Jeremy Bentham

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Jeremy Bentham by Henry William Pickersgill detail.jpg
Name: Jeremy Bentham
Date of Birth: 15 February 1748
Occupation: Philosopher, jurist
Ethnicity: English

Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) was an English philosopher, jurist and atheist who is widely regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism. He never married and did not have children. Bentham was excessively shy and has been posthumously claimed to have had autism.[1] He had a strict daily routine: Every day, he woke up at 6 AM, walked for two hours and then worked until 4 PM.[2]

Romantic life[edit | edit source]

Bentham's sexuality has been mythologized since his death, with Bentham commonly being depicted as an archetypal lonely genius who never interacted romantically with women. The prominent Victorian critic Sir Leslie Stephen encapsulated this view when he described Bentham as a lifelong celibate, writing that Bentham was "all his life both a philosopher and a child [...] he never talked to any woman except his cook and housemaid".

While Bentham may have been incelish throughout his life, there are scattered accounts of him engaging in relationships with women that may or may not have been explicitly sexual. Indeed, Bentham strongly tied in sexuality with his utilitarian ethics, writing many treatizes on sexuality that advocated a neo-epicurean viewpoint of maximizing sexual and material pleasures while minimizing the potential harms of these behaviors as the key to happiness. In several of these treatizes, Bentham describes a variety of sexual acts in explicit detail, which likely indicates some direct experience with sexual intercourse in the context of a period when pornography was much harder to come by.[3]

At the age of 80, he wrote to one of the women he courted during his youth, reminding her that she had "presented him, in ceremony, with the flower in the green lane".[4]

Social views relating to sexuality[edit | edit source]

Bentham was an early advocate of certain aspects of sexual liberation, including decriminalizing homosexuality and many other (then) prohibited sexual acts, as long as they were consensual, though he expressed personal disgust at homosexual acts.[5][6] He did, however, view the enforcement of marriage as "the most important contract in law" and was a strong advocate of monogamy. Bentham viewed marriage as the ideal way for people to maximize their utilitarian sexual pleasure while minimizing what he saw as the social harms of excessive sexual promiscuity; thus, he wasn't an advocate of 'free love', rejecting polyandry and polygamy. Bentham's ideal legal system did allow for divorce in certain instances, such as in the case of loveless marriages and spousal abuse.[7]

He advocated formalized short-term marriages as a response to what he saw as the social ills of prostitution and concubinage, mainly in the view of this conferring some social protections and respectability on the women engaged in these activities. Bentham also expressed some feminist views and was an early advocate of female suffrage, though he thought the idea impractical in his time.[8]

References[edit | edit source]

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