Happiness and Democratic Theory: Jeremy Bentham and William Thompson
35 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2010 Last revised: 7 Apr 2010
Date Written: March 25, 2010
This paper will contrast the democratic theories of Jeremy Bentham and William Thompson. Bentham is mostly known for his theory of utility, but although he held anti-democratic beliefs for a period he eventually became a powerful advocate of representative democracy and even (at times) universal suffrage. Early British cooperative socialist William Thompson, whom Bentham described as a "disciple" at one point, took Bentham's utilitarian premises to craft a very different theory. While Bentham's theory fits well into the mainstream of contemporary democratic theory, Thompson's work can be seen as providing some of the foundations for what evolved into radical democracy. The differences between them arise, I argue, because Thompson conceptualizes happiness differently from Bentham. This paper will examine, then, how the differences in their conceptions of happiness are reflected in the differences in their democratic theory. The individualism that lies at the root of Bentham's theory is contrasted with the sociality that is central to Thompson's; Bentham's ideas about the protection of liberty and property are contrasted with Thompson's ideas about mutual cooperation, equality and voluntarism.
Keywords: Jeremy Bentham, utilitarianism, William Thompson, happiness, democratic theory, radical democracy
JEL Classification: A13, B12, B14, P13, P31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation