Who Is Jeremy Bentham?
Jeremy Bentham (15 February 1748 [O.S. 4 February 1747] – 6 June 1832) was an English philosopher, jurist, and social reformer regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism.
Bentham defined as the “fundamental axiom” of his philosophy the principle that “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” He became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism. He advocated individual and economic freedoms, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalising of homosexual acts. He called for the abolition of slavery, capital punishment and physical punishment, including that of children. He has also become known as an early advocate of animal rights. Though strongly in favour of the extension of individual legal rights, he opposed the idea of natural law and natural rights (both of which are considered “divine” or “God-given” in origin), calling them “nonsense upon stilts”. Bentham was also a sharp critic of legal fictions.
Bentham‘s students included his secretary and collaborator James Mill, the latter’s son, John Stuart Mill, the legal philosopher John Austin, as well as Robert Owen, one of the founders of utopian socialism. He “had considerable influence on the reform of prisons, schools, poor laws, law courts, and Parliament itself.”
On his death in 1832, Bentham left instructions for his body to be first dissected, and then to be permanently preserved as an “auto-icon” (or self-image), which would be his memorial. This was done, and the auto-icon is now on public display at University College London (UCL). Because of his arguments in favour of the general availability of education, he has been described as the “spiritual founder” of UCL. However, he played only a limited direct part in its foundation.
Bentham was born on 15 February 1748 in Houndsditch, London, to a wealthy family that supported the Tory party. He was reportedly a child prodigy: he was found as a toddler sitting at his father’s desk reading a multi-volume history of England, and he began to study Latin at the age of three. He learnt to play the violin, and at the age of seven Bentham would perform sonatas by Handel during dinner parties. He had one surviving sibling, Samuel Bentham (1757-1831), with whom he was close.
He attended Westminster School; in 1760, at age 12, his father sent him 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 English law, which he termed the “Demon of Chicane”. When the American colonies published their Declaration of Independence in July 1776, the British government did not issue any official response but instead secretly commissioned London lawyer and pamphleteer John Lind to publish a rebuttal. His 130-page tract was distributed in the colonies and contained an essay titled “Short Review of the Declaration” written by Bentham, a friend of Lind, which attacked and mocked the Americans’ political philosophy.
Abortive prison project
In 1786 and 1787, Bentham travelled to Krichev in White Russia (modern Belarus) to visit his brother, Samuel, who was engaged in managing various industrial and other projects for Prince Potemkin. It was Samuel (as Jeremy later repeatedly acknowledged) who conceived the basic idea of a circular building at the hub of a larger compound as a means of allowing a small number of managers to oversee the activities of a large and unskilled workforce.
Bentham began to develop this model, particularly as applicable to prisons, and outlined his ideas in a series of letters sent home to his father in England. He supplemented the supervisory principle with the idea of contract management; that is, an administration by contract as opposed to trust, where the director would have a pecuniary interest in lowering the average rate of mortality. The Panopticon was intended to be cheaper than the prisons of his time, as it required fewer staff; “Allow me to construct a prison on this model,” Bentham requested to a Committee for the Reform of Criminal Law, “I will be the gaoler. You will see … that the gaoler will have no salary—will cost nothing to the nation.” As the watchmen cannot be seen, they need not be on duty at all times, effectively leaving the watching to the watched. According to Bentham’s design, the prisoners would also be used as menial labour, walking on wheels to spin looms or run a water wheel. This would decrease the cost of the prison and give a possible source of income.
The ultimately abortive proposal for a panopticon prison to be built in England was one among his many proposals for legal and social reform. But Bentham spent some sixteen years of his life developing and refining his ideas for the building and hoped that the government would adopt the plan for a National Penitentiary appointing him as contractor-governor. Although the prison was never built, the concept had an important influence on later generations of thinkers. Twentieth-century French philosopher Michel Foucault argued that the panopticon was paradigmatic of several 19th-century “disciplinary” institutions. Bentham remained bitter throughout his later life about the rejection of the panopticon scheme, convinced that it had been thwarted by the King and an aristocratic elite. It was largely because of his sense of injustice and frustration that he developed his ideas of “sinister interest”—that is, of the vested interests of the powerful conspiring against a wider public interest—which underpinned many of his broader arguments for reform.
