Facts about Bentham Bentham was born on Feb 15, 1748 in London, England. He was a precocious child who learned Latin, Greek, and French before he was 10. He went to Oxford and took his degree at the age of 15. Bentham and Benthamites like James and John Stuart Mill were considered radicals among the English establishment. In 1823, Bentham founded a radical periodical called The Westminster Review. He died in 1832 in London. His body is preserved as an “auto-icon” at University College London: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_PHRLg4FAs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_PHRLg4FAs He offered a systematization of utilitarianism.
Early Utilitarianism The earliest writers we in the utilitarian tradition were theologians – Richard Cumberland (1631- 1718), John Gay (1699-1745) They held that God wanted human happiness and that devotion to God was thus devotion to human happiness Hume’s utilitarianism can be seen as secularizing this early utilitarianism But that left the problem of motivation – why be focused on human happiness with a benefit from it in the afterlife?
Hume on Utility “We may observe that, in displaying the praises of any humane, beneficent man, there is one circumstance which never fails to be amply insisted on, namely, the happiness and satisfaction, derived to society from his intercourse and good offices….” (EM, sec. 2, ¶1) “As these topics of praise never fail to be employed, and with success, where we would inspire esteem for any one; may it not thence be concluded, that the utility, resulting from the social virtues, forms, at least, a part of their merit, and is one source of that approbation and regard so universally paid to them?” (EM, sec. 2, ¶3)
Hume’s Utilitarianism “In all determinations of morality, this circumstance of public utility is ever principally in view; and wherever disputes arise, either in philosophy or common life, concerning the bounds of duty, the question cannot, by any means, be decided with greater certainty, than by ascertaining, on any side, the true interests of mankind. [My emphasis.] If any false opinion, embraced from appearances, has been found to prevail; as soon as farther experience and sounder reasoning have given us juster notions of human affairs; we retract our first sentiment, and adjust anew the boundaries of moral good and evil.” (EM, sec. 2, ¶12)
Hume on Utilitarianism and Justice in the Enquiry “Thus we seem, upon the whole, to have attained a knowledge of the force of that principle here insisted on, and can determine what degree of esteem or moral approbation may result from reflections on public interest and utility. [My emphasis.] The necessity of justice to the support of society is the sole foundation of that virtue; and since no moral excellence is more highly esteemed, we may conclude, that this circumstance of usefulness has, in general, the strongest energy, and most entire command over our sentiments.” (EM, sec. 3.)
Hume on Utilitarianism and Justice in the Treatise “Now justice is a moral virtue, merely because it has that tendency to the good of mankind; and, indeed, is nothing but an artificial invention to that purpose.” (My emphasis.) (Treatise 3.3.1)
Hume on the Common Point of View The true interests of mankind might be the sort of thing that offers the common point of view: –“When a man denominates another his enemy, his rival, his antagonist, his adversary, he is understood to speak the language of self-love, and to express sentiments, peculiar to himself, and arising from his particular circumstances and situation. But when he bestows on any man the epithets of vicious or odious or depraved, he then speaks another language, and expresses sentiments in which, he expects, all his audience are to concur with him. He must here, therefore, depart from his private and particular situation, and must chuse a point of view, common to him with others: He must move some universal principle of the human frame, and touch a string, to which all mankind have an accord and symphony.” (EM, sec. 9, par. 6.)
More on the Common Point of View “If he mean, therefore, to express, that this man possesses qualities, whose tendency is pernicious to society, he has chosen this common point of view, and has touched the principle of humanity, in which every man, in some degree, concurs. While the human heart is compounded of the same elements as at present, it will never be wholly indifferent to public good, nor entirely unaffected with the tendency of characters and manners. And though this affection of humanity may not generally be esteemed so strong as vanity or ambition, yet, being common to all men, it can alone be the foundation of morals, or of any general system of blame or praise. One man's ambition is not another's ambition; nor will the same event or object satisfy both: But the humanity of one man is the humanity of every one; and the same object touches this passion in all human creatures.”
Bentham’s Principle of Utility “By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency 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” (Principles, I: II). [Troyer, p. 9.]
Bentham Adds This “I say of every action whatsoever, and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government.”
Action “Conformable to” the Principle of Utility In chapter 1, sec. 6, Bentham writes: “An action then may be said to be conformable to then principle of utility, or, for shortness sake, to utility, (meaning with respect to the community at large) when the tendency it has to augment the happiness of the community is greater than any it has to diminish it.”
Measure of Government “Conformable to” the Principle of Utility “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.” (Sec. 7.)
The Interest of the Community Bentham says in section IV that the “interest of the community then is … the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.” And in sec. V he writes: “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.”
