Liberty Matters

An Alternative to the Auto-Icon


Bentham's Auto-Icon scheme may be too outlandish for the reader. An alternative suggestion -- I think Bentham notes this idea in his pamphlet -- is to name kids and cats after merit-worthy men and women. For instance, one might name a cat after the winner of the Mill-Macaulay debate (or after the saintly Platonica). Similarly, one might name a kid after David Levy (maybe an even more outlandish idea than Bentham's mummification scheme), or one may well (much like a rather silly acquaintance of mine) even name a kid after the holy and saintly one. [117]
According to Bentham, the Auto-Icon scheme would help to assure that the “good report obtained by good conduct will attach to … [a man or woman] after death.… [Hence, they] must anticipate the judgement of … [their] fellow men [while alive]”[118] Indeed, Bentham countenances the possibility that Auto-Icons might find themselves changing location – moving from the “temple of honour” to the “temple of dishonor” (or vice versa) – with changes in the “interests and prejudices of … [the] age.”[119] As I told my acquaintance on the unhappy occasion of the one-time “one true god’s” decision to jump ship on transfer deadline day, however, just change the kid’s name to something far more suitable (after all, the kid would have no sensible objections, right?)[120] Nevertheless, a far wiser head than his (let alone mine) prevailed and the poor kid is stuck with the one-time “one true god” moniker for life. One the plus side, however, the kid will never find himself attending Salem House wearing a “Take care of him. He bites” sign.
[118.] Jeremy Bentham, “Auto-Icon, or, Farther Uses of the Dead to the Living,” unpublished, 1832, p. 7.
[119.] Ibid.