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BENTHAMS PRINCIPLE OF UTILITY AND ITS RELEVANCE TODAY

Submitted by: Ritika Singhal LL.M. (First semester) 02/LLM/2013

Benthams Principle of Utility and its Relevance Today

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Scheme of Assignment3 2. Introduction.....3 3. The Concept of Principle of Utility.6 4. Criticism of Principle of Utility..9 5. Relevance of Utilitarianism in Modern Society..11 6. Conclusion13 7. Bibliography16

Benthams Principle of Utility and its Relevance Today

SCHEME OF THE ASSIGNMENT


In this paper an attempt has been made to explain in brief the concept of greatest happiness as it was envisaged by Jeremy Bentham. The paper traces the sources which inspired Bentham to come up with the principle of utility. It also enumerates various criticisms that have been raised against this theory. On the basis of these criticisms and prevalent conditions conclusion has been drawn. This paper is divided into 3 parts. Part I deals with the introduction and the concept of principle of utility. In this a brief historical context is given about the concept and then the various features of the concept has been explained. Part II contains the various criticisms that have been argued against this concept. On the basis of these criticisms and counter criticisms it has been explained how the theory is still relevant in todays world. Part III has the conclusion. In this various examples are given to justify the relevance of Benthams Principle of Utility.

I INTRODUCTION
It was while working on the text of An introduction to the Principles and Morals of Legislation Bentham realized that for him to successfully produce a code of laws; he will first need to understand what an individual law constituted. While investigating what a single law was made up of, he came up with the concept of Pannomion, a code of law that would be utilitarian in nature. 1

Dr. Malik B Rey, Jeremy Benthams ms Legal and Political Philosophy: Acting Logically to Act Ethically?, Ethics in Public Life Salzburg March 2009, available at: http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/wpth content/uploads/2009/02/bozzo-rey_paper.pdf, (visited on August 16 , 2013)
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Benthams Principle of Utility and its Relevance Today

To further develop this concept he proposed many legal and social reforms and made moral principles the foundation on which, this code should be based. Utilitarian here meant that the code would be all comprehensive and rationalized2. It would be laid down in such a manner that all the terms used therein would be clearly defined. Each provision would be immediately succeeded by a reason which justifies it and this justification would bear reference to the principle of utility.3 Bentham believed that it was only this complete utilitarian code of law that could effectively and efficiently ensure community happiness. The utilitarian philosophy is based on the the greatest happiness principle or the principle of utility which argues that the right act or policy was one that would cause the greatest good for the greatest number of people 4. Bentham defined happiness as just pleasure and absence of any pain5. In his book An introduction to the Principles and Morals of Legislation , Bentham has written about the total human subordination to pleasure and pain: Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure."6 Thus instead of drawing the idea of human nature from the ultimate end of human activity, as was done by Aristotle, Bentham draws the idea of human ends from the way how human nature really functions under the influence of the abovementioned sovereign factors.7 Sovereign here being such

Ross Harrison, Bentham-Argument of the Philosophers, (Routledge & Kegan Paul Plc, 2010), available at: http://books.google.co.in/books?id=zBhkqmgzXk0C&printsec=copyright#v=onepage&q&f=false, (visited on August th 16 , 2013) 3 ibid 4 Elizabeth Ashford, Utilitarianism, Integrity and Partiality, 97(8) Journal of Philosophy 421-439 (2000), available at: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2678423?uid=3738256&uid=2134&uid=2&21102561988897 (Visited th August 16 , 2013) 5 Richard B. Brandt, Morality, Utilitarianism, and Rights, (Cambridge University Press, 1992), available at: th http://books.google.co.in/books?id=l1eo3l5nIwYC&printsec=front_cover&redir_esc=y, (visited on August 17 , 2013 )
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J. H. Burns, Utilitarianism and Democracy, Philosophical Quarterly 9 (35):168-171, available at: th http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2216436, (visited August 20 , 2013). 7 Ibid
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Benthams Principle of Utility and its Relevance Today

independent and ultimate factors that possess supreme authority as per the definition given by Hobbes8 Bentham never made any reference to motivations that may drive human conduct. He accepts the reality of human desires without any prejudgment. He was convinced that human nature could be determined solely by means of what human individuals tend to do without mentioning any other defining moment of their humanness. He thus reduced human ends to desires and all human beings desire pleasure and the absence of pain.9 Bentham said that these sovereign masters govern man in all his conduct; be it actions, locutions or thoughts. And while one may defy the domination of pleasure and pain verbally and theoretically, the same cant be done actually. He exemplifies this by stating that even ascetic and masochist derive pleasure even though it is by self- tormenting or pain. The one ignores or shies away from the fundamental role of pleasure and pain is akin to dealing with moral issues in darkness instead of light, in caprice instead of reason, and thus such an approach would be irrational and without meaning.10 Bentham negated all the opposition to his belief by simply pointing out that those who seek to refute pleasure as a dominating force presuppose its validity, as they either enjoy being contrary or enjoy pain,11 even asceticism in its basic form is motivated by some real or expected pleasures. He concluded that pleasure motives could be found in many unexpected places, often disguised as honorable and noble denials of satisfaction. By comparing asceticism with

