Jeremy Bentham Utilitarianism Theory, Facts, History (1748-1832)

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Jeremy Bentham was an English philosopher, economist, theoretical jurist, criminal justice reformer, and an early supporter of Utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism Theory Analysis

Bentham defined the principle of Utility as that property in any object whereby it tends to produce pleasure, good, or happiness, or to prevent the happening of mischief, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered. He proposed that mankind was governed by either pleasure or pain” and that the object of all legislation should be the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

As a political reformer, he advocated annual elections, equal electoral districts, wide suffrage, and the secret ballot, and the decriminalization of homosexuality.

As a prison reformer, he felt that since punishment involved pain, it is evil and should be used only so far as it promises to exclude some other evil. His model prison, the Panopticon, would result in morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, and instruction diffused. He proposed a justice system emphasizing deterrence and prevention. Punishment should be calculated to meet social goals and the needs of the prisoner. He sought to end the system of capital punishment based on the ancient law of retribution. His reforms included standard sentencing, emphasis on rehabilitation, religious education, and segregation by sex, age, and category of crime.

Print Sources

Steintrager, James A. Bentham. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977.

Baumgardt, David. Bentham and the ethics of today, with Bentham manuscripts hitherto unpublished. New York: Octagon books, 1966 (reprint 1952 edition).

Biographical Note: The information presented here was taken from the websites featured. This page was compiled by Shannon Carson for HIST 350, Modern English History, fall 2003