An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
Jeremy Bentham, 1748 -1832 CE, was an English philosopher, jurist, and social reformer regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism. Bentham defined as the foundation of his philosophy the principle that “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”. He advocated, long before it was common, for individual and economic freedoms, equal rights for women in property, voting and divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He also called for the abolition of slavery, of the death penalty, and of physical punishment, including that of children. He has also become known as an early advocate of animal rights.
Some good basic information about Bentham’s ideas in the development of Utilitarianism is found here in:
Chapter I. Excerpts
Of the Principle of Utility.
Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it. In words a man may pretend to abjure their empire: but in reality he will remain subject to it all the while. The principle of utility recognizes this subjection, and assumes it for the foundation of that system, the object of which is to rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and of law. Systems which attempt to question it, deal in sounds instead of sense, in caprice instead of reason, in darkness instead of light. But enough of metaphor and declamation: it is not by such means that moral science is to be improved.
The principle of utility is the foundation of the present work: it will be proper therefore at the outset to give an explicit and determinate account of what is meant by it. By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose that happiness. I say of every action whatsoever; and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government. The principle here in question may be taken for an act of the mind; a sentiment; a sentiment of approbation; a sentiment which, when applied to an action, approves of its utility, as that quality of it by which the measure of approbation or disapprobation bestowed upon it ought to be governed.
The interest of the community is one of the most general expressions that can occur in the phraseology of morals: no wonder that the meaning of it is often lost. When it has a meaning, it is this. The community is a fictitious body, composed of the individual persons who are considered as constituting as it were its members. The interest of the community then is, what? — the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it. It is in vain to talk of the interest of the community, without understanding what is the interest of the individual. A thing is said to promote the interest, or to be for the interest, of an individual, when it tends to add to the sum total of his pleasures: or, what comes to the same thing, to diminish the sum total of his pains.
A measure of government (which is but a particular kind of action, performed by a particular person or persons) may be said to be conformable to or dictated by the principle of utility, when in like manner the tendency which it has to augment the happiness of the community is greater than any which it has to diminish it.
You can check out an interesting link to the Bentham Project in England. Bentham Project If you want to know more about Jeremy Bentham from University College London, which houses the Bentham Project, watch
The Hedonic Calculus: How to determine what to do in any situation
The Hedonic Calculus weighs up the pain and pleasure created by the available moral actions to find the best moral and ethical decision. It considers the following seven factors:
- Intensity: How powerful is the action?
- Duration: How long does the pleasure or pain last?
- Certainty/Uncertainty: How likely is it to result in pleasure or pain?
- Propinquity/Remoteness: How near is it? Immediate? Thousands of miles away?
- Fecundity: What is the chance it has of being followed by sensations of the same kind: that is pleasure if it be pleasure or pain if it be pain?
- Purity: What is the chance it has of being followed by sensations of the opposite kind: that is pain if it be pleasure or pleasure if it be pain?
- Extent: How many people does it affect?
The first edition of this work was printed in the year 1780.
The work was first published in 1789.
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Last updated Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 10:44.
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- Note by the Author, July 1822 — To this denomination has of late been added, or substituted, the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle: this for shortness, instead of saying at length that principle which states the greatest happiness of all those whose interest is in question, as being the right and proper, and only right and proper and universally desirable, end of human action: of human action in every situation, and in particular in that of a functionary or set of functionaries exercising the powers of Government. The word utility does not so clearly point to the ideas of pleasure and pain as the words happiness and felicity do: nor does it lead us to the consideration of the number, of the interests affected; to the number, as being the circumstance, which contributes, in the largest proportion, to the formation of the standard here in question; the standard of right and wrong, by which alone the propriety of human conduct, in every situation, can with propriety be tried. This want of a sufficiently manifest connexion between the ideas of happiness and pleasure on the one hand, and the idea of utility on the other, I have every now and then found operating, and with but too much efficiency, as a bar to the acceptance, that might otherwise have been given, to this principle. ↵