B. Parekh, Benthams Justification of the Principle of Utility, in Jeremy Bentham: Ten Critical Essays, (London, 1974). 9 th Lord Lloyd, Introduction to Jurisprudence 170 (Stevens & Sons, London, 4 edn., 1979). 10 Robert Merrihew Adams, Motive Utilitarianism, 73 (14) Journal of Philosophy 467-481 (1976), available at: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2025783?uid=3738256&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21102561988897, (visited on th August 27 , 2013).
11

Supra 9.
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hedonism he stated that every attempt by man to negate subjection to pleasure proves it in a roundabout manner.12 Thus the ultimate goal of utilitarianism can be explained thus: To "rear the fabric of felicity" = to create a setting that would make it possible for people to be happy. Happiness is the sum total of pleasures. (Eudemonism) "By the hands of reason and of law" = through adequate political and legal measures. Thus the objective of rearing "the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and of law" means that pleasures could be manipulated and legally regulated in order to increase the total amount of happiness. ( Social Hedonism)13 Pleasures, Bentham says, acts as both instruments and constituents of happiness; in the former sense actions involving them are "useful" (instrumental) for happiness; in the latter sense pleasures are ends that any rational legislation should set as the goals.14This is where the term utility actually finds its application and justification. Benthams moral philosophy focuses on the principle of utility and how this aspect of morality is applied in legislative practice.

THE CONCEPT OF PRINCIPLE OF UTILITY


Humes Treatise on Human Nature15 had a profound impact on Bentham, in his book Hume went beyond the common meaning of the word utility and started associating it with welfare
12

John M. Baker, Utilitarianism and Secondary Principles", 21 (82) Philosophical Quarterly) 69-71 (1971), available at: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2217572?uid=3738256&uid=2134&uid=4henr&sid=21102561988897, st (visited on September 1 , 2013) 13 Subrata Mukherjee, Sushila Ramaswamy, Jeremy Bentham: (1748-1832) 186, (Deep & Deep Publications, 1995), available at: http://books.google.co.in/books?id=yHXITY28CDcC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false, rd (visited September 3 , 2013) 14 Ibid 15 David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4705, (Visited August th 28 ,2013)
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and happiness. It was after reading this book that Bentham started using the term utility. 16 The general definition of utility is usefulness in producing something beneficial for happiness or preventing its contrary.17 But as had Hume before him, Bentham went beyond this general definition and stated that as per the principle of utility, good is that which will produce the greatest amount of pleasure and minimum amount of pain and "evil" is that which produces the most pain without the pleasure.18 In the principle of utility, utility acts as a normative link between the stated facts of the human nature and the submitted ends of human actions. The transition from the psychological (empirical) observation about the force of pleasure to the moral (normative) injunction about actions presupposes a double bind with the previous elucidation of human condition- pleasure = attraction and pain= aversion. Based on this Bentham formulated his famous principle: The principle of utility demands to approve or disapprove 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 (both individual and collective)19 For Bentham words: benefits, advantages good and happiness are all synonyms, the antonyms of which are evil, disadvantages, evil, pain and unhappiness. It is clear that despite not mentioning the role social relations play Bentham was aware that individual actions can have beneficial or detrimental impact on others. And that beneficiary can be an individual or the entire community itself.

