The Philosophy of Jeremy Bentham

jeremy bentham

Jeremy Bentham was an English philosopher of the 18th century. He founded the branch of the utilitarian philosophy. His main work is Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation. His aim is to found a philosophy which ensures a maximum happiness for maximum people. According to Bentham, individuals view their interests accordingly to pleasure and pain. They seek to “maximize” their happiness expressed by the surplus of pleasure over pain. Indded, individuals are making an hedonistic calculus. Every action has negative and positive effects, so individuals are looking to achieve those who bring the most happiness.

Of course the philosophers who share this vision of the utilitarian philosophy, some have a very different opinion on how best to achieve it politically. In the words of Aristotle, it is commonly accepted that happiness is the goal, but the disagreement is considerable, as to what constitutes happiness. For Bentham the answer is simple: happiness is just fun and no pain. The value (or dévaleur) of pleasure (or of pain) depends only on its intensity and duration, and can (at least in principle) be evaluated quantitatively and accurately. That said, we can reconstruct the line of Bentham’s argument for the principle of utility as what follows:

The good (happiness) of a society is the sum of happiness of individuals have  in that society.The purpose of morality is to promote the (good) happiness of society. A moral principle is ideal if and only if it complies maximize universal happiness (good) company. Universal compliance with the principle of utility (“Always act to maximize total net balance of pleasure and pain”) maximize happiness (good) company. The principle of utility is the moral ideal.

Find here some excerpts from Principles of  Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation by Bentham:


Nature Mankind HAS Placed Under the governance of Two sovereign masters, pleasure and bread. It is for ’em alone to point out What we Ought to do, as well as determined to What We Shall Do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the chain of the Other causes and effects, are fastened to Their throne. Theys Govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we make to throw off Can our subjection, Will Demonstrate to serve purpose and confirm it. In words a man pretend to abjure May Their empire: but in reality ET Will Remain subject to it all the while. The Principles of utility Recognise this subjection, and covered any of it for the foundation That system, the object of Which is to rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and of law. System Which Attempt to question it, deal in sounds INSTEAD of sense, in caprice of reason INSTEAD, INSTEAD of light in darkness.


Value of a Lot of Pleasure or Pain, How to be Measured

How to measure the value of a lot of pleasure and pain

I. Use of this chapter. Pleasure then, and the avoidance of bread, Which are the ends in the HAS Legislator view: it behoves HIM Therefor to Understand Their value. Pleasure and Pain are the instruments to work with HE HAS: it behoves HIM Therefor to Understand Their strength, Which is again In Other Words Their value.

II. Circumstances to Be taken Into account in the Estimating the value of a pleasure or bread Considered with references to a single person, by and for itself. Considered by a person to Himself, the value of a pleasure or bread Considered by Itself, Will Be Greater or Less, According To The Four FOLLOWING Circumstances:

Its intensity.

Its duration.

Its certainty or Uncertainty.

Its propinquity or remoteness.

III. – Considered as connected with Other pleasures or breads. These Are the Circumstances Which are to Be Considered in Estimating a pleasure or a pain Considered EACH of Them by Itself. When The objective value of Any Pain Is Considered pleasure or for the purpose of Estimating the Tendency of Any act by Which It Is Produced, There Are Two Other Circumstances to Be taken Into account, These Are,

Its fecundity or the chance of it HAS Being Followed by the Same kind of feeling: That Is, pleasures, if it be a pleasure: bread, if it be a pain.

Its purity, or the chance of it HAS not Being Followed by feelings of opposite kind: that is: bread, if it be a pleasure, pleasures, if it be a pain

Two last thesis, however, are in strictness scarcely to Be Deemed and properties of the pleasure or the pain Itself, They Are not, Therefore, in strictness to Be taken Into the account of the value of gold That pleasure That bread. They Are Deemed to Be in strictness only in properties of the act, event or Other, by Which Such pleasure or Produced bread has-been, and accordingly are only to Be taken Into the account of the Tendency of Such Such act or event.

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