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Special issue

Bentham, Science and Utility

Bentham, science et utilité
Rex W. Mixon Jr.

Résumés

Bentham croyait que la loi et la politique publique devraient être déterminées et appliquées conformément à la science et à l’utilité. Bentham a envisagé que la science devrait servir l’utilité en tant que moyen ou instrument pour l’art de développer et de mettre en œuvre des lois et des politiques publiques. Bentham a compris la science comme une connaissance dans le domaine de la pensée et l’art comme une pratique ou une performance dans le domaine de l’action. Cet article examine la compréhension de Bentham de la science et la relation de la science et de l’utilité que Bentham a développé dans le cadre de son projet de réforme ou de création d’une « nouvelle science » du droit, annoncé dans la Préface à l’Introduction aux principes de la morale et de la législation. Premièrement, l’article examine l’utilisation par Bentham des termes science, art et utilité, en faisant référence à l’utilité comme objectif de la science et de l’art. Ensuite, l’article explore les bases de la compréhension de Bentham de la science en général en examinant sa passion pour la botanique, ses expériences en chimie et son étude des travaux de Francis Bacon (1561-1626) dont Novum Organum (1620) a fourni un modèle et une inspiration pour le projet de Bentham. La dernière section de l’article identifie cinq principes de la science que Bentham a adoptés comme nécessaires pour son projet et cherche à montrer qu’ils incarnent la substance et la terminologie des passages du Novum Organum de Bacon. L’article conclut que Bentham a adopté les principes de la science, en particulier la méthode d’observation et de raisonnement inductif utilisée en science, comme intégraux et nécessaires pour appliquer le contenu normatif du principe d’utilité.

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Texte intégral

I want to thank Piero Tarantino for the kind invitation to contribute to this special volume on a timely and important topic and especially for his continued patience and encouragement during the past year. A large part of this paper was written after the COVID-19 pandemic began, which presented numerous obstacles to completing it but reinforced the need for science to guide the development and application of public policy (as Bentham argued more than 200 years ago). I also want to thank my colleagues at New York University Stern School of Business, particularly Neil Rader for his assistance in helping me gain access to my office during the summer to work on the paper, and Bruce Buchanan and Batia Wiesenfeld for their continued support. I also want to thank Philip Schofield at the Bentham Project for his encouragement, and my colleagues John Edwards and Sophie Berman at St. Francis College for their support. Finally, I want to thank my wife Susan and son Timothy for their boundless love, support and patience.

Introduction

  • 1 Bentham, Jeremy, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation (hereafter IPML), eds. J.H. B (...)

1Bentham believed that law and public policy should be determined and applied in accordance with science and utility. Bentham envisioned that science should serve utility as a means or instrument for the art of developing and implementing law and public policy. Bentham understood science as knowledge in the field of thought, and art as practice or performance in the field of action. This paper examines Bentham’s understanding of science and the relationship of science and utility that Bentham developed in connection with his project to reform or create “a new science” of law announced in the Preface to Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.1

  • 2 A text search of IPML disclosed 30 passages where Bentham used the term “science.” Appendix I to th (...)

2Based on his correspondence and early texts, Bentham displayed a keen interest in and strong understanding of science in general and science “considered in respect of its form,” the method of investigation and inductive reasoning used in science, and the method and terminology used in the different then existing sciences (for example, botany and chemistry). Bentham recognized that sciences may comprehend different subject matters, exist in different periods of development, and they can advance and be improved.2

  • 3 In 1775, Bentham indicated in correspondence that he had left the practice of law to work for the r (...)
  • 4 Bentham, J., IPML, Preface, p. 9.

3By the mid 1770’s, first as a student and later as a practicing attorney, Bentham had encountered the then existing science of law. According to Bentham, the science of law needed to be reformed,3 or “a new science” created,4 in order to benefit the welfare of mankind.

  • 5 Bentham, Jeremy, A Comment on the Commentaries and A Fragment on Government (hereafter Comment/Frag (...)
  • 6 Bentham, J., IPML, Chapter 1.1, p. 11.

4Bentham’s early writings reveal his enthusiasm and optimism that “knowledge is rapidly advancing towards perfection. In the natural world, in particular, everything teems with discovery and with improvement” and “Correspondent to discovery and improvement in the natural world, is reformation in the moral.”5 Bentham confidently declared “that moral science is to be improved.”6

5This paper proceeds as follows. First, the paper examines Bentham’s use of the terms science, art, and utility, with references to utility as the goal for science and art. Next, the paper explores the basis for Bentham’s understanding of science in general, by examining his engagement with science: his passion for botany, his experiments in chemistry, and his study of the work of Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) whose Novum Organum (1620) provided a model and inspiration for Bentham’s project to reform or create “a new science” of law. The last section of the paper identifies five principles of science that Bentham embraced as necessary for his project and seeks to show that they embody the substance and terminology of passages in Novum Organum.

Relationship of science and art and utility for Bentham

6The paper begins by examining Bentham’s use of the terms science, art, and utility.

7For Bentham, knowledge “is termed science” and practice “is termed art.”

  • 7 Bentham, Jeremy, Chrestomathia, eds. M.J. Smith and W.H. Burston (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1983), p (...)

Practice, in proportion as attention and exertion are regarded as necessary to due performance, is termed art: knowledge, in proportion as attention and exertion are regarded as necessary to attainment, is termed science.7

  • 8 Bentham, J., Chrestomthaia, p. 120.
  • 9 Bentham, J., Chrestomthaia, p. 61. Bentham expressed a similar view in his unpublished “Essay on Lo (...)

8On Bentham’s view, “the great and universal end to which all art, all science, all language, is, or ought to be directed” was the “public welfare.”8 Accordingly, Bentham distinguished between art and science in terms of their value in contributing to the public welfare. For Bentham, the value of science “consists in its subserviency to art.”9

9Bentham declared that

  • 10 Bentham, J., Chrestomthaia, p. 61

As between art and science, …art, when it is not itself the end, stands nearest to the end: with reference to this end, whatsoever of science stands connected with it, is but as a means. But if, independently of all connection which it has with art, science pleases, then, in so far as it pleases, it is of use: for use itself has neither value nor meaning, but in virtue of, and in proportion to, whatsoever relation it has to pain or pleasure.10

10Thus, for Bentham, science was knowledge in the field of thought, and art was practice or performance in the field of action. Bentham envisioned that science (knowledge) should serve as a “means” or instrument for directing the art (practice) of performing acts. The value of art (practice) in the field of action was greater and ranked higher than the value of science (knowledge) in the field of thought in relation to producing consequences of “pain or pleasure.”

  • 11 Bentham, J., IPML, Chapter 2.14 note d, p. 28.
  • 12 Bentham, J., IPML, Chapter 10.2, p. 96.

11According to Bentham, for “questions of speculation: it matters not, comparatively speaking, how they are decided,” but for “a question of practice: the decision of it is of as much importance as that of any can be.”11 Bentham maintained that “it is only on account of their tendency to produce either pain or pleasure, that any acts can be material. With acts, therefore, that rest purely in the understanding, we have not here any concern.”12

12The value of science or knowledge in the field of thought was in serving or directing art or practice in the field of action. For Bentham, questions of practice resulted in acts with consequences of pain or pleasure and were, therefore, more important comparatively speaking than questions of speculation that rested purely in thought without producing any acts with consequences of “pain or pleasure.”

13More specifically, with respect to his project to reform or create “a new science” of law in order to develop his plan of a penal code, Bentham stated

  • 13 Bentham, J., IPML, Preface, pp. 8-9.

Of this logic of the will, the science of law, considered in respect of its form, is the most considerable branch, — the most important application. It is, to the art of legislation, what the science of anatomy is to the art of medicine: with this difference, that the subject of it is what the artist has to work with, instead of being what he has to operate upon.13

  • 14 Bentham, J., IPML, Preface, p. 9

14Here, Bentham developed a striking analogy with law and medicine. For Bentham, knowledge or the “science of law” served as a means for the practice or “art of legislation,” just as knowledge or the “science of anatomy” served as a means for the practice or “art of medicine.” On Bentham’s view, a new science (knowledge) of law was necessary as a means to develop a new art (practice) of legislation - “an unexampled work to achieve, and then a new science to create.”14

15For Bentham, utility was the tendency that an action may possess to avert pain or create pleasure, that is, to produce happiness.

  • 15 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Preface, p. 415.