The intended site was one that had been authorised (under an act of 1779) for the earlier Penitentiary, at Battersea Rise; but the new proposals ran into technical legal problems and objections from the local landowner, Earl Spencer. Other sites were considered, including one at Hanging Wood, near Woolwich, but all proved unsatisfactory. Eventually Bentham turned to a site at Tothill Fields, near Westminster. Although this was common land, with no landowner, there were a number of parties with interests in it, including Earl Grosvenor, who owned a house on an adjacent site and objected to the idea of a prison overlooking it. Again, therefore, the scheme ground to a halt. At this point, however, it became clear that a nearby site at Millbank, adjoining the Thames, was available for sale, and this time things ran more smoothly. Using government money, Bentham bought the land on behalf of the Crown for £12,000 in November 1799.
From his point of view, the site was far from ideal, being marshy, unhealthy, and too small. When he asked the government for more land and more money, however, the response was that he should build only a small-scale experimental prison—which he interpreted as meaning that there was little real commitment to the concept of the panopticon as a cornerstone of penal reform. Negotiations continued, but in 1801 Pitt resigned from office, and in 1803 the new Addington administration decided not to proceed with the project. Bentham was devastated: “They have murdered my best days.”
Nevertheless, a few years later the government revived the idea of a National Penitentiary, and in 1811 and 1812 returned specifically to the idea of a panopticon. Bentham, now aged 63, was still willing to be governor. However, as it became clear that there was still no real commitment to the proposal, he abandoned hope, and instead turned his attentions to extracting financial compensation for his years of fruitless effort. His initial claim was for the enormous sum of nearly £700,000, but he eventually settled for the more modest (but still considerable) sum of £23,000. An Act of Parliament in 1812 transferred his title in the site to the Crown.
More successful was his cooperation with Patrick Colquhoun in tackling the corruption in the Pool of London. This resulted in the Thames Police Bill of 1798, which was passed in 1800.[a] The bill created the Thames River Police, which was the first preventive police force in the country and was a precedent for Robert Peel’s reforms 30 years later.
Correspondence and contemporary influences
Bentham was in correspondence with many influential people. In the 1780s, for example, Bentham maintained a correspondence with the aging Adam Smith, in an unsuccessful attempt to convince Smith that interest rates should be allowed to freely float. As a result of his correspondence with Mirabeau and other leaders of the French Revolution, Bentham was declared an honorary citizen of France. He was an outspoken critic of the revolutionary discourse of natural rights and of the violence that arose after the Jacobins took power (1792). Between 1808 and 1810, he held a personal friendship with Latin American revolutionary Francisco de Miranda and paid visits to Miranda’s Grafton Way house in London. He also developed links with José Cecilio del Valle.
In 1823, he co-founded The Westminster Review with James Mill as a journal for the “Philosophical Radicals”—a group of younger disciples through whom Bentham exerted considerable influence in British public life. One was John Bowring, to whom Bentham became devoted, describing their relationship as “son and father”: he appointed Bowring political editor of The Westminster Review and eventually his literary executor. Another was Edwin Chadwick, who wrote on hygiene, sanitation and policing and was a major contributor to the Poor Law Amendment Act: Bentham employed Chadwick as a secretary and bequeathed him a large legacy.
An insight into his character is given in Michael St. John Packe’s The Life of John Stuart Mill:
During his youthful visits to Bowood House, the country seat of his patron Lord Lansdowne, he had passed his time at falling unsuccessfully in love with all the ladies of the house, whom he courted with a clumsy jocularity, while playing chess with them or giving them lessons on the harpsichord. Hopeful to the last, at the age of eighty he wrote again to one of them, recalling to her memory the far-off days when she had “presented him, in ceremony, with the flower in the green lane” [citing Bentham’s memoirs]. To the end of his life he could not hear of Bowood without tears swimming in his eyes, and he was forced to exclaim, “Take me forward, I entreat you, to the future—do not let me go back to the past.”
