Thursday, November 27, 2008

Who is Jeremy Bentham?

Towards the end of the fourth season of the television show Lost, the name Jeremy Bentham is banded about a bit. Already we know that the writers of the show have panache for English philosophers (e.g. John Locke). This modern reference of such a historical name begs the question to be asked: so who exactly was Jeremy Bentham?

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) is the founder of Utilitarianism, an Enlightenment philosophy based on utility, which approves of an action in so far as an action has an overall tendency to promote the greatest amount of happiness. Bentham viewed rights and duties as legal concepts linked with the notions of command and approval. Social actions should aim at producing ‘the greatest good for the greatest number.’ Bentham campaigned for social and political reforms in all areas, most notably the criminal law and prison reform. He was a sever critique of the death penalty and argued in favor of individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the end of slavery, the abolition of physical punishment (including that of children), the right to divorce, free trade, usury, the decriminalization of homosexual acts.

To place Bentham in historical context, across Europe there was a profound movement of reformation, most radically occurring in France in the form of the French Revolution. Apart from theoretical considerations, Bentham condemned the belief in natural rights on the grounds that it inspired violence and bloodshed, the fundamental rights at the heart of the French Revolution. Bentham codified his philosophy of utility in The Principles of Morals and Legislation, published in 1789.

So do you see parallels between the founder of utilitarianism and the practice of utility on Lost?

Sources:;; The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, ed. Kenneth O. Morgan, Oxford University Press, 1997:436-7.

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