The end [of all actions] I mean is Happiness: and this tendency in any act is what we style its utility: as this divergency is that to which we give the name of mischievousness.15

16Accordingly, Bentham declared that utility provided guidance for a new science of law as follows:

  • 16 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Preface, p. 416.

From utility, then, we may denominate a principle, that may serve to preside over and govern, as it were, such arrangement as shall be made of the several institutions, or combinations of institutions, that compose the matter of this science: and it is this principle that, by putting its stamp upon the several names given to those combinations, can alone render satisfactory and clear any arrangement that can be made of them.16

  • 17 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 17.20, p. 293.

17Thus, utility was “to preside over and govern” the arrangement of the “institutions” that “compose the matter of this science” of law. In the art of legislation, the legislator’s goal was to create the conditions that were the “most conducive to the happiness of the whole community, by means of motives to be applied by the legislator.”17

  • 18 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, A Comment on the Commentaries, Chapter I.3, p. 28.

18In Comment on the Commentaries, Bentham stated that “[t]he question concerning the utility of a measure of government… is a question of fact: a question concerning a matter of fact that depends upon experience and is to be collected by observation.”18 In this passage, Bentham described three elements of the kind of knowledge required to evaluate the utility of adopting a “measure of government:” (1) a question of fact; (2) dependent upon experience (past facts); and (3) identified and collected by observation. The three elements described by Bentham are key elements of science, namely, scientific method and scientific knowledge, and reflected Bentham’s commitment that science should serve the art of legislation.

19Thus, in Fragment on Government, Bentham recommended using the inductive method of science to assist in the application of the principle of utility in determining whether or not a law should be adopted. Bentham framed the issue in terms of estimating or predicting the probability of future events of “mischiefs” and “benefits” expected to result from the proposed law in terms of “the probability of certain future contingencies…” Bentham’s recommended approach reflected his interest in applying the inductive method of the natural sciences to the subject matter of law. According to Bentham,

I cannot help persuading myself, that the disputes between contending parties—between the defenders of a law and the opposers of it, would stand a much better chance of being adjusted than at present, were they but explicitly and constantly referred at once to the principle of UTILITY. The footing on which this principle [of utility] rests every dispute, is that of matter of fact; that is, future fact—the probability of certain future contingencies…

[H]ad the debate been originally and avowedly instituted on the footing of utility, the parties might at length have come to an agreement; or at least to a visible and explicit issue. —

I say, that the mischiefs of the measure in question are to such an amount—

I say, not so, but to a less. —

I say, the benefits of it are only to such an amount—

I say, not so, but to a greater.” …

  • 19 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Chapter 4.39, p. 491, and Chapter 4.41, p. 4 (...)

The question is now manifestly a question of conjecture concerning so many future contingent matters of fact: to solve it, both parties then are naturally directed to support their respective persuasions by the only evidence the nature of the case admits of; —the evidence of such past matters of fact as appear to be analogous to those contingent future ones.19

20Here, Bentham argued that science should serve utility in the determination of adopting a law because the issue was best answered by inductive reasoning, that is, by observing and collecting instances “of such past matters of fact as appear to be analogous to those contingent future ones” expected to result from the proposed law and public policy. The method of estimating the probability of future mischiefs and benefits based on observed “past matters of fact as appear to be analogous” or similar to future events reflected key features of inductive reasoning – an important principle of science. Moreover, Bentham recognized that inductive reasoning was not simply on the basis of the number of observed past events, but on their similarity or being “analogous” to the contingent future events under review. Thus, for Bentham, reasoning by induction (science) served as a means for the art of legislation by providing knowledge in the application of the principle of utility.

21In the next three sections, this paper seeks to show the basis for Bentham’s understanding of science in general by examining his engagement with science: his passion for and study of botany; his experiments in chemistry; and his study of the work of Francis Bacon whose Novum Organum (1620) provided a model and inspiration for Bentham’s project.

Bentham’s study of botany: “one of the most beneficent of sciences”

  • 20 Bentham, Jeremy, Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring, vol. X, pp. 24-25.

22From an early age, Bentham’s passion for flowers led him to study the science of botany and he developed a keen lifetime interest in botany. In “Memoirs of Bentham” published by John Bowring, Bentham declared, shortly before he died, “I was passionately fond of flowers, from my youth, and the passion has never left me. … I loved botany for the sake of its beauties.”20

  • 21 Bentham, J., Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring, vol. X, p. 178.

23Throughout his life, Bentham loved botany not only for “the sake of its beauties” but also “for its instrumentality in the diffusion of enjoyment… the powers which the botanist has, of adding to the pleasures of others, there are no bounds.”21

24According to Bowring,

  • 22 Bentham, J., Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring, vol. X, p. 152.

And, by the way, I cannot pass over the love of flowers, which, I have already said, distinguished Bentham, without remarking that the distribution through the world of useful and beautiful plants and fruits, was one of his habitual occupations. His correspondence is full of suggestions for the introduction of new vegetable productions. He sent seeds from England to various parts of the globe…. He used to remark, that Botany was one of the most beneficent of sciences, as it lent itself to a boundless diffusion of new enjoyments.22

25In 1767, at age 19 in a letter to his cousin Samuel Ray, Bentham referred to his earlier passion for botany as a youth and his study of the work of Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), a professor of botany who developed a plant classification system based on a binomial nomenclature.

  • 23 Bentham, Jeremy, The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1: 1752-1776, p. 105.

The truth is, that seeing you take a pleasure in those pursuits I thought it might afford you some entertainment to peruse an account of that System [of Linnaeus] which had made so much noise and occasioned so great a revolution in the Botanical world. The impetuosity of youth not allowing me time to reflect that tho’ it had enabled me to scramble through that long ambages of hard words…My passion [for botany] which was then at it’s (sic) height is now considerably abated; and I am content at present to consider that as an occasional amusement, which before I made rather too principal a study.23

  • 24 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Preface, p. 418 note d1.

26Nine years later, in Fragment on Government, Bentham cited to “that System” of Linnaeus while examining William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765). Bentham observed there were “several fragments of a sort of method which is, or at least comes near to, what may be termed a natural one” in the naming of offenses, for example, corporal injuries or offenses against personal security, and cited Linnaeus’ work as follows: “Fragmenta methodi naturalis.—Linnæi Phil. Bot. Tit. Systemata, par. 77.”24 In Linnaeus’ work, Philosophia Botanica (1751), under the title Systemata, Linnaeus stated in paragraph 77 “Methodi naturalis Fragmenta studiose inquirenda sunt, primum et ultimum hoc in Botanicis desideratum est.“ [“The fragments of the natural method are to be inquired into studiously, the first and highest goal of what is needed in botany.”]

  • 25 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Preface, p. 418 note d1. Based on his unders (...)

27Here, in Fragment on Government, Bentham adapted the “methodi naturalis” developed by Linnaeus for classification of plants in the science of botany as a model for a method to classify offenses in the penal law when examining Blackstone’s Commentaries.25

28In 1787, during a trip to Crichoff, in the then province of White Russia (eastern part of present day Belarus), Bentham collected seeds from 30 different plants and sent them to “his botanical friends in England.” Bentham included a “List of Seeds” identified by “names or descriptions” of the plants. At the foot of the list, Bentham observed

  • 26 Bentham, J., Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring vol. X, pp. 178-179; also reproduced in (...)

N.B. For want of leisure, books, and instruments, the botanic characters were not attended to. The ground for looking upon them as new, is their appearing such to an experienced botanical gardener, bred up under the king’s gardener at Kew, and in other capital gardens in the neighborhood of London. The names or descriptions here given, however loose and untechnical, it was presumed would be more satisfactory than none.26

29Here, in identifying the various plants by “names or descriptions,” Bentham described himself as “an experienced botanical gardener” and used in several instances the Latin names of plants from the classification or taxonomy used in botany.

30Bentham’s passion for the beauty of flowers and for the diffusion of new enjoyments produced by plants and flowers motivated his work to study the science of botany. Bentham found that the classification system in botany was useful in classifying the numerous kinds of plants and flowers. He recognized that a similar classification system with a fixed nomenclature was needed and would be useful in classifying offenses to develop a “plan of a penal code.”

Bentham’s chemistry experiments

31Bentham’s engagement with science is reflected in his early and serious interest in chemistry. In his “Memoirs of Bentham,” John Bowring described Bentham in 1764 at age 16 as follows:

  • 27 Bentham, J., Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring vol. X, p. 47.

