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Sunday, 1 July 2012

Jeremy Bentham

English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham was born in Houndsditch, London on February 15, 1748 to a wealthy family that supported the Tory party.

Bentham showed a propensity for learning at an early age, starting to learn Latin at the age of three and attending Queen’s College Oxford when he was twelve.

Portrait of Jeremy Bentham by Thomas Fyre

Jeremy Bentham is best known as a proponent of utilitarianism in his pioneering works A Fragment on Government (1776) and Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), which argued that the proper objective of all conduct and legislation is "the greatest happiness of the greatest number."

Bentham developed a ‘felicific calculus,’ a quantitative comparison of pleasures and pains, to estimate the effects of different actions to help arrive at legislation that would achieve ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Although ridiculed for his imprecision, Bentham defended the ‘felicific calculus’ by stating that it was a working hypothesis, not a mechanical procedure.

The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by Bentham. The idea behind the design was to allow an observer to watch all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being observed. Bentham devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a Panopticon prison, but though the British government rejected his scheme at the time, it has since been seen as an important development. Social critics have subsequently used the principle behind Bentham's Panopticon project as a metaphor for the intrusion of modern societies and their pervasive inclination to observe and normalise. The increasing use of CCTV cameras in public spaces is cited as a current example of the deployment of panoptic structures.

Bentham called his a favourite walking stick ‘Dapple’.

Jeremy Bentham, by Henry William Pickersgill 

Jeremy Bentham owned a cat called Langbourne. Over time, Langbourne's name became The Reverend Sir John Langbourne, D.D. (Doctor of Divinity). He fed it on macaroni.

Bentham died on June 6, 1832 aged 84 at his residence in Queen Square Place in Westminster, London. He had continued to write up to a month before his death.

In his will, Bentham left instructions for his body to be dissected, then preserved at the University College London, where it remains

The skeleton of Jeremy Bentham is present at all important meetings of the University College of London.

Students from rival King’s College kidnapped Bentham's head in 1975, but returned it unharmed following the payment of a ransom of £10 to the homeless charity Shelter.

Sources Hutchinson Encyclopedia © RM 2012. Helicon Publishing is division of RM, Songfacts

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