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Jeremy Bentham

(1748–1832), English philosopher, legal writer, reformer

Son of Jeremiah Bentham (1712–1792), a lawyer and property dealer, and his wife, Alicia Whitehorne, née Grove (d. 1759). A precocious child, he began to study Latin at the age of three; he was educated at Westminster School and studied law at Queen's College, Oxford. He was called to the Bar in 1769 but never practised; instead he became a writer and agitator for law reform. His father's death in 1792 left him financially independent, and for nearly forty years he lived a semi-reclusive life in Westminster, writing incessantly into his eighties, although he published very little during his lifetime. Bentham's ideas — particularly the principle of utilitarianism, or "the greatest happiness of the greatest number", of which he is considered the founder — were influential in nineteenth-century reforms of public administration. He left behind him an immense mass of papers, most of which are still unpublished, but his legal writings on social policy, legal positivism, and economics influenced thinkers such as John Stuart Mill, and are still of interest today.


Biographical note by Electronic Enlightenment Project.

First released August 2008.


EE editions with biographical details

  • Bentham, Jeremy. The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. 12 vol. Ed. Timothy L. S. Sprigge (vol. 1, 2), Ian R. Christie (vol. 3), Alexander T. Milne (vol. 4, 5), J. R. Dinwiddy (vol. 6, 7), Stephen Conway (vol. 8–10), Catherine Fuller (vol. 11), Luke O'Sullivan & Catherine Fuller (vol. 12). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968–2006. Print.
  • Helvétius, Claude Adrien. Correspondance générale d'Helvétius. 5 vol. Ed. David Smith et al. Toronto & Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1981–2004. Print.
  • Reid, Thomas. The Correspondence of Thomas Reid. Ed. Paul Wood. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995–. Print.
  • Smith, Adam. The Correspondence of Adam Smith. Ed. E. C. Mossner & Ian Simpson Ross. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. Print.
  • Voltaire, François Marie Arouet. Correspondence and related documents. 51 vol. Ed. Theodore Besterman. Geneva, Banbury, Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1968–1977. Print.

Online biographical resources (N.B. some sites require a subscription for access)

  • Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment;
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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