He was passionately fond of chemistry, and indeed of all experimental philosophy; but was denied the means of obtaining the necessary apparatus for pursuing his investigations. On one occasion, he bargained with a chemist to have the sweepings of his shop in phials, &c., for half-a-crown. Had he met with more encouragement, his mind would probably have been principally or wholly directed to the physical sciences.27

  • 28 Priestley is also the author of An Essay on the First Principles of Government: And on the Nature o (...)

32Bentham’s interest in chemistry is well documented by a letter he wrote in November 1774 to Joseph Priestley (1733 – 1804), considered one of the founding fathers of chemistry and widely credited with the discovery of oxygen in a paper published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1775.28

33Bentham’s letter to Priestley is significant because it demonstrates that Bentham was a serious student of science and had a strong understanding of the methods used in conducting chemistry experiments. Bentham’s letter further shows that he was familiar with important elements of science in general, for example, nomenclature, the arrangement or presentation of particular facts observed during investigations, and methods for eliciting the properties of subjects of experiments.

  • 29 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, pp. 208-216.

34Bentham wrote to Priestley in November 1774 enclosing for his review and comment (1) a paper written by Dr. John Simmons on electricity of the atmosphere that, according to Bentham, “has been shown to Dr. Franklin;” and (2) more significant for our purposes, a letter written by Bentham “on a different subject, herewith also enclosed” entitled “Apparatus for generating Airs.”29

  • 30 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 210.

35Bentham’s letter to Priestley began by providing “an account of a slight alteration I contrived in the apparatus for generating Airs: I have put it in practice with success.”30 Thereafter, in a lengthy letter of more than 2,500 words, with headings for different sections, Bentham described in detail and illustrated with diagrams in the text the procedures, methods, and equipment he used for conducting experiments to isolate certain airs (gases); results of the experiments; the advantages and disadvantages of the different methods; and “hints” of ways to improve experiments and discovery in chemistry.

  • 31 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 212.
  • 32 Bentham stated “Dr Priestley was no favorite of mine. I thought him cold and assuming. He annoyed m (...)
  • 33 Bentham, J., Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring, vol. X, p. 133.

36According to Bentham, one of the methods “was suggested to me the other day by Dr. George Fordyce to whose excellent instructions I owe what little I know of Chemistry.”31 Previously, Bentham had attended lectures on chemistry delivered by Fordyce (1736 – 1802), a physician and chemist active in London during the 1760’s as a lecturer on medicine and chemistry.32 According to Bentham, “I made acquaintance, before I was of age, with Dr. Fordyce, in consequence of his lectures on chemistry.”33

37In the last part of his letter to Priestley, which began with the heading “Nomenclature,” Bentham observed that

  • 34 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 214.

A factitious [created or developed] Nomenclature when not too far fetched is of considerable use in the Sciences for the purposes of Brevity and Precision. *** I need not cite instances to prove to you that the greatest improvements in science are reducible to, at least are announced and recorded by operations of Nomenclature.34

  • 35 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 215.
  • 36 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 216.

38Thereafter, Bentham stated “I have an objection to a term of your employing. It is that of Acid Air.”35 Bentham suggested to Priestley that he change the term “Acid Air” to “Muriatic Air” for several reasons and noted that “I need make no apologies to Dr. Priestley. It costs him no more to retract than to advance, when the interests of Science are in question.”36

39Bentham concluded his letter:

  • 37 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 216.

Much more I could offer to you on the subject: / other articles of Nomenclature, other hints respecting arrangement, other species of vapor for subjects of experiment: and other methods for eliciting the properties of such as have been already practiced on./ but all I have said already may be perhaps too much.37

40The next month, December 1774, Priestley replied to Bentham

  • 38 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 265.

I have no doubt but that if you were to go to work in good earnest you would do something considerable. Some of your queries you will find are solved in my printed volume, and others in the volume that is in the press. But a few I have taken hints of, and if I should pursue them, I shall with pleasure make a proper acknowledgment.38

  • 39 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 213 and p. 215.
  • 40 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 212 and p. 213.
  • 41 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 216.

41In summary, Bentham’s chemistry experiments and correspondence with Priestley demonstrate that Bentham was a serious student of science and had a strong understanding of the methods used in conducting chemistry experiments; was familiar with key elements of science in general; read and studied papers written for the science of chemistry (“This I have some notion to have seen in print” and “If the notions of some writers had been deemed well grounded”39); and embraced the approach in science to evaluate results and methods used in experiments (“this method is free from every disadvantage” and “were it not for one advantage over the other”40) and, proposed changes to existing methods and terminology when “the interests of Science are in question.”41

Francis Bacon was a model and inspiration for Bentham

42A principal source for Bentham’s understanding of science was the work of Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), an English lawyer, statesman active in public affairs, philosopher, and reformer of learning and the scientific method.

  • 42 Bentham, J., Deontology, “Article on Utilitarianism,” paragraph 59, p. 311.
  • 43 Bentham, J., Chrestomthaia, p. 13.
  • 44 Bentham, J., Chrestomthaia, p. 160.
  • 45 Bentham, Jeremy, Writings on Political Economy. Volume II, ed. M. Quinn (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2 (...)

43Bentham expressed praise for Bacon on numerous occasions, including, for example “Sincere and intense had always been his [Bentham’s] admiration of Bacon.”42; “the comprehensive genius of Bacon”43; “the age of Bacon…was a precocious and precious fruit of the union of learning with genius”44; and “How long is the wisdom of the immortal Bacon to be set at nought? how long is one of the grandest and wisest of his maxims to be inverted?”45

44Indeed, Bacon served as a model and inspiration for Bentham in several aspects of his life. As noted by Mary Mack in Jeremy Bentham: An Odyssey of Ideas

  • 46 Mack, Mary, Jeremy Bentham: An Odyssey of Ideas, (London, Heinemann, 1962), p. 129.

But of all the figures in the history of Western thought, none rose up more majestically in Bentham’s imagination than Sir Francis Bacon…. There was however one great man whom Bentham resembled very nearly, and that was Sir Francis Bacon.46

  • 47 Mack, M., Jeremy Bentham: An Odyssey of Ideas, (London, Heinemann, 1962), p. 141.

It has become a textbook cliché that Bentham’s heritage was Helvétian and Beccarian. So it was. But no one influenced him more strongly than Bacon.47

  • 48 Munday, Roderick, “Bentham, Bacon and the Movement for the Reform of English Law Reporting”, Utilit (...)
  • 49 Munday, R., “Bentham”, p. 315.

45For example, Bentham and Bacon shared a keen interest in reforming the way English law was reported. Roderick Munday has written an article highlighting similarities and strong parallels shared by the plans of Bentham and Bacon for improvements to a system of law reporting.48 Munday concluded that Bentham’s work in the reform of law reporting “strongly confirms the extent to which Bentham could be inspired by Bacon” and Bentham’s “Year Books project affords a good illustration of how Bacon’s legal writings could illuminate Bentham’s path.”49

46For our purposes here, it is Bacon’s work in developing a new method for science in Novum Organum that is of particular interest. Significantly, in his “Article on Utilitarianism,” Bentham recalled that

  • 50 Bentham, J., Deontology, “Article on Utilitarianism,” paragraph 14, pp. 294-295.

On his entrance into the moral, including the political, branch of art and science, he [Bentham] found it in much the same condition as that in which Lord Bacon found the physical. The matter of what was called ‘the science’ was composed of a more or less copious assemblage of words, and the instruction afforded, such as it was, consisted principally, if not exclusively, in conveying intimation of the relation borne by the import of one of those words to the import of another. Fiat experimentum was the aphorism of Lord Bacon: and by this one direction that philosopher was regarded, and with truth, as having done more towards the advancement of that branch of art and science than had been done by all that had gone before him. Fiat observatio was the aphorism of Mr. Bentham: for ‘observatio’, not ‘experimentum’, was the appropriate word here…. In the case of moral and political science the proper subject-matters of observation were pains and pleasures as they respectively resulted from the several modifications of which human conduct, or say agency, is susceptible.50

  • 51 Bacon’s aphorism “Fiat experimentum” appeared multiple times in Novum Organum, Book Two.
  • 52 See discussion in Frederick Rosen, Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill (London, Routledge, 2 (...)

