Jeremy Bentham's Body Gets A Contentious New Box At UCL

By M@ Last edited 52 months ago

Last Updated 24 February 2020

Jeremy Bentham's Body Gets A Contentious New Box At UCL

The body of philosopher Jeremy Bentham is the star attraction of UCL's new Student Centre. Not everyone is happy.

Have you ever been to see the body of Jeremy Bentham? His dressed skeleton (minus head, which is kept elsewhere) has been on display in a UCL corridor since shortly after the philosopher's death in 1832, in accordance with his will. It's since been seen by millions of students, visitors and the more adventurous breed of tourist.

Now it's been moved, and will get a lot more attention.

Previously, the so-called auto-icon was hidden away down a side corridor of the Wilkins Building. You had to seek him out, which was part of the charm. Here's how Mr B looked:

Bentham's old box
Thinking inside the box: Bentham's traditional home

Bentham's body has now been moved to front-of-house in the new Student Centre. The old wooden cabinet stands empty, but with instructions on how to find the fresh display case:

Quite a change, and a bold move by UCL. Bentham is something of a mascot for the university, so placing his remains in such a prominent, exposed place does make some sense (a 'sweet pad upgrade', according to student site The Tab). But others find the move questionable.

LSE professor Mike Otsuka has provided an insightful Twitter thread, discussing the pros and cons. On the one hand, the philosopher might have found the increased exposure fitting — he did, after all, design the panopticon prison, which put prisoners at maximum visibility.

But the prominent position has also been criticised as 'undignified', like a 'department store mannequin', and potentially in conflict with specifications in Bentham's will. Judging by this photo, it may also be distracting (or inspirational?) to students in nearby classrooms.

It's worth reading through the thread in full for wide-ranging opinions about the move. After reading it all, we still can't decide if this is a 'good thing' or a 'bad thing', though Bentham's most famous belief may help us all decide: "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong."