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Subject and Keywords:

Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832)   auto-icon   utilitarianism   human body   utility   religion   rights of deceased persons   human corpse


Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, ordered in his will of 1832 that his body was to be dissected, and his skeleton with his mummified head was to become the basis of the so-called Auto-Icon. Bentham’s Auto Icon can be seen now in the University College of London The paper presents an attempt to reconstruct the motives which guided Bentham – this issue leads to the broader questions concerning the protection of human corpses from the point of view of the utilitarian legal thought. On the one hand, the Benthamian concept of autoicon is rooted in utilitarian doctrine created by the philosopher. Bentham wanted to propose such a solution so that the body of a deceased man could serve the living persons to the greatest possible extent. Therefore, he urged that the so-called soft tissues (except a head) of a deceased person were to be dissected, and thus may be useful for the development of medicine and education of future physicians. Auto-icon could in turn be useful because it could recall the memory of the deceased and alleviate the fear of death in the living individuals, and simultaneously it could serve the much more “mundane” purposes, e.g. it can be exposed to public view and thus confer benefits to the owners. Therefore, Bentham wrote that auto-icons would be a new kind of property resembling the literary property. On the other hand, the Bentham’s idea is strongly connected with his attitude to religion, particularly Christianity. The founder of utilitarianism recognized only the usefulness of religion as a kind of instrument of social engineering and desired the secularization of society, but he did not entirely renounce the Christian idea of immortality. The concept of auto-icon reflects this idea. Bentham’s intention was to create a kind of pantheon of the greatest individuals for the new, secular society implementing the principle of utility. Moreover, Bentham ranked himself among those “saints” for a utilitarian society. In this respect, the Benthamian idea of auto-icon seems to anticipate the project of Vladimir Lenin’s cult

Place of publishing:



Wydział Prawa, Administracji i Ekonomii Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego   Oficyna Prawnicza

Date issued:





ISBN 978-83-62832-08-8



Is part of:

Non omnis moriar

Rights holder:

Copyright by Wydział Prawa, Administracji i Ekonomii Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego

Autor opisu:

WR U/PAdjm