The Enlightenment Period

Thomas Reid and Jeremy Bentham

What was Bentham’s Principle of Utility?

Jeremy Bentham intended it to guide legislators for the sake of reforming the legal system. He thought that legislators were too influenced by “the principle of sympathy and antipathy,” which he called “ipse-dixitism.” They punished what they did not like, even if, as in the case of sexual transgressions, no one was harmed, and they failed to punish sources of great suffering. Bentham wanted legal obligations to be based on the goal of increasing happiness and lessening pain and suffering. This was his principle of utility. With this principle, no other value was necessary, and legal fictions could be abolished. Concerning rights, Bentham believed that they were “nonsense upon stilts.”


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