47Here, Bentham self-identified with Bacon’s task and work in reforming the physical sciences. Bentham saw his own task and work in reforming or creating a new “moral and political science” as modeled after Bacon’s work in advancing the physical sciences. Indeed, Bentham stated that he adopted the aphorism “Fiat observatio” (“Let an observation be done”) in parallel to Bacon’s aphorism “Fiat experimentum” (“Let an experiment be done”)51 but carefully adjusted it to fit the subject matter of his investigation.52 This clearly demonstrated Bentham’s intention to model his project to reform or create a new science of law based on Bacon’s framework and methodology for science.

  • 53 Several published editions and translations of Bacon’s Novum Organum are available today. In this p (...)
  • 54 The title page of Novum Organum stated, in part, “Aphorismi de interpretatione naturae et regno hom (...)

48Bacon’s Novum Organum, sive indicia vera de Interpretatione Naturae (”New organon, or true directions concerning the interpretation of nature") is a Latin text published in 1620 as a new instrument or tool for establishing true propositions about nature based upon methodical observation.53 The Latin word organum is derived from the Greek word organon which means “instrument” or “tool.” Bacon stated that the work was intended to provide a novum or new instrument for guiding man’s search to “discover the secrets of nature” and “in our capacity of legitimate interpreters of nature, to deduce causes and axioms from effects and experiments; and new effects and experiments from those causes and axioms.” (Novum Organum, Book One, Aphorisms 98 and 117).54

  • 55 Bentham described the study of logic during 1761 when he attended Queen’s College at Oxford as foll (...)
  • 56 Bentham referenced Aristotle’s Organon or System of Logic as follows (Bentham, J., Chrestomathia, p (...)

49Bacon’s title Novum Organum contrasted with Aristotle’s Organon, a collection of six texts by Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) on logic: Categories, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics, and On Sophistical Refutations. The six texts were grouped together and called the Organon, or System of Logic, by Aristotle’s followers who believed that logic was useful as an “instrument” or “tool” for all inquiries. While attending Queen’s College at Oxford, Bentham studied logic55 and was familiar with Aristotle’s Organon or System of Logic.56 Aristotle used the Greek word episteme to describe the kind of knowledge that was later translated into Latin as scientia and became the English word science, and the Greek word epagoge to describe knowledge acquired from perception of similar particular instances to form general principles that was later translated into Latin as inductio and became the English word induction.

Bentham embraced key elements of science in his project to create a new science of law

  • 57 Bentham, J., IPML, Preface, p. 9.
  • 58 Bentham, Jeremy, Preparatory Principles, eds. D. G. Long and P. Schofield (Oxford, Clarendon Press, (...)

50My aim in this section is to identify five principles of science Bentham embraced as necessary for “an unexampled work to achieve, and then a new science [of law] to create: a new branch to add to one of the most abstruse of sciences”57 and to show that they embody the substance and terminology of passages in Bacon’s Novum Organum. My thesis is that Bacon’s work inspired Bentham and provided him with the confidence and tools to create a new science of law. In a direct allusion to Bacon’s work, in the mid-1770’s Bentham considered “Novum Organon Juris” as one possible title for his new work on universal jurisprudence.58

51As noted by Douglas G. Long in Bentham on Liberty: Jeremy Bentham’s Idea of Liberty in Relation to his Utilitarianism

  • 59 Long, Douglas G., Bentham on Liberty: Jeremy Bentham’s Idea of Liberty in Relation to his Utilitari (...)

Bentham’s interest in science was neither evanescent nor shallow. It persisted through time and penetrated beyond the fascination of exciting experimental discoveries to give birth to a real devotion to the perfection of knowledge of man and his world on the basis of experiment and observation – the scientific method of Bacon.59

Truths form the basis of science, and truths in science are discovered by investigations.

52In the Preface to IPML, Bentham embraced this principle as follows:

  • 60 Bentham, J., IPML, Preface, pp. 9-10. See also IPML, chapter 16.58, note y4 p.273: “The discovery o (...)

[T]ruths that form the basis of political and moral science, are not to be discovered but by investigations as severe as mathematical ones, and beyond all comparison more intricate and extensive…Truths in general have been called stubborn things: the truths just mentioned are so in their own way. They are not to be forced into detached and general propositions, unencumbered with explanations and exceptions…There is no King’s Road, no Stadtholder’s Gate, to legislative, any more than to mathematic science.60

  • 61 See discussion in Philip Schofield’s article “Jeremy Bentham on Utility and Truth”, History of Euro (...)

53For Bentham, truths were correct and complete beliefs concerning facts, and facts were things or events existing in nature.61 Truths or correct beliefs concerning things or events in nature were to be discovered by investigations that were severe, intricate, and extensive.

54According to Bacon, science was dedicated to “investigate the truth (ad inquisitionem veritatis)” Aphorism 12), and it was necessary to conduct “a severe and strict investigation of truth (quam veritatis severam et rigidam inquisitionem sequi)” (Aphorism 81).

55The substance and terminology of Bacon’s principles are reflected in the passage quoted above from the Preface to IPML. Moreover, Bacon’s view that the new method of science was not restricted to the natural sciences but applied to “the other sciences also, such as Logic, Ethics, Politics” (Aphorism 127) is reflected in Bentham’s references in the above passage to “political and moral science” and “legislative” science.

Investigations in science are conducted by methods grounded on the observation of qualities or properties of a particular thing or event, and the form of reasoning is induction.

56Bentham made explicit reference to the need for a new method to investigate law according to the principles of science.

  • 62 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.58 note y4 p.273.

Imagine what a condition a science must be in, when as yet there shall be no such thing as forming any extensive proposition relative to it, that shall be at the same time a true one: where, if the proposition shall be true of some of the particulars contained under it, it shall be false with regard to others. What a state would botany, for example, be in, if the classes were so contrived, that no common characters could be found for them? Yet in this state, and no better, seems every system of penal law to be, authoritative or unauthoritative, that has ever yet appeared… All this for want of method: and hence the necessity of endeavoring to strike out a new one.62

57For Bentham, the lack or “want of method” for conducting investigations of law prevented the forming of propositions in a science of penal law that were true of all “the particulars contained under it.” To solve this problem, Bentham proposed a new method, similar to the method used in botany to investigate and find the “common characters” of plants, to identify and classify the “common characters” found in those acts which ought to be made offenses under the penal law.

  • 63 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.56, p. 270.
  • 64 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.57, p. 272.

58Bentham developed a new method for the science of law to be grounded on observation that he described as a “method of division”63 and as a “natural method.”64

  • 65 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 3.10, p. 36.
  • 66 Bentham, J., Deontology, Article on Utilitarianism,” paragraph 14, p. 295.

59For Bentham, knowledge was grounded on things or events that “lie open to our observation”65 and the appropriate form of reasoning proceeded from observed particular instances to general propositions. Bentham declared that he had adopted the aphorism “Fiat observatio” (“Let an observation be done”) specifically for his work on moral and political science.66

Analytical Method of Division

  • 67 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.1 note a, p. 187.

60For the science of law, Bentham applied a method of division or bipartition to identify things on the basis of their observed “qualities or properties” to identify acts which made them “fit to be constituted offences” under a penal code.67

61With respect to the method of division, Bentham stated

  • 68 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.1 note a, p. 187.

This chapter is an attempt to put our ideas of offences into an exact method. The particular uses of method are various: but the general one is, to enable men to understand the things that are the subjects of it. To understand a thing, is to be acquainted with its qualities or properties. Of these properties, some are common to it with other things; the rest, peculiar…To understand it perfectly, a man must therefore be informed of the points in which it agrees as well as of those in which it disagrees, with all other things…This can only be done in the way of bipartition, dividing each superior branch into two, and but two, immediately subordinate ones; beginning with the logical whole, dividing that into two parts, then each of those parts into two others; and so on.68

  • 69 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.27 note j2, p. 215.

62Here, Bentham adopted an analytical method of separating and dividing the things to be examined into two parts based on the observed “qualities or properties” of such things, until the properties peculiar to the thing but different from properties common to other things were isolated. The analytical method of division or bipartition applied to the properties of a thing offered the possibility of “a sort of intuitive proof of their being exhaustive” if the bipartition demonstrated a “marked connection and opposition between the terms of it, which subsists between contradictory terms and between terms that have the same common genus.”69

  • 70 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.61, p. 274.

63According to Bentham, one advantage “possessed by this method [of division], and not possessed by any other, [was] that the objects comprised under it are cast into groups, to which a variety of propositions may be applied in common. A collection of these propositions, as applied to the several classes, may be considered as exhibiting the distinctive characters of each class.”70

  • 71 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.1 note a, p. 187.

