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Extracts from Jeremy Bentham

1776 A Fragment on Government
1789 An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
1791 - Panopticon
1796-1797 Essays on the Poor Laws
1797 Outline of a Work Entitled Pauper Management Improved
1811/1830 The Rationale of Punishment

Bentham, J. 1776 A Fragment on Government - Being an examination of what is delivered, on the subject of government in general in the introduction to Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries: by Jeremy Bentham with a Preface, in which is given a critique on the work at large

External Link to complete text of Fragment of Government. Extracts below


The age we live in is a busy age; in which knowledge is rapidly advancing towards perfection. In the natural world, in particular, every thing teems with discovery and with improvement. The most distant and recondite regions of the earth traversed and explored the all-vivifying and subtle element of the air so recently analyzed and made known to striking evidences, were all others wanting, of this pleasing truth.

Correspondent to discovery and improvement in the natural world, is reformation in the moral; if that which seems a common notion be, indeed, a true one, that in the moral world there no longer remains any matter for discovery. Perhaps, however, this may not be the case: perhaps among such observations as would be best calculated to serve as grounds for reformation, are some which, being observations of matters of fact hitherto either incompletely noticed, or not at all would, when produced, appear capable of bearing the name of discoveries: with so little method and precision have the consequences of this fundamental axiom, it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong , been as yet developped.

Be this as it may, if there be room for making, and if there be use in publishing, discoveries in the natural world, surely there is not much less room for making, nor much less use in proposing, reformation in the moral. If it be a matter of importance and of use to us to be made acquainted with distant countries, surely it is not a matter of much less importance, nor of much less use to us, to be made better and better acquainted with the chief means of living happily in our own: If it be of importance and of use to us to know the principles of the element we breathe, surely it is not of much less importance nor of much less use to comprehend the principles, and endeavour at the improvement of those laws, by which alone we breathe it in security. If to this endeavour we should fancy any Author, especially any Author of great name, to be, and as far as could in such case be expected, to avow himself a determined and persevering enemy, what should we say of him? We should say that the interests of reformation, and through them the welfare of mankind, were inseparably connected with the downfall of his works: of a great part, at least, of the esteem and, influence, which these works might under whatever title have acquired.

Such an enemy it has been my misfortune (and not mine only) to see, or fancy at least I saw, in the Author of the celebrated Commentaries on the Laws of England; an Author whose works have had beyond comparison a more extensive circulation, have obtained a greater share of esteem, of applause, and consequently of influence (and that by a title on many grounds so indisputable) than any other writer who on that subject has ever yet appeared


There are two characters, one or other of which every man who finds any thing to say on the subject of Law, may be said to take upon him; that of the Expositor, and that of the Censor. To the province of the Expositor it belongs to explain to us what, as he supposes, the Law is: to that of the Censor, to observe to us what he thinks it ought to be. The former, therefore, is principally occupied in stating, or in enquiring after facts: the latter, in discussing reasons. The Expositor, keeping within his sphere, has no concern with any other faculties of the mind than the apprehension, the memory, and the judgment: the latter, in virtue of those sentiments of pleasure or displeasure which he finds occasion to annex to the objects under his review, holds some intercourse with the affections. That which is Law, is, in different countries, widely different: while that which ought to be, is in all countries to a great degree the same. The Expositor, therefore, is always the citizen of this or that particular country: the Censor is, or ought to be the citizen of the world. To the Expositor it belongs to shew what the Legislator and his underworkman the Judge have done already: to the Censor it belongs to suggest what the Legislator ought to do in future. To the Censor, in short, it belongs to teach that science, which when by change of hands converted into an art, the LEGISLATOR practises.



[Original Contract, a fiction]

36 As to the Original Contract...I was in hopes...that this chimera had been effectually demolished by Mr Hume {Footnote 52: in the third volume of his Treatise on Human Nature} The indestructible prerogatives of mankind have no need to be supported upon the sandy foundation of a fiction.

