The launch of Pearson’s new Summer 2020 range has coincided with a cycling boom. A fortuitous by-product of unfortunate events, we raise a glass to the ultimate utility vehicle and the pioneering thinker who, now more than ever, would have recognised its value.

By Emma Winterson

Born in 1748, the social reformer Jeremy Bentham founded a school of philosophy known as 'utilitarianism'. Today, we consider things to be utilitarian if they are functional, pared free of luxury or indulgence. 


Bentham, eccentric to the end, donated himself to University College London.

 Bentham's utilitarianism was a method for living, a way of analysing how our decisions, and subsequent actions, affect other people. (Yes, Dominic Cummings, we’re talking to you.) This allows us to make informed and, Bentham believed, moral decisions, a theory that went on to influence political leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.


Strange Cummings and goings.

At Pearson 1860, we feel a certain affection for Bentham because at the heart of his theory was a simple idea. That something which brings great happiness to many people is a good thing; and, conversely, something that makes only a few people happy, or lots of people unhappy, is of little or no benefit.

While current events are forcing us to continually rethink our priorities, we’re reasonably confident Bentham would have been a fan of the bicycle. In fact, the father of utilitarianism might well have endorsed the road bike as the ultimate utility vehicle. It's simple and, in terms of low carbon footprint, has few rivals. The same reason that, at Pearson, we create products as sustainably as possible. And, as governments around the world grapple with the question of how to make public transport safe again, rarely has cycling been more practical. 


Amsterdam: utilitarianism in action.  

Bentham followed in a tradition of great British eccentrics. Following his death, in 1832, he asked that his body be preserved and donated to University College London, an institution he helped found. Today, he sits, in atmospherically controlled splendour, at the entrance to UCL's Student Centre.

Bentham was also present at the final UCL board meeting chaired, in 2013, by the then-retiring provost, Sir Malcolm Grant. Bentham, for the record, also named his walking stick 'Dapple', his teapot 'Dickey' and his cat 'The Reverend Sir John Langbourne'. (Rumours on social media suggest Boris Johnson is considering renaming his own wayward eccentric. 'Liability' has a certain ring to it.)

Pearson 1860 objects_in_motion bike

'Create all the happiness you are able to create; remove all the misery you are able to remove.' - Jeremy Bentham (who clearly predicted Pearson's design philosophy).

So, is it possible to measure the precise benefits cycling provides according to Bentham's ideas? Here’s where it gets a bit woolly. Published in 1789, Bentham's Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (Bentham hoped to overhaul the entire British legal system) refers to something called the 'hedonic calculus'.

It's a kind of philosophical ready reckoner, a list of seven questions against which to assess the merits of a particular activity. And which, in the case of cycling, we offer some answers:

Q1: Intensity (how intense will the pleasure be?).
A: Depends how hard you ride.

Q2: Duration (how long will any pleasure last?).
A: Depends how far. Where’s the pub again?

Q3: Certainty (how likely is it to happen?).
A: question of willpower. That’s on you.

Q4: Propinquity (how quickly will I enjoy it?).
A: How soon is the first big/long hill?

Q5: Fecundity (how common is it?).
A: Ride as much or as little as you like. Generally, more is more.

Q6: Purity (how likely is pleasure likely to be followed by pain?).
A: See answer to Q4.

Q7: Extent (how many people will experience it?).
A: Just ask the populations of India and China. Or, the growing number of riders embracing cycling for its mental-health benefits and impeccable environmental credentials.

See the new Pearson range for SS20 here.

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