CATS IN THE ENLIGHTENMENT (Part 2- Jeremy Bentham)

Jeremy Bentham, by Henry William Pickersgill (...

Jeremy Bentham, by Henry William Pickersgill (died 1875). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Building on Diderot’s earlier philosophy, Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1832) English philosophy of Utilitarianism was also based on the belief that all actions should lead to happiness ‘…it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong’.  Undoubtedly, as a cat owner, he must have considered and included the happiness of animals. A well known misanthrope, as many cat lovers are, he named his favorite cat, Langbourne and proceeded to give him the title: Reverend Sir John Langbourne, DD. Such irreverence surely caused consternation.  One of the first proponents of animals’ rights, Bentham avidly fought against the idea that if they (people and animals) did not have reason, they could not suffer.  “If reason alone were the criterion by which we judge who ought to have rights, human infants and adults with certain forms of disability might fall short, too.” (Bentham, 1789) Through Bentham’s writings we see that he cared a great deal for his own macaroni eating cat.  “I had a remarkably intellectual cat, who never failed to attend one of us when we went round the garden.  He grew quite a tyrant, insisting on being fed, and on being noticed…His moral qualities were most despotic-his intellect extraordinary; but he was a universal nuisance.” (Bentham, 1843, p.80) In his protests against animal cruelty, Bentham wrote, “It is proper…to forbid every kind of cruelty towards animals, whether by way of amusement, or to gratify gluttony…Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes.” (Bentham, 1843) 


Oddly enough he had himself mummified and sits in a cabinet at the University of London.  No one knows where his cat is, or if it was in fact mummified too.


Bentham, Jeremy. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1789. Latest edition: Adamant Media Corporation, 2005.

Bentham, Jeremy. (1843). The works of Jeremy Bentham. ed. John Bowring. London. p. 80

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