37 With respect to this, and other fictions, there was once a time, perhaps, when they had their use....But the season of Fiction is now over: insomuch, that what formerly might have been tolerated and countenanced under that name, would, if now attempted...be censured and stigmatized under the harsher appellations of incroachment or imposture.

{From footnote 52.1 Hume's third volume: I would not send the reader to any other than this, which, if I recollect aright, stands clear of the objections that have of late been urged with so much vehemence against the work in general, [by Dr Beattie, in his Essay on the Immutability of Truth]. As to the two first, the Author himself, I am inclined to think, is not ill disposed, at present, to join with those who are of the opinion, that they might, without any great loss to the science of human nature, be dispensed with.

That the foundations of all virtue are laid in utility, is there demonstrated, after a few exceptions made, with the strongest force of evidence: but I see not, any more than Helvetius saw, what need there was for the exceptions.

{From footnote 52.2 on Hume's third volume: [History of a mind perplexed by fiction] For my own part, I well remember, no sooner had I read that part of the work which touches on this subject, than I felt as if scales had fallen from my eyes. I then, for the first time, learnt to call the cause of the people the cause of virtue.
Perhaps a short sketch of the wanderings of a raw but well-intentioned mind, in its researches after moral truth, may, on this occasion, be not unuseful: for the history of one mind is the history of many. The writings of the honest, but prejudiced, Earl of Clarendon, to whose integrity nothing was wanting, and to whose wisdom little, but the fortune of living something later; and the contagion of a monkish atmosphere; these, and other concurrent causes, had lifted my infant affections on the side of despotism. The genius of the place I dwelt in, the authority of the state, the voice of the church in her solemn offices; all these taught me to call Charles a martyr, and his opponents rebels. I saw innovation, where indeed innovation, but a glorious innovation, was, in their efforts to withstand him. I saw falsehood, where indeed falsehood was, in their disavowals of innovation. I saw selfishness, and an obedience to the call of passion, in the efforts of the oppressed to rescue themselves from oppression. I saw strong countenance lent in the sacred writings to monarchic government: and none to any other. I saw passive obedience deep stamped with the seal of the christian virtues of humility and self-denial.

Conversing with lawyers, I found them full of the virtues of their original contract, as a recipe of sovereign efficacy for reconciling the accidental necessity of resistance with the general duty of submission. This drug of theirs they administered to me to calm my scruples. But my unpractised stomach revolted against their opiate. I bid them open to me that page of history in which the solemnization of this important contract was recorded. They shrunk from this challenge; nor could they, when thus pressed, do otherwise than our author has done, confess the whole to be a fiction. This methought, looked ill. It seemed to me the acknowledgement of a bad cause, the bringing a fiction to support it. "To prove fiction, indeed," said I, "there is need of fiction; but it is the characteristic of truth to need no proof but truth. Have you then really any such privilege as that of coining facts? You are spending argument with no purpose. Indulge yourselves in the licence of supposing that to be true which is not, and as well may you suppose that proposition itself to be true, which you wish to prove, as that other whereby you hope to prove it." Thus continued I unsatisfying, and unsatisfied, till I learnt to see that utility was the test and measure of all virtue; of loyalty as much as any; and that the obligation to minister to general happiness, was an obligation paramount to and inclusive of every other. Having thus got the instruction I stood in need of, I sat down to make my profit of it. I bid adieu to the original contract: and left it to those to amuse themselves, who could think they needed it.

