Painted portrait of English philosopher Jeremy Bentham.

Jeremy Bentham

(1748 - 1832)

Jeremy Bentham began studying Latin at the age of three, wrote verse in Latin and Greek by ten, and entered Queen’s College at Oxford at twelve. Bentham published his first work, a critical commentary on the writing of the lawyer and lecturer William Blackstone, in 1776. Articulating the basis for his philosophy of utilitarianism, Bentham wrote that the aim of legislation should be the “greatest happiness of the greatest number.” Among other things, the lawyer and philosopher dreamed of constructing panopticon prisons in Europe and devising what he called a pannomion, Greek for “all the laws.” He succeeded at neither. After his death in 1832, in accordance with his will, his body was dissected, his skeleton dressed and topped with a wax head. It is on display at University College London.

All Writing


Even before Jeremy Bentham wrote his own treatise on utilitarianism, Enlightenment scholars were attempting to quantify a happy life. In the eighteenth century, Glasgow professor Francis Hutcheson offered an equation for benevolence, defined as the desire to spread happiness to others, where b = benevolence, a = ability, s = self-love, i = interest, and m = moment of good. His formula: ba = m + sa = m + i, and therefore b = (m + i)/a.


Inspired by Catherine the Great’s 1767 assertion that law should promote general happiness, Jeremy Bentham brought his own massive law code with him to Russia in 1785 to present to her. But the single time Catherine visited the western district where the utilitarian philosopher had rented a cottage, Bentham remained inside—“stubbornly diffident,” according to an account—and the two never met.

Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense—nonsense upon stilts.

—Jeremy Bentham, c. 1832

Issues Contributed