A psychobiographical study by Philip Lucas and Anne Sheeran argues that he may have had Asperger’s syndrome. Bentham was an atheist. González 2012, p. 81 writes, “In sum, with Hume’s agnosticism and Bentham’s atheism, the fundamental voluntarist thesis about the gulf between the divine and the human mind reaches new depths, and this serves to reinforce and radicalise the rejection, begun by Pufendorf, of Grotian rights-theory as the appropriate means of formulating the conventionalist theory of the moral life.” And Crimmins 1990, p. 283 notes, “Making allowance for Adams’s cautious phrasing, this is a concise statement of Bentham’s secular positivism, but it is also important to note the conviction with which Bentham held his atheism.”
Death and the auto-icon
On 8 June 1832, two days after his death, invitations were distributed to a select group of friends, and on the following day at 3 p.m., Southwood Smith delivered a lengthy oration over Bentham’s remains in the Webb Street School of Anatomy & Medicine in Southwark, London. The printed oration contains a frontispiece with an engraving of Bentham’s body partly covered by a sheet.
Afterward, the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon”, with the skeleton padded out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes. Originally kept by his disciple Thomas Southwood Smith, it was acquired by University College London in 1850. It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of the college; however, for the retirement of Sir Malcolm Grant as provost of the College in 2013, it was brought to attend his final council meeting. This was the only time that the body has been taken to a UCL council meeting; there is a persistent myth that he is taken to all meetings. Bentham’s body was only taken to that one meeting because of the persistent myth about Bentham’s attendance, and the curator at the time, Nick Booth, thought it would be a good idea for Bentham to attend once. This will never happen again, as there is a risk that the beetles in the carpet could contaminate the body and slowly consume it.
Bentham had intended the Auto-icon to incorporate his actual head, mummified to resemble its appearance in life. Southwood Smith’s experimental efforts at mummification, based on practices of the indigenous people of New Zealand and involving placing the head under an air pump over sulfuric acid and drawing off the fluids, although technically successful, left the head looking distastefully macabre, with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull. The auto-icon was therefore given a wax head, fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair. The real head was displayed in the same case as the auto-icon for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks. It is now locked away securely.
In 2017, plans were announced to re-exhibit the head and at the same time obtain a DNA sample for sequencing with the goal of identifying genetic evidence of autism.
In 2018, Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon was on display in New York City at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Breuer location.
Main article: Utilitarianism
Bentham’s ambition in life was to create a “Pannomion”, a complete utilitarian code of law. He not only proposed many legal and social reforms, but also expounded an underlying moral principle on which they should be based. This philosophy of utilitarianism took for its “fundamental axiom”, it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong“. Bentham claimed to have borrowed this concept from the writings of Joseph Priestley, although the closest that Priestley in fact came to expressing it was in the form “the good and happiness of the members, that is the majority of the members of any state, is the great standard by which every thing relating to that state must finally be determined”.
The “greatest happiness principle”, or the principle of utility, forms the cornerstone of all Bentham’s thought. By “happiness”, he understood a predominance of “pleasure” over “pain”. He wrote in The Principles of Morals and Legislation:
Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think …
Bentham was a rare major figure in the history of philosophy to endorse psychological egoism.
Bentham was a determined opponent of religion. Crimmins observes: “Between 1809 and 1823 Jeremy Bentham carried out an exhaustive examination of religion with the declared aim of extirpating religious beliefs, even the idea of religion itself, from the minds of men.”
Bentham suggested a procedure for estimating the moral status of any action, which he called the hedonistic or felicific calculus. Utilitarianism was revised and expanded by Bentham’s student John Stuart Mill. Mill sharply criticized Bentham’s view of human nature, which failed to recognize conscience as a human motive. Mill considered Bentham’s view “to have done and to be doing very serious evil.” In Mill’s hands, “Benthamism” became a major element in the liberal conception of state policy objectives.
Bentham’s critics have claimed that he undermined the foundation of a free society by rejecting natural rights. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote “The principle of the greatest happiness of the greatest number was as inimical to the idea of liberty as to the idea of rights.”