Bentham, J. 1789 An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

External Link to complete text of Introduction. - Detailed table of contents linking to complete text. Extracts below

1: Of The Principle of Utility
2: Of Principles Adverse to that of Utility
3: Of the Four Sanctions or Sources of Pain and Pleasure
4: Value of a Lot of Pleasure or Pain, How to be Measured
5: Pleasures and Pains, Their Kinds
6: Of Circumstances Influencing Sensibility
7: Of Human Actions in General
8: Of Intentionality
9: Of Consciousness
10: Of Motives
11: Human Dispositions in General
12: Of the Consequences of a Mischievous Act
13: Cases Unmeet for Punishment
14: Of the Proportion between Punishments and Offences
15: Of the Properties to be Given to a Lot of Punishment
16: Division of Offenses
17: Of the Limits of the Penal Branch of Jurisprudence



An introduction to a work which takes for its subject the totality of any science, ought to contain all such matters, and such matters only, as belong in common to every particular branch of that science, or at least to more branches of it than one. Compared with its present title, the present work fails in both ways of being conformable to that rule.

As an introduction to the principles of morals, in addition to the analysis it contains of the extensive ideas signified by the terms pleasure, pain, motive, and disposition, it ought to have given a similar analysis of the not less extensive, though much less determinate, ideas annexed to the terms emotion, passion, appetite, virtue, vice, and some others, including the names of the particular virtues and vices. But as the true, and, if he conceives right, the only true ground-work for the development of the latter set of terms, has been laid by the explanation of the former, the completion of such a dictionary, so to style it, would, in comparison of the commencement, be little more than a mechanical operation.

Again, as an introduction to the principles of legislation in general, it ought rather to have included matters belonging exclusively to the civil branch, than matters more particularly applicable to the penal: the latter being but a means of compassing the ends proposed by the former. In preference therefore, or at least in priority, to the several chapters which will be found relative to punishment, it ought to have exhibited a set of propositions which have since presented themselves to him as affording a standard for the operations performed by government, in the creation and distribution of proprietary and other civil rights. He means certain axioms of what may be termed mental pathology, expressive of the connection betwixt the feelings of the parties concerned, and the several classes of incidents, which either call for, or are produced by, operations of the nature above mentioned.

The consideration of the division of offences, and every thing else that belongs to offences, ought, besides, to have preceded the consideration of punishment: for the idea of punishment presupposes the idea of offence: punishment, as such, not being inflicted but in consideration of offence.


Chapter 1: Of the Principle of Utility.

1.1 Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we should do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw of our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it. In words a man may pretend to abjure their empire: but in reality he will remain subject to it all the while. The principle of utility (*) recognises this subjection, and assumes it for the foundation of that system, the object of which is to rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and law. Systems which attempt to questions it, deal in sounds instead of senses, in caprice instead or reason, in darkness instead of light.

{* Note added by Bentham in July 1822: To this denominations has of late been added or substituted, the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle: this for shortness, instead of saying at length that principle which states the greatest happiness of all those whose interest is in question, as being the right and proper, and only right and proper and universally desirable, end of human action: of human action in every situation, and in particular in that of a functionary or set of functionaries exercising the powers of Government. The word utility does not so clearly point to the ideas of pleasure and pain as the words happiness and felicity do; nor does it lead us to the consideration of the number of the interests affected; to the number, as being the circumstance, which contributes, in the largest proportion, to the formation of the standard here in question; the standard of right and wrong, by which alone the propriety of human conduct, in every situation, can with propriety be tried. This want of a sufficiently manifest connexion between the ideas of happiness and pleasure on the one hand, and the idea of utility on the other, I have every now and then found operating, and with but too much efficiency, as a bar to the acceptance, that might otherwise have been given to this principle.}

Chapter 2: Of Principles Adverse to that of Utility.

2.14. The various systems that have been formed concerning the standard of right may all be reduced to the principle of sympathy and antipathy. One account may serve to for all of them. They consist all of them in so many contrivances for avoiding the obligation of appealing to any external standard, and for prevailing upon the reader to accept of the author's sentiment or opinion as a reason for itself. The phrases different, but the principle the same. {footnote 3}

{footnote 3} It is curious enough to observe the variety of inventions men have hit upon, and the variety of phrases they have brought forward, in order to conceal from the world, and, if possible, from themselves, this very general and therefore very pardonable self-sufficiency.

