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Autobiography

impressed me was the chapter in which Bentham passed judgment on the common modes
of reasoning in morals and legislation, deduced from phrases like "law of nature," "right
reason," "the moral sense," "natural rectitude," and the like, and characterized them as
dogmatism in disguise, imposing its sentiments upon others under cover of sounding
expressions which convey no reason for the sentiment, but set up the sentiment as its own
reason. It had not struck me before, that Bentham's principle put an end to all this. The
feeling rushed upon me, that all previous moralists were superseded, and that here indeed
was the commencement of a new era in thought. This impression was strengthened by the
manner in which Bentham put into scientific form the application of the happiness
principle to the morality of actions, by analysing the various classes and orders of their
consequences. But what struck me at that time most of all, was the Classification of
Offences, which is much more clear, compact, and imposing in Dumont's rédaction than
in the original work of Bentham from which it was taken. Logic and the dialectics of
Plato, which had formed so large a part of my previous training, had given me a strong
relish for accurate classification. This taste had been strengthened and enlightened by the
study of botany, on the principles of what is called the Natural Method, which I had taken
up with great zeal, though only as an amusement, during my stay in France; and when I
found scientific classification applied to the great and complex subject of Punishable
Acts, under the guidance of the ethical principle of Pleasurable and Painful
Consequences, followed out in the method of detail introduced into these subjects by
Bentham, I felt taken up to an eminence from which I could survey a vast mental domain,
and see stretching out into the distance intellectual results beyond all computation. As I
proceeded further, there seemed to be added to this intellectual clearness, the most
inspiring prospects of practical improvement in human affairs. To Bentham's general
view of the construction of a body of law I was not altogether a stranger, having read
with attention that admirable compendium, my father's article on Jurisprudence: but I had
read it with little profit, and scarcely any interest, no doubt from its extremely general
and abstract character, and also because it concerned the form more than the substance of
the corpus juris, the logic rather than the ethics of law. But Bentham's subject was
Legislation, of which Jurisprudence is only the formal part: and at every page he seemed
to open a clearer and broader conception of what human opinions and institutions ought
to be, how they might be made what they ought to be, and how far removed from it they
now are. When I laid down the last volume of the Traité, I had become a different being.
The "principle of utility," understood as Bentham understood it, and applied in the
manner in which he applied it through these three volumes, fell exactly into its place as
the keystone which held together the detached and fragmentary component parts of my
knowledge and beliefs. It gave unity to my conceptions of things. I now had opinions; a
creed, a doctrine, a philosophy; in one among the best senses of the word, a religion; the
inculcation and diffusion of which could be made the principal outward purpose of a life.
And I had a grand conception laid before me of changes to be effected in the condition of
mankind through that doctrine. The Traité de Legislation wound up with what was to me
a most impressive picture of human life as it would be made by such opinions and such
laws as were recommended in the treatise. The anticipations of practicable improvement
were studiously moderate, deprecating and discountenancing as reveries of vague
enthusiasm many things which will one day seem so natural to human beings, that
injustice will probably be done to those who once thought them chimerical. But, in my
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