Bentham: Premier Posthumous Producer of Peculiar Pleasures


Jeremy Bentham is weirder than you thought.

The philosopher who thought we should be doing all we can to bring about the greatest amount of pleasure has succeeded in contributing to the total even after his death in 1832, at least for those who take pleasure in the peculiar.

You probably already know that he arranged to have his body preserved as an “auto-icon” after his death so he could be wheeled out for events and celebrations (and that he recently went on tour).

You may recall that his notes were the basis of a cookbook: Jeremy Bentham’s Prison Cooking.

But did you know that he commissioned 26 custom rings decorated with his profile and had them distributed upon his death to 26 different people?

And did you know that a team of researchers at University College London (UCL) are currently trying to find these rings? Six of them have been tracked down, according to The Telegraph.

Tim Causer, a law professor at UCL and a senior research associate at the university’s Bentham Project, says the rings were probably created in 1822, and the profile was painted by artist John Field. He adds, mysteriously, that in November of that year, Bentham had his secretary bring the artist “some of his hair.” Of course.

A few of the rings held by UCL are engraved with the names of their owners, including one that belonged to John Stuart Mill.

According to The Telegraph, “the whereabouts of the remaining twenty rings remain unknown.”

Also unknown: what happens when all 26 rings are brought together in a secret chamber at University College London at midnight on the anniversary of Bentham’s death, worn by the descendants of the original owners, as they join hands, form a circle around the auto-icon, and chant, “utility, utility, utility…”

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