1. One man says, he has a thing made on purpose to tell him what is right and what is wrong; and that it is called a moral sense: and then he goes to work at his ease, and says, such a thing is right, and such a thing is wrong - why? "because my moral sense tells me it is".

2. Another man comes and alters the phrase: leaving out moral, and putting in common, in the room of it. He then tells you, that his common sense teaches him what is right and wrong, as surely as the other's moral sense did: meaning by common sense, a sense of some kind or other, which he says, is possessed by all mankind: the sense of those, whose sense is not the same as the author's, being struck out of the account as not worth taking. This contrivance does better than the other, for a moral sense being a new thing, a man may feel about him a good while without being able to find it out: but common sense is as old as the creation, and there is no man but would be ashamed to be thought not to have as much of it as his neighbours. It has another great advantage: by appearing to share power, it lessens envy: for when a man gets up upon this ground, in order to anathematize those who differ from him, it is not by a sic volo sic jubeo, but by a velitis jubeatis.

3. Another man comes, and says, that as to a moral sense indeed, he cannot find that he has any such thing: that however he has an understanding, which will do quite as well. This understanding, he says, is the standard of right and wrong: it tells him so and so. All good and wise men understand as he does: if other men's understandings differ in any point from his, so much the worse for them: it is a sure sign they are either defective or corrupt.

4. Another man says, that there is an eternal and immutable Rule of Right: that that rule of right dictates so and so: and then he begins giving you his sentiments upon any thing that comes uppermost . and these sentiments (you are to take for granted) are so many branches of the eternal rule of right.

5. Another man, or perhaps the same man (it's no matter) says, that there are certain practices conformable, and others repugnant, to the Fitness of Things; and then he tells you, at his leisure, what practices are conformable and what repugnant: just as he happens to like a practice or dislike it.

6. A great multitude of people are continually talking of the Law of Nature; and then they go on giving you their sentiments about what is right and what is wrong: and these sentiments, you are to understand, are so many chapters and sections of the Law of Nature.

7. Instead of the phrase, Law of Nature, you have sometimes, Law of Reason, Right Reason, Natural Justice, Natural Equity, Good Order. Any of them will do equally well. This latter is most used in politics. The three last are much more tolerable than the others, because they do not very explicitly claim to be any thing more than phrases: they insist but feebly upon the being looked upon as so many positive standards of themselves, and seem content to be taken, upon occasion, for phrases expressive of the conformity of the thing in question to the proper standard, whatever that may be. On most occasions, however, it will be better to say utility: utility is clearer, as referring more explicitly to pain and pleasure.

8. We have one philosopher, who says, there is no harm in any thing in the world but in telling a lie: and that if, for example, you were to murder your own father, this would only be a particular way of saying, he was not your father. Of course, when this philosopher sees any thing that he does not like, he says, it is a particular way of telling a lie. It is saying, that the act ought to be done, or may be done, when, in truth, it ought not to be done.

9. The fairest and openest of them all is that sort of man who speaks out, and says, I am of the number of the Elect: now God himself takes care to inform the Elect what is right: and that with so good effect, and let them strive ever so, they cannot help not only knowing it but practicing it. If therefore a man wants to know what is right and what is wrong, he has nothing to do but to come to me.

10. It is upon the principle of antipathy that such and such acts are often reprobated on the score of their being unnatural: the practice of exposing children, established among the Greeks and Romans, was an unnatural practice. Unnatural, when it means any thing, means unfrequent: and there it means something; although nothing to the present purpose. But here it means no such thing: for the frequency of such acts is perhaps the great complaint. It therefore means nothing; nothing, I mean, which there is in the act itself. All it can serve to express is, the disposition of the person who is talking of it: the disposition he is in to be angry at the thoughts of it. Does it merit his anger? Very likely it may: but whether it does or no is a question, which, to be answered rightly, can only be answered upon the principle of utility.

Unnatural, is as good a word as moral sense, or common sense; and would be as good a foundation for a system. Such an act is unnatural; that is, repugnant to nature: for I do not like to practice it: and, consequently, do not practise it. It is therefore repugnant to what ought to be the nature of every body else.