16

Frederick Rosen, Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill, available at: http://books.google.co.in/books?id=8tM19UZOxaYC&pg=PA221&dq=bentham+principle+of+utility , (Visited th August 29 , 2013) 17 Definition of Utility, Oxford Dictionaries, available at: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/utility, th (Visited August 28 , 2013) 18 Supra 16. 19 Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to Principle and Moral Legislation 102 (Dover Publications Inc., 2009)
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He said that interest was an elementary concept which cannot be logi cally defined since it doesnt have a higher genus that could be specified by adducing a species qualifying difference. Thus it can only be explained by using some empirically variable advantages or disadvantages Bentham criticized the elevation of community over and above all individuals. He believed that community was a fictitious body apart from its members, and thus the community interests can never be above the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it". Even though he conceded that the sum of interests doesnt necessarily please all equally, still attempts should be made to implement it. Thus any action which is more likely to maximize the happiness of the community than to diminish it conforms to the principle of utility. From a legislators point of view pleasure and avoidance of pain is end and means at the same time. Thus by themselves, pleasure and avoidance of pain are the ends i.e. they have intrinsic values. And as incentives and deterrence for actions pleasure and pain appear as means i.e. instruments. The value of pleasures and pains is equal to their "force" because the effectiveness in terms of consequences determines how much is something worth.20 Till now we just saw pleasure and pain as motivational forces where they operate like final causes. However Bentham recognizes them as efficient causes as well. For this he determined four source of pleasure and pain; physical, political, moral and religious. 21 While physical sources of pleasure and pain are mostly anonymous forces of nature, political and moral sources imply the involvement of society or its reaction towards certain actions. Thus there are four sources "from which pleasure and pain are in use to flow". And as they give "a binding force to any law or rule of conduct" these sources may be termed "sanctions". Bentham also laid down a set of criteria for measuring the extent of pain or pleasure that a certain decision can create.
20 21

Supra 4. Supra 19.


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The criteria are divided into the categories of intensity, duration, certainty, proximity, productiveness, purity, and extent. Using these measurements, he reviews the concept of punishment and when it should be used as far as whether a punishment will create more pleasure or more pain for a society. He calls for legislators to determine whether punishment creates an even more evil offence. Instead of suppressing the evil acts, Bentham argues that certain unnecessary laws and punishments could ultimately lead to new and more dangerous vices than those being punished to begin with, and calls upon legislators to measure the pleasures and pains associated with any legislation and to form laws in order to create the greatest good for the greatest number. He argues that the concept of the individual pursuing his or her own happiness cannot be necessarily declared "right", because often these individual pursuits can lead to greater pain and less pleasure for a society as a whole. Therefore, the legislation of a society is vital to maintain the maximum pleasure and the minimum degree of pain for the greatest amount of people. However, by the year 1822 Bentham himself realized that the word utility wasnt able to clearly point out the ideas of pleasure and pain as he had envisaged it to do. He conceded that the words happiness and felicity were more unambiguous. He said that utility doesnt necessarily lead to consideration of the numbers, or the interests affected thereof. He subsequently started using the term greatest happiness.

II CRITICISM OF PPRINCIPLE OF UTILITY


Benthams principle of utility and concept of greatest happiness has been subject of much criticism some of which has been mentioned here in. The most common criticism of utilitarianism is that it is impossible to apply - that happiness cannot be quantified or measured, that there is no way of calculating a trade-off between intensity and extent, or intensity and probability, or comparing happiness to suffering.
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It also goes on to assume that human beings would react in a similar manner when put in a similar situation. This has been criticized by Karl Max in his book Das Kapital. He argues that human nature is dynamic, so the concept of a single utility for all humans is one-dimensional and not useful. Marx also said that Bentham fails to take account of the changing character of people, and hence the changing character of what is good for them. This criticism is especially important for Marx, because he believed that all important statements were contingent upon particular historical conditions.22 Benthams theory doesnt consider that if because of certain unforeseen parameters all human actions were to backfire, even though the attempt was to act in accordance with utilitarianism, the human actions would be considered immoral as the result would end up causing pain. John Taurek has also criticized this theory; he has argued that the idea of adding happiness or pleasures across persons is quite unintelligible and that the numbers of persons involved in a situation are morally irrelevant. For this he gave the example The situation is that I have a supply of some life-saving drug. Six people will all certainly die if they are not treated with the drug. But one of the six requires the entire drug if he is to survive. Each of the other five requires only one-fifth of the drug. What ought I to do?" Taurek's basic concern comes down to there being no way to explain what the meaning is of saying that things would be five times worse if the five died than if the one died.23 Thus there is doubt about its applicability. Also, utilitarianism is typically taken to assess the rightness or wrongness of an action by considering just the consequences of that action. Bentham very carefully distinguishes motive from intention and says that motives are not in themselves good or bad but can be referred to as such on account of their tendency to produce pleasure or pain. He adds that from every kind of motive, may proceed actions that are good, others that are bad, and others that are indifferent.24 But this isnt always the case. Gauging human intentions can be a complex task. Certain acts done with bad intention may end up producing pleasure for majority at the cost of minority.
22 23

