The Bentham Project Needs Your Help

May 31, 2011

Developed by University College London, the Bentham Project seeks to publish a new and authoritative edition of the works of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1842), noted British philosopher and reformer. The previous collected works edition is viewed as being inadequate since it omitted many of the philosopher's manuscripts and correspondence housed in the University College London Library and the British Library.

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By Bobby Mann

Jeremy Bentham by Henry William Pickersgill

Jeremy Bentham: Philosopher and Reformer

At the very core of his thinking, Jeremy Bentham believed that the purpose of human action was to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number, which is often referred to as utilitarianism, or the greatest happiness principle. Bentham's ideas were greatly influenced by empiricists such as David Human and John Locke and his intellectual reach covers a wide spectrum of disciplines, from law and moral philosophy to liberalism and economics.

Initially, Bentham was groomed by his father to become a lawyer. He studied law at Queen's College London where he earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, but never practiced. During his studies he became disillusioned with the idea of being a lawyer and decided to write and think about the law instead. After his father's death in 1792, which left him financially independent, Bentham spent the next forty years producing up to 20 sheets of manuscript a day. He maintained this furious pace even in his later years.

Largely ignored while he was alive, partly because Bentham was viewed as a political radical, many of his ideas were light years ahead of his time. He promoted women's rights, the decriminalization of homosexual acts, animal rights, the separation of church and state and the right to divorce. For many people, his ideas may be more relevant in the modern era than they were in his day, which makes the argument for a new and authoritative edition of his collected works even more persuasive.

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How You Can Help the Bentham Project

Bentham produced a prodigious amount of manuscripts, making the goal of producing a new collected edition of his works a daunting prospect. However, University College London has engaged the public in an effort to help the process along. The university has asked the public to assist in the online transcription of papers and manuscripts written by Jeremy Bentham.

This can be done by visiting the Transcription Desk page and creating an account. Currently, there are approximately 1,300 registered users participating in the Bentham Project. After an account is created, participants also have the option of building a social profile and interacting with other users to discuss Bentham's works in a forum. The university asks that students, scholars and citizens with a particular interest in Bentham, education, heritage learning and digital humanities help with the effort.

The last edition of Bentham's works was published in 1968 and comprised 27 volumes. It is estimated that when the Bentham Project is completed and a new edition is published, it will include 70 volumes, 14 of which will be devoted to Bentham's correspondence. The yet to be published collected works may be viewed as indulgent by many, but as Professor D.D. Raphael stated in the New York Times Literary Supplement, September 27 1974, 'The more we come to know his writings..., the more clearly we see that Bentham was a powerful and subtle thinker.'

Interested in reading more about intellectual collaboration? Learn how professors and researchers are working together to unlock the mystery behind a centuries-old manuscript discovered by an antiques dealer in 1912.

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