Jeremy Bentham


A Study of the Two Different Utilitarianism Versions in the Work of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill

October 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Give an account of Bentham’s and Mill’s Utilitarianism

Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill both expressed different versions of Utilitarianism; though both shared a broadly Utilitarian view, their conclusions had considerable differences. Utilitarian thinking can ultimately be traced back to the ancient Greek thinkers, but Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was the first thinker to put the theory into a workable normative approach to ethics.

Bentham and Mill can both be considered to be relativists in that neither believed that there are set rules which must be taken into any and every situation; rather, they held that morality is relative to the situation in which the moral agent finds himself. Furthermore they were consequentialists: the morality of an action could only be known aposteriori through examination of the consequences. For an action to be considered moral, these consequences had to achieve a certain goal, making Utilitarianism a teleological approach. This goal, according to Bentham, can be summed up by what has become known as the Principle of Utility, which can be shortened to “the greatest happiness for the greatest number”.

For both Bentham and Mill, the interpretation of this ‘happiness’ is ‘pleasure’. Bentham said, “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pleasure and pain”, indicating that humans naturally associate pleasure with morality and pain with immorality. This, however, is where their views diverge: for Bentham, this pleasure was quantitative, for Mill, a qualitative approach was preferred.

Bentham’s view was that any action that maximised happiness for the majority of people was moral. It is here that Bentham breaks away from the hedonism of ancient Greece as his approach is democratic in that an action should maximise pleasure for the majority, even if the moral agent herself receives pain. He realised that the interpretation of this could be seen as being ambiguous and so he developed his ‘Felicific’ or ‘Hedonic’ calculus in order to aid persons in making moral decisions. The calculus is seven stages (intensity, duration, purity, fecundity, propinquity, certainty and extent) which one ought to apply to every moral decision that one makes. So when considering, for example, the morality of clearing an area of rainforest, the moral agent ought to consider the intensity of the pleasure gained compared to the pain caused; whether the immediate pleasure will be followed by sensations of the opposite kind, i.e. the future pain caused by deforestation and the certainty of pleasure over pain etc. Bentham held that by applying this calculus to every act, one could reasonably predict which course of action would prove the most moral.

Mill (1806-1873) was a student of Bentham and continued in his Utilitarian tradition, though he rejected Bentham’s quantitative approach and, consequently, the Hedonic Calculus. He believed that Bentham’s approach allowed for injustices to occur, for example, the pleasure gained by a group of sadists could outweigh the pain that their victim felt at their torture. Mill came up with the idea of ‘higher’ and ‘lower order’ pleasures and suggested that certain pleasures were more valuable than others and therefore deserved greater consideration and weighting in the decision making process. He said that it was ‘better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”. By this he was suggesting that certain pleasures are preferable to others and regardless of the quantity of pleasure, higher order pleasures should be chosen over lower order. This overcame the problems created by the hedonic calculus as Mill would never allow someone to forgo a higher order pleasure for the sake of a majority of lower order pleasures, thus sadists would never be allowed to torture a victim just because they represent the majority.

Further to this, Mill advocated the use of rules based on the Principle of Utility, rather than applying the Hedonic Calculus to every single decision. Mill proposed that general rules should be generated and that these rules, when applied generally, will generally produce the greatest good for the greatest number. These rules would be ones such as driving on the left hand side of the road; though it may be frustrating if the right carriageway is free, it is generally the greater good to stay on the left.

“An action that maximises happiness will always be the right action.”

At first this statement would seem quite easy to agree to as the notion of maximised happiness is easily pleasing to human intuition. However, when analysed in greater depth it proves to be somewhat more problematic.

For Bentham, this statement equates to the Principle of Utility and thus he would agree entirely. Bentham’s understanding of happiness is pleasure and any action is morally right as long as the pleasure is maximised for the majority. Yet despite Bentham’s care in attempting to ensure justice via the Hedonic Calculus, this view of happiness is still open to misuse and injustices could occur, whereby a majority received pleasure at the expense of the rights or dignity of a minority, therefore Bentham’s view of this statement cannot be accepted.

