Tag Archives: Jeremy Bentham

Peter Cain

Since so much of Bentham’s critique of European colonial policies remained unpublished or difficult of access until recent times his contribution to the evolving debate on them has been seriously underrated. His Spanish writings were published only fifteen years ago and have yet to be properly evaluated: but, as this article has tried to show, they took his own earlier analysis of the roots of policy, and that of his predecessors, much further than before. Indeed, […] in many ways, these writings, especially those that give a close analysis of the benefits that elites received from colonialism, represent the most acute and innovatory aspects of his thought in this field. When they are added to his better-known economic analyses of colonialism written between the 1780s and early 1800s, and set against the broad currents of liberal and radical questioning of the causes and consequences of empire across two centuries, it would be no exaggeration to say that Bentham made one of the greatest contributions to anti-colonial literature anywhere in the Western world and one which in some ways was never improved upon in Britain. His work has much to offer historians in their quest for a better understanding of Europe’s imperial past.

Peter Cain, ‘Bentham and the Development of the British Critique of Colonialism’, Utilitas, vol. 23, no. 1 (March, 2011), p. 24

John Maynard Keynes

The [Essay] can claim a place amongst those which have had great influence on the progress of thought. It is profoundly in the English tradition of humane science—in that tradition of Scotch and English thought, in which there has been, I think, an extraordinary continuity of feeling, if I may so express it, from the eighteenth century to the present time—the tradition which is suggested by the names of Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, Paley, Bentham, Darwin, and Mill, a tradition marked by a love of truth and a most noble lucidity, by a prosaic sanity free from sentiment or metaphysic, and by an immense disinterestedness and public spirit.

John Maynard Keynes, ‘Robert Malthus: The First of the Cambridge Economists’, in Essays in Biography, London, 1933, p. 120

Anne Garbett Romilly

A person totally unacquainted with the party would have found some difficulty in following the conversation, and they have used themselves to this sort of language so long that I really believe it never occurs to them that it is not in common use. Can you imagine Mr. Mill saying seriously to me that they were “very desirous Dumont should come and codify for a few weeks at Ford Abbey”? I wanted to find my Husband one day, and Mr. Mill said “I fancy Sir Samuel is gone to vibrate with Mr. Bentham”. If you were asked to take a “post prandial vibration”, it would scarcely occur to you it was walking up and down the Cloisters after dinner. They vibrate too on the Terrace, but when they go to the Pleasure Grounds it is a circumgyration. I cannot tell you half the old expressions that are in common use. Circumbendibus is a favorite one, the “Grandmother Egg sucking principles” another.

Anne Garbett Romilly, letter to Maria Edgeworth, October 6, 1817, in Romilly-Edgeworth Letters, 1813-1818: with an Introduction and Notes by Samuel Henry Romilly, London, 1936, p. 176

R. M. Hare

It is indeed rather mysterious that critics of utilitarianism, some of whom lay great weight on the ‘right to equal concern and respect’ which all people have, should object when utilitarians show this equal concern by giving equal weight to the equal interests of everybody, a precept which leads straight to Bentham’s formula and to utilitarianism itself.

R. M. Hare, ‘Rights, Utility, and Universalization: Reply to J. L. Mackie’, in R. G. Frey (ed.) Utility and Rights, Oxford, 1985, p. 107

J. J. C. Smart

I regard Peter as one of the great moralists, because I suspect that more than anyone he has helped to change the attitudes of very many people to the sufferings of animals. Peter is a utilitarian in normative ethics, and a humane attitude to animals is a natural corollary of utilitarianism. Utilitarian concern for animals goes back to Bentham, who, presumably alluding to the Kantians, said that the question was not whether animals can reason, but whether they can suffer.

J. J. C. Smart, ‘Reply to Singer’, in Philip Pettit, Richard Sylvan and Jean Norman (eds.), Metaphysics and Morality: Essays in Honour of J. J. C. Smart, Oxford, 1987, p. 192

John Stuart Mill

If we were asked to say, in the fewest possible words, what we conceive to be Bentham’s place among these great intellectual benefactors of humanity; what he was, and what he was not; what kind of service he did and did not render to truth; we should say—he was not a great philosopher, but a great reformer in philosophy.

John Stuart Mill, ‘Bentham’, Dissertations and Discussions, London, 1859