The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Bentham, Jeremy (1748–1832)

  • Philip Schofield
Reference work entry


Jeremy Bentham, English philosopher and reformer, was the founder of classical utilitarianism, the doctrine that an action was morally right to the extent that it promoted the greatest happiness of the greatest number. In Bentham’s hands, the principle of utility provided a critical standard by which to test the value of existing practices, laws, and institutions, and to suggest reform and improvement. His basic premise in political economy was that wealth would be most effectively produced where the individual was left free from government intervention, though government had a crucial role in providing the background conditions of security without which civilized life was impossible.


Abundance Bentham, J. Civil law Colonies Consumption taxation Democracy Diminishing marginal utility Economic freedom Equality Escheat Ethics Expectations Free press Happiness Inflation Moneylenders National debt Panopticon Political economy Population growth Possession Principle of utility Property Property taxation Psychological hedonism Public debt Punishment Redistribution of income and wealth Security Sinister interests Sinking fund Subsistence Usury Utilitarianism Wealth Well-being 

JEL Classifications

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Dinwiddy, J. 2004. Bentham: Selected writings of John Dinwiddy. Edited by W. Twining. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Harrison, R. 1983. Bentham. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  3. Hart, H.L.A. 1982. Essays on Bentham: Jurisprudence and political theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Kelly, P.J. 1990. Utilitarianism and distributive justice: Jeremy Bentham and the civil law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  5. Lieberman, D. 2000. Economy and polity in Bentham’s science of legislation. In Economy, polity, and society: British intellectual history, 1750–1950, ed. S. Collini, R. Whatmore, and B. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Postema, G.J. 1986. Bentham and the common law tradition. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  7. Rosen, F. 2003. Classical utilitarianism from Hume to Mill. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Schofield, P. 2006. Utility and democracy: The political thought of Jeremy Bentham. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Semple, J. 1993. Bentham’s prison: A study of the panopticon penitentiary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Warke, T. 2000. Multi-dimensional utility and the index number problem: Jeremy Bentham, J.S. Mill, and qualitative hedonism. Utilitas 12: 176–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip Schofield
    • 1
  1. 1.