Jeremy Bentham (1748)
It was on this date, February 15, 1748, that British jurist and social reformer Jeremy Bentham was born into a Tory family in Houndsditch, in London, the son of a lawyer. A precocious learner, Bentham studied Latin at age four and sailed through Oxford, pausing only long enough to condemn the "mendacity and insincerity" of its religious atmosphere. He embarked on a legal career, but objected to its servitude to creeds, so he turned toward social reform: prison and legal reform and education reform: he founded University College, London, opening it to Non-Conformist, Catholic and Jewish students.
Said Bentham, "There is no pestilence in a state like a zeal for religion, independent of morality."* One of the founders of the philosophy of Utilitarianism, and a mentor to John Stuart Mill, in private Bentham was candid about his Atheism: he called Christianity "Jug" or "Juggernaut" in unpublished manuscripts.** With English historian George Grote he wrote Analysts of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind (1822), under the pseudonym "Philip Beauchamp," a work in which both attacked religion and professed Atheism.
A part-time neologist, Bentham introduced the words "international," "maximize," "minimize," and "codification" into English. Jeremy Benthan died in London a wealthy man on 6 June 1832. His legacy was a tens of thousands of unpublished manuscript pages, some of which were eventually published. "The spirit of dogmatic theology," said Bentham, "poisons everything it touches."†
* Rufus K. Noyes, Views of Religion, 1906. ** Sir Leslie Stephen, The English Utilitarians, 1900, II, p. 339. † Noyes, op. cit.
Originally published February 2004 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.
Here’s your Week in Freethought History: This is more than just a calendar of events or mini-biographies – it’s a reminder that, no matter how isolated and alone we may feel at times, we as freethinkers are neither unique nor alone in the world. Last Sunday, July 1, but in 1899, English-American actor Charles Laughton […]