Bentham, Jeremy

Bentham, Jeremy was born in London, February 15, 1748. He received his early education at Westminster School; and when yet a boy, being little more than twelve years of age, he went to Owen's College, Oxford, where he took his master's degree in 1766. He studied law, and was called to the bar in 1772, but devoted himself entirely to study, and became an able and voluminous writer on government and legislation. His name is mentioned here in view of his writings on morals, which, however, are less original and valuable than those on government. In all his writings, utility is the leading and pervading principle; and his favorite vehicle for its expression is the phrase, "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," which was first coined by Priestley, though its prominence in politics has been owing to Bentham. "In this phrase," he says, "I saw delineated for the first time a plain as well as a true standard for whatever is right or wrong, useful, useless, or mischievous in human conduct, whether in the field of morals or politics." Accordingly, the leading principle of his ethical writings is, "that the end of all human actions and morality is happiness. By happiness, Bentham means pleasure and exemption from pain; and the fundamental principle from which he starts is, that the actions of sentient beings are wholly governed by pleasure and pain. He held that happiness is the ' summum bonum,' in fact, the only thing desirable in itself; that all other things are desirable solely as means to that end; that therefore the production of the greatest possible amount of happiness is the only fit object of all human exertion." He died in Westminster, June 6, 1832. SEE ETHICS; SEE MORALS.

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