Monday, October 17

taxidermy of an ethicist

Anyone who bothers to look at this entry will get to read something interesting I learned in Contemporary Ethical Theory today.

Jeremy Bentham, the Utilitarian philosopher, left very specific instructions at his death. A large portion of his wealth was to be left to the university he taught at, on the condition that his stuffed body be in attendance at all the board meetings. The body now has a wax head, but to this day it is still wheeled out for important meetings. It used to be on display to the public, but now, if anyone visits London and wishes to see it, an appointment can be made.

I have to wonder if Bentham's own theories played any role in this. He was of the mind that the most moral way to live life is to strive for the maximum amount of pleasure or happiness for yourself and everyone around you. In a nutshell, his Principle of Utility is that the best action to take is the one that brings the most pleasure to everyone affected by the decision. He even had a system for rating pleasures to decide what the best course of action is, but I wonder if he really thought that the most pleasurable course of action was to have his stuffed body hanging around for centuries.


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