Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jeremy Bentham Life
Bentham has a complicated publishing history. Most of his writing was never published in his own lifetime; much of that which was published (see this list of published works) was prepared for publication by others.
Works published in Bentham's lifetime included:
The essay Offences Against One's Self, argued for the liberalisation of laws prohibiting homosexuality.
Several of Bentham's works appeared first in French translation, prepared for the press by Étienne Dumont. Some made their first appearance in English in the 1820s as a result of back-translation from Dumont's 1802 collection (and redaction) of Bentham's writing on civil and penal legislation.
John Bowring, a British politician who had been Bentham's trusted friend, 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 his edition on previously published editions (including those of Dumont) rather than Bentham's own manuscripts, and did not reprint Bentham's works on religion at all.
In 1952-54 Wilhelm 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in which he attempted to bring together all of Bentham's writings on economic matters, including both published and unpublished material. Not trusting Bowring's edition, he painstakingly reviewed thousands of Bentham's original manuscripts and notes, a task made monumentally more difficult due to the manner in which they had been left by Bentham and organized by Bowring.
Bentham left manuscripts amounting to some 5,000,000 words. Since 1968, the Bentham Project at University College London have been busy working on an edition of his collected work. So far, 25 volumes have appeared; there may be as many still to come before the project is completed.

Fragment on Government (1776). 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 Bentham's "Fragment" was only a small part of a "Commentary on the Commentaries", which remained unpublished until the twentieth century.
Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation (printed for publication 1780, published 1789)
Defence of Usury (1787)
Panopticon (1787, 1791). The proposed Panopticon was a prison-house, the architectural principles of which incorporated novel principles of prison discipline and administration.
Emancipate your Colonies (1793)
Traité de Législation Civile et Penale (1802, edited by Étienne Dumont. 3 vols)
Punishments and Rewards (1811)
A Table of the Springs of Action (1815)
Parliamentary Reform Catechism (1817)
Church-of-Englandism (printed 1817, published 1818)
Elements of the Art of Packing (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)
Book of Fallacies (1824)
A Treatise on Judicial Evidence (1825) Works
Bentham's ambition in life was to create a "Pannomion", a complete Utilitarian code of law. Bentham not only proposed many legal and social reforms, but also expounded an underlying moral principle on which they should be based. This philosophy, utilitarianism, argued that the right act or policy was that which would cause "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" — a phrase of which he is generally, though erroneously, regarded as the author — though he later dropped the second qualification and embraced what he called "the greatest happiness principle," often referred to as the principle of utility.
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...
He attributed his theory to Joseph Priestley: "Priestley was the first (unless it was Beccaria) who taught my lips to pronounce this sacred truth:- That the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation."
He also suggested a procedure for estimating the moral status of any action, which he called the Hedonic or felicific calculus. Utilitarianism was revised and expanded by Bentham's student, John Stuart Mill. In Mill's hands, "Benthamism" became a major element in the liberal conception of state policy objectives.
It is often said that Bentham's theory, unlike Mill's, faces the problem of 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 ..." (ibid, p. 148). Thus, some critics object, it would be moral, for example, to torture one person if this would produce an amount of happiness in other people outweighing the unhappiness of the tortured individual - cf. "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas". However, as P. J. Kelly argued in his book, 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." (ibid, p. 81). They provide 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.

His opinions about monetary economics were totally different from those of Ricardo; however, they had some similarities to those of Thornton. He focused on monetary expansion as a means of helping to create full employment. He was also aware of the relevance of forced saving, propensity to consume, the saving-investment relationship and other matters that form the content of modern income and employment analysis. His monetary view was close to the fundamental concepts employed in his model of utilitarian decision making. Bentham stated that pleasures and pains can be ranked according to their value or "dimension" such as intensity, duration, certainty of a pleasure or a pain. He was concerned with maxima and minima of pleasures and pains, and they set a precedent for the future employment of the maximization principle in the economics of the consumer, the firm and the search for an optimum in welfare economics (Spiegel, p. 341-343).

Bentham is widely recognised as one of the earliest proponents of animal rights. He argued that animal pain is very similar to human pain, and that "[t]he 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."

Animal rights
Bentham's ideas were severely criticised by, among others, free market economist Murray Rothbard in his essay, Jeremy Bentham: The Utilitarian as Big Brother published in his work, Classical Economics. The Canadian author Brebner wrote in 1948 that "British laissez faire was a political and economic myth...Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, who have been commonly represented as typical, almost fundamental, formulators of laissez faire, were in fact the opposite, that is, the formulator of state intervention for collectivist ends and his devout apostle."

See also

Robinson, Dave & Groves, Judy (2003). Introducing Political Philosophy. Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-450-X.
Spiegel (1991). "The growth of Economic Thought", Ed.3. Duke University. ISBN 0-8223-0973-4.
Murray N. Rothbard (1995).Classical Economics: An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought. Edward Elgar Publishing. ISBN 1-85278-962-X

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