Three Interpretations of Bentham’s Principle of Utility Interpretation 1:A type of act a is morally right to degree n if and only if atends to produce happiness to degree n. Interpretation 2:A token-action a is morally right if and only if a produces more pleasure than pain. Interpretation 3:A token-action a is morally right if and only if a produces at least as great a balance of pleasure over pain as any alternative (where an alternative to an action a =df. another act that the person who would do a if it were to be done – the “agent” – could do instead at that time) – i.e., a, we might say, “maximizes” pleasure.
Bentham on “Right” and “Ought” “Of an action that is conformable to the principle of utility one may always say either that it is one that ought to be done, or at least that it is not one that ought not to be done. One may say also, that it is right it should be done; at least that it is not wrong it should be done: that it is a right action; at least that it is not a wrong action. When thus interpreted, the words ought, and right and wrong and others of that stamp, have a meaning: when otherwise, they have none.” (Section 10 of Ch. I.)
Bentham’s Use of “Greatest Happiness” “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.” [Note to Chapter I of Principles; Troyer, p. 62.]
Why the Gap in Use “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.”
Arguments for the Principle of Utility? Section 11 of Ch. I: “Has the rectitude of this principle been ever formally contested? It should seem that it had, by those who have not known what they have been meaning. Is it susceptible of any direct proof? It should seem not: for that which is used to prove every thing else, cannot itself be proved: a chain of proofs must have their commencement somewhere. To give such proof is as impossible as it is needless.” [Troyer, p. 10.]
An Argument Section 12 of Ch I he writes: “Not that there is or ever has been that human creature at breathing, however stupid or perverse, who has not on many, perhaps on most occasions of his life, deferred to it. By the natural constitution of the human frame, on most occasions of their lives men in general embrace this principle, without thinking of it: if not for the ordering of their own actions, yet for the trying of their own actions, as well as of those of other men.”
Everybody Follows It “There have been, at the same time, not many perhaps, even of the most intelligent, who have been disposed to embrace it purely and without reserve. There are even few who have not taken some occasion or other to quarrel with it, either on account of their not understanding always how to apply it, or on account of some prejudice or other which they were afraid to examine into, or could not bear to part with. For such is the stuff that man is made of: in principle and in practice, in a right track and in a wrong one, the rarest of all human qualities is consistency.”
Opposition Misapplies It In Section 13 of Ch. I he writes : “When a man attempts to combat the principle of utility, it is with reasons drawn, without his being aware of it, from that very principle itself. His arguments, if they prove any thing, prove not that the principle is wrong, but that, according to the applications he supposes to be made of it, it is misapplied. Is it possible for a man to move the earth? Yes; but he must first find out another earth to stand upon.”
Impossible to Disprove In Section 14 of Ch. I he writes: “To disprove the propriety of it by arguments is impossible; but, from the causes that have been mentioned, or from some confused or partial view of it, a man may happen to be disposed not to relish it. Where this is the case, if he thinks the settling of his opinions on such a subject worth the trouble, let him take the following steps, and at length, perhaps, he may come to reconcile himself to it.”
Alternative Views Bentham Argues Against (1) The Principle of Asceticism: the view of that pain is good and pleasure is bad (the opposite of the Principle of Utility) (2) The Principle of Sympathy and Antipathy: this principle is to represent for Bentham all alternative ethical theories that have been advanced by philosophers over the centuries.
His Argument Against Asceticism Bentham rejects the Principle of Asceticism because he asserts that it’s simply the principle of utility misapplied. If those who adopted (1) really knew what they were doing, says Bentham, they’d realize they are advocates of the principle of utility, too. And they would realize that they have miscalculated their good.
His Argument Against Principle of Sympathy and Antipathy The debate between (2) and the principle of utility: On Bentham’s view, (2) evaluates right and wrong subjectively. Bentham holds (2) to be a kind of moral subjectivism. All views besides his own are on his account subjectivist. Consider an example – Hume’s moral sense view, for example. Bentham holds that Hume’s view is subjectivist because it draws moral conclusions on the basis of feelings rather than the facts that his own view is based upon. He thinks his view is the only possible objective moral approach to ethics.
His Argument is an Inference to the Best Explanation In other words, utilitarianism is an objective means for determining right and wrong. It is one that everyone conforms to. Every other system is a form of subjectivism and suffers for it. Bentham concludes from – –(a) the premise that utilitarianism is an objective moral system, –(b) the premise that all other moral systems are subjective, and –(c) the premise that everyone in fact conforms to the principle of utility – that the principle of utility is the best explanation of our moral beliefs. Thus, I suggest that the argument is what is known as “an argument to the best explanation.”