The mischief common to all these ways of thinking and arguing (which, in truth, as we have seen, are but one and the same method, couched in different forms of words) is then serving as a cloke, and pretense, and aliment, to despotism: if not a despotism in practice, a despotism however in disposition: which is but too apt, when pretense and power offer, to show itself in practice. The consequence is, that with intentions very commonly of the purest kind, a man becomes a torment either to himself or his fellow-creatures. If he be of the melancholy cast, he sits in silent grief, bewailing their blindness and depravity: if of the irascible, he declaims with fury and virulence against all who differ from him; blowing up the coals of fanaticism, and branding with the charge of corruption and insincerity, every man who does not think, or profess to think, as he does.

If such a man happens to possess the advantages of style, his book may do a considerable deal of mischief before the nothingness of it is understood.

These principles, if such they can be called, it is more frequent to see applied to morals than to politics: but their influence extends itself to both. In politics, as well as morals, a man will be at least equally glad of a pretense for deciding any question in the manner that best pleases him without the trouble of inquiry. If a man is an infallible judge of what is right and wrong in the actions of private individuals, why not in the measures to be observed by public men in the direction of those actions accordingly (not to mention other chimeras) I have more than once known the pretended law of nature set up in legislative debates, in opposition to arguments derived from the principle of utility.

"But is it never, then, from any other considerations than those of utility, that we derive our notions of right and wrong?" I do not know: I do not care. Whether a moral sentiment can be originally conceived from any other source than a view of utility, is one question: whether upon examination and reflection it can, in point of fact, be actually persisted in and justified on any other ground, by a person reflecting within himself, is another: whether in point of right it can properly be justified on any other ground, by a person addressing himself to the community, is a third. The two first are questions of speculation: it matters not, comparatively speaking, how they are decided. The last is a question of practice: the decision of it is of as much importance as that of any can be.

"I feel in myself", (say you) "a disposition to approve of such or such an action in s moral view: but this is not owing to any notions I have of its being s useful one to the community. I do not pretend to know whether it be an useful one or not: it may be, for aught I know, a mischievous one." "But is it then", (say I) "a mischievous one? examine; and if you can make yourself sensible that it is so, then, if duty means any thing, that is, moral duty, is your duty at least to abstain from it: and more than that, if it is what lies in your power, and can be done without too great a sacrifice, to endeavour to prevent it. It is not your cherishing the notion of it in your bosom, and giving it the name of virtue, that will excuse you."

"I feel in myself", (say you again) "a disposition to detest such or such an action in a moral view; but this is not owing to any notions I have of its being a mischievous one to the community. I do not pretend to know whether it be a mischievous one or not: it may be not a mischievous one: it may be, for aught I know, an useful one." - "May it indeed", (say I) "an useful one? but let me tell you then, that unless duty, and right and wrong, be just what you please to make them, if it really be not a mischievous one, and any body has a mind to do it, it is no duty of yours, but, on the contrary, it would be very wrong in you, to take upon you to prevent him: detest it within yourself as much as you please; that may be a very good reason (unless it be also a useful one) for your not doing it yourself: but if you go about, by word or deed, to do any thing to hinder him, or make him suffer for it, it is you, and not he, that have done wrong: it is not your setting yourself to blame his conduct, or branding it with the name of vice, that will make him culpable, or you blameless. Therefore, if you can make yourself content that he shall be of one mind, and you of another, about that matter, and so continue, it is well: but if nothing will serve you, but that you and he must needs be of the same mind, I'll tell you what you have to do: it is for you to get the better of your antipathy, not for him to truckle to it."

