Who is Jeremy Bentham?June 25, 2021
Jeremy Bentham was an English lawyer and philosopher who lived from 15 February 1748 to 6 June 1832. Jeremy Bentham is a British legal, moral, political and social philosopher who is particularly known for his utilitarianism and the principle of “the highest happiness for the greatest number of people”.
Bentham, who learned Latin at the age of four, was sent to Oxford by his father to study law at the age of twelve. However, Bentham, especially after the conservative lectures of the traditionalist William Blackstone, one of the leading authorities of his time, soon decided to write on what law is instead of becoming a law practitioner, and devoted his life to criticizing and correcting the existing law and social systems.
Although Bentham is always associated with the doctrine of utilitarianism and the principle of “the highest happiness for the greatest number”, the doctrine and principle are only the starting point of his criticism of society, which aims to test the usefulness of existing institutions, practices and beliefs with an objective evaluation criterion.
Bentham is an outspoken law reformer, a ruthless critic of established political doctrines such as natural law, natural rights, and contractism. Bentham’s thoughts, which started to arouse respect with his works from the 1820s, also deeply influenced the public administration reforms made throughout the 19th century.
Bentham, influenced by Enlightenment philosophers such as Beccaria, Helvetius, Diderot, d’Alembert and Voltaire, as well as Locke and Hume, combined the empiricist approach with a rationalism based on conceptual clarity and deductive reasoning in his works. In this context, Bentham took Locke, who emphasized the importance of reason over tradition and advocated precision in the use of terms, as an example. Indeed, Bentham’s entire design of philosophy is actually a design of explanation.
Statue of Jeremy Bentham at University College London.
BENTHAM’S UNDERSTANDING OF LAW
Bentham has attempted to explain values to show what we should aim for, and psychology to show what people really aim for; he wanted to clarify the real notion of “law” both as a whole and in its basic terms, in order to design systems of administration, law and punishment appropriate to them.
Understanding the law also includes understanding things like rights and duties. In the empiricist tradition, where “understanding” is provided by “perception”, complex things that cannot be perceived directly, such as the “golden mountain”, become understandable because they can be analyzed by breaking them down into simple components that we can experiment with (gold and mountain). On the other hand, the analysis method of the empiricists does not work in the analysis of terms such as right or duty that Bentham thinks to analyze.
As a result, dealing with a part or aspect of something in isolation from it is likely to cause confusion. This led to a completely new and original method that Bentham called “re-expression” (paraphrasis).
Bentham’s retelling method, which argues that the basic unit of “meaning” is not a word but a sentence, is the pioneer of the logical analysis methods developed by thinkers such as Russell, Carnap and Quine in the 20th century. What Bentham aims with this method is not to translate the problematic word in the sentence into other words, but to convert the sentence of which the word is a part into another sentence.
Fictional Self and Homework Understanding
The retelling method keeps the terms such as right, duty, obligation, privilege, which Bentham calls “fictional entities”, open by converting the sentences in which they are included into sentences in which they do not. Although the fictional entities may seem useful at first, these terms remain as prejudices as the things they refer to are completely forgotten or out of the agenda over time. Therefore, Bentham, who tries to keep the law away from such fictional entities as much as possible, thinks that at least explanations and justifications can be given that avoid the use of such terms. For example, sentences about rights are explained by Bentham through sentences about duties.
According to Bentham, a certain right is an investment granted to someone by imposing duties on others. Of course, assignments are also fictional entities, but these too can be explained by sentences about the threat of punishment. Punishment, according to Bentham, is the threat of inflicting pain. Thus what Bentham calls “true selves”; that is, we reach clear and simple thoughts that we can understand directly through perception.
Bentham says that pain and pleasure are words that do not require us to go to a lawyer to learn the meaning. In fact, according to him, law can be explained to both lawyers and others through the concepts of pain and pleasure.
BENTHAM’S MORAL PHILOSOPHY
According to Bentham, although morality and law can be defined scientifically, such a definition needs an explanation of human nature.
According to him, human nature is also two basic impulses, just as nature is explained through physical laws.