“Jeremy Bentham was an English philosopher” that “is primarily known” for his philosophical contribution, the ethical theory of utilitarianism (Sweet). Utilitarianism is the ethical theory that states that the best action is the one that brings about the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people (DeGeorge 44). Specifically, Bentham was a hedonistic utilitarian arguing that “what ultimately motivates us is pleasure and pain” (Sweet). Bentham over the course of his life gave a lot to the field, whose influence is still seen today.
Jeremy Bentham was born into a line of attorneys on February 15, 1748, in the town of Houndsditch, London (Sweet). Bentham studied so intensely, “often eight to twelve hours a day”, that when he reached the age of sixteen he had already graduated from Queen’s College at Oxford and was continuing in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps to becoming an attorney by studying law at Lincoln’s Inn (Sweet). Although Bentham was qualified, he never practiced law, but instead chose to write on the philosophy of law and focused on “critiquing the existing law” and was a strong advocate for legal reform (Sweet).
In 1785, Bentham along with his brother worked on a project called ‘Panopticon’, that he hoped would garner the attention of the Czarina Catherine the Great (Sweet). Unfortunately, the project, which Bentham hoped would be “a model prison where all of the prisoners would be observable by (unseen) guards at all times”, was not a great success (Sweet). Even though Bentham was not largely appreciated, he was still able to continue his writings and work with the financial stability afforded to him from an inheritance. Bentham’s most notable writing seems to be, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.
Three of the biggest principals that run throughout the book, as well as most of Bentham’s works are: “the greatest happiness principle, universal egoism, and the artificial identification of one’s interests with those of others” (Sweet). Bentham’s fundamental principle, the greatest happiness principle, says that human beings motivated by pleasure and deterred by pain is what determines the degree of happiness, which Bentham also calls “the principle of utility” (Sweet). This principle adds a level of objectivity to a very subjective discipline, allowing it to be clearer, more observable, and measurable (Sweet). Bentham also had strong views on the concept of natural rights.
According to Bentham, rights or a lack thereof are formed through the law or “within a legal system where the law is silent” and therefore “the term ‘natural right’ is a ‘perversion of language” (Sweet). Jeremy Bentham has made a large contribution to the field of ethics through his lifelong dedication to his theory and principles. Bentham coming from a back ground of law was able to quantify ethics in a way that others did not do, allowing it take into consideration the greatest number of people.
De George, Richard T. Business Ethics. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print. Sweet, William. “Jeremy Bentham (1748—1832).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 11 Apr. 2001. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/bentham/>.