Speaking of a theory of action in Bentham’s philosophy seems to be at the same time so obvious and so complicated that I find it interesting to focus on it in particular through Of the Limits of the Penal Branch of Jurisprudence , 1 even though I am perfectly aware of the fact that some other texts could also seem to be relevant on this point. Perhaps it is because the theory of action in Bentham’s thought is associated with the theory of motivation he very well developed in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation 2 and A Table of the Springs of Action . 3 However, it is probably because action is often associated with motivation. My point here will not be to focus on motivation but to keep in mind when reading Of the Limits of the Penal Branch of Jurisprudence that Bentham’s theory of action is deeply linked to three things: 1) It is a cross-disciplinary concept, which could be fruitfully used in ethics, politics, law and jurisprudence; 4 2) Bentham is a consequentialist, therefore an act is analysed at some point through its consequences; 5 and 3) when he analyses acts, Bentham adopts a penal point of view. 6

What I consider to be at stake here is the part the definition and typology of actions play within a more general dynamic of elaboration of a legal theory based on the concept of a law . We cannot understand a complete code of laws without assuming that its elements are interdependent. 7

The concept of a law is fundamental in Bentham’s construction of a legal theory. Here is his definition:

A law may be defined an assemblage of signs declarative of a volition conceived or adopted by the sovereign in a state, concerning the conduct to be observed in a certain case by a certain person or class of persons, who in the case in question are, or are supposed to be, subject to his power: such volition trusting for its accomplishment to the expectation of certain events which it is intended such declaration should upon occasion be a means of bringing to pass, and the prospect of which it is intended should act as a motive upon those whose conduct is in question. 8

We can clearly see from this definition that Bentham’s legal theory is

not the sovereign itself, which means that a theory of sovereignty is not at stake here; motives, which could entail complying with the will of the sovereign; and conduct since Law is about influencing people’s conduct so they obey laws promulgated by the sovereign.