64For the science of law, Bentham applied the method of division to identify the “acts which possess such properties as seem to indicate them fit to be constituted offences.”71

65In applying the method of division, what observed properties of the acts made them “fit to be constituted offences”?

A Natural Method

  • 72 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.56, p. 270.

66Bentham adopted a “natural method” to identify acts based on the harm caused by the acts or “the different points, in respect whereof the interest of an individual is exposed to suffer. By this uniformity, a considerable degree of light seems to be thrown upon the whole system” of offenses.72

67Bentham denominated his method a “natural method” because the “properties” of acts which ought to be made “offenses” were determined by the observed harm caused by the acts based on the experience of pain, or loss of pleasure, suffered by all human beings naturally and universally.

  • 73 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.57, p. 272.

That arrangement of the objects of any science may, it should seem, be termed a natural one, which takes such properties to characterize them by, as men in general are, by the common constitution of man’s nature, independently of any accidental impressions they may have received from the influence of any local or other particular causes, accustomed to attend to.73

  • 74 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 1.1, p. 11.
  • 75 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 1.12, p. 13.

68For Bentham, “by the common constitution of man’s nature,” men were governed by “pain and pleasure74 and by “the natural constitution of the human frame, on most occasions of their lives men in general embrace this principle, without thinking of it.”75

69Thus, to investigate and discover what acts were fit to be made offenses, Bentham adopted a method of separating, dividing and classifying acts based on the observed harm caused by such acts. When Bentham turned to consider how to reduce or eliminate the harm caused by such acts fit to be made offenses under the penal law, he developed a system of punishment in order to motivate men to not commit such acts, denominated offenses, based on expected consequences of pain.

70Bentham stated

  • 76 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 12.36, pp. 156-157.

The consequences we have hitherto been speaking of, are the natural consequences… that result from the behavior of the individual, who is the offending agent, without the interference of political authority. We now come to speak of punishment: which, in the sense in which it is here considered, is an artificial consequence, annexed by political authority to an offensive act, in one instance, in the view of putting a stop to the production of events similar to the obnoxious part of its natural consequences, in other instances.76

71Bentham described his work on legal punishment as follows:

  • 77 Bentham, J., Deontology,Article on Utilitarianism,” paragraph 14, p. 295.

[I]t is by the observation of the occasions on which, and shapes in which, pain and pleasure result from the modes of agency respectively productive of them—pains more especially—that Mr. Bentham deduces the quantity and quality of the applications he proposes in the character of remedies [punishment] for the evils which actions of the maleficent class [offenses] may be seen to bring in their train.77

72Bentham confidently declared that

  • 78 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Preface, pp. 417-418.

The consequences of any Law, or of any act which is made the object of a Law—the only consequences that men are at all interested in—what are they but pain and pleasure? By some such words, then, as pain and pleasure, they may be expressed: and pain and pleasure, at least, are words which a man has no need, we may hope, to go to a Lawyer to know the meaning of.78

73For Bacon, the correct way “of investigating and discovering truth (ad inquirendam et inveniendam veritatem)” was by observing particulars and constructing “axioms from the senses and particulars, by ascending continually and gradually, and finally arrives at the most general axioms, which is the true way (quae via vera est).” (Aphorism 19) Bacon stated that “it is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than negatives, whereas it ought duly and regularly to be impartial; nay, in establishing any true axiom the negative instance is the most powerful.” (Aphorism 46)

74Bacon declared that a new and different form of induction was needed to avoid “deciding generally from too small a number of facts, and those only the most obvious.” According to Bacon, a new method of induction “should separate nature by proper rejections and exclusions, and then conclude for the affirmative, after collecting a sufficient number of negatives (naturam separare debet, per rejectiones et exclusiones debitas; ac deinde, post negativas tot quot sufficiunt, super affirmativas concludere)” (Aphorism 105)

  • 79 “In this part of the analysis, I have found it necessary to deviate in some degree from the rigid r (...)
  • 80 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 3.10, p. 36.
  • 81 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, A Comment on the Commentaries, Chapter I.9, pp. 96-97.

75Bacon’s method “to separate nature by proper rejections and exclusions” in the search for negative examples in constructing axioms anticipated and motivated Bentham’s development and application of “the exhaustive method” of division.79 Bacon’s principles are further reflected in Bentham’s view that knowledge is grounded on things and events that “lie open to our observation”80 and “The only form of reasoning by which instruction is to be acquired, by which Bacon, for example, and Locke and Newton learnt what they have taught us, is that which proceeds from ‘particulars to generals’. Induction is that form.”81

Particular qualities or properties observed or discovered during investigation needed to be distinguished and arranged in an orderly way to display content and disclose the truths discovered.

76According to Bentham

  • 82 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.58 note y4, p. 273.

Till objects [of investigation] are distinguished, they cannot be arranged. It is thus that truth and order go on hand in hand. It is only in proportion as the former is discovered, that the latter can be improved. Before a certain order is established, truth can be but imperfectly announced: but until a certain proportion of truth has been developed and brought to light, that order cannot be established. The discovery of truth leads to the establishment of order: and the establishment of order fixes and propagates the discovery of truth.82

77The parallels with Bacon are striking. Bacon stated that in presenting discoveries of investigations, the particular objects of investigations needed to be collected and presented in an orderly way in order to avoid “distracting or confusing the understanding (ut intellectum disgreget et confundat).” Tables of particulars, collected and arranged, afforded the mind a “prepared and digested aid (auxilia praeparata et digesta)” in understanding the results of investigations. (Aphorism 102)

78Bacon declared that it was necessary to place the subjects of investigation in due order “by means of proper and well arranged, and, as it were, living tables of discovery of these matters (per tabulas inveniendi idoneas et bene dispositas et tanquam vivas, eorum quae pertinent ad subjectum in quo versatur inquisition).” (Aphorism 102)

  • 83 See discussion in J. R. Dinwiddy, “Bentham on Invention in Legislation,” Enlightenment and Dissent, (...)

79The similarity to Bentham’s view on the value of tables and charts is prominent. Bacon’s principles are reflected in Bentham’s view that it was necessary to present the discoveries in orderly arranged tables, with use of diagrams in some instances, in order to disclose truths discovered during investigations.83

80Bentham explained the value of using tables for the visual presentation of information, in contrast to “continued discourse,” as follows:

In the systematic diagram, the advantage is, that, for the purpose of uninterrupted and universal comparison, continued to any length, after the objects with their several relations have been respectively explained…may be so brought together, as to be kept under the eye at once, forming as it were so many parts of one and the same picture.

  • 84 Bentham, J., Chrestomathia, Appendix IV, section 10 “Uses of a Synoptic Encyclopedical Table or Dia (...)

Thus it is, that to this form two perfectly distinguishable, howsoever closely connected, advantages, both of them of a practical nature, are attached: in the first place, of the whole matter taken together, conception is facilitated and expedited; in the next place, comparison—reciprocal comparison—the articles being capable of being run over for all purposes, in all directions, and in all imaginable orders of succession, without interruption, and with that rapidity which is proverbial as being among the characters of thought.84

  • 85 Bentham, J., Chrestomathia, Appendix IV, section 10 “Uses of a Synoptic Encyclopedical Table or Dia (...)

81Bentham declared, in reference to Bacon’s work in developing the presentation of the discoveries of a science in tables, “by the true lights, shed upon the field of thought and action, and thence upon the field of art and science, by that resplendent genius [Bacon], all those false lights have been extinguished.”85

A terminology with settled names, derived from observed particular things or events, was needed to describe the objects investigated and the truths discovered in science.

82During the course of his project to develop a “plan of a penal code” and law became the subject matter of an investigation conducted according to the principles of science, Bentham frequently found that the then existing system of law lacked not only the method but also the terminology of a proper science.

83When he began to investigate “acts which possess such properties as seem to indicate them fit to be constituted offences,” Bentham declared that an immediate problem arose with respect to terminology.

  • 86 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.1 note a, pp. 187-188.

There is no speaking of objects but by their names: but the business of giving them names has always been prior to the true and perfect knowledge of their natures. Objects the most dissimilar have been spoken of and treated as if their properties were the same. Objects the most similar have been spoken of and treated as if they had scarce anything in common. Whatever discoveries may be made concerning them, how different so ever their real congruencies and disagreements may be found to be from those which are indicated by their current names, it is not without the utmost difficulty that any means can be found out of expressing those discoveries by other more apposite denominations.86

84At one point, Bentham exclaimed that with respect to terminology

  • 87 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.27 note j2, pp. 214-215.