Mill attempted to overcome a number of the difficulties created by Bentham’s view by suggesting that it was not the quantity of pleasure that ought to be denoted by ‘happiness’, but rather the quality. Mill thereby overcame the difficulty of gaining pleasure at the expense of others as this type of pleasure would be considered base, or ‘lower order pleasure’. However, Mill’s view fares no better as his understanding of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ order pleasures are vague and subjective and seem to have been heavily influenced by Mill’s own personal experiences. What Mill might consider ‘high’ order, another may well find detestable and in no way pleasurable and so Mill’s understanding of happiness cannot equate to a right action either.

A Christian may well be undecided as to this statement as she will believe that, ultimately, following God’s commands will lead to happiness, both in this life and eschatologically. She may, however, take umbrage with the idea that an action’s morality is based on its consequences only. Christians tend to take a deontological, absolutist perspective, approaching moral issues with Biblical commands or Church teachings thus the happiness produced is irrelevant as one’s duty is to follow the commandments. Some Christians, however, may interpret the Golden Rule of Christ to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ as an indication that you should treat others in a way that you would wish to be treated and that everyone would want to be happy. So for the Christian they may well agree that happiness is important but that it should not be the deciding factor.

It seems clear that this view is not without its flaws, the chief ones being the definition of happiness and its measurement. Yet to distinguish morality from happiness seems to go against our moral inclination and so it seems reasonable to agree with this statement to a certain extent, allowing for its ambiguities.

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Jeremy Bentham’s View on Morality

October 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Explain Bentham’s view of morality

Jeremy Bentham was an 18th Century lawyer and reformer, who lived during a period of radical scientific advance and social change. Modernism, fuelled by the advance of industrial and scientific discovery, saw a great decline in the reliance on religion. One reaction to this was to reject morality wholesale, as the existentialist Jean-Paul Satre did; but other, such as Bentham, believed that there was a way to judge morality.

Bentham was a relativist; he believed that the morality of an action was relative to the situation in which the choice could take place, thus for Bentham, absolute rules could not provide an acceptable basis for morality. For Bentham then, no two situations could be considered to be the same and so each and every action must be considered on its own merits. Furthermore, he held that the only way to know whether an act was truly moral or not was by looking at the consequences it produced. This consequentialist thinking means that Bentham believed moral knowledge was only attainable aposteriori.

However, this is not to say that Bentham rejected morality, he believed that there was a means of knowing whether or not an action was moral. He measured an actions morality against its success or failure in achieving a particular end, thus Bentham’s view of morality is Teleological. This end was pleasure – Bentham was a hedonist in that pleasure was something to be aimed for. Bentham believed that ‘nature has placed us under the governance of two masters, pleasure and pain.’

For Bentham it seemed reasonable to link pleasure with morality, believing that humans will always choose the action that will result in the greatest pleasure. Thus he came to the conclusion that pleasure is good. He came up with the general principle that ‘an action is good in so much as it creates the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people’, which has become known as the Principle of Utility.

Based on this, Bentham developed the normative ethical theory of Utilitarianism, which seeks to direct the moral agent to the correct choice by predicting the consequences of each possible course of action. The action which would produce the greatest happiness – or pleasure – would be deemed as the correct course of action.

In order to aid this process of predicting the consequences of a moral agent’s actions, Bentham devised the ‘Felicific Calculus’ (or ‘Hedonic Calculus’). This rather mathematical-sounding process was intended to be just that: a means of calculating the amount of pleasure or pain created by each action as a means of accurately deciding the most pleasure-producing, and therefore moral, act. The seven stages of the Calculus are as follows: intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity, extent, purity.

In applying this, Bentham believed in democracy, thus all parties’ pleasures and pains had to be considered. So, for example, in the hypothetical case of deciding whether or not one ought to lie, one would decide upon the intensity of the pleasure that that lie would bring about, how long the pleasure would last, whether the pleasure would be near to or remote from the agent, the chance of a succession of pleasures coming from this one act and whether the act would produce only pleasure or pain also, i.e. it may produce pleasure for the agent, but pain for a third party, thus Bentham would weigh up the amount of pleasure compared to the amount of pain. Once all seven stages had been considered, the agent would be able to decide whether or not the action was moral or immoral.“The hedonic calculus impairs justice”

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A Look at Happiness as Described in the Philosophies of Aristotle, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham

October 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

The word happiness has an immeasurable amount of definitions since everyone is happy through different means. What may make one person happy could bring discomfort or sorrow to another. This causes a dilemma when we attempt to create an all-encompassing definition of the word happiness. Three famous philosophers by the names of Aristotle, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham each made an attempt to create a definition of what they believed happiness truly was.

