The Panopticon

image of the Panopticon
"Morals reformed - health preserved - industry invigorated, instruction diffused - public burthens lightened - Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock - the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws are not cut, but untied - all by a simple idea in Architecture!"
Jeremy Bentham
The Panopticon Writings

"A building circular... The prisoners in their cells, occupying the circumference—The officers in the centre. By blinds and other contrivances, the Inspectors concealed... from the observation of the prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of omnipresence—The whole circuit reviewable with little, or... without any, change of place. One station in the inspection part affording the most perfect view of every cell."
Jeremy Bentham
Proposal for a New and Less Expensive mode of Employing and Reforming Convicts (London, 1798)

Jeremy Bentham's ideas on how the greatest happiness principle should be applied were not always well-conceived. Bentham spent much of his time and fortune on designs for the Panopticon. The Panopticon ("all-seeing") was a prison. It was designed to allow round-the-clock surveillance of the inmates by their superintendent. Bentham's intention was humanitarian; but penitentiaries are not the best advertisement for a utilitarian ethic.

The greatest happiness principle dictates the construction, not of prisons, but the secular equivalent of Heaven-on-Earth. When harnessed to biotechnology, this utopian-sounding vision is feasible - albeit implausible. Yet the ideological obstacles to global happiness may prove greater than the practical challenges: the contemporary utilitarian project needs more visually compelling symbols than an image of discipline and punishment. On utilitarian grounds, the Panopticon is perhaps best forgotten.

J.S. Mill
David Hume
William Paley
The Panopticon
Jeremy Bentham
Jesus of Nazareth
Happiness is Back
Utilitarian Bioethics
The Pinprick Argument