Jeremy Bentham: Biography, Theory & Ethics

Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn who Jeremy Bentham was and what he contributed to the field of criminology. Review Bentham's biography, analyze his classical theory of utilitarianism and examine his contribution to prison design.


As people, we tend to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Who wouldn't rather relax and enjoy a good meal than, say, do hours of grueling chores? But if you knew that doing something pleasurable, like eating a nice meal that you can't pay for, would lead to something painful, like being forced to do dishes for the restaurant you now owe, would that stop you from eating the meal in the first place? Well, this principle is basically what Jeremy Bentham, a member of the classical school of criminology, included in his theories.

Jeremy Bentham was born in Houndsditch, London in 1748. He was an advanced student and at only age 12, he was accepted into Queen's College. He graduated in 1763 with a bachelor's degree and went to law school. He was admitted to the bar in 1767 but did not practice.

Bentham decided to devote his life to working on the philosophical study of the law. He also sought to reform and codify the existing laws. Bentham believed that the existing laws were unnecessarily cumbersome and obscure, so he sought to make the law more simple and concise by transforming it into a utilitarian code of law. The utilitarian code of law was based upon the principle that the greatest happiness comes from the greatest amount of individuals. Moreover, Bentham believed that this was where morality and legislation derived from.


Bentham was known for utilitarianism, which is sometimes referred to as hedonistic calculus. Under utilitarianism, individuals are expected to balance the consequences of their behaviors prior to acting in order to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Thus, pain and pleasure should be considered when criminal legislation is considered.

Bentham theorized that this was how legislators should control criminal behavior. Bentham believed that criminals would consider the pain associated with punishment against any pleasure derived from committing a crime. Therefore, the pain of the penalty should outweigh any pleasure.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account