Bentham became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism. He advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalising of homosexual acts. He called for the abolition of slavery, the abolition of the death penalty, and the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children. He has also become known in recent years as an early advocate of animal rights. Though strongly in favour of the extension of individual legal rights, he opposed the idea of natural law and natural rights, calling them "nonsense upon stilts".
Bentham's students included his secretary and collaborator James Mill, the latter's son, John Stuart Mill, the legal philosopher John Austin, as well as Robert Owen, one of the founders of utopian socialism. Bentham has been described as the "spiritual founder" of University College London, though he played little direct part in its foundation.
Bentham said that it was the placing of women in a legally inferior position that made him choose, at the age of eleven, the career of a reformist. Bentham spoke for a complete equality between sexes.
The essay Offences Against One's Self, argued for the liberalisation of laws prohibiting homosexual sex. The essay remained unpublished during his lifetime for fear of offending public morality. It was published for the first time in 1931. While Bentham clearly is not condoning homosexual activities, he does not believe them to be unnatural, describing them as "irregularities of the venereal appetite". The essay chastises the society of the time for making a disproportionate response to what Bentham appears to consider a largely private offence – public displays or forced acts being dealt with rightly by other laws.
Jeremy Bentham: His Life and Work by Charles Milner Atkinson
Paperback: 262 pages
Publisher: Forgotten Books (August 4, 2012)
Amazon: Jeremy Bentham: His Life and Work
Bentham sworks contains some five thousand five hundred pages, closely printed in double columns. The diffuse Memoirs collected in the tenth and eleventh volumes cover, in addition, nearly eight hundred pages. By the reforms of the last seventy years several treatises have been deprived of the interest originally attached to them, while others are written in the involved and difficult style affected by Bentham in the later years of his life. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that the volumes so laboriously compiled by Bowring are rarely taken down from the shelves of our public libraries. Yet a great part of the collection is of deep and lasting interest; and throughout every volume there are scattered countless passages which admirers of Bentham sgenius would not willingly let die. This sketch of his life and work has been published in the hope that it may induce some readers to seek a closer acquaintance with his writings.
(Typographical errors above are due to OCR software and don't occur in the book.)
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