Chapter 3: Of the Four Sanctions or Sources of Pain and Pleasure

A suffering which befalls a man in the natural and spontaneous course of things, shall be styled, for instance, a calamity; in which case, if it be supposed to befall him through any imprudence of his, it may be styled a punishment issuing from the physical sanction. Now this same suffering, if inflicted by the law, will be what is commonly called a punishment; if incurred for want of any friendly assistance, which the misconduct, or supposed misconduct, of the sufferer has occasioned to be withholden, a punishment issuing from the moral sanction; if through the immediate interposition of a particular providence, a punishment issuing from the religious sanction

Chapter 5: Pleasures and Pains, Their Kinds

5.33: Of all these several sorts of pleasures and pains, there is scarce any one which is not liable, on more accounts than one, to come under the consideration of the law. Is an offense committed? It is the tendency which it has to destroy, in such or such persons, some of these pleasures, or to produce some of these pains, that constitutes the mis- chief of it, and the ground for punishing it. It is the prospect of some of these pleasures, or of security from some of these pains, that constitutes the motive or temptation, it is the attainment of them that constitutes the profit of the offense. Is the offender to be punished? It can be only by the production of one or more of these pains, that the punishment can be inflicted

Chapter 13: Cases Unmeet for Punishment

13.1. General view of cases unmeet for punishment.

13.1.1. The general object which all laws have, or ought to have, in common, is to augment the total happiness of the community; and therefore, in the first place, to exclude, as far as may be, every thing that tends to subtract from that happiness: in other words, to exclude mischief.

13.1.2. But all punishment is mischief: all punishment in itself is evil. Upon the principle of utility, if it ought at all to be admitted, it ought only to be admitted in as far as it promises to exclude some greater evil.

13.1.3. It is plain, therefore, that in the following cases punishment ought not to be inflicted.

Where it is groundless: where there is no mischief for it to prevent; the act not being mischievous upon the whole.

Where it must be inefficacious: where it cannot act so as to prevent the mischief.

Where it is unprofitable, or too expensive: where the mischief it would produce would be greater than what it prevented.

Where it is needless: where the mischief may be prevented, or cease of itself, without it: that is, at a cheaper rate.

{footnote on punishment: The immediate principal end of punishment is to control action. This action is either that of the offender, or of others: that of the offender it controls by its influence, either on his will, in which case it is said to operate in the way of reformation; or on his physical power, in which case it is said to operate by disablement: that of others it can influence otherwise than by its influence over their wills, in which ease it is said to operate in the way of example. A kind of collateral end, which it has a natural tendency to answer, is that of affording a pleasure or satisfaction to the party injured, where there is one, and, in general, to parties whose ill-will whether on a self-regarding account, or on the account of sympathy or antipathy, has been excited by the offense.. This purpose, as far as it can be answered gratis, is a beneficial one. But no punishment ought to be allotted merely to this purpose, because (setting aside its effects in the way of control) no such pleasure is ever produced by punishment as can be equivalent to the pain. The punishment, however, which is allotted to the other purpose, ought, as far as it can be done without expense, to be accommodated to this. Satisfaction thus administered to a party injured, in the shape of a dissocial pleasure, may be styled a vindictive satisfaction or compensation: as a compensation, administered in the shape of self- regarding profit, or stock of pleasure, may be styled a lucrative one. See B. I. tit. vi. [Compensation]. Example is the most important end of all, in proportion as the number of the persons under temptation to offend is to one.

Panopticon is derived from Greek, and the best I can do in translating is all-seeing. It had been used (1768) for a kind of telescope. Bentham used it in his letters of 1787 (published 1791) for his plan for a circular institution in which all the inmates cells could be seen from the centre, where the inmates knew anything they did could be seen, but could not see if they were being seen. Inspection House (see below) conveys the meaning in English. The word inspect was translated into French by Foucault as surveiller, which now means to supervise or have authority over, but comes from a word (veiller) for staying awake to keep guard whilst others sleep. (See French dictionaries)
External Link: Panopticon

Panopticon; or the Inspection-house: containing the idea of a new principle of construction applicable to any sort of establishment, in which persons of any description are to be kept under inspection; and in particular to penitentiary-houses, prisons, houses of industry, work-houses, poor-houses, lazarettos, manufactories, hospitals, mad-houses, and schools: with a plan of management adapted to the principle: in a series of letters, written in the year 1787, from Crecheff in White Russia. To a friend in England by Jeremy Bentham, of Lincoln's Inn, esquire. Published in 1791 by T. Payne: in London, 1791. (Three volumes according to the British Library catalogue). Also published the same year by Thomas Byrne in Dublin: pp. vii, 539: plates; plans.

