[The following discussion of Jeremy Bentham comes from the author’s introduction to Mill’s essay on government. — George P. Landow]
Of the thinkers who influenced nineteenth-century British life, perhaps none was the equal of this brilliant legalist and dedicated philanthropist. An eccentric, versatile, dynamic thinker, and a prolific author, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) attracted a coterie of followers, the Benthamites. The group included Francis Place, “the Radical tailor of Charing Cross” who devised techniques of partisan political action; David Ricardo, the high priest of classical political economy, the counting-house wing of Utilitarian liberalism; James Mill’s eldest son, John Stuart, the middle-class philosopher of common sense; and John Austin, the champion of analytical jurisprudence. It included as well Alexander Bain, Henry Sidgwick, George Grote, Lord Henry Brougham, Sir Francis Burdett, Joseph Hume, Sir Samuel Romilly, and many other lesser figures who in their own way left an imprint on British life. They sat at the feet of the master and were nourished by his creative genius. They founded the Westminster Review (in 1824) to propagate Benthamite opinions, and University College, London (in 1828), to spread his teachings.
It was these inspired Benthamites who built that remarkable ideological edifice. Utilitarianism, the creed so many nineteenth-century British intellectuals accepted along with Newton’s laws of motion. For the Benthamites went out into the world as teachers, lawyers, writers, civil servants, politicians, and other men of public affairs to preach—and practice —the Utilitarian gospel. The Utilitarians, and especially the younger Benthamites called the “philosophical radicals,” did make their influence felt in many areas of British thought and practice: education, local government, public health, civil administration, penology, civil law, foreign trade, colonial policy, all came within the Benthamite orbit. [7-8]
- Main Currents in Victorian Intellectual History — Some Handy Oversimplifications
- Bentham and Coleridge: Seminal Minds
Mill, James. An Essay on Government. Ed. Currin V. Shields. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Press, 1955.
Last modified 18 July 2019