These verbal discussions are equally tedious and indispensable. Striving to cut a new road through the wilds of jurisprudence, I find myself continually distressed, for want of tools that are fit to work with. To frame a complete set of new ones is impossible. All that can be done is, to make here and there a new one in cases of absolute necessity, and for the rest, to patch up from time to time the imperfections of the old.87

85For Bentham, the new science of law needed a well settled terminology or “fixed nomenclature.” Bentham declared

  • 88 Bentham, J., IPML, Concluding Note, paragraph 25, p. 308.

Had the science of architecture no fixed nomenclature belonging to it—were there no settled names for distinguishing the different sorts of buildings nor the different parts of the same building from each other—what would it be? It would be what the science of legislation, considered with respect to its form, remains at present.88

86Bacon had expressed a concern with language and recognized that language had an effect on the way men thought, that is, language exerted a power in assisting or obstructing a true understanding of events in nature. He observed that “men imagine that their reason governs words, whilst, in fact, words react upon the understanding; and this has rendered philosophy and the sciences sophistical and inactive.” (Aphorism 59) Moreover, definitions of words “cannot remedy in natural and material objects this evil, because definitions consist themselves of words, and these words produce others; so that it is necessary to go back to particular instances [in nature], and their regular series and order (adeo ut necesse sit, ad instantias particulares, earumque series et ordines recurrere)” so that words may be understood “according to nature (secundum naturam).” (Aphorism 59)

87Bacon and Bentham shared similar concerns with the influence of language on how men thought. For example, Bacon’s concern with the use of abstract terms is similar to Bentham’s method of paraphrasis and the need to understand words in terms of events in nature, that is, sense perception.

  • 89 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Chapter 5.6 note b, p. 495.

A word may be said to be expounded by paraphrasis, when not that word alone is translated into other words, but some whole sentence, of which it forms a part, is translated into another sentence; the words of which latter are expressive of such ideas as are simple, or are more immediately resolvable into simple ones than those of the former…This, in short, is the only method in which any abstract terms can, at the long run, be expounded to any instructive purpose; that is, in terms calculated to raise images either of substances perceived, or of emotions;—sources, one or other of which every idea must be drawn from, to be a clear one.89

  • 90 See Bentham, J., “A Fragment on Ontology,” “Essay on Logic” and “Essay on Language,” in Works, Bowr (...)
  • 91 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 214.

88Bentham’s recognition of the need for settled names in science, his method of paraphrasis relating abstract terms, and his theory of language90 share Bacon’s concerns with language and his principle that language in science needs “recourse to particular instances” in nature (Aphorism 59). As Bentham had noted in his letter to Priestley in 1774, “[T]he greatest improvements in science are reducible to, at least are announced and recorded by operations of Nomenclature.”91

The method and goal of science are universal, open to all mankind, and comprehend different subjects.

  • 92 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.57, p. 272.

89Bentham argued that a natural method had the advantage of being universal since it was grounded on “the common constitution of man’s nature, independently of any accidental impressions they may have received from the influence of any local or other particular causes.”92

90According to Bentham, a natural method and arrangement for a new science of law was

  • 93 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.60, p. 274.

governed as it is by a principle which is recognized by all men, [and] will serve alike for the jurisprudence of all nations. In a system of proposed law, framed in pursuance of such a method, the language will serve as a glossary by which all systems of positive law might be explained, while the matter serves as a standard by which they might be tried. Thus illustrated, the practice of every nation might be a lesson to every other: and mankind might carry on a mutual interchange of experiences and improvements as easily in this [science of jurisprudence] as in every other walk of science.93

91Bacon viewed the new method of science as a method of interpretation for all mankind “to discover the secrets of nature” (Aphorism 98) and it applied not only to the natural sciences but “the other sciences also, such as Logic, Ethics, Politics. We certainly intend to comprehend them all. (At nos certe de universis haec quae dicta sunt intelligimus). And as common logic, which regulates matters by syllogisms, is applied not only to natural, but also to every other science, so our inductive method likewise comprehends them all (ita et nostra, quae procedit per inductionem, omnia complectitur) (Aphorism 127)

92Bentham understood that Bacon intended the inductive method was universally available for all mankind not only as a new tool for the physical sciences, but also as a new tool for the subject matter of all sciences, including the moral and political. As Bacon had stated, “We certainly intend to comprehend them all.” (Aphorism 127). Bentham accepted and embraced Bacon’s principles, adopting and modifying where necessary, the same inductive method, and also the same goals, approach, and need for presentation of objects discovered in investigations in systematic tables and diagrams.

93In summary, based on his correspondence and early texts, Bentham embraced five broad principles of science as described above which demonstrated a serious and strong understanding of science. Bacon’s Novum Organum was an important source of Bentham’s understanding of the necessary elements of science in general, and the five principles of science embraced by Bentham embody the substance and terminology of key passages in Bacon’s Novum Organum.

Summary and Conclusion

94In summary, this paper examined Bentham’s use of the terms science, art, and utility, with references to utility as the goal for science and art. Next, the paper explored the basis for Bentham’s understanding of science in general by examining his engagement with science: his serious interest in science evidenced by his passion for botany, his experiments in chemistry, and his study and familiarity with the work of Francis Bacon who provided a model and inspiration for Bentham. The last section of the paper identified five principles of science that Bentham embraced as necessary for his project to create a new science of law and discussed how they embodied the substance and terminology of passages in Bacon’s Novum Organum.

  • 94 See Bentham, J., Deontology,Article on Utilitarianism,” paragraph 3, p. 290.
  • 95 Bentham, Jeremy, The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 2: 1777-80, ed. T.L.S. Sprigge (Londo (...)

95In conclusion, Bentham’s interest in science was early, genuine and authentic. Moreover, his interest in science predated his discovery of the application of the principle of utility to practical uses.94 Indeed, in a letter to Rev. John Forster in 1778,95 Bentham described the sequence as follows:

  • 96 Claude-Adrien Helvetius (1715-1771) whose text De l’esprit (1758) had a great influence on Bentham.

A few years ago you may remember I used to talk with you about a project I had formed of trying to penetrate into the interior parts of South America: hoping that what little I had picked up of Botany and Chemistry and other branches of Natural knowlege [sic] might enable me perhaps to be of service to mankind by exploring the productions of those fertile and untrodden regions. If I recollect aright it was partly (the consciousness of) the weakness of my constitution, partly the instruction I gather’d from Helvétius,96 that gradually weaned me from that idea. From him I got a standard to measure the relative importance of the several pursuits a man might be engaged in: and the result of it was that the way of all others in which a man might be of most service to his fellow creatures was by making improvement in the science [of law] which I had been engaged to study by profession. I had indeed gone but a little way in (that study) it before I began to take more pleasure in the idea of seeing its imperfections remedied, than in that of converting them to profit: for the defects of the science are you know the patrimony of the profession…. From him [Helvétius] I learnt to… regard the principle of utility as an oracle which if properly consulted would afford the only true solution that could be given to every question of right and wrong.

96In this passage, Bentham indicated that his discovery of the application of the principle of utility occurred from studying Helvétius, which came after his study of botany, chemistry, and other branches of natural science.

97This paper has sought to show that, on Bentham’s view, the principles of science were integral for his project to create a new science of law. More generally, Bentham adopted the method of observation and inductive reasoning used in science to provide the analytical framework and method for applying the normative content of the principle of utility in determining moral, legal, political, and economic policy and institutions.

  • 97 Mill, John Stuart, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume X - Essays on Ethics, Religion, (...)

98Bentham’s contemporaries praised his work in applying the principles of science to the study of morals and legislation. John Stuart Mill stated that Bentham “found the philosophy of law a chaos, he left it a science.”97 According to Mill,

  • 98 Mill, J. S., Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society, “Bentham,” p. 83.

He [Bentham] introduced into morals and politics those habits of thought and modes of investigation, which are essential to the idea of science…. Bentham’s method may be shortly described as the method of detail; of treating wholes by separating them into their parts, abstractions by resolving them into Things, —classes and generalities by distinguishing them into the individuals of which they are made up; and breaking every question into pieces before attempting to solve it.98

99Mill declared that with respect to Bentham,

  • 99 Mill, J. S., Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society, “Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy,” pp. 9-10.

