Log In


jurist , philosopher , writer , effective reformer

Jeremy Bentham was a British moral philosopher and legal theorist, the earliest expounder of utilitarianism.


BENTHAM, Jeremy was born in 1748 in London, England.


He began to study Latin at the age of three.He attended Westminster School and, in 1760, at age 12.

He was sent by his father to The Queen's College, Oxford, where he completed his Bachelor's degree in 1763 and his Master's degree in 1766. He trained as a lawyer and, though he never practised, was called to the bar in 1769. He became deeply frustrated with the complexity of the English legal code, which he termed the "Demon of Chicane".

He was trained for the law, but was unhappy in this pursuit and determined to devote his life to the correction of the abuses and faults which he found in the social, legal, and political system. In facing the problems of reforming society, Bentham constantly found it necessary to unify and justify his contentions, and thus he became an ethical philosopher, not from predisposition but from practical need.


Bentham is remembered both as a pioneer of social science and as a tireless advocate of administrative, legal and parliamentary reform. He found in the principle of utility, and in particular in his notorious ‘felicific calculus’, an exact standard by which questions of reform could be settled. The reforms he pressed for were directed towards his four ends of good government: subsistence, abundance, security and equality.

He interpreted the economics of Adam Smith in the light of the search for abundance and advocated a state which provided guaranteed employment, minimum wages and a variety of social benefits. Much of his influence on ideas and legislation was through a small but enthusiastic circle of pupils and disciples, amongst whom were many economists, including Ricardo, and James and John Stuart Mill. Only a small portion of his vast literary output was published in his own lifetime, and a complete edition of his works projected in 36 volumes is still in preparation.

Even his strictly economic writings, a small part of the whole, contain many remarkable contributions that have only come to be properly appreciated in recent times.


  • Called to the bar, 1817.



He became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical. Much of Bentham's work was thus directed to writing codes, or simple coherent and understandable bodies of laws. Codes drawn up by him were adopted in whole or in part by France, Germany, Greece, Spain, Portugal, India, Australia, Canada, other countries of Europe and South America, and several states of the United States. Realizing that to make democracy work, and to further the individual's efforts to attain both private and social good, education and information must be widespread, Bentham was instrumental in founding the University of London and in improving the school system. He also did much to inaugurate civil service, improve governmental mechanics, provide efficient law courts, institute a police force, and support other changes to such an extent that Sir Henry Maine remarked: "I do not know a single law reform effected since Bentham's day which cannot be traced to his influence."


Elements of his philosophy were derived from David Hume and Helvetius; less important ones from Priestley, Paley, and Beccaria; and there is a coincidental similarity with much of Hartley's work. His ideas influenced the development of welfarism. He is best known for his advocacy of utilitarianism and animal rights, and the idea of the panopticon.He has come to be considered the founding figure of modern utilitarianism.

Bentham's original synthesis became known as Utilitarianism, although he himself preferred to call it the "greatest happiness principle."

Bentham's Utilitarianism was based on ethical hedonism, the doctrine that the good is happiness and that the maximum possible amount of happiness for all conscious beings is the ethical goal. Along with ethical hedonism, Bentham believed in psychological hedonism, the doctrine that every person in fact does what gives him the greatest individual happiness.

Quotations: "Create all the happiness you are able to create; remove all the misery you are able to remove. Every day will allow you, --will invite you to add something to the pleasure of others, --or to diminish something of their pains. And for every grain of enjoyment you sow in the bosom of another, you shall find a harvest in your own bosom, --while every sorrow which you pluck out from the thoughts and feelings of a fellow creature shall be replaced by beautiful flowers of peace and joy in the sanctuary of your soul."