Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Jeremy Bentham

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy Bentham, the great philosopher and founder of the theory of utilitarianism. Perhaps to say I met him is overstating the position, after all he died in 1832. However, Little Girl is contemplating studying at UCL (University College London), and I therefore accompanied her in response to an invitation to visit the university. 

On our guided tour by a current undergraduate, we were shown Bentham who is associated with the founding of UCL in 1826. There he was sitting in his glass case, patiently waiting until he is next wheeled out, presumably to attend an anniversary meeting of the university's council. 

Macabrely we were assured that this really is Bentham's skeleton wearing his original clothes, right down to his silk underwear. His head, however, is a wax copy with some of his real hair attached, after attempts to mummify his real head failed dismally. The real head is now securely locked away separately after it became the subject of a number of student pranks, including being kidnapped and subsequently discovered in a locker on Aberdeen Station.

So what does any of this have to do with this blog? Well Bentham was a man whose thinking was often way ahead of his times and hence his accreditation as the spiritual founder of UCL. 

For someone born in 1748, I find it amazing that his philosophy on individual freedom and legal rights extended even in the 18th century to equality of the sexes, homosexuality and divorce. Strange that we are still grappling with these issues almost 200 years later and if he was still alive I am sure he would have a thing or two to say about that.

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