NYU Stern

BENTHAM (1748 – 1832)

 

“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.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter I, par. 1

“By utility is meant that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness, (all this in the present case comes to the same thing) or (what comes again to the same thing) to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered: if that party be the community in general, then the happiness of the community: if a particular individual, then the happiness of that individual.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter I, par. 3

“For the dictates of utility are neither more nor less than the dictates of the most extensive and enlightened (that is well-advised) benevolence.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter X, par. 36

“Now, pleasure is in itself a good: nay, even setting aside immunity from pain, the only good: pain is in itself an evil; and, indeed, without exception, the only evil; or else the words good and evil have no meaning. And this is alike true of every sort of pain, and of every sort of pleasure.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter X, par. 10

“To a person considered by himself, the value of a pleasure or pain considered by itself, will be greater or less, according to the four following circumstances: 1. Its intensity. 2. Its duration. 3. Its certainty or uncertainty. 4. Its propinquity or remoteness. These are the circumstances which are to be considered in estimating a pleasure or a pain considered each of them by itself. But when the value of any pleasure or pain is considered for the purpose of estimating the tendency of any act by which it is produced, there are two other circumstances to be taken into the account; these are, 5. Its fecundity, or the chance it has of being followed by sensations of the same kind: that is, pleasures, if it be a pleasure: pains, if it be a pain. 6. Its purity, or the chance it has of not being followed by sensations of the opposite kind: that is, pains, if it be a pleasure: pleasures, if it be a pain. These two last, however, are in strictness scarcely to be deemed properties of the pleasure or the pain itself; they are not, therefore, in strictness to be taken into the account of the value of that pleasure or that pain. They are in strictness to be deemed properties only of the act, or other event, by which such pleasure or pain has been produced.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter IV, par. 2-3

“Begin with any one person of those whose interests seem most immediately to be affected by it [the general tendency of any act]: and take an account, 1. Of the value of each distinguishable pleasure which appears to be produced by it in the first instance. 2. Of the value of each pain which appears to be produced by it in the first instance. 3. Of the value of each pleasure which appears to be produced by it after the first. This constitutes the fecundity of the first pleasure and the impurity of the first pain. 4. Of the value of each pain which appears to be produced by it after the first. This constitutes the fecundity of the first pain, and the impurity of the first pleasure. 5. Sum up all the values of all the pleasures on the one side, and those of all the pains on the other. The balance, if it be on the side of pleasure, will give the good tendency of the act upon the whole, with respect to the interests of that individual person; if on the side of pain, the bad tendency of it upon the whole.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter IV, par. 5

“The general tendency of an act is more or less pernicious, according to the sum total of its consequences: that is, according to the difference between the sum of such as are good, and the sum of such as are evil. It is to be observed, that here, as well as henceforward, wherever consequences are spoken of, such only are meant as are material.…. material (or of importance) as either consist of pain or pleasure, or have an influence in the production of pain or pleasure.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter VII, par. 2 – 3

“Pain and pleasure are produced in men's minds by the action of certain causes. But the quantity of pleasure and pain runs not uniformly in proportion to the cause; in other words, to the quantity of force exerted by such cause. *** The disposition which any one has to feel such or such a quantity of pleasure or pain, upon the application of a cause of given force, is what we term the degree or quantum of his sensibility. *** But in the same mind such and such causes of pain or pleasure will produce more pain or pleasure than such or such other causes of pain or pleasure: and this proportion will in different minds be different.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter VI, par. 1-3

“Against the pleasures of sense, over and above such objections as are in some cases drawn from the topic of religion, there are these grand heads of objection, that in the pursuit they are apt to lead into courses injurious to others, and, by the obstruction they occasion to necessary business, as well as by the loss of reputation, to a man’s self, and that, through satiety, the consequence of full indulgence in them, they are apt to end in ennui – a pain for which they have left no cure.” Bentham, Chrestomathia Notes to Table I

“[I]t is necessary to render men duly sensible of the value, and to engage them in the steady pursuit of those perennial springs of enjoyment which are the more productive the more copiously they are drawn upon, in preference to those which, in proportion as they are drawn upon to excess, yield in the shape of ennui, at the least, if not in still more afflicting shapes, pain and grief instead of the expected pleasure.” Bentham, Chrestomathia Notes to Table I

