Jeremy Bentham

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An idea is a putting truth in check-mate.
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Submit not to any decree or other act of power, of the justice of which you are not yourself perfectly convinced.

Jeremy Bentham (IPA: ['benθəm]) (15 February 17486 June 1832) was a British gentleman, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He is best known as an early advocate of utilitarianism and animal rights.


  • The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.
    • The Commonplace Book, reprinted in Collected Works, x, p142.
  • Prose is when all the lines except the last go on to the end. Poetry is when some of them fall short of it.

Anarchical Fallacies (1843)

  • Submit not to any decree or other act of power, of the justice of which you are not yourself perfectly convinced. If a constable call upon you to serve in the militia, shoot the constable and not the enemy; — if the commander of a press-gang trouble you, push him into the sea — if a bailiff, throw him out of the window. If a judge sentences you to be imprisoned or put to death, have a dagger ready, and take a stroke first at the judge.
    • Vol. 2
  • That which has no existence cannot be destroyed — that which cannot be destroyed cannot require anything to preserve it from destruction. Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense — nonsense upon stilts. But this rhetorical nonsense ends in the old strain of mischievous nonsense for immediately a list of these pretended natural rights is given, and those are so expressed as to present to view legal rights. And of these rights, whatever they are, there is not, it seems, any one of which any government can, upon any occasion whatever, abrogate the smallest particle.
    • Vol. 2

An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1798)

  • I. Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.
  • The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
    • Chapter 17


  • Every law is an infraction of liberty.
  • Lawyers are the only persons in whom ignorance of the law is not punished.
  • The greatest good for the greatest number.
  • Human beings are motivated solely by the desire to gain pleasure and avoid pain.

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