Aristotle believed that everything and everyone had a purpose in life and in order to truly find happiness one must discover this purpose. For example the purpose of a knife is to cut and the purpose of a fridge is to cool. Discovering the purpose of an inorganic object is a fairly easy task, as its purpose is generally what it was invented to accomplish. Attempting to discover the purpose of a living being is and entirely different task and it is much more difficult. People can live the entirety of their life without ever actually knowing what their true purpose is. When one does find their purpose and pursue it they will become happy and be a flourishing human being.

When you go through life, you set goals on what you wish to do and some are more important than others. Such as becoming a doctor is a less important goal than helping to heal people and save lives. Aristotle believes that the highest goal for everyone is to achieve happiness. He believes that this is more important than any other goal and that happiness is an end in itself and therefore there cannot be any goals higher than happiness. Aristotle also understands that there are external factors that may hinder or strengthen our happiness such as materialistic belongings, economic status or family life. Although, he believes that as long as one strives towards their purpose in life they will achieve happiness.

Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill have similar utilitarian views on what they believe defines happiness. They both believed that it was best to promote happiness while denying as much pain as possible. Bentham believes that there is one kind of happiness that can be achieved through whatever means may make that person happy. Someone may find pleasure in throwing a ball against a wall and another may find pleasure writing novels. Bentham believes that these two acts are equal if they bring the same amount of pleasure to the people.

Bentham created a way to calculate pain and pleasure, which is called Hedonic Calculus. There were seven factors that would determine how must happiness it provided. They were the intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity, purity, and extent of the pleasure. All of these variables were taken into account when determining the amount of pleasure an action brought or would bring. There were obvious problems with this system because it is extremely implausible to be able to get an accurate scale of these variables that would be able to be applied to every situation in the exact same way. Since people are brought happiness through different methods and in different degrees, it is nearly impossible to calculate the amount of happiness that was provided.

Mill has similar philosophies to Bentham such as the idea to promote happiness and demote pain and suffering. Mill, however, believed that all happiness’s are not equal regardless of the amount of pleasure it brings you. If someone was brought happiness by reading Dr. Seuss and another was brought the same amount of pleasure by reading Shakespeare, Mill would say that Shakespeare is the better of the two because it is a higher pleasure. He believed that there were higher and lower pleasures but between the two, higher pleasures surpass lower pleasures and are far more superior. Mill believed that higher pleasures were those that stimulated the mind and allowed one to be enriched. If one were to choose between the two, Mill would say that the higher pleasure would be the correct choice because even though it may bring discomfort, it will be an enlightening experience and therefore would be the better choice.

I believe that the correct definition of happiness lies with a combination of these three philosophers ideas. Aristotle idea that everyone and everything has a purpose in this world and finding it will bring happiness to you seems true. The famous saying “If you love your job, then you never work a day in your life” seems to apply to Aristotle’s idea of happiness because when someone is happy with what they are doing it no longer seems like a chore. The same is true with college students and their classes, when you are taking courses that involve your major you tend to put in more effort and be more interested then when you are in core curriculum courses. Taking Aristotle’s thoughts and combining them with Mill and Bentham’s ideas will give us a decent description of happiness. There are certainly higher and lower pleasures as Mill says, but I don’t believe that the higher pleasure is always necessarily the better choice. When Bentham says that pushpin and poetry are equal he has some validity but is not completely true. It is certain that poetry would be more enriching in some cases, but suppose someone does not obtain pleasure from reading poetry. They will not attempt to understand the poetry when they are forced to read it and therefore will not be receiving the enrichment. Every activity has some sort of enrichment weather it be small or large. Many people believe that reading is better than playing video game, but that is not completely true. While books may enlighten people and enhance their thought ability, video games are proven to improve hand eye coordination and reflex time. Also certain video games have accurate historic plots and therefore provide enlightenment also. Therefore you can’t say that one activity is better than another because they each have their own benefits. This is why I believe that all three philosophers are partially correct with their definitions.

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