In his exposition of the felicific calculus, Bentham proposed a classification of 12 pains and 14 pleasures, by which we might test the “happiness factor” of any action. Nonetheless, it should not be overlooked that Bentham’s “hedonistic” theory (a term from J. J. C. Smart), unlike Mill’s, is often criticised for lacking a principle of fairness embodied in a conception of justice. In Bentham and the Common Law Tradition, Gerald J. Postema states: “No moral concept suffers more at Bentham’s hand than the concept of justice. There is no sustained, mature analysis of the notion…” Thus, some critics[who?] object, it would be acceptable to torture one person if this would produce an amount of happiness in other people outweighing the unhappiness of the tortured individual. However, as P. J. Kelly argued in Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice: Jeremy Bentham and the Civil Law, Bentham had a theory of justice that prevented such consequences. According to Kelly, for Bentham the law “provides the basic framework of social interaction by delimiting spheres of personal inviolability within which individuals can form and pursue their own conceptions of well-being”. It provides security, a precondition for the formation of expectations. As the hedonic calculus shows “expectation utilities” to be much higher than natural ones, it follows that Bentham does not favour the sacrifice of a few to the benefit of the many. Law professor Alan Dershowitz has quoted Bentham to argue that torture should sometimes be permitted.
Bentham’s An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation focuses on the principle of utility and how this view of morality ties into legislative practices. His principle of utility regards “good” as that which produces the greatest amount of pleasure and the minimum amount of pain and “evil” as that which produces the most pain without the pleasure. This concept of pleasure and pain is defined by Bentham as physical as well as spiritual. Bentham writes about this principle as it manifests itself within the legislation of a society. He lays down a set of criteria for measuring the extent of pain or pleasure that a certain decision will create.
The criteria are divided into the categories of intensity, duration, certainty, proximity, productiveness, purity, and extent. Using these measurements, he reviews the concept of punishment and when it should be used as far as whether a punishment will create more pleasure or more pain for a society. He calls for legislators to determine whether punishment creates an even more evil offence. Instead of suppressing the evil acts, Bentham argues that certain unnecessary laws and punishments could ultimately lead to new and more dangerous vices than those being punished to begin with, and calls upon legislators to measure the pleasures and pains associated with any legislation and to form laws in order to create the greatest good for the greatest number. He argues that the concept of the individual pursuing his or her own happiness cannot be necessarily declared “right”, because often these individual pursuits can lead to greater pain and less pleasure for a society as a whole. Therefore, the legislation of a society is vital to maintain the maximum pleasure and the minimum degree of pain for the greatest number of people.
Bentham advocated “Pauper Management” which involved the creation of a chain of large workhouses.
Bentham was the first person to be an aggressive advocate for the codification of all of the common law into a coherent set of statutes; he was actually the person who coined the verb “to codify” to refer to the process of drafting a legal code. He lobbied hard for the formation of codification commissions in both England and the United States, and went so far as to write to President James Madison in 1811 to volunteer to write a complete legal code for the young country. After he learned more about American law and realised that most of it was state-based, he promptly wrote to the governors of every single state with the same offer.
During his lifetime, Bentham’s codification efforts were completely unsuccessful. Even today, they have been completely rejected by almost every common law jurisdiction, including England. However, his writings on the subject laid the foundation for the moderately successful codification work of David Dudley Field II in the United States a generation later.
Bentham is widely regarded as one of the earliest proponents of animal rights. He argued and believed that the ability to suffer, not the ability to reason, should be the benchmark, or what he called the “insuperable line”. If reason alone were the criterion by which we judge who ought to have rights, human infants and adults with certain forms of disability might fall short, too. In 1789, alluding to the limited degree of legal protection afforded to slaves in the French West Indies by the Code Noir, he wrote:
The day has been, I am sad to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing, as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
Earlier in that paragraph, Bentham makes clear that he accepted that animals could be killed for food, or in defence of human life, provided that the animal was not made to suffer unnecessarily. Bentham did not object to medical experiments on animals, providing that the experiments had in mind a particular goal of benefit to humanity, and had a reasonable chance of achieving that goal. He wrote that otherwise he had a “decided and insuperable objection” to causing pain to animals, in part because of the harmful effects such practices might have on human beings. In a letter to the editor of the Morning Chronicle in March 1825, he wrote:
I never have seen, nor ever can see, any objection to the putting of dogs and other inferior animals to pain, in the way of medical experiment, when that experiment has a determinate object, beneficial to mankind, accompanied with a fair prospect of the accomplishment of it. But I have a decided and insuperable objection to the putting of them to pain without any such view. To my apprehension, every act by which, without prospect of preponderant good, pain is knowingly and willingly produced in any being whatsoever, is an act of cruelty; and, like other bad habits, the more the correspondent habit is indulged in, the stronger it grows, and the more frequently productive of its bad fruit. I am unable to comprehend how it should be, that to him to whom it is a matter of amusement to see a dog or a horse suffer, it should not be matter of like amusement to see a man suffer; seeing, as I do, how much more morality as well as intelligence, an adult quadruped of those and many other species has in him, than any biped has for some months after he has been brought into existence; nor does it appear to me how it should be, that a person to whom the production of pain, either in the one or in the other instance, is a source of amusement, would scruple to give himself that amusement when he could do so under an assurance of impunity.
