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Bentham, Jeremy

ross harrison

Subject Philosophy » Metaphysics

People Bentham, Jeremy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631199991.1995.x


(1748–1832) British philosopher who studied law. As a thinker whose ‘fundamental axiom’ was the principle of utility, Bentham was a practical thinker. Hence traditional metaphysical questions, such as the existence of material objects, did not particularly interest him. He thought that we should suppose that they existed because ‘no bad consequences’ could possibly arise from the supposition. The centre of Bentham's interest was not such abstract questions but the practical topic of law. However, his deep investigations into the nature of law led him, in spite of himself, into original meta physical analysis. For he had to account for such legal entities as property, rights, duties and laws. Bentham said that metaphysics was ‘to know and to be able to make others know what it is we mean’. Doing metaphysics was making things comprehensible; metaphysical theories were theories of meaning. So, faced with explaining rights or duties, Bentham's task was to explain how such terms as ‘right’ or ‘duty’ can have meaning. The traditional approach to an analysis of obligation or duty , as in Locke , would be to say that it was a complex idea, composed of simple ideas. Part of this Bentham adopts, in that he thinks analysis should terminate with simple ideas which are, or refer to, objects of direct perception, and which can be immediately understood. Prominent amongst such simple ideas ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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