Preface Quoted Foucault: "morals reformed"

Morals reformed - health preserved - industry invigorated instruction diffused - public burthens lightened - Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock - the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws are not cut, but untied - all by a simple idea in Architecture! -Thus much I ventured to say on laying down the pen - and thus much I should perhaps have said on taking it up, if at that early period I had seen the whole of the way before me. A new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example: and that, to a degree equally without example, secured by whoever chooses to have it so, against abuse. - Such is the engine: such the work that may be done with it. How far the expectations thus held out have been fulfilled, the reader will decide.

Letter one

Idea of the inspection principle

Crecheff in White Russia, - 1787.

... To say all in one word, it will be found applicable, I think, without exception, to all establishments whatsoever, in which, within a space not too large to be covered or commanded by buildings, a number of persons are meant to be kept under inspection. No matter how different, or even opposite the purpose: whether it be that of punishing the incorrigible, guarding the insane, reforming the vicious, confining the suspected, employing the idle, maintaining the helpless, curing the sick, instructing the willing in any branch of industry, or training the rising race in the path of education: in a word, whether it be applied to the purposes of perpetual prisons in the room of death, or prisons for confinement before trial, or penitentiary-houses, or houses of correction, or work-houses, or manufactories, or mad-houses, or hospitals, or schools.

It is obvious that, in all these instances, the more constantly the persons to be inspected are under the eyes of the persons who should inspect them, the more perfectly will the purpose of the establishment have been attained. Ideal perfection, if that were the object, would require that each person should actually be in that predicament, during every instant of time. This being impossible, the next thing to be wished for is, that, at every instant, seeing reason to believe as much, and not being able to satisfy himself to the contrary, he should conceive himself to be so.

Letter twenty-one


After applying the inspection principle first to prisons, and through mad- houses bringing it down to hospitals, will the parental feeling endure my applying it at last to schools? ...
If the idea of some of these applications should have brought a smile upon your countenance, it won't hurt you, my dear ****; nor should it hurt the principle. Your candour will prevent you from condemning a great and new invented instrument of government, because some of the purposes to which it is possible to apply it may appear useless, or trifling, or mischievous, or ridiculous. Its great excellence consists in the great strength it is capable of giving to any institution it may be thought proper to apply it to. If any perverse applications should ever be made of it, they will lie in this case as in others, at the doors of those who make them. Knives, however sharp, are very useful things, and, for most purposes, the sharper the more useful. I have no fear, therefore, of your wishing to forbid the use of them, because they have been sometimes employed by school-boys to raise the devil with, or by assassins to cut throats with.


If the condition of persons maintained without property by the labour of others were rendered more eligible than that of persons maintained by their own labour then, in proportion as the existence of this state of things were ascertained, individuals destitute of property would be continually withdrawing themselves from the class of person maintained by their own labour, to the class of persons maintained by the labour of others: and the sort of idleness, which at present is more or less confined to persons of independent fortune, would thus extend itself sooner or later to every individual...till at last there would be nobody left to labour at all for anybody.


[No punishment necessary in Houses of Industry?]
I speak of punishment because punishment is, in the existing order of things, a thing of course. Here, however, how can punishment gain admittance?■for from what occasion can it arise? No cessation of inspection, no transgression;■no transgression, no punishment

Bentham, J. and Dumont, P. 1811/1830 The Rationale of Punishment Translated by Richard Smith from Théorie des peines et des recompenses (1811) London.

