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Bentham, Jeremy (1748–1832)
Contents:
  1. Basic concepts
  2. Jeremy Bentham (1748—1832)
  3. Jeremy Bentham's Mistaken Universalism - Econlib

He also left a large estate, which was used to finance the newly-established University College, London for those individuals excluded from university education—that is, non-conformists, Catholics and Jews , and his cadaver, per his instructions, was dissected, embalmed, dressed, and placed in a chair, and to this day resides in a cabinet in a corridor of the main building of University College. The Bentham Project, set up in the early s at University College, has as its aim the publishing of a definitive, scholarly edition of Bentham's works and correspondence.

Locke's influence was primarily as the author of the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding , and Bentham saw in him a model of one who emphasized the importance of reason over custom and tradition and who insisted on precision in the use of terms. Hume's influence was not so much on Bentham's method as on his account of the underlying principles of psychological associationism and on his articulation of the principle of utility, which was then still often annexed to theological views.

Bentham's analytical and empirical method is especially obvious when one looks at some of his main criticisms of the law and of moral and political discourse in general. His principal target was the presence of "fictions"—in particular, legal fictions. On his view, to consider any part or aspect of a thing in abstraction from that thing is to run the risk of confusion or to cause positive deceit. While, in some cases, such "fictional" terms as "relation," "right," "power," and "possession" were of some use, in many cases their original warrant had been forgotten, so that they survived as the product of either prejudice or inattention.

The nature of utilitarianism

In those cases where the terms could be "cashed out" in terms of the properties of real things, they could continue to be used, but otherwise they were to be abandoned. Still, Bentham hoped to eliminate legal fictions as far as possible from the law, including the legal fiction that there was some original contract that explained why there was any law at all.

Basic concepts

He thought that, at the very least, clarifications and justifications could be given that avoided the use of such terms. For Bentham, morals and legislation can be described scientifically, but such a description requires an account of human nature. Just as nature is explained through reference to the laws of physics, so human behavior can be explained by reference to the two primary motives of pleasure and pain; this is the theory of psychological hedonism.

There is, Bentham admits, no direct proof of such an analysis of human motivation—though he holds that it is clear that, in acting, all people implicitly refer to it. 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. From this we see that, for Bentham, pleasure and pain serve not only as explanations for action, but they also define one's good.

It is, in short, on the basis of pleasures and pains, which can exist only in individuals, that Bentham thought one could construct a calculus of value. Bentham believed that the nature of the human person can be adequately described without mention of social relationships. To begin with, the idea of "relation" is but a "fictitious entity," though necessary for "convenience of discourse.

Bentham's view, then, is that the individual—the basic unit of the social sphere—is an "atom" and there is no "self" or "individual" greater than the human individual. A person's relations with others—even if important—are not essential and describe nothing that is, strictly speaking, necessary to its being what it is. Finally, the picture of the human person presented by Bentham is based on a psychological associationism indebted to David Hartley and Hume; Bentham's analysis of "habit" which is essential to his understanding of society and especially political society particularly reflects associationist presuppositions.

On this view, pleasure and pain are objective states and can be measured in terms of their intensity, duration, certainty, proximity, fecundity and purity. This allows both for an objective determination of an activity or state and for a comparison with others. Bentham's understanding of human nature reveals, in short, a psychological, ontological, and also moral individualism where, to extend the critique of utilitarianism made by Graeme Duncan and John Gray , "the individual human being is conceived as the source of values and as himself the supreme value.

Though these characteristics are present throughout his work, they are particularly evident in the Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation , where Bentham is concerned with articulating rational principles that would provide a basis and guide for legal, social and moral reform.

To begin with, Bentham's moral philosophy reflects what he calls at different times "the greatest happiness principle" or "the principle of utility"—a term which he borrows from Hume. In adverting to this principle, however, he was not referring to just the usefulness of things or actions, but to the extent to which these things or actions promote the general happiness.

Specifically, then, what is morally obligatory is that which produces the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people, happiness being determined by reference to the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. Thus, Bentham writes, "By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose that happiness.

That which does not maximize the greatest happiness such as an act of pure ascetic sacrifice is, therefore, morally wrong. Unlike some of the previous attempts at articulating a universal hedonism, Bentham's approach is thoroughly naturalistic. Bentham's moral philosophy, then, clearly reflects his psychological view that the primary motivators in human beings are pleasure and pain. Bentham admits that his version of the principle of utility is something that does not admit of direct proof, but he notes that this is not a problem as some explanatory principles do not admit of any such proof and all explanation must start somewhere.