Gender and sexuality
Bentham said that it was the placing of women in a legally inferior position that made him choose, at the age of eleven, the career of a reformist. Bentham spoke for a complete equality between sexes. Bentham nevertheless thought women inferior to men regarding such qualities as “strength of intellectual powers” and “firmness of mind”.
The essay Paederasty (Offences Against One’s Self) (c. 1785) argued for the liberalisation of laws prohibiting homosexual sex. The essay remained unpublished during his lifetime for fear of offending public morality. Some of Benthams writings on ‘sexual non-conformity’ were published for the first time in 1931, but Paederasty was not published until 1978. Bentham does not believe homosexual acts to be unnatural, describing them merely as “irregularities of the venereal appetite”. The essay chastises the society of the time for making a disproportionate response to what Bentham appears to consider a largely private offence—public displays or forced acts being dealt with rightly by other laws. When the essay was published in the Journal of Homosexuality in 1978, the “Abstract” stated that Bentham’s essay was the “first known argument for homosexual law reform in England”.
For Bentham, transparency had moral value. For example, journalism puts power-holders under moral scrutiny. However, Bentham wanted such transparency to apply to everyone. This he describes by picturing the world as a gymnasium in which each “gesture, every turn of limb or feature, in those whose motions have a visible impact on the general happiness, will be noticed and marked down”. He considered both surveillance and transparency to be useful ways of generating understanding and improvements for people’s lives.
Bentham distinguished among fictional entities what he called “fabulous entities” like Prince Hamlet or a centaur, from what he termed “fictitious entities”, or necessary objects of discourse, similar to Kant’s categories, such as nature, custom, or the social contract.
Bentham and University College London
Bentham is widely associated with the foundation in 1826 of London University (the institution that, in 1836, became University College London), though he was 78 years old when the University opened and played only an indirect role in its establishment. His direct involvement was limited to his buying a single £100 share in the new University, making him just one of over a thousand shareholders.
The more direct associations between Bentham and UCL—the College’s custody of his Auto-icon (see above) and of the majority of his surviving papers—postdate his death by some years: the papers were donated in 1849, and the Auto-icon in 1850. A large painting by Henry Tonks hanging in UCL’s Flaxman Gallery depicts Bentham approving the plans of the new university, but it was executed in 1922 and the scene is entirely imaginary. Since 1959 (when the Bentham Committee was first established) UCL has hosted the Bentham Project, which is progressively publishing a definitive edition of Bentham’s writings.
UCL now endeavours to acknowledge Bentham’s influence on its foundation, while avoiding any suggestion of direct involvement, by describing him as its “spiritual founder”.
- Bentham, Jeremy (1787). Panopticon or the Inspection-House – via Wikisource.
- On the Liberty of the Press, and Public Discussion. Hone. 1821.
- Schofield, Philip; Pease-Watkin, Catherine; Blamires, Cyprian, eds. (2002). Rights, Representation, and Reform: Nonsense upon Stilts and Other Writings on the French Revolution. Oxford: University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-924863-6.
- Bowring, John, ed. (1834). Deontology or, The science of morality. Vol. 1. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green and Longman. p. 101.
- “Gulphs in Mankind’s Career of Prosperity: A Critique of Adam Smith on Interest Rate Restrictions”. Econ Journal Watch. Fairfax. 5 (1): 66. January 2008.