Book 1: General Principles

Chapter 3: Of the Ends of Punishment

3.1.1 When any act has been committed which is followed, or threatens to be followed, by such effects as a provident legislator would be anxious to prevent, two wishes naturally and immediately suggest themselves to his mind: first, to obviate the danger of the like mischief in future: secondly, to compensate the mischief that has already been done.

3.1.2 The mischief likely to ensue from acts of the like kind may arise from either of two sources,-either the conduct of the party himself who has been the author of the mischief already done, or the conduct of such other persons as may have adequate motives and sufficient opportunities to do the like.

3.1.3 Hence the prevention of offenses divides itself into two branches: Particular prevention, which applies to the delinquent himself; and general prevention, which is applicable to all the members of the community without exception.

3.1.4 Pain and pleasure are the great springs of human action. When a man perceives or supposes pain to be the consequence of an act, he is acted upon in such a manner as tends, with a certain force, to withdraw him, as it were, from the commission of that act. If the apparent magnitude, or rather value of that pain be greater than the apparent magnitude or value of the pleasure or good he expects to be the consequence of the act, he will be absolutely prevented from performing it. The mischief which would have ensued from the act, if performed, will also by that means be prevented.

3.1.5 With respect to a given individual, the recurrence of an offense may be provided against in three ways:-

By taking from him the physical power of offending.
By taking away the desire of offending.
By making him afraid of offending.

3.1.6 In the first case, the individual can no more commit the offense; in the second, he no longer desires to commit it; in the third, he may still wish to commit it, but he no longer dares to do it. In the first case, there is a physical incapacity; in the second, a moral reformation; in the third, there is intimidation or terror of the law.

3.1.7 General prevention is effected by the denunciation of punishment, and by its application, which, according to the common expression, serves for an example. The punishment suffered by the offender presents to every one an example of what he himself will have to suffer if he is guilty of the same offense..

3.1.8 General prevention ought to be the chief end of punishment, as it is its real justification. If we could consider an offence which has been committed as an isolated fact, the like of which would never recur, punishment would be useless. It would be only adding one evil to another. But when we consider that an unpunished crime leaves the path of crime open not only to the same delinquent, but also to all those who may have the same motives and opportunities for entering upon it, we perceive that the punishment inflicted on the individual becomes a source of security to all. That punishment, which, considered in itself, appeared base and repugnant to all generous sentiments, is elevated to the first rank of benefits, when it is regarded not as an act of wrath or of vengeance against a guilty or unfortunate individual who has given way to mischievous inclinations, but as an indispensable sacrifice to the common safety.

3.1.9 With respect to any particular delinquent, we have seen that punishment has three objects, incapacitation, reformation, and intimidation. If the crime he has committed is of a kind calculated to inspire great alarm, as manifesting a very mischievous disposition, it becomes necessary to take from him the power of committing it again. But if the crime, being less dangerous, only justifies a transient punishment, and it is possible for the delinquent to return to society, it is proper that the punishment should possess qualities calculated to reform or to intimidate him.

3.1.10 After having provided for the prevention of future crimes, reparation still remains to be made, as far as possible, for those which are passed, by bestowing a compensation on the party injured; that is to say, bestowing a good equal to the evil suffered.

3.1.11 This compensation, founded upon reasons which have been elsewhere developed, does not at first view appear to belong to the subject of punishments, because it concerns another individual than the delinquent. But these two ends have a real connexion. There are punishments which have the double effect of affording compensation to the party injured, and of inflicting a proportionate suffering on the delinquent; so that these two ends may be effected by a single operation. This is, in certain cases, the peculiar advantage of pecuniary punishments.

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Bentham, J. 1776 A Fragment on Government
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Bentham, J. 1789 An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
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eligible (more eligible means more desirable)


greatest happiness: 1776, 1822

original contract (Theory of the social contract: See state of nature theory)

poor law

punishment: 1789 - Preface - chapter 3 - chapter 5 - chapter 13 -
Panopticon Letter one -
poor law -