A Blupete Biography Page

Criticisms, Part 3 to the Life & Works of
Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham's thinking in respect to how laws come about and the need for coercive law, is, faulty. Bentham's doctrines, wrapped up and known as utilitarianism, as Chambers observes, "was crude and full of inconsistencies, basing itself on purely quantitative considerations." Charles Kay Ogden (1889-1957) of Cambridge University, observed that Bentham had,
"... a very powerful influence in the political and legal sphere, but that as a thinker he was not very original, not even very profound, a trifle confused on ultimate philosophical issues and prone to over simplify complex problems ... pedantic and opinionated systematizer, overrated by his radical contemporaries ..."11
Sydney Smith12, a contemporary, and who might be counted as one of Bentham's supporters, saw the difficulty with Bentham's methodology:
"Mr. Bentham is long; Mr. Bentham is occasionally involved and obscure; Mr. Bentham invents new and alarming expressions; Mr. Bentham loves division and subdivision - and he loves method itself, more than its consequences."13
I might add that if any of the 'Benthamites' had any knowledge of the theory of evolution (Darwin was to came along later in the 19th century) they might have admitted that tradition had a role.

We have already referred to Hazlitt and Hazlitt's views on Bentham as a writer; what did Hazlitt think of Bentham's view of legislation and its place in the guidance of men's activity:

"The gentleman is himself a capital logician; and he has been led by this circumstance to consider man as a logical animal. We fear this view of the matter will hardly hold water. If we attend to the moral man, the constitution of his mind will scarcely be found to be built up of pure reason and a regard to consequences: if we consider the criminal man (with whom the legislator has chiefly to do), it will be found to be still less so."14
Hazlitt points out that criminals and legislators are quite a different species, and continues:
"Mr Bentham, in adjusting the provisions of a penal code, lays too little stress on the co-operation of the natural prejudices of mankind ... The laws of the country are therefore ineffectual and abortive, because they are made by the rich for the poor, by the wise for the ignorant, by the respectable and exalted in station for the very scum and refuse of the community."15
People value the good opinion of others and of their place in their family and in their society. It is for shame, not fear, that people obey laws. Hazlitt continues:
"You tell a person [a drunk, an idler, a gambler, a culprit, or a criminal] of this stamp what is his interest; he says he does not care about his interest, or the world and he differ on that particular. But there is one point on which he must agree with them, namely, what they think of his conduct, and that is the only hold you have of him. A man may be callous and indifferent to what happens to himself; but he is never indifferent to public opinion or proof against open scorn and infamy.
Shame, then, not fear, is the sheet-anchor of the law ... It is the apprehension of being stigmatized by public opinion, the fear of what will be thought and said of them, that deters men from the violation of the laws, while their character remains unimpeached; but honour once lost, all is lost. The man can never be himself again! A citizen is like a soldier, a part of a machine, who submits to certain hardships, privations, and dangers, not for his own ease, pleasure, profit, or even conscience, but - for shame."
There have been many, through the years, that envisaged a perfect and well ordered society;17 Bentham was one, and he felt it might be achieved through legislation. Jeremy Bentham, like many, had an optimistic view that the nature of man might be changed. As Hazlitt observed, "Miracles never cease, to be sure; but they are not to be had wholesale, or to order."18




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Peter Landry

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