- An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. 1780 – via Wikisource.
- A fragment on government. 1776 – via Wikisource. This was an unsparing criticism of some introductory passages relating to political theory in William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. The book, published anonymously, was well received and credited to some of the greatest minds of the time. Bentham disagreed with Blackstone’s defence of judge-made law, his defence of legal fictions, his theological formulation of the doctrine of mixed government, his appeal to a social contract and his use of the vocabulary of natural law. Bentham’s “Fragment” was only a small part of a Commentary on the Commentaries, which remained unpublished until the twentieth century.
- Crompton, Louis, ed. (2008) . “Offences Against One’s Self:”. Journal of Homosexuality. 3 (4): 389–406. doi:10.1300/J082v03n04_07. ISSN 0091-8369.
- Short Review of the Declaration. 1776 – via Wikisource. An attack on the United States Declaration of Independence.
- Bentham, Jeremy (1816). Defence of Usury; shewing the impolicy of the present legal restraints on the terms of pecuniary bargains in a letters to a friend to which is added a letter to Adam Smith, Esq. LL.D. on the discouragement opposed by the above restraints to the progress of inventive industry (3rd ed.). London: Payne & Foss. Bentham wrote a series of thirteen “Letters” addressed to Adam Smith, published in 1787 as Defence of Usury. Bentham’s main argument against the restriction is that “projectors” generate positive externalities. G.K. Chesterton identified Bentham’s essay on usury as the very beginning of the “modern world”. Bentham’s arguments were very influential. “Writers of eminence” moved to abolish the restriction, and repeal was achieved in stages and fully achieved in England in 1854. There is little evidence as to Smith’s reaction. He did not revise the offending passages in The Wealth of Nations, but Smith made little or no substantial revisions after the third edition of 1784.
- Essay on Political Tactics containing six of the Principal Rules proper to be observed by a Political Assembly In the process of a Forming a Decision: with the Reasons on Which They Are Grounded; and a comparative application of them to British and French Practice: Being a Fragment of a larger Work, a sketch of which is subjoined (First ed.). London: T. Payne. 1791.
- Emancipate Your Colonies! Addressed to the National Convention of France A° 1793, shewing the uselessness and mischievousness of distant dependencies to an European state. London: Robert Heward. 1830 – via Wikisource.
- Anarchical Fallacies; Being an examination of the Declaration of Rights issued during the French Revolution (London ed.). 1796. Retrieved 8 January 2016. An attack on the Declaration of the Rights of Man decreed by the French Revolution, and critique of the natural rights philosophy underlying it.
- Traités de législation civile et pénale (1802, edited by Étienne Dumont. 3 vols)
- Punishments and Rewards (1811)
- Panopticon versus New South Wales: or, the Panopticon Penitentiary System, Compared. Containing, 1. Two Letters to Lord Pelham, Secretary of State, Comparing the two Systems on the Ground of Expediency. 2. Plea for the Constitution: Representing the Illegalities involved in the Penal Colonization System. Anno 1803, printed: now first published (1812)
- A Table of the Springs of Action . London: sold by R. Hunter. 1817.
- “Swear Not At All” (1817)
- Plan of Parliamentary Reform, in the form of Catechism with Reasons for Each Article, with An Introduction shewing the Necessity and the Inadequacy of Moderate Reform. London: R. Hunter, successor to Mr. Johnson. 1817.
- Church-of-Englandism and its Catechism Examined: Preceded by the Structures on the Exclusionary System, as pursued in the National Society of Schools: Interspersed with Parallel Views of the English and Scottish Established and Non-Established Churches: And Concluding with Remedies Proposed for Abuses Indicated: and An Examination of the Parliamentary System of Church Reform Lately Pursued, and Still Pursuing: Including the Proposed New Churches. London: Effingham Wilson. 1818.
- The Elements of the Art of Packing, as applied to special juries particularly in cases of libel law. London: Effingham Wilson. 1821.