Karl Marx, Das Kapital: A Critique of Political Economy, (Regenary Publishing, 2013). John M. Taurek, "Should the Numbers Count?, 293-316, Philosophy and Public Affairs 6:4 (1977). 24 Supra 19.
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Bentham has been narrow in his outlook since he fails to give due importance to the rights of the minorities. He failed to foresee a society where certain sections of the society would be able to gain maximum pleasure by giving pain to others. He also hasnt dealt with situations where greatest happiness of all is achieved by wrongful means or by cheating others. Thus the Greatest Happiness principle also allows for us to cause pain to others as long as majority of the people become happier. So India could just steal resources from smaller countries and drive them to poverty as long as more benefit than lose. Hence a situation could arise when acts of slavery, bullying and raping could be justified under utilitarianism as long as majority preferred it. With the advent of welfare state the legislators cannot base law making only on greatest happiness. They also have to ensure progress and development of minority. There have been instances where without the interference of the government the majority has prospered and developed at the cost of minorities. Lastly, the Greatest Happiness principle eliminates the usage of the laws provided by the government. As long as the person's actions increase general utility, then it does not matter how many laws are broken in the process.25 It fails in the sense that the standard of what is/isn't moral can be easily changed in society's eyes, and as long as the results produced are in accordance to what the majority prefer, then all preset laws and individual preferences would be considered invalid and can legitimize practices that we currently see as immoral.

RELEVANCE OF UTILITARIANISM IN MODERN SOCIETY


Despite all its criticism Benthams theory has not completely lost its significance. It is still relevant and traces of it can be observed in modern day policy making. The theory of utilitarianism has been expanded and evolved as per the changing social needs and wants. Theorists argue that when applied at the level of individual choice, this theory runs into some difficulties because often, we cannot foresee what the balance of effects on happiness will be.

25

Norman da Nubcaek, Introduction to Ethics, available at: http://parenethical.com/phil140win11/tag/greatestst happiness-principle/, (Visited September 1 ,2013).

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In addition the theory deems well-intended behavior to be a-moral if it happens to pan out adversely is. Thus the theory is better suited for judging general rules. It is fairly evident that adherence to this rule will add to the happiness of a great number. Following such rules is then morally correct, even if consequences might be negative in a particular case. This variant is known as rule-utilitarianism.26 Rule-utilitarianism has been seen as a moral guide for legislation and has played a role in discussions about property laws and the death penalty. The principle can also be applied to wider issues in public policy, such as the question of what degree of income-inequality we should accept. The argument is that inequality is not bad in and of itself; it is only so if it reduces the happiness of the average citizen.27 The greatest happiness principle can also be used when making decisions about health care and therapy. Treatment strategies can be selected on the basis of their effects on the happiness of the greatest number of patients. One of the foremost criticism against utilitarianism is that it is not pragmatic and applicable since there is no way to actually quantify and calculate happiness however the proponents of rule utilitarianism have argued that in todays world finding out what makes people happy and ensuring that happiness isnt that difficult as has been stated by the opponents of this theory. They say that happiness of a person or a group (or society) as a whole primarily derives from the fulfillment of human needs, both material and spiritual, reducing or eliminating the odds that people encounter for their achievement. Happiness however is not an absolute concept but relative to what people could achieve by reducing 'pain' and increasing, if you wish to call it, 'pleasure.'28 Four parameters of happiness have been identified that can be measured to analyse the amount of happiness. These being: standard of living, longevity of life, liveability of the environment and utility of life. Interestingly these parameters have been recognized by the
26

Ruut Veenhon, Happiness as an Aim in Public Policy in Alex Linley, Stephen Joseph et.al.(eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice', (John Wiley and Sons, Inc., Hoboken, 20004) 27 Ibid. 28 Professor Laksiri Fernando, Importance of the Utilitarian Theory in Evaluating Public Policy , Asia Tribune, st available at http://www.asiantribune.com/node/12209, (visited on September 1 , 2013)
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United Nations as well and form the basis of the annual United Nations Development Program. Benthams formulations gave a kind of 'mental guidance' to policy makers who then pioneered reforms in England in legal, economic and political spheres. Today the policy makers could go beyond the 'instinctive guidance' and actually undertake proper calculations through empirical survey and investigation to weigh and judge what would be the best policies for the people to maximize their 'greatest happiness.'29 'Greatest happiness of the greatest number' or the utilitarian theory can be considered a valid criterion in assessing the rationality of public policy or formulating them for the benefit of the people at large in our countries. The greatest number however does not mean the majority of the population on ethnic or other basis. It means the 'greatest number' cutting across gender, ethnicity, language, religion or caste differences.

