UCI Wk 7 Privilege of Learning the Basic Ethical Principles Discussion Response


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From John Perry, Michael Bratman, and John Martin Fischer
(eds.) Introduction to Philosophy, Oxford University Press

The Principle of Utility
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was an English philosopher who is best known as the founder
of utilitarianism, that is, the view that the rightness or wrongne.ss of any action d epend!, on
the �tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party
whose interest is in question.” His most famous work is An Introduction to the Principles of
Mo,;a/s and Legislation.
Chap�er 1 Of the Principie of Utility
I. Nature has place,d mankind under the gover­
n,ance of rwo sovereign masters,pa.in and p!tYJSure. It is
for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as
weU as to determine what we sha.U do. On the one
h.and the slll!ldard of right and wrong, on the other
the chain of ca uses and effects, are fastened to their
throne. They govern us in all we do, in aH we say, in all
we chink: every effort we can ma. e to throw off our
subjection., wiU serve but to demonstrate and confirm
it. fa words a man may pretend to abjure their empire:
but in reality he w:ill remain subject to it all the while.
The principle of utility recognises this subjection,
and aS-swnes it for the foundation of that system,
the object of which is to rear the fbric of felicity
From An l11troduction to the Pririciple1 of Morals and Legisla­
tion (New York: Hafner, 1948), pp. 1-4, 29-32,
•Note b}’ the Amhor, Jul }• 1822.
To this denomination has of late been added, or su!»’titmed,
rhe g.mitm happinm or greatest felicity principle: rhis for short­
ness, instead of saying :u length thal principle which sraces rhe
greatest happiness of all those whose [nteres1 is in quesiion, as
being the right and prop,e , and onl)• righiand proper and uni­
iets.all)’ desirable, end of human actlon: of human acdon in
e ery situation, and in particular in that of a functionary or set
of functionaries e.xercising the pm ers of Government. The
word ulility does not so clearly point to rhe ideas ofpk.tW,re and
pain as the words hap,pine11 andfelicity do: nor does it lead us to
the coosideration of rhe m,mber, of the intetem affoct:ed; to dle
.number, as being d1e circumstance, v.-hkh contribures, [n the larg­
est propo:rdon, ro the formation of the standard here in qu.estion;
the skmdam of.right and wrong, by which alone the prnpriety of
human conduct, in e’ery siruaiion, can with proprieq• be tried,
This wam of a suffid.endy manifesr conne ion between i:he. ideas
of happine1.t and pleas= on the one hand, and the idea of wility
on rhe ocher, I ha,re every, now and then found operating, aru:l
, idl bm too muc:h effictency, a� a bar to d”le acceptance, rhat
mighr ocltel’ •ise have been gi.,en, co d1is principle�lll’..NTIH:M
• 480
by the hands of reason and law. Systems which at�
[empt to question it, deal in sounds instead of sense, in
caprice instead of reason, in darkness instead oflight.
Bue enough of metaphor and declamation: it i no:t
by such means that moral science is to he improved.
II. The principle ofutilir is the foundation of the
presem work: it will he proper therefore at C:b.e omset
to give an exptici.t and determinate account of whac. is
meant by it .. By the principle of utility is meant that
principle which. approves or disapproves of ever,1
action whatsoever, .according to the tendency wlii.ch it
appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness
of the parry whose interest is in question: or, what is
the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose
d1at happiness. 1 say of every action whatsoe,·er; and
therefore not onl, of every action of a private individ�
ual, but of ever,v measure of government.
III. By utility is me.am that property in any object,
whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage� plea­
sure, &,rood., or happiness, (aU this in the present case
oome.s to the same d1ing) or ( wh.at comes again oo the
same thing) to prevent th. e happening of miscbief,
pain, evil, or unhappiness to the parry whose inrerest is
considerod: if d1at party he the community in &,.-e nernl,
then the happiness of the community: if a particular
individual, then the happiness of that indi idual.
IV. The interest of the comm uniey is one of the
most genernI expressions that can oocur in rl’:ie
phraseology of morals: no wonder that the meaning
of it is ofren Iosr .. When it has a meaning, it is this.
The community is a fictitious btJdy, composed of the
individual persons who are considered as constitut�
ing as it were its m,-mbers. The interest of the com­
munity then is, what?-the sum of the interests of
the several. members who compose it.
V. It is in vain to talk of the imerest of the commu­
nity without understanding what is the interest of the