“When it is by the apprehension of future evil that men are turned aside from the pursuit of present pleasure, the sacrifice, however prudent and even necessary, is still not the less a painful one. But, when it is by the expectation of still greater pleasure, whether near or more or less remote, that the diversion is occasioned, pain is not produced in any shape; the profit made is made without sacrifice, and the transition is only from a less to a greater pleasure.” Bentham, Chrestomathia Notes to Table I

“[T]he greater the variety of the shapes in which pleasures of an intellectual nature are made to present themselves to view, and consequently the greater the degree of success and perfection with which the mind is prepared for the reception of intellectual pleasures, the greater the chance afforded of security from the pains by which sensual pleasures are encompassed.” Bentham, Chrestomathia Notes to Table I

“What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter XVII, par. 4 Footnote

“[I]n cases where the person is in danger, why should it not be made the duty of every man to save another from mischief, when it can be done without prejudicing himself, as well as to abstain from bringing it on him? A woman's head-dress catches fire: water is at hand: a man, instead of assisting to quench the fire, looks on, and laughs at it. A drunken man, falling with his face downwards into a puddle, is in danger of suffocation: lifting his head a little on one side would save him: another man sees this and lets him lie. A quantity of gunpowder lies scattered about a room: a man is going into it with a lighted candle: another, knowing this, lets him go in without warning. Who is there that in any of these cases would think punishment misapplied?” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, Chapter XVII, par 19 and footnote

“To prevent our doing mischief to one another, it is but too necessary to put bridles into all our mouths: it is necessary to the tranquility and very being of society: but that the tacking of leading-strings upon the backs of grown persons, in order to prevent their doing themselves a mischief, is not necessary either to the being or tranquility of society, however conducive to its well-being, I think cannot be disputed. Such paternal, or, if you please, maternal, care, may be a good work, but it certainly is but a work of supererogation.” Bentham, Defence of Usury, Letter 3, par. 2

“The immediate principal end of punishment is to control action. This action is either that of the offender, or of others: that of the offender it controls by its influence, either on his will, in which case it is said to operate in the way of reformation; or on his physical power, in which case it is said to operate by disablement: that of others it can influence no otherwise than by its influence over their wills; in which case it is said to operate in the way of example. A kind of collateral end, which it has a natural tendency to answer, is that of affording a pleasure or [vindictive] satisfaction to the party injured [compensation]…This purpose, as far as it can be answered gratis, is a beneficial one. But no punishment ought to be allotted merely to this purpose, because (setting aside its effects in the way of control) no such pleasure is ever produced by punishment as can be equivalent to the pain.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter XIII, par. 2 footnote

“The eleventh and last of all the properties that seem to be requisite in a lot of punishment, is that of remissibility. The general presumption is, that when punishment is applied, punishment is needful: that it ought to be applied, and therefore cannot want to be remitted. But in very particular, and those always very deplorable cases, it may by accident happen otherwise. It may happen that punishment shall have been inflicted, where, according to the intention of the law itself, it ought not to have been inflicted: that is, where the sufferer is innocent of the offense. At the time of the sentence passed he appeared guilty: but since then, accident has brought his innocence to light. This being the case, so much of the destined punishment as he has suffered already, there is no help for. The business is then to free him from as much as is yet to come.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter XV, par. 25

“The effect of wealth in the production of happiness goes on diminishing, as the quantity by which the wealth of one man exceeds that of another goes on increasing: in other words, the quantity of happiness produced by a particle of wealth (each particle being of the same magnitude) will be less and less at every particle; the second will produce less than the first, the third than the second, and so on.” Bentham, Pannomial Fragments, chapter IV, section 5

“[I]t is necessary to consider, that man is not like the brutes, limited to the present time, either in enjoyment or suffering, but that he is susceptible of pleasure and pain by anticipation, and that it is not enough to guard him against an actual loss, but also to guarantee to him, as much as possible, his possessions against future losses. The idea of his security must be prolonged to him throughout the whole vista that his imagination can measure. This disposition to look forward, which has so marked an influence upon the condition of man, may be called expectation---expectation of the future. It is by means of this we are enabled to form a general plan of conduct.” Bentham, Principles of the Civil Code, Part I, chapter 7


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