Jeremy Bentham was born on in Houndsditch, England on February 15, 1748. His father, a London lawyer, had facilitated his learning of several languages before he was 10 years old including French, Greek, and Latin which was a precocious achievement. Jeremy was an ardent reader, a characteristic that enabled him to attend famous learning institutions like Westminster school from 1755 to 1760, Queen’s College in Oxford, and Lincoln’s Inn. He remarkably attained his degree at the age of 15 years in 1763. In 1766, he graduated with a Master of Arts Degree at the age of 18 years. At 19, he was admitted to the bar in Oxford. Bentham dies on June 6, 1832 (Bhikhu, 1993). He is best remembered as a political theorist, jurist, and a philosopher.
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At times, Bentham criticized formal education seeing it as a source of hypocrisy. He disliked the manner in which university education in England impacted on the society. Additionally, he was not enthusiastic about practicing law. He, however, opted to undertake research on legal reforms and physical sciences such as chemistry. He actually published several influential papers on these subjects. Following the death of his father in 1792, Bentham preferred to retire from public life so as to concentrate on writing. Although he chose to live a modest life, he had a considerable inheritance in real estates. This meant that he didn’t have to work for material wealth. His devotion to the intellectual life heightened after he purchased a mansion in 1814 (Bhikhu, 1993). These factors helped him elaborate utilitarianism ethical doctrine. His work on the doctrine instigated the Parliament to enact significant penal, political, and legal reforms some of which remain relevant today.
Bentham criticized Sir William Blackstone’s interpretations of the English common law in his publication, Fragment on Government. He dismissed social compact and contracts as lucking legal basis. He upheld his views in his superseding legal philosophy literature such as the 1812’s Introductory View of the Rationale of Evidence, which has been edited by James Mill; as well as the 1827’s Rationale of Juridical Evidence that has been edited by John Mill (Houghton, 2003). In all his criticism of evidence, language and law, Bentham adopted the doctrine of nominalism as well as instinctive utilitarianism. He insisted that the actual usage and consequences of ‘institutions and men’ as well as ‘laws and words’ should be used as the evaluating factors.
Bentham’s 1789’s Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation gave utilitarianism a classic expression. He simplified it and emphasized that ethical issues considered should be those of immediate source (Houghton, 2003). He aimed at offering a quantitative method capable of assisting in evaluation of both institutional and individual actions. Bentham argued that whenever authorities fail to perceive the utility which leads to pleasure, men feel deprived of their happiness. His acknowledgement of egoistic and altruistic pleasures helped avoid subjectivism perpetuated by several hedonistic theories. His work pointed out that seeking pleasure is sometimes focused on avoiding pain, and as such he saw the community as a consolidation of its members’ interests. This view led him to appreciate that utilitarianism sought to facilitate the highest level of happiness to the absolute majority. He proposed method of felicific calculus to help strike the balance between pains and pleasure that accompany one’s actions (James, 2011). He believed this was the best method of determining the utility in actions. In the end, he pointed out that as a person considers the manner in which his actions affect others, he needs to take the prevailing circumstances into account.
Bentham was honored with an honorary citizenship when the Republic of France was proclaimed. However, he did not rely agree with the revolutionaries, and he actually dismissed several of their rhetoric such as ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man’ and ‘absolute rights’. The irony of his contributions is that most of them were completed by later editors. This was as a result of his multitasking of several projects some of which were duplications of each other. He nevertheless gave his editors complete freedom allowing them to thoroughly rewrite the conflicting versions. Some ideas such as prison reforms obsessed him. He solicited the King for chatters and resources to enable him establish a model prison. When the project failed, he attributed this to royal envy. Despite these failures, Bentham’s contribution to ethics is still considered monumental. Many of his contributions are still referred to during the formulation of legislations.
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