"EVERY LAW IS AN INFRACTION OF LIBERTY."
Described as a philosopher, jurist, and reformer, Jeremy Bentham is possibly best known as one of the leading proponents of UTILITARIANISM. Although he was a devoted scholar who spent much of his life writing about legal reform, he published little. Regardless, Bentham had a profound effect on the politics of his day, influenced many of his contemporaries (including eminent
British philosopher JOHN STUART MILL), and introduced a number of terms and definitions, which are still used today in the study of philosophy, economics, and politics.
Bentham was born February 15, 1748, in Houndsditch, near London, into a family of attorneys. He was educated at Oxford and admitted to the bar, but decided not to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Instead of practicing law, Bentham chose to pursue a career in legal, political, and social reform, applying principles of ethical philosophy to these endeavors.
He was greatly influenced by the work of Claude-Adrien Helvétius, a French philosopher who believed that all persons are intellectually equal and that differences arise solely from educational opportunities. Helvetius also formulated a theory that good is measured by the degree of self-contentment experienced by a person, and that self-interest is the compelling force for all action. This latter belief had a profound effect on Bentham, who incorporated the idea in the formulation of the basic principles of utilitarianism.
In 1789, Bentham gained public attention with the publication of his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, which set forth his fundamental principles. He believed that the greatest happiness for the greatest number is the basis of morality. Happiness and pleasure were the same, and included social, intellectual, and moral as well as physical pleasures. According to Bentham, each pleasure has certain characteristics, including intensity and duration, and he established a scale of measurement to judge the worth of a pleasure or a pain.
Bentham further opined that each person strives to do what makes him or her happiest. The happiness of an individual and the GENERAL WELFARE are complementary; the achievement of the greatest amount of happiness is the goal of morality.
Bentham applied his views to reform legislation, feeling that the purpose of the law was to maximize total happiness within the...