Utilitarian College London?

Have we been taking Jeremy Bentham’s philosophical advice? The Tab finds out.

Despite popular belief, our good friend Jeremy Bentham was not technically the founder of UCL (gutted, Jez). He was, however, the founder of a little thing called Utilitarianism – which isn’t quite as prestigious an accolade as laying the foundations of our fine establishment, but at least he can genuinely take credit for it.

Utilitarianism is a word that was derived from Bentham’s philosophical test question, “What is the use of it?” (which, as somebody studying for an English degree, is something that I am constantly asking myself). He came up with this question after reading Joseph Priestly’s “Treatise of Government” in which he spotted the phrase “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”.

As rascally old Jezza is wont to do, he decided to piggyback someone else’s hard work and use this phrase in order to build a whole new moral philosophy around it called Utilitarianism. As Bentham figured that happiness was equal to and interchangeable with good, the concept behind Utilitarianism became “the greatest good for the greatest number of people”.

So, given that Jeremy Bentham is UCL’s honorary mascot, how Utilitarian are its students? The Tab asked 30 UCL students three purely theoretical questions to determine whether we’ve taken Jeremy’s personal philosophy to heart.


Question One

A random sadist has locked the UCL main library right in the middle of exam season. All students will end up doing significantly worse in their exams if this is not rectified. Whoever is found to have done this is going to get kicked out of uni. The library-locker leaves an anonymous note saying that they will only unlock the library if the crime is blamed on an innocent student.

Do you:

a) Blame the innocent student, get the library unlocked and let all students pass their exams,


b) Don’t blame the innocent student, keep the library locked and make everyone’s qualifications worth about as much as a KCL degree?



Question Two

A bouncer in Moonies has had a bad night and has decided to literally throw five of your course mates out of the club when all they were doing is behaving just as atrociously as the entirety of the club. You have the option of stepping in his way to divert him into throwing out that person you’ve fancied for ages instead.

Do you

a) Divert the bouncer and breathe a sigh of relief over a few tequilas with your acquaintances,


b) Let him throw them out, leaving you to get some sweet post-Moonies action with the apple of your eye?



Question Three

Those Strand Poly wankers have only gone and stolen Jeremy Bentham’s WAX head now, and they’re too busy having a good kickabout to think about giving it back. Students need to vote on whether to spend UCL’s few available quid on a new head for Jez (and a better bloody security system), or to forgo the head replacement and buy some new books and equipment for a department.

Do you

a) Vote to buy the books and equipment, leaving Bentham embarrassingly noggin-less and his reputation open to ridicule and torment by our rivals.


b) Vote for a shiny new head for Jez and a security system that can defend both his honour and his embalmed body?



Interestingly enough, it seems that this particular selection of UCL students are mainly Utilitarian in their moral decision-making, with the answers that provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people (white in the pie charts) prevailing in two out of the three questions.

So how Utilitarian are you? Take the quiz, and if you get:

Mostly A’s: Congratulations! You tend to give more Utilitarian answers, based on the best outcome for the largest number of people. Papa Bentham would be proud.

Mostly B’s: You are not very Utilitarian, and according to Daniel Bartels’ study, this actually means that you are probably less likely to have psychopathic tendencies. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Jez is kept safely locked away in his cupboard…