It is widely accepted that Bentham was influenced by the thought of Helvétius. But the fact that Bentham copied some elements from Helvétius leads to the question of how he changed the Helvétian ideas, and in what respects he aspired to go further than Helvétius. Taking as a starting point Bentham's claim that Helvétius was the Bacon of moral science, whereas he himself was to be the Newton, I argue for the following. First, Bentham's theory can be understood as an attempt to work out in detail the theoretical programme that Helvétius outlined in order to reform moral philosophy. Second, in contrast to Helvétius, Bentham's theory is guided by considerations of feasibility, and this leads to claims that are more moderate than Helvétius's claims. Third, whereas Helvétius did not indicate how utilitarian principles should enter political decisions, in Bentham's approach the citizens, and especially philosophers, are considered active political agents.
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