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History of modern social thought - Essay Example

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History of modern social thought

Bentham was born in February 15, 1748 in Spitalfields, London. He was part of a wealthy Tory family whose proclivity is in the practice of law. His childhood was filled with a mixture of religious superstition, owing to his mother's side, and enlightened rationalism, as his father and grandfather were both attorneys (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
With such a brilliant mind, Bentham was considered as a child prodigy. At an early age, he was found sitting at his father's desk reading a multi-volume of English history and studying Latin. He attended the Westminster School and Queen's College, Oxford, where he completed his Bachelor's degree (1763) and Master's degree (1766). ("West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
Bentham's father believed that his son would one day become the Lord Chancellor of England ("UCL Bentham Project"). With this, Bentham was educated as a lawyer and admitted to the bar in 1769. However, he decided against the practice of law as he became disconcerted with the complexity of the English legal code. Instead, he opted to pursue a career in legal, political and social reform. ("West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
In light of his chosen career path, Bentham devoted most of his life to writing matters pertaining to legal reforms. He spent most of his time studying as he wrote for eight to twelve hours daily (Harrison). His father's death in 1792 resulted in Bentham's financial independence. With his inheritance, he lived quietly in Westminster of 40 years and generated about ten to twenty pages of manuscript per day. ("UCL Bentham Project")
Ironically, he made little effort to publish these manuscripts. Such that shortly before his death on June 6, 1832, John Bowring, his secretary, remarked that from no modern writer had so much been stolen without acknowledgment. (Kahn)
Cultural Context of Bentham's Works
Bentham lived during the period of massive social, political and economic change. His reflections on existing institutions covered the Industrial Revolution, the rise of the middle class and the revolution in France and America among others. His passion for tackling essential reforms in view of these events was sparked by his disillusionment with the law. After attending the lectures delivered by Sir William Blackstone, the leading authority in law at that time, Bentham became deeply frustrated with the English law. As such, he dedicated much of his life in criticizing the prevailing laws and proposing reforms to enhance the system. As one of the so called "philosophic radicals," Bentham believed that much of the social problems prevailing in England in the late 18th to early 19th century were attributable to the legal system, which was not adoptive of the societal changes and economic system, which was controlled by a landed gentry that was against modern capitalist institutions. ("Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy")
It was also during Bentham's times that England was in the midst of an aggravated state of affairs highly influenced by the Anglican Church. The country was depicted as a puritanical world wherein implemented doctrines encouraged women subjugation and prejudices, and went against natural philosophy. Given these, ...Show more

Summary

Recognized as one of the most influential thinkers through his innovation of classical liberalism, Jeremy Bentham is deemed as a pillar of modern social thought and the founder of the utilitarian school of thought. With his powerful ideas, which are way beyond his times, Bentham's philosophy became a moving force behind prominent philosophers such as John Stuart Mill, Robert Owen and several world leaders…
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