individual.” A thing is said rn promote the interest, or
co befor 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 h�s pains.
VI. An action then may be sa.id to be conform­
.able co the principle of mility, or, for shortness sake,
to utilicy, (meaning with re-Spect to the com:munit-y
at large) when the tendency it has to augment the
*Interest is one of those words, which nm ha•ing any supe­
rior gen us, cannot in che ordinary way be defined.
happiness of the cotn.Inuniey is gre.ater than any ir
has ro diminish it.
VII. A measure of government (which is but a
particular kind of action, performed by a particular
per on or persons) may be said to be conform.able to
or dictated by the principle of utilfr, ., hen in like
manner the tendency which it has to augmem the
happiness of rhe community is greater than any
which it has ro diminish it.
VIII. When an action, or in particular a measure
of government, is supposed by a man to be conform�
able to rhe pri.nciple of utility, it may be convenient,
for C::b.e purposes of discourse, co imagi.n e a kind of
law or dictate, called a law or dictate of utility: and
to speak of me action in question, a-s being conform�
able to such law or dictate.
IX. A man may be said to be a partizan of the
principle of milit;•, when the .approbation or disap�
prob-.1tio11 he annexe-S to any .action. , or to .any rnea�
sure, is determined by and proportioned to the
tendency which he con,cei e-S it to have to augmem
or to diminish the hap pine-ss of the community: or in
other words, to its conformity or unconformity to
the Ja s or d.icrates of utility.
X. Of an action th.at is conform.able to the princi�
pie of utilit, one may always say either that it is one
that ought m be done, or at le.a.st diat 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; th.at it is a right action; at least that it is not a
rang action. When thus interpreted, the words
tJught, and right and .wrong, and others of that stamp,
have a meaning: when otherwise > d1ey ha,,e none.
XL Has the rectitude of this principle been ever
formally contested.? It should seem that it had,, by
those who have n.ot nown what they h.ave been
meaning. Is i.r susceptible of any d irect proof? ir
should seem not: for d1at wh.ich is used to prove
e•ery thing else, cannot itself be proved: a chain of
proofs must have their commencement somewhere.
To give such proof is as imp0-ssible as it is needless.
XII. Not that there is or ever bas been d1at human
creature bre-.uh:ing,. however stupid or perverse, who
hacs not on many� perhaps on most occasion of his
life, deferred to it. By the natural constitution of the
human frame, on m0-st occasions of d1eir 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 wdl as of tho1>t: of other
men. Tl1ere have been, at the same cime, not many,
perhaps, even. of the most intelligent, who h.ave been
disposed to embrace it purely and without reserve.
There are e•en few who have not taken some occ.a­
sion or other to qua.rrd vith it, either on. account of
their not understandi.ng always how to apply it, or on
account of som.c prejudice or other which tli.ey were
afraid to examine into, or could not hear to part with.
For such is the stuff chat man is made of: in principJe
and in practice, in a right track a.nd in a wrong one,,
the rarest of alJ human qualities is consistency.
Chap�er IV Value of a Lot of
Pieasure or Pain, How to
Be Measured
I. Pleasures then, and the avoidance of pains,, are
me ends which the legislator has in ·iew: it behu e-s
him therefore to understand their value. Pleasures
and pains are the £ns.trumcnts he has to work wi.rh: it
behoves him d1erefore to understand their force,
which is again, in mher words,, their value.
IL To a person consid.ered by himself, the alue
of a pleasure or pain considered by ittclf, will he greater
or less ,, according to the four following circurr1stances:
hs int”–nsity.
[ts duration.
[ ts certainty or uncertainty.
[ ts prop£nquity or rt”motem:ss,
III. These are the circumstances whkh are to be
considered. in estimating a pleasure or a pain consid­
ered each of rhe.m by itself. But when the value of
any ple.asure or pain is considered for the purpose of
estimating the tendency ofany act by which it i.s pro­
duced, there are two other circumstances to be raken
into the account; these are,
5. It.sfccundity, or the chance it has of being fol­
Jawed by sensations of the same kind: that is, pJea­
sures., if it be a pJeasure: pains, ifit be a pain.
6. Its purity,. or the chance it has ofnot being fol­
lowed by sensations of the opposite kind: that is. ,
pains, ifit be a pleasure: pleasures, ifi.t be a pain.
These rwo Jast, however, are in stri.ctness scarcely to
be deemed properties ofd1e pleasure or the pa.in itself:;
they are not, d1erefore, in srricmess to be taken imo the
account of the value- of that pleasure or that pain. They
are in. str.ictness to be de.eme

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