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Bentham, Jeremy. An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation


Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), whose ideas and social supporters influenced the foundation of UCL and whose papers and publications are kept in UCL Special Collections, was an early observer of the lack of women’s rights in many nations, including their lack of participation in government, legislation and voting. He had a significant influence on John Stuart Mill who, often in collaboration with his wife  Harriet and her daughter Helen, wrote several works on women’s rights.

The views expressed by Bentham on equality of gender vary across his large body of work. In this book, his first printed opinion on the subject, he criticises the view that women’s minds are inferior or less capable of moral sensibility. In a section headed ‘Of circumstances influencing sensibility’ he writes that indications of ‘moral sensibility’ in a woman ‘are commonly stronger in her than in the male’ (pp.lvi–lvii).

Bentham supported women’s rights in his Plan of Parliamentary Reform (1817–18), but he appeared later to think that achieving women’s suffrage was unrealistic at the time. His vast archive is still being transcribed, but discoveries so far include his innovative argument for the use of gender neutral pronouns: ‘When both sexes are meant to be intended, employ not the word man but the word person.’

A book label pasted into the front of this copy of Bentham’s book indicates that it was exhibited in the Exhibition of Books, part of the Festival of Britain in 1951. Bentham’s work was exhibit no.302. 

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