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Jeremy Bentham died in 1832.
Unlike most people, however, the English philosopher decided on a rather unusual posthumous operation.
Bentham made instructions in his will, aged just 21, for him to be dissected after death and preserved as an ‘auto-icon.’
Now, Bentham’s 269-year-old decomposing head will appear on display for the first time in decades at University College London. Bentham will be part of a UCL Culture exhibition “exploring the science and dilemma of death.”
“The exhibition positions Bentham’s head within the context of his scholarship and his beliefs, with reference to prevailing ideas of the time about death and dead bodies. It asks the question, why did he believe donation was important? And forces us to ask what that means to us today,” said Subhadra Das, Curator of Collections (UCL Culture).
- Wellcome Images / Via wellcomeimages.org
Bentham is widely regarded as one of the foremost proponents of utilitarianism – “the view that the morally right action is the action that produces the most good.” 185 years after his death, his remains are still being used for the greater good: “It has… allowed scientists to test his DNA to see if he was autistic. We have been working with the Natural History Museum who have new techniques of studying ancient DNA,” Das said.
Bentham is also considered the “spiritual father” of UCL – the university’s actual founders were heavily influenced by the philosopher’s ideals and held him in high regard.
Despite being one of the most notable theorists and social reformers of his time, Bentham was remarkably eccentric. He used to carry the very pair of glass eyeballs that now rest in his preserved skull around with him in his pockets. He also owned a walking stick called Dapple, a teapot named Dickey, and an elderly cat: The Reverend Sir John Langbourne.
What Does It Mean To Be Human? Curating Heads at UCL will be on display at The Octagon Gallery from 2 October – 1 March 2018 and is free to all visitors.