Day 1--August 22
Babylonian Laws I
Babylonian Laws II
Euthyphro and Crito
Nicomachean Eth. I
Nico. Ethics II
Nico. Ethics III
Nico. Ethics IV
Early Rousseau II
Early Rous III
Rousseau's Walks I
Rousseau's Walks II
Rousseau's Walks III
Lisbon Earthquake I
JS Mill I
Mill and Emotions II
Mill and Emotions III
Legal Realism I
Legal Realism II
Brown v. Board
The Spirit of Jeremy Bentham II
Bill Long 9/27/06
Moving to the Words...
You learn so much by understanding when, and often by whom, words were coined. To know that Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. invented the word anaesthesia in 1847 seems so perfect, once you know that medication to dull pain only developed in that decade and a word for this medicine was needed (thanks to law student Michael Banks for the word). To understand that hillbilly and redneck came out of Alabama in the early 20th century makes sense. To grasp that HL Mencken, the great writer on American language made up the word ecdysiast (stripper) in 1940 so as to be "sensitive" to sensibilities of his audience, is both understandable and risible. Jeremy Bentham likewise introduced many new words (the technical term is neologism). This web site says that the OED cites his works more than 2000 times. Though this doesn't mean that Bentham initiated each term where he is cited, it suggests that he was useful in its dissemination or development.
Not So Successful Coinages or Rare Words
One thing to realize is that many, if not most, neologisms don't catch on. Who could have known that when Lewis Carroll penned the following line in 1871, "The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, Came whiffling through the tugley wood," that the word jabberwocky would catch on but tulgey would not? So it was with Bentham. In his earliest work (Form of Government-1776), he invented or used the following words/phrases that fell like a thud to the ground. For example, when criticizing William Blackstone's Commentaries (1765-69), Bentham talks about the various "branches" of law mentioned by Blackstone. Most think that municipal law is his real subject matter, but in fact he tried to "distinguish it from those others its condivident branches, terms law municipal." Though he derives condivident directly from the Latin, which means "to divide co-ordinately," he uses it to distinguish among the various species of law (divine, natural, ius gentium, municipal) in Blackstone's work. But no one followed Bentham in this usage.
Then, a few pages later (still in the Preface to FG), he criticizes Blackstone because he is a Expositor and not a Censor of the law (that is, he simply describes what has been inherited rather than declares what law ought to be). Blackstone found the work of censure to be a "paregon: a work of supererogation." What? The word parergon had been used a few times previously in English, and it has been attested as recently as 1995, but it isn't a term familiar to many. It means a "secondary or supplementary work or business; work that is subsidiary to one's ordinary employment." I suppose this is why Bentham decided to "explain" it--as a work of supererogation.
Then, he also uses the word excentric. The OED doesn't attest this spelling of the word eccentric until 1866, so we have just given them a spelling going back 90 years before that. It means "out of center" or, figuratively speaking, "not agreeing, having little in common." Bentham tries to explain why he focuses on a little section in vol. 1, ch. 2 of Blackstone to base his entire work on, and he simply says: "It then became necessary to come to some definitive resolution concerning this excentric part of it."
But none of these words from FG really became popular in other writers, even though there might have been an occasional usage of them. One might say the same for the phrase (not in FG) "post-prandial vibration," to describe a post-lunch walk. Another term he coined, that didn't see much use after him, was expiree--to mean an exconvict (1802). This essay describes that usage in more detail. Finally, Bentham coined the term pisteutics, which was so rare that even the OED doesn't have it. The Bentham project web site says that this word, derived from the Greek word meaning "to believe," was introduced by Bentham in his 1827 Rationale of Judicial Evidence to describe a kind of willingness to believe testimony without regard to the probability or improbability of such facts as indicated by experience.
More Successful "Benthamisms"
Lest you think that Bentham was only skillful in making up words that never were used, he also invented some that are so much a part of our vocabulary that you sort of wonder really if anyone had invented the term. Five of them are codification, maximize, maximization, minimize and international. None of these come out of the FG but each caught on in due time. Let me illustrate only two of them. In 1817 he wrote a work entited "Papers Relative to Codification & Public Instruction." Then, in 1830 he could say, "No otherwise than by codification can the reform here prayed for..be carried into effect." But it was not until John Stuart Mill wrote the following in 1840 that the word seemed to enter into more common speech: "He [Bentham] demonstrated the necessity and practicability of codification, or the conversion of all law into a written and systematically arranged code." You can see Bentham's "spirit" by the coinage of a new term--he would stand for codes, rather than the common law, clearly expressed and interlocking laws, rather than lofty and imprecise judicial expressions.
Let me finish this essay with reference to international. In his most famous work, written in 1780 but not published until the end of the decade (Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation), he writes as follows:
"XXV. In the second place, with regard to the political quality of the persons whose conduct is the object of the law. These may, on any given occasion, be considered either as members of the same state, or as members of different states: in the first ease, the law may be referred to the head of internal, in the second case, to that of international jurisprudence."
Then comes his explanation:
"The word international, it must be acknowledged, is a new one; though, it is hoped, sufficiently analogous and intelligible. It is calculated to express, in a more significant way, the branch of law which goes commonly under the name of the law of nations: an appellation so uncharaeteristic, that, were it not for the force of custom, it would seem rather to refer to internal jurisprudence. The chancellor D'Aguesseau has already made, I find, a similar remark (Œvres, Tom. ii. p. 337, edit. 1773, 12.no.): he says that what is commonly called droit des gens, ought rather to be termed droit entre les gens."
Thus, he is intending to substitute it for the traditional ius gentium, which he believed had become outdated.
Well, this is enough to illustrate some of Bentham's delight in language to express the novelty of his mind. Feel free to do the same in your work!
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long