The greatest service of all, that for which posterity will award most honor to his name, is one that is his exclusively, and can be shared by no man present or to come; it is the service which can be performed only once for any science, that of pointing out by what method of investigation it may be made a science. What Bacon did for physical knowledge, Mr. Bentham has done for philosophical legislation.99

100In closing, Bentham embraced science as a necessary means for the application of the principle of utility. For Bentham, science provided the method and knowledge necessary for applying the normative content of the principle of utility.

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Long, Douglas G., Bentham on Liberty: Jeremy Bentham’s Idea of Liberty in Relation to his Utilitarianism, (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1977)

Mack, Mary, Jeremy Bentham: An Odyssey of Ideas, (London, Heinemann, 1962)

Merchant, Carolyn, “Francis Bacon and the ‘vexations of art”: experimentation as intervention,” British Society for the History of Science, 46 (2013), pp. 551-599

Mill, John Stuart, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume X - Essays on Ethics, Religion, and Society, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by F.E.L. Priestley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, and London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985)

Mitchell, Wesley “Bentham’s Felicific Calculus,” Political Science Quarterly, 33 (1918), pp. 161-183

Munday, Roderick, “Bentham, Bacon and the Movement for the Reform of English Law Reporting”, Utilitas, 4 (1992), pp. 299-316

Rosen, Frederick, Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill (London, Routledge, 2003)

Schofield, Philip, Utility and Democracy: The Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2006)

Schofield, Philip, “Jeremy Bentham on Utility and Truth”, History of European Ideas, 41 (2015), pp. 1125-1142

Sessions, W. A., Francis Bacon Revisited (New York, Twayne Publishers, 1996)

Shackleton, Robert, “The Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number: The History of Bentham’s Phrase,” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 90 (1972), pp. 1461-1482

Tarantino, Piero, Philosophy, Obligation and the Law: Bentham’s Ontology of Normativity (Routledge, Abingdon, 2018)

Online sources:

Bacon, Francis, Novum Organum (Latin text):

https://www.thelatinlibrary.com/bacon/bacon.liber1.shtml

Bacon, Francis, Novum Organum (English translation by William Wood in 1830):

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Novum_Organum/Book_I_(Wood)

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Annexe

Examples of Bentham’s use of the term “science” in Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, eds. J.H. Burns and H.L.A. Hart (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996):

science of law ------------- Preface, p. 8

science of anatomy ------------- Preface, p. 9

a new science to create ------------- Preface, p. 9

one of the most abstruse of sciences ------------- Preface, p. 9

political and moral science ------------- Preface, p. 9

legislative science ------------- Preface, p. 10

mathematic science ------------- Preface, p. 10

moral science ------------- Chapter 1.1, p. 11

maturer period of the science ------------- Chapter 16.16 note q, p. 196

men of science ------------- Chapter 16.26, p. 212

objects of any science ------------- Chapter 16.57, p. 272

condition a science must be in ------------- Chapter 16.58 note y4, p. 273

a science so new ------------- Chapter 16.58 note y4, p. 273

every other walk of science ------------- Chapter 16.60, p. 274

branches of science ------------- Chapter 17.9, p. 285

private ethics,…as an art or science ------------- Chapter 17.20, p. 293

the art or science of legislation ------------- Chapter 17.20, p. 293

the science of jurisprudence ------------- Chapter 17.20, p. 293

branches of science ------------- Chapter 17.27, p. 298

the logical branch of science ------------- Chapter 17.29 note b2, p. 300

state of the science of legislation ------------- Concluding Note, par. 25 marginal, p. 308

science of architecture ------------- Concluding Note, par. 25, p. 308

science of legislation ------------- Concluding Note, par. 25, p. 308

science of law ------------- Concluding Note, par. 26, p. 309

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Notes

1 Bentham, Jeremy, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation (hereafter IPML), eds. J.H. Burns and H.L.A. Hart (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996), Preface, p. 9.

2 A text search of IPML disclosed 30 passages where Bentham used the term “science.” Appendix I to this paper sets forth examples of Bentham’s use of the term “science” in IPML.

3 In 1775, Bentham indicated in correspondence that he had left the practice of law to work for the reform of the science of law (“j’ai laissé la profession pour travailler à la réforme de la science”). Bentham, Jeremy, The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1: 1752-76, ed. T.L.S. Sprigge (London, Athlone Press, 1968), p. 282.

4 Bentham, J., IPML, Preface, p. 9.

5 Bentham, Jeremy, A Comment on the Commentaries and A Fragment on Government (hereafter Comment/Fragment), eds. J. H. Burns and H.L.A. Hart (London, Athlone Press, 1977), Fragment on Government, Preface, p. 393. In this paper, words in italics are original in Bentham’s text. Emphasis added will be indicated by underlining the words.

6 Bentham, J., IPML, Chapter 1.1, p. 11.

7 Bentham, Jeremy, Chrestomathia, eds. M.J. Smith and W.H. Burston (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1983), p. 59.

8 Bentham, J., Chrestomthaia, p. 120.

9 Bentham, J., Chrestomthaia, p. 61. Bentham expressed a similar view in his unpublished “Essay on Logic” that “only by its subserviency to practice, has knowledge any use, —only by its subserviency to art, is science in any shape of any use.” The Works of Jeremy Bentham (hereafter Works), ed. J. Bowring (Edinburgh, 1838-1843) vol. VIII, p. 241. See also discussion in Stephen Engelmann, “Mill, Bentham, and the Art and Science of Government” Revue d’études benthamiennes, 4 (2008).

10 Bentham, J., Chrestomthaia, p. 61

11 Bentham, J., IPML, Chapter 2.14 note d, p. 28.

12 Bentham, J., IPML, Chapter 10.2, p. 96.

13 Bentham, J., IPML, Preface, pp. 8-9.

14 Bentham, J., IPML, Preface, p. 9

15 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Preface, p. 415.

16 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Preface, p. 416.

17 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 17.20, p. 293.

18 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, A Comment on the Commentaries, Chapter I.3, p. 28.

19 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Chapter 4.39, p. 491, and Chapter 4.41, p. 492. Emphasis added.

20 Bentham, Jeremy, Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring, vol. X, pp. 24-25.

21 Bentham, J., Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring, vol. X, p. 178.

22 Bentham, J., Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring, vol. X, p. 152.

23 Bentham, Jeremy, The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1: 1752-1776, p. 105.

24 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Preface, p. 418 note d1.

25 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Preface, p. 418 note d1. Based on his understanding of the method used by Linnaeus in botany, Bentham proposed in IPML a “natural method” for the identification and classification of offenses under a penal code. Bentham, J., IPML, Chapter 16.57, p. 272. See also discussion in Struan Jacobs, “Bentham, Science and the Construction of Jurisprudence,” History of European Ideas, 12 (1990): pp. 583 – 594; and Mitchell, Wesley “Bentham’s Felicific Calculus,” Political Science Quarterly, 33 (1918): p. 182.

26 Bentham, J., Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring vol. X, pp. 178-179; also reproduced in Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 3: January 1781 to October 1788, ed. I.R. Christie (London, Athlone Press, 1971), p. 593.

27 Bentham, J., Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring vol. X, p. 47.

28 Priestley is also the author of An Essay on the First Principles of Government: And on the Nature of Political, Civil, and Religious Liberty (1768) cited by Bentham in his Article on Utilitarianism as a “pamphlet” containing the phrase “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” and that “by this phrase…his [Bentham’s] principles on the subject of morality, public and private together, were determined.” Bentham, Jeremy, Deontology together with A Table of the Springs of Action and Article on Utilitarianism (hereafter Deontology), ed. A. Goldworth (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1983), “Article on Utilitarianism,” paragraph 6, p. 291, and paragraph 9, p. 292. However, as noted by Robert Shackleton in his important and comprehensive article “The Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number: The History of Bentham’s Phrase,” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 90 (1972), p. 1465: “Priestley’s Essay does not contain the words ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’…Bentham’s claim on behalf of Priestley, although repeated in other places, must be treated with some reserve, and Bentham himself is seen to hesitate, as when he writes in his commonplace book: ‘Priestley was the first (unless it was Beccaria) who taught my lips to pronounce this sacred truth: That the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation’ ([Works, Bowring, vol. ] X, 142).” See Bentham, J., Deontology, “Article on Utilitarianism,” p. 291 note 4.

29 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, pp. 208-216.

30 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 210.

31 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 212.