No Account of Moral Motivation? It might easily seem that Bentham doesn’t offer an account of moral motivation, that he doesn’t offer an account of why we should be interested in morality. This is a glaring fault of his if his line of argument is that we need an objective account of moral beliefs in order to give them a grounding. He has a problem if that objective system doesn’t conform to our moral motivation. It’s one thing to say that utilitarianism is the only objective system to account for moral beliefs and it’s another to provide an account of being motivated; we need a mesh between the objective standards that system provides and motivation to follow those standards. Why should we follow standards that are objective if we aren’t motivated to do so? What if we are just selfish?
Ethics, the Art of Motivating “Ethics at large may be defined, the art of directing men’s action to the production of the greatest possible quantity of happiness, on the part of those whose interest is in view” (Principles, 1.2)
How to Motivate Sympathy More effectively for the legislator - - punishment
Punishment Bentham in the Principles presents a science of punishment Chapter 13: Cases where punishment is inappropriate –Groundless –Inefficacious –Unprofitable –Needless Chapter 14: Proportionality relation between punishment and offence Chapter 15: Circumstantial conditions on impositions of punishment
Panopticon Elevation, section and plan of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon penitentiary, drawn by Willey Reveley, 1791
“A new mode of obtaining power” A prison design that allowed guards to observe all the inmates of a prison without allowing the inmates to know whether or not they were being watched Bentham wrote in Panopticon (1787) that this was "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.“ In 1798 he wrote: “The building circular – A cage, glazed – a glass lantern about the Size of Ranelagh – The prisoners in their cells, occupying the circumference – The officers in the centre. By blinds and other contrivances, the inspectors concealed... from the observation of the prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of omnipresence – The whole circuit reviewable with little, or if necessary without any, change of place. One station in the inspection part affording the most perfect view of every cell.” The actual design was never used, although many prisons have been said to have been influenced
The Hedonic Calculus In Section 8 of Ch. IV, Bentham sets out “the hedonic calculus”: “An article of property, an estate in land, for instance, is valuable, on what account? On account of the pleasures of all kinds which it enables a man to produce, and what comes to the same thing the pains of all kinds which it enables him to avert. But the value of such an article of property is universally understood to rise or fall according to the length or shortness of the time which a man has in it: the certainty or uncertainty of its coming into possession: and the nearness or remoteness of the time at which, if at all, it is to come into possession. As to the intensity of the pleasures which a man may derive from it, this is never thought of, because it depends upon the use which each particular person may come to make of it; which cannot be estimated till the particular pleasures he may come to derive from it, or the particular pains he may come to exclude by means of it, are brought to view. For the same reason, neither does he think of the fecundity or purity of those pleasures. Thus much for pleasure and pain, happiness and unhappiness, in general. We come now to consider the several particular kinds of pain and pleasure.”
Hedonic Value The hedonic value (not Bentham’s term) of any episode of pleasure e, HV (e) = I (e) × D (e) where I(e) is some measure of the intensity of e, and D(e) is some measure of the duration of e.
Durations and Intensities Pleasures are experiences. They have durations (starting and stopping points) so we can talk about the experience of pleasure that ran from 9pm to 9:04pm. (Notice we don’t always use the pleasure in that way.) They also have intensities. Think for example about some kind of experience of pleasure you’ve had, e.g., eating a hot fudge sundae. There are peaks and valleys of intensity. There is a peak very quickly after that first bite as your mind gathers itself around the pleasurable experience of consuming all this saturated fact. Let’s suppose that it plateaus then rises and falls. With a curve like that, there’s no neat way of talking about identical intensity over time so we have to take the interval.
Doloric Value The doloric value (again, not Bentham’s term) of any episode of pain e*, DV (e*) = I (e*) × D (e*), where I(e*) is some measure of the intensity of e*, and D(e*) is some measure of the duration of e*, and e* indicates episodes of pain.
Hedonic Rating The hedonic rating (not Bentham’s term) of a particular action a, HR (a) = HV(e 1 ) + HV(e 2 ) + … + HV(e m ) = HV(e i ) for all i, the sum of the hedonic values of all the episodes ei of pleasure that result if a were to be performed.
Doloric Rating Similarly, the doloric rating (not Bentham’s term) of a particular action a, DR (a) = DV(e* 1 ) + DV(e* 2 ) + … + DV(e* m ) = DV(e* i ) for all i, the sum of the doloric values of all the episodes e*i of pain that result if a were to be performed.
Expected Values The expected hedonic value and expected doloric value: Exp HV (e) = Pr (e) × I (e) × D (e), Exp DV (e*) = Pr (e*) × I (e*) × D (e*), which are expected values given the probability Pr (e) of e’s occurrence and the probability Pr (e*) of e*’s occurrence
Utility and Expected Utility The utility of a particular action a is: U (a) = HR (a) - DR (a), And the expected utility of a particular action a is: EU (a) = Exp HR (a) - Exp DR (a).