III CONCLUSION
Bentham advocated utilitarian principles for policy evaluation: greatest happiness for all. Utility was the major component of this formulation which can be employed in judging any kind of public policy, action, institution or law. Utility highlights the rationality or irrationality of a particular matter and it is easy for anyone to see the merits or demerits; or pros and cons of any matter conceivable in social affairs without much prejudice or bias. When it was first propounded it appeared as a magic principle. To Bentham, pleasure and pain are two motivating forces in human behavior. He believed that a calculation is possible about their amount and influence. More importantly, he also believed that pleasure and pain are commensurable in the sense that one can be compensated from the other. That means a particular amount of one (i.e. the pain of war) could be offset by a similar or a larger amount of the other (i.e. the pleasure of peace at the end). Happiness or grief of the people in fact is the difference between the two. If policies are formulated to minimize the pain
29

Ibid
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and maximize the pleasure in incremental manner then the policy stand the test of the utilitarian theory. The sum of individual pleasure in contrast to pain, therefore, in essence would consist the total happiness of a particular society at a given period of time. It is this belief of Bentham that has been criticized the most. However what was once seen as impractical and inapplicable can be easily applied today. Today empirical surveys are can be conducted which makes it possible for the governments to determine whether a particular policy has been able to achieve the purpose for which it was formulated, and has it been able to minimize peoples suffering. Thus today finding out about peoples happiness is possible. Here note should be taken of Bhutans holistic index which is used to measure the countrys growththe Gross national happiness. It was designed in an attempt to define an indicator and concept that measures quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms than only the economic indicator of gross domestic product. Clearly the government of Bhutan has been able to identify certain indicators to measure what will maximize the happiness of the Bhutanese people. Finally it has been argued that utilitarianism has close relations both with the evaluative practices of capitalist economics, particularly cost-benefit analysis, and also with communism. Although the two theories differ on many points in structure, the socio-economic theory of communism resembles Benthams utilitarianism in that both prioritize the good of the group over the good of the individual. Thus it can be concluded despite its obvious flaws Benthams theory of utility is most relevant today. Governments across the world and especially the democracies are able to sustain themselves by promising minimization of pain to the majority. The Food Security Bill, which was recently passed by the Government, is a prime example of this. The Bill has been introduced to remove hunger from the country, thus it would result in minimization of pain. However, here it is important to understand that majority cannot be restricted to a numerical value alone. When we refer to majority it should mean of a particular group of people that are to be targeted. Hence if a policy for women has to be formulated focus should be just on the target group to see if it is providing maximum pleasure.
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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books: David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature Frederick Rosen, Classical Utilitarianism from Hume to Mill, Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to Principle and Moral Legislation 102 (Dover Publications Inc., 2009) Karl Marx, Das Kapital: A Critique of Political Economy, (Regenary Publishing, 2013). Lord Lloyd, Introduction to Jurisprudence 170 (Stevens & Sons, London, 4th edn., 1979). Norman da Nubcaek, Introduction to Ethics, Richard B. Brandt, Morality, Utilitarianism, and Rights, (Cambridge University Press, 1992) Ross Harrison, Bentham-Argument of the Philosophers, (Routledge & Kegan Paul Plc, 2010) Subrata Mukherjee, Sushila Ramaswamy, Jeremy Bentham: (1748-1832) 186, (Deep & Deep Publications, 1995)

Articles: B. Parekh, Benthams Justification of the Principle of Utility, in Jeremy Bentham: Ten Critical Essays, (London, 1974). Dr. Malik B Rey, Jeremy Benthams ms Legal and Political Philosophy: Acting Logically to Act Ethically?, Ethics in Public Life Salzburg March 2009 Elizabeth Ashford, Utilitarianism, Integrity and Partiality, 97(8) Journal of Philosophy 421439 (2000) J. H. Burns, Utilitarianism and Democracy, Philosophical Quarterly 9 (35):168-171 John M. Baker, Utilitarianism and Secondary Principles", 21 (82) Philosophical Quarterly) 69-71 (1971) John M. Taurek, "Should the Numbers Count?, 293 -316, Philosophy and Public Affairs 6:4 (1977).
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Benthams Principle of Utility and its Relevance Today

Professor Laksiri Fernando, Importance of the Utilitarian Theory in Evaluating Public Policy, Asia Tribune

Robert Merrihew Adams, Motive Utilitarianism, 73 (14) Journal of Philosophy 467-481 (1976)

Ruut Veenhon, Happiness as an Aim in Public Policy in Alex Linley, Stephen Joseph et.al. (eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice', (John Wiley and Sons, Inc., Hoboken, 20004)

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