32 Bentham stated “Dr Priestley was no favorite of mine. I thought him cold and assuming. He annoyed me by treating Dr Fordyce as an ignorant man. Now, I worshipped Dr Fordyce on account of his chemical knowledge. He knew everything that was then known. Dr Priestley assumed that he had made discoveries which were no discoveries; for example, the muriatic acid in a gaseous shape. He professed to have found it, but it was found by Van Hamel two hundred years ago.” Bentham, J., Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring, vol. X, p. 571.

33 Bentham, J., Memoirs and Correspondence, in Works, Bowring, vol. X, p. 133.

34 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 214.

35 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 215.

36 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 216.

37 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 216.

38 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 265.

39 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 213 and p. 215.

40 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 212 and p. 213.

41 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 216.

42 Bentham, J., Deontology, “Article on Utilitarianism,” paragraph 59, p. 311.

43 Bentham, J., Chrestomthaia, p. 13.

44 Bentham, J., Chrestomthaia, p. 160.

45 Bentham, Jeremy, Writings on Political Economy. Volume II, ed. M. Quinn (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2019), p. 16 note 1.

46 Mack, Mary, Jeremy Bentham: An Odyssey of Ideas, (London, Heinemann, 1962), p. 129.

47 Mack, M., Jeremy Bentham: An Odyssey of Ideas, (London, Heinemann, 1962), p. 141.

48 Munday, Roderick, “Bentham, Bacon and the Movement for the Reform of English Law Reporting”, Utilitas, 4 (1992), pp. 310-314.

49 Munday, R., “Bentham”, p. 315.

50 Bentham, J., Deontology, “Article on Utilitarianism,” paragraph 14, pp. 294-295.

51 Bacon’s aphorism “Fiat experimentum” appeared multiple times in Novum Organum, Book Two.

52 See discussion in Frederick Rosen, Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill (London, Routledge, 2003), p. 177.

53 Several published editions and translations of Bacon’s Novum Organum are available today. In this paper, I follow the English translation by William Wood in 1830 in Francis Bacon, The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England, ed. Basil Montagu (London, William Pickering, 1825 – 1834), and the more recent translation by Graham Rees in Francis Bacon, ’Novum Organum, sive Indicia Vera de Interpretatione Naturae’ in The Instauratio Magna Part II: Novum Organum and Associated Texts, ed. G. Rees with M. Wakely (Oxford, 2004), volume XI, pp. 64-197. The translation by William Wood is available at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Novum_Organum/Book_I_(Wood) The Latin text is available at https://www.thelatinlibrary.com/bacon/bacon.liber1.shtml For an identification and discussion of numerous translations of Bacon’s works, see Carolyn Merchant, “Francis Bacon and the ‘vexations of art”: experimentation as intervention,” British Society for the History of Science, 46 (2013): pp. 551-599; see Merchant’s reference to Wood’s translation of Novum Organum at p. 562.

54 The title page of Novum Organum stated, in part, “Aphorismi de interpretatione naturae et regno hominis.” In Book One, Bacon set forth the text in a series of 130 “aphorisms” in an approach explicitly modeled after “ancient investigators of truth” who expressed their discoveries “into aphorisms.” (Aphorism 86). The word “aphorism” is derived from an ancient Greek word and means a concise expression of a general truth. It was used, for example, by Hippocrates (460 – 377 BCE) to set forth propositions in his texts on the science of medicine. In this paper, passages from Novum Organum, Book One, will be quoted and cited by the number of the aphorism in Bacon’s work as “Aphorism__.”

55 Bentham described the study of logic during 1761 when he attended Queen’s College at Oxford as follows (Bentham, J., Chrestomathia, p. 244 note a):

Of all the colleges in the university of Oxford, Queen’s College was, in the year 1761, —and, for aught the writer of this has heard, continues to be, — the one, in which the art and science of Logic was and is cultivated with most attention.

56 Bentham referenced Aristotle’s Organon or System of Logic as follows (Bentham, J., Chrestomathia, p. 240 note b):

An edition of Aristotle’s Organon, (i.e. System of Logic,) to which is prefixed the Introduction, ascribed to Porphyrius, is now on the table: it is that published by Pacius, with a Latin Translation, at Frankfort, Anno 1597. 

57 Bentham, J., IPML, Preface, p. 9.

58 Bentham, Jeremy, Preparatory Principles, eds. D. G. Long and P. Schofield (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2016), “Preparatory Principles: Inserenda” paragraph 1151, p. 365.

59 Long, Douglas G., Bentham on Liberty: Jeremy Bentham’s Idea of Liberty in Relation to his Utilitarianism, (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1977), p. 16.

60 Bentham, J., IPML, Preface, pp. 9-10. See also IPML, chapter 16.58, note y4 p.273: “The discovery of truth leads to the establishment of order: and the establishment of order fixes and propagates the discovery of truth.”

61 See discussion in Philip Schofield’s article “Jeremy Bentham on Utility and Truth”, History of European Ideas, 41 (2015), pp. 1140-42.

62 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.58 note y4 p.273.

63 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.56, p. 270.

64 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.57, p. 272.

65 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 3.10, p. 36.

66 Bentham, J., Deontology, Article on Utilitarianism,” paragraph 14, p. 295.

67 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.1 note a, p. 187.

68 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.1 note a, p. 187.

69 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.27 note j2, p. 215.

70 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.61, p. 274.

71 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.1 note a, p. 187.

72 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.56, p. 270.

73 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.57, p. 272.

74 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 1.1, p. 11.

75 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 1.12, p. 13.

76 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 12.36, pp. 156-157.

77 Bentham, J., Deontology,Article on Utilitarianism,” paragraph 14, p. 295.

78 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Preface, pp. 417-418.

79 “In this part of the analysis, I have found it necessary to deviate in some degree from the rigid rules of the exhaustive method I set out with. By me, or by some one else, this method may, perhaps, be more strictly pursued at some maturer period of the science… If there be any thing new and original in this work, it is to the exhaustive method so often aimed at that I am indebted for it.” Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.16 note q, p. 196.

80 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 3.10, p. 36.

81 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, A Comment on the Commentaries, Chapter I.9, pp. 96-97.

82 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.58 note y4, p. 273.

83 See discussion in J. R. Dinwiddy, “Bentham on Invention in Legislation,” Enlightenment and Dissent, 8 (1989): pp. 32 – 33.

84 Bentham, J., Chrestomathia, Appendix IV, section 10 “Uses of a Synoptic Encyclopedical Table or Diagram,” p. 214.

85 Bentham, J., Chrestomathia, Appendix IV, section 10 “Uses of a Synoptic Encyclopedical Table or Diagram,” p. 215.

86 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.1 note a, pp. 187-188.

87 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.27 note j2, pp. 214-215.

88 Bentham, J., IPML, Concluding Note, paragraph 25, p. 308.

89 Bentham, J., Comment/Fragment, Fragment on Government, Chapter 5.6 note b, p. 495.

90 See Bentham, J., “A Fragment on Ontology,” “Essay on Logic” and “Essay on Language,” in Works, Bowring, vol. VIII, pp. 193-338. See also discussion of Bentham’s theory of language by Philip Schofield in Utility and Democracy: The Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2006), “Real and Fictitious Entities,” chapter 1, pp. 1-27; and by Piero Tarantino in Philosophy, Obligation and the Law: Bentham’s Ontology of Normativity (Routledge, Abingdon, 2018), “The distinction between reality and fiction,” chapter 1, pp. 21-58.

91 Bentham, J., The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 1, p. 214.

92 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.57, p. 272.

93 Bentham, J., IPML, chapter 16.60, p. 274.

94 See Bentham, J., Deontology,Article on Utilitarianism,” paragraph 3, p. 290.

95 Bentham, Jeremy, The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 2: 1777-80, ed. T.L.S. Sprigge (London, Athlone Press, 1968), pp. 98-99.

96 Claude-Adrien Helvetius (1715-1771) whose text De l’esprit (1758) had a great influence on Bentham.

97 Mill, John Stuart, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume X - Essays on Ethics, Religion, and Society, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by F.E.L. Priestley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, and London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985), “Bentham,” p. 100.

98 Mill, J. S., Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society, “Bentham,” p. 83.

99 Mill, J. S., Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society, “Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy,” pp. 9-10.

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Rex W. Mixon Jr., « Bentham, Science and Utility », Revue d’études benthamiennes [En ligne], 18 | 2020, mis en ligne le 30 novembre 2020, consulté le 02 décembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudes-benthamiennes/8127 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/etudes-benthamiennes.8127

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New York University Stern School of Business, New York, New York

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