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But this, by itself, does not explain why another's happiness—or the general happiness—should count. And, in fact, he provides a number of suggestions that could serve as answers to the question of why we should be concerned with the happiness of others. First, Bentham says, the principle of utility is something to which individuals, in acting, refer either explicitly or implicitly, and this is something that can be ascertained and confirmed by simple observation. Indeed, Bentham held that all existing systems of morality can be "reduced to the principles of sympathy and antipathy," which is precisely that which defines utility.

A second argument found in Bentham is that, if pleasure is the good, then it is good irrespective of whose pleasure it is. Thus, a moral injunction to pursue or maximize pleasure has force independently of the specific interests of the person acting. Bentham also suggests that individuals would reasonably seek the general happiness simply because the interests of others are inextricably bound up with their own, though he recognized that this is something that is easy for individuals to ignore.

Nevertheless, Bentham envisages a solution to this as well.

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Jeremy Bentham (1748—1832)

Specifically, he proposes that making this identification of interests obvious and, when necessary, bringing diverse interests together would be the responsibility of the legislator. Finally, Bentham held that there are advantages to a moral philosophy based on a principle of utility. To begin with, the principle of utility is clear compared to other moral principles , allows for objective and disinterested public discussion, and enables decisions to be made where there seem to be conflicts of prima facie legitimate interests.

Moreover, in calculating the pleasures and pains involved in carrying out a course of action the "hedonic calculus" , there is a fundamental commitment to human equality. The principle of utility presupposes that "one man is worth just the same as another man" and so there is a guarantee that in calculating the greatest happiness "each person is to count for one and no one for more than one. For Bentham, then, there is no inconsistency between the greatest happiness principle and his psychological hedonism and egoism.

Thus, he writes that moral philosophy or ethics can be simply described as "the art of directing men's action to the production of the greatest possible quantity of happiness, on the part of those whose interest is in view. As discussed in the preceding section, for Bentham, the principles that govern morals also govern politics and law, and political reform requires a clear understanding of human nature.

While he develops a number of principles already present in Anglo-Saxon political philosophy, he breaks with that tradition in significant ways. In his earliest work, A Fragment on Government , which is an excerpt from a longer work published only in as Comment on Blackstone's Commentaries , Bentham attacked the legal theory of Sir William Blackstone. Bentham's target was, primarily, Blackstone's defense of tradition in law.

Jeremy Bentham's Mistaken Universalism - Econlib

Bentham advocated the rational revision of the legal system, a restructuring of the process of determining responsibility and of punishment, and a more extensive freedom of contract. This, he believed, would favor not only the development of the community, but the personal development of the individual. Bentham's attack on Blackstone targeted more than the latter's use of tradition however.

Against Blackstone and a number of earlier thinkers including Locke , Bentham repudiated many of the concepts underlying their political philosophies, such as natural right, state of nature, and social contract. Bentham then attempted to outline positive alternatives to the preceding "traditionalisms. The notion of liberty present in Bentham's account is what is now generally referred to as "negative" liberty—freedom from external restraint or compulsion.

Utilitarianism in 4 Minutes

Bentham says that "[l]iberty is the absence of restraint" and so, to the extent that one is not hindered by others, one has liberty and is "free. David O. Critical legal studies Comparative law Economic analysis Legal norms International legal theory Legal history Philosophy of law Sociology of law.


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Analytical jurisprudence Deontological ethics Fundamental theory of canon law Interpretivism Legalism Legal moralism Legal positivism Legal realism Libertarian theories of law Natural law Paternalism Utilitarianism Virtue jurisprudence. Law Political philosophy more Namespaces Article Talk. Views Read Edit View history. The present book, based on a study of Bentham's most important works, offers a reinterpretation of Bentham's main philosophical doctrines, his principle of utility and his analysis of law. The argument challenges many common assumptions about Bentham's view of human nature and of political institutions.

A new reading is also given to his theory of law, which suggests Bentham's insight, originality, and continued interest for philosophers and legal theorists. In the Interest of the Governed was first published in This revised edition contains a new Preface, a revised Bibliography, and two new Indexes, one of Names and one of Subjects, which together replace the original index. Passar bra ihop. Confronting Injustice David Lyons David Lyons challenges us to confront grave injustices committed in the United States, from the colonists' encroachments on Indian lands to slavery and the legacy of racism.

Ethics and the Rule of Law David Lyons An introduction to the philosophy of law, which offers a modern and critical appraisal of all the main issues and problems.