- The Influence of Natural Religion upon the Temporal Happiness of Mankind (1822, written with George Grote and published under the pseudonym Philip Beauchamp)
- Not Paul But Jesus (1823, published under the pseudonym Gamaliel Smith)
- The Book of Fallacies from Unfinished Papers of Jeremy Bentham (First ed.). London: John and H.L. Hunt. 1824.
- Dumont, M., ed. (1825). A Treatise on Judicial Evidence Extracted from the Manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham, Esq (1st ed.). London: Baldwin, Cradock, & Joy.
- Rationale of Judicial Evidence, specially applied to English Practice, Extracted from the Manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham, Esq. I (First ed.). London: Hunt & Clarke. 1827.
On his death, Bentham left manuscripts amounting to an estimated 30 million words, which are now largely held by UCL’s Special Collections (c. 60,000 manuscript folios) and the British Library (c.15,000 folios).
John Bowring, the young radical writer who had been Bentham’s intimate friend and disciple, was appointed his literary executor and charged with the task of preparing a collected edition of his works. This appeared in 11 volumes in 1838–1843. Bowring based much of his edition on previously published texts (including those of Dumont) rather than Bentham’s own manuscripts, and elected not to publish Bentham’s works on religion at all. The edition was described by the Edinburgh Review on first publication as “incomplete, incorrect and ill-arranged”, and has since been repeatedly criticised both for its omissions and for errors of detail; while Bowring’s memoir of Bentham’s life included in volumes 10 and 11 was described by Sir Leslie Stephen as “one of the worst biographies in the language”. Nevertheless, Bowring’s remained the standard edition of most of Bentham’s writings for over a century, and is still only partially superseded: it includes such interesting writings on international[b] relations as Bentham’s A Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace written 1786–89, which forms part IV of the Principles of International Law.
In 1952–1954, Werner Stark published a three-volume set, Jeremy Bentham’s Economic Writings, in which he attempted to bring together all of Bentham’s writings on economic matters, including both published and unpublished material. Although a significant achievement, the work is considered by scholars to be flawed in many points of detail, and a new edition of the economic writings is currently in preparation by the Bentham Project.
Bentham Project (1968–present)
In 1959, the Bentham Committee was established under the auspices of University College London with the aim of producing a definitive edition of Bentham’s writings. It set up the Bentham Project to undertake the task, and the first volume in The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham was published in 1968. The Collected Works are providing many unpublished works, as well as much-improved texts of works already published. To date, 31 volumes have appeared; the complete edition is projected to run to around seventy. The volume Of Laws in General (1970) was found to contain many errors and has been replaced by Of the Limits of the Penal Branch of Jurisprudence (2010) In June 2017, Volumes 1–5 were re-published in open access by UCL Press.
To assist in this task, the Bentham papers at UCL are being digitised by crowdsourcing their transcription. Transcribe Bentham is an award-winning crowdsourced manuscript transcription project, run by University College London’s Bentham Project, in partnership with UCL’s UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, UCL Library Services, UCL Learning and Media Services, the University of London Computer Centre, and the online community. The project was launched in September 2010 and is making freely available, via a specially designed transcription interface, digital images of UCL’s vast Bentham Papers collection—which runs to some 60,000 manuscript folios—to engage the public and recruit volunteers to help transcribe the material. Volunteer-produced transcripts will contribute to the Bentham Project’s production of the new edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, and will be uploaded to UCL’s digital Bentham Papers repository, widening access to the collection for all and ensuring its long-term preservation. Manuscripts can be viewed and transcribed by signing-up for a transcriber account at the Transcription Desk, via the Transcribe Bentham website.
Free, flexible textual search of the full collection of Bentham Papers is now possible through an experimental handwritten text image indexing and search system, developed by the PRHLT research center in the framework of the READ project.
The Faculty of Laws at University College London occupies Bentham House, next to the main UCL campus.
Bentham’s name was adopted by the Australian litigation funder IMF Limited to become Bentham IMF Limited on 28 November 2013, in recognition of Bentham being “among the first to support the utility of litigation funding”.
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It seems that the case with Bentham’s body now rested in New Broad Street; Southwood Smith did not remove to 38 Finsbury Square until several years later. Bentham must have been seen by many visitors, including Charles Dickens.
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- “About us”. Bentham IMF Limited. 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
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