“Create all the happiness you are able to create: remove all the misery you are able to remove. “
Wise words from one of Britain’s, and indeed one of the world’s greatest philosophers, not too mention the most eccentric. I’m speaking of course about Jeremy Bentham, the founder of Utilitarianism and all around nutcase. Bentham defined utility as “the property in an object which tends to produce pleasure, good or happiness, or to prevent the happening of mischief or pain, evil or unhappiness.” No doubt a huge influence on Freud’s famous theory of the Pleasure Principle (though we prefer Janet Jackson’s version).
Bentham was way ahead of his time. His idea that ordinary people were entitled to happiness didn’t sit well with the aristocracy and judicial system of the late 18th and early 19th century. He publically opposed slavery, capital and corporal punishment. He supported equal rights for women and animals and called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. He praised free trade and freedom of the press and urged the separation of church and state.
All pretty sound principles really, but why the sudden interest in a relatively obscure Georgian era philospher? Well as it turns out, not only was Bentham a political visionary but he was a bit of trendsetter too, wearing boxer shorts at a time when most men went commando by tucking their shirttails between their legs. What’s more, he is still wearing them today. No, seriously. In accordance with his will, Bentham’s skeleton is displayed in a glass cabinet in the University College of London library, complete with his own moth repellent woollen boxershorts, original suit and even wax model of his head topped with pieces of his real hair.
Slightly macabre? Perhaps… but you have to admire a man with that kind of sartorial dedication. We like to think that had he lived today, Bentham would have been a Burtonwode man. An eternally stylish, proudly English eccentric with a dry wit that let him see the humour in every day life. On that note, it’s only appropriate to leave you with one of the greatest Bentham quotes.
“There are two types of people in this world; those who divide the world into two types, and those who do not.”
Jeremy Bentham 1748-1832