NYU Stern

HELVETIUS (1715 – 1771)


“In fact, if the desire of pleasure be the true principle of all our thoughts, and of all our actions, if all men really tend towards their true or apparent happiness, it will follow, that all our wills are no more than the effect of this tendency.” Helvetius, De L’Esprit Essay I, chapter 4

“We ought then, in order to be virtuous, to blend the light of knowledge with greatness of soul. Whoever assembles within himself these different gifts of nature always directs his course by the compass of the public utility. This utility is the principle on which all human virtues are founded, and the basis of all legislations.” Helvetius, De L’Esprit Essay II, chapter 6

“A man is just, when all his actions tend to the public good.” Helvetius, De L’Esprit Essay II, chapter 6

“[B]y the word Virtue can only be understood, a desire of the general happiness, that consequently the public welfare is the object of virtue, and that the actions it enjoins, are the means it makes use of to accomplish that end.” Helvetius, De L’Esprit Essay II, chapter 13

“He [God] seems also to have said to man, I endow thee with sensibility *** I place thee under the guardianship of pleasure and pain: both shall watch over thy thoughts, and thy actions; they [pleasure and pain] …shall one day discover to thee the simple principles, on the unfolding of which depends the order and happiness of the moral world.” Helvetius, De L’Esprit Essay III, chapter 9

“If pleasure be the only object of man’s pursuit, we need only imitate nature, in order to inspire a love of virtue. Pleasure informs us of what she would have done, and pain what she forbids, and man will readily obey her mandates.” Helvetius, De L’Esprit Essay III, chapter 16

“[T]he love of pleasure … is a bridle by which the passions of the individuals might always be directed to the public good. *** [T]he great art of the legislator is that of separating them [pleasure from wrongful conduct], and making no proportion between the advantage the villain can receive from his crime, and the pain to which he exposes himself [in punishment].” Helvetius, De L’Esprit Essay III, chapter 16

Return to Quotes on Utilitarian Principles.