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Social Work Theorists: Jeremy Bentham


(February 15, 1748- June 6, 1832). Jeremy Bentham was British philosopher , jurist, and social reformer. He became known as the founder of modern utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes utility. He was a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism. He advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of Church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the rights to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He called for the abolition of slavery, the abolition of the death penalty, and the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children. Courtesy of  The Famous People Site


   Bentham defined ‘utilitarianism’ as: ‘an act is right or good if it produces pleasure and evil if it leads to pain’. This principle received its recognition from the book, ‘Principles of Morals and Legislation’. Utility is brought out here as the property in any object through which it tends to give rise to joy, good or happiness and forbid to which the occurrence of mischief, evil or unhappiness to the party whose interest is regarded. Many a time, man is deprived of happiness since he goes wrong in comprehending the terms: value, ought, good and right. They are meaningless until they are similar to utility, in the form of pleasure and happiness. Bentham stated that mankind is ruled by two self-governing motives — pain and pleasure. The principle of utility recognizes this state of affairs and declared that the aim of all lawmaking bodies must be ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Jeremy Bentham inferred from this principle that all punishments involve pain and is therefore, considered evil. Thus, it has to be used only for omitting greater evil.

   This principle of utilitarianism intended to make morals and politics an exact skill based on the objective criteria for assessing both individual and institutional actions. To shape out reasons for the utility of actions, Bentham proposed a ‘felicific calculus’ that was helpful in balancing the pleasures and pains as a result of one’s acts. This is an easy method of evaluation as the value of an action would be high or less depending on the intensity, length of pleasure and certainty and possibility. Bentham is accepted and the ‘Father of the Principle of Utility’ because of his works towards the expanding the principle of utility from social reform to personal conduct. He also became the most important radical in England and influenced several other leaders. Courtesy of The Famous People Site

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Thedis Bryant
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