchanges, special education and retraining centres, animal and plant breeding centres, music schools and other methods for assistance and motivation. Concerned with the brutal treatment of prisoners he became a pioneer in prison reform but his attempts to persuade his government to respond came to nothing. Unfortunately the wide spread of his commitment meant that he never completed works examining any areas of his concern except, perhaps, three volumes of legal reform: The Rationale of Judicial Evidence (edited by John Stuart Mill in 1825) and the two volume Constitutional Code (c. 1830).

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham

At the time of his death he was trying to complete further volumes of his Constitutional Code. He began as a Conservative and ended as a Liberal, demanding equality and social justice. Bentham provided the principle and draft legislation affecting laws and the constitutions of the United States, Canada, and other countries on five continents, by which they included such phrases as &the pursuit of happiness&. He wrote an essay entitled, Anti-Senatica -- a plea for the abolition of the U.S. Senate -- and sent it to the then current president of the United States, Andrew Jackson. (It was unpublished until 1926.) He felt deeply about human suffering and need, traveled far (although he later became somewhat of a recluse), read widely, and enjoyed the friendship of able men of all classes. He helped to found University College, London, and left his body to its department of medicine where his skeleton, neatly dressed in his own suit, can still be found sitting upright. He followed in the steps of Socrates who was committed to dialogue, not confrontation, and to human need beyond the nation/state of the city of Athens, and in the steps of David Hume who saw himself as a citizen of the world with his friend, Adam Smith, the moral philosopher who created an economic theory not for the wealth of his own country but for the wealth of nations all nations and all the people of all the nations: no child anywhere to be left behind. Because Benthams writings emphasised the pursuit of happiness and freedom (though based on world responsibility) they became popular in the new republics of America and France. Over the years he carried on correspondence with many leading figures in Europe and America - indeed throughout five continents who were interested in his advice on a Code for their laws.

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham's major contribution to International Law and hence his legacy, provided the legal foundation for The League of Nations, the United Nations and the United Nations International Court at The Hague, offering the framework by which nations today can - indeed must - go to court not to war.

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