An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation Jeremy Bentham Utilitarianism Contains three elements: Hedonistic theory of well-being: pleasure is good and pain is bad Sum-totaling of well-being: pleasure and pain can be aggregated. Maximization of well-being: only that action that

produces the greatest balance of pleasure over pain is the morally correct action The principle of utility When Bentham talks of the principle of utility, he means the principle which prefers the greatest balance of pleasure over pain. Bentham contends that as a matter of fact, people only (at bottom) pursue pleasure. This is a descriptive theory of hedonism. Bentham also contends that what is good for

people is just pleasure and the absence of pain. This is a normative theory of hedonism. Principles adverse to utility Bentham claims that a principle may be different from the principle of utility in two ways: It could be opposed to it: like asceticism, the view that pleasure is bad and pain is good It could be no principle at all: like the principles of sympathy and antipathy, where what is good or

bad is just what strikes each person as good or bad. Asceticism Bentham contends that asceticism is the result of a mistake: in observing that many pleasures, when overindulged, cause more pain than pleasure, ascetics conclude that all pleasure is bad Bentham contends that if only a tenth of being on earth really subscribed to asceticism even

for a day, they would turn Earth into a hell. Sympathy/Antipathy Bentham accuses politicians and popular figures of subscribing to this principle (my, how times change) rather than any consistent set of values. Sympathy/Antipathy are simply arbitrary, and are no good basis for morals or legislation. Of the sources of pleasure and pain:

When good things happen for a reason, they are rewards, when bad things happen for a reason, they are punishments. When things happen for no determinate reason, it is called a calamity if bad, or fortune if good. What follows are four sources of reward or punishment. The sources: Physical When a punishment or reward is caused by ones own

actions Political When punishment or reward is caused by the law Moral When punishment or reward is socially inflicted (by other people) Religious When punishment or reward is caused by God

Utility as a source of morals and legislation In outlining the previous, Bentham has a particular goal: to demonstrate that utility is the best principle to base morality and the law off of. It is better than asceticism or sympathy/antipathy, and can influence all human behavior through the sources of reward/punishment. What remains to be explained is how to apply the principle of utility. Bentham calls this the Hedonic

Calculus. Hedonic calculus: Total Pleasure/Pain can be calculated using the following parameters: Intensity: How intense is the pleasure/pain? Duration: How long does it last? Certainty: How probable is it to occur? Propinquity: Its nearness in time Fecundity: How likely is it to generate more of the same?

Purity: How much pure pleasure, pure pain, or a mix of the two is it? Extent: How many people are affected? Study Questions: Bentham says that a principle must either be diametrically opposed to the principle of utility or else completely arbitrary. Is he correct in this? What makes Benthams use of hedonism different from Epicurus? Come up with a fictitious situation involving one

person making a decision that will affect up to three other people. Do a hedonic calculus to make the decision.

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