Handbook of Economics and Ethics
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Handbook of Economics and Ethics

Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren

The Handbook of Economics and Ethics portrays an understanding of economic methodology in which facts and values, though distinct, are closely interconnected in a variety of ways. From theory building to data collection, and from modelling to policy evaluation, this encyclopaedic Handbook is at the intersection of economics and ethics.
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Chapter 4: Jeremy Bentham

Marco E.L. Guidi


Marco E.L. Guidi Jeremy Bentham (London, 1748–1832), a legal philosopher and the founder of the utilitarian tradition in ethics, which was further developed by John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick, laid the cornerstones of his moral philosophy in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation ([1789a] 1970, hereafter IPML). His early writings on legislation reveal the typical attitude of an eighteenth-century philosopher who aimed to become the counsellor of the enlightened sovereigns of that age. Bentham also took an interest in political economy, publishing ‘Defence of usury’ ([1787] 1952–54), a pamphlet in which he criticized legal fixation of the interest rate. He then wrote ‘Manual of political economy’ ([1793–5] 1952–54), and a series of practical albeit sometimes unrealistic proposals concerning fiscal and monetary policy. Perhaps Bentham’s best-known project was the panopticon prison (Bentham [1791] 1962), a circular building in which the convicts were to be constantly under the eye of an inspector. The panopticon was never built: disappointed by the failure of this scheme, which he attributed to the corruption of the British political system, Bentham turned to political radicalism around 1810. He set out the principles of his theory of representative democracy based on universal suffrage in Constitutional Code ([1830] 1983). In the same period, he wrote a ‘guide’ to private ethics entitled ‘Deontology’ ([1814–31] 1983). This chapter deals with Bentham’s utilitarian ethics (Section 4.1) and its relationships with the development of economics (Section 4.2). It focuses on the normative aspects of...

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