Restatement of Greatest Happiness Principle Restatement of Greatest Happiness Principle in terms of the Hedonic Calculus: A particular action a is morally right if there is no b that is an alternative to a such that: EU(a) > EU(b).
The Role of Pleasure In section 1 of Ch. I, Bentham writes: “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.”
Love of Reputation From Ch. XI, the chapter on motives, Section 17: “Where the tendency of the act is good, and the motive is a semi-social one, the love of reputation. In this case the disposition indicated is a good one. In a time of scarcity, a baker, for the sake of gaining the esteem of the neighbourhood, distributes bread gratis among the industrious poor. Let this be taken for granted: and let it be allowed to be a matter of uncertainty, whether he had any real feeling for the sufferings of those whom he has relieved, or no. His disposition, for all that, cannot, with any pretence of reason, be termed otherwise than a good and beneficent one. It can only be in consequence of some very idle prejudice, if it receives a different name.”
Self- and Extra-Regarding Pleasures The baker is motivated by “self-regarding pleasures.” And where he’s not, he’s motivated by the “extra-regarding pleasure” of benevolence. Thus, everywhere the baker’s motivation is pleasure.
Bentham’s Psychological Egoism Bentham thinks that everything we do we do out of a desire for the good and that for human beings the good – the object of desire – is pleasure and avoidance of pain: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure,” he writes at the outset of Ch. I of Principles. “It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do..”
Mill’s Response in “Remarks” Mill: “That the actions of sentient beings are wholly determined by pleasure and pain, is the fundamental principle from which he starts; and thereupon Mr. Bentham creates a motive, and an interest, corresponding to each pleasure or pain…. Now if this only means … that our actions are determined by pleasure and pain, that simple and unambiguous mode of stating the proposition is preferable. But under cover of the obscurer phrase a meaning creeps in, both to the author’s mind and the reader’s, which goes much farther, and is entirely false: that all our acts are determined by pains and pleasures in prospect, pains and pleasures to which we look forward as the consequences of our acts. This, as a universal truth, can in no way be maintained.” (“Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy,” ¶ 24)
Mill’s Response (cont.) “The pain or pleasure which determines our conduct is as frequently one which precedes the moment of action as one which follows it. A man may, it is true, be deterred, in circumstances of temptation, from perpetrating a crime, by his dread of the punishment, or of the remorse, which he fears he may have to endure after the guilty act; and in that case we may say with some kind of propriety, that his conduct is swayed by the balance of motives; or, if you will, of interests. But the case may be, and is to the full as likely to be, that he recoils from the very thought of committing the act; the idea of placing himself in such a situation is so painful, that he cannot dwell upon it long enough to have even the physical power of perpetrating the crime.” (“Remarks,” ¶ 24)
Mill’s Response (cont.) “I am persuaded, from experience, that [the] habit of speaking of all the feelings which govern mankind under the name of interests, is almost always in point of fact connected with a tendency to consider interest in the vulgar sense, that is, purely self-regarding interest, as exercising, by the very constitution of human nature, a far more exclusive and paramount control over human actions than it really does exercise. Such, certainly, was the tendency of Mr. Bentham’s own opinions. Habitually, and throughout his works, the moment he has shown that a man’s selfish interest would prompt him to a particular course of action, he lays it down without further parley that the man’s interest lies that way; and, by sliding insensibly from the vulgar sense of the word into the philosophical, and from the philosophical back into the vulgar, the conclusion which is always brought out is, that the man will act as the selfish interest prompts.” (“Remarks,” ¶ 28)
Bentham’s Book of Fallacies In ¶ 29 of “Remarks,” illustrating Bentham’s psychological egoism, Mill quotes from Bentham’s Book of Fallacies: “In every human breast (rare and short-lived ebullitions, the result of some extraordinarily strong stimulus or excitement, excepted) self- regarding interest is predominant over social interest; each person’s own individual interest over the interests of all other persons taken together.” (Pp. 392-3.)
Bentham’s Book of Fallacies (cont.) “In another passage of the same work (p. 363) he says, ‘Taking the whole of life together, there exists not, nor ever can exist, that human being in whose instance any public interest he can have had will not, in so far as depends upon himself, have been sacrificed to his own personal interest. Towards the advancement of the public interest, all that the most public-spirited (which is as much as to say the most virtuous) of men can do, is to do what depends upon himself towards bringing the public interest, that is, his own personal share in the public interest, to a state as nearly approaching to coincidence, and on as few occasions amounting to a state of repugnance, as possible, with his private interests.’” (“Remarks,” ¶ 30)