Jeremy Bentham and Utilitarian Ethics Pain and Pleasure are the measure
The Principle of Utility • Bentham sought to provide 19th C. English society with philosophical/moral thought and practical social reform • Theory is based on Psychological egoism: It is human nature for us to seek pleasure and to avoid pain
The Theory of Utility • People’s actions and those of governments could, and should, be evaluated according to their practical consequences or how much good they produce • No action is right or wrong in itself • It is the effect of an action that determines its moral worth
Famous Quote: Jeremey Bentham “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.”
The “Is-Ought Fallacy” • Ethical Egoism: Bentham argues that because it is in our nature to seek pleasure, that is what we morally “ought” (moral obligation/duty) to do. • Problem? Logical Fallacy • The reasoner tries unjustifiably to derive a moral “ought” from an “is” (action) of experience. • Example: it is true that people lie and kill, but, we cannot conclude solely on the basis that they should or ought to do so for obvious reasons. • What is, should not necessarily be.
Utility Exercise • For the following situations, determine whether the action/decision produces utilitarian value (benefit, advantage, happiness) or disutility (negative consequences
Utility Exercise: Scenario #1 Stealing to impress your friends
Utility Exercise: Scenario #2 Skipping School to help comfort a friend
Utility Exercise: Scenario #3 Canada has brought back the death penalty
Utility Exercise: Scenario #4 The Ontario government has raised the legal drinking age to 21 years
Utilitarian Ethics and the Theory of Sanctions If psychological egoism is what motivates people to behave as they do, then what is preventing them from doing anything they want at any time they want, even if this entails violating others?
Theory of Sanctions • A sanction is a source of pleasure or pain that acts to give binding force to any law or rule of conduct. • Sanctions can also be seen as rewards or punishments or as determining factors influencing our behaviour. • We respond selfishly to sanctions to maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain • We generally avoid behaving in ways that lead to pain, we prefer acting in ways that lead to pleasure
Theory of Sanctions Cont’d • Bentham identifies several types of sanctions: • Physical Sanctions • Moral Sanctions • Religious Sanctions • Political Sanctions
Physical Sanctions • Physical sanctions are what binds us to the laws of nature • Because we recognize the dangerous consequences by dangerous acts such as jumping off buildings virtually all of us refrain from them.
Moral Sanctions • Arise in our informal relationships with others • For example: The power of peer pressure
Religious Sanctions • If we believe in a rewarding and punishing supreme being, people may do right according to their religious beliefs
Political Sanctions • For Bentham this was the most important because he wished to change the laws in England where the general welfare would be promoted by each individual pursuing his or her own advantage
Law and Punishment • As a social reformer, Bentham made significant use of the principle of utility in the context of law and punishment • The law should be concerned with increasing the total happiness of the community, by discouraging actions that promote evil consequences. E.g. Murder
Punishment • For Bentham punishment itself was a necessary evil. Therefore he was not in favour of retribution (retaliation/revenge) • Only use punishment as a necessary evil to prevent a greater evil
When Not To Punish Bentham indicated several utilitarian guidelines for the administration of punishment • When it is groundless (no evidence to support a conviction) • When it is inefficacious (not effective) • Unprofitable (punishment more expensive than the crime) • Needless (Where mischief can be avoided without punishment)
Hedonic Calculus • Bentham believed in scientific objectivity • He developed a method to help people decide what ought to be done in any given set of circumstances • By using the hedonic calculus he thought we could decide empirically on what is the right or good thing to do.
Hedonic Calculus Cont’d • The hedonic calculus gives us 7 criteria which to measure the pleasure and pain produced by any particular action.
Intensity: Ask how strong the pleasure or emotional satisfaction is • Duration: Ask how long the pleasure will last. Will it be short lived or long lasting? • Certainty: Ask how likely or unlikely it is that pleasure will actually result. What is the probability of the result? • Propinquity: Ask how soon will pleasure occur. How near are the consequences? • Fecundity: Ask how likely it is that the action will produce more pleasure in the future. Will the good/pain produced create more good/pain down the road? • Purity: Ask if there will be any pain accompanying the action (some pleasurable acts are accompanied by painful elements). Is there some bad you have to take with the good? • Extent: Ask how many other people will be affected by the considered action.
Sample Scenario You are thinking about going away for college/university. The school you have been courting has the best program in your field and for years you have been wanting to go there. The problem is that you have been going steady with someone for ages and that person would like you to stay home and and work at the local manufacturing plant. You just know this is the person you will marry in the future. What do you do? A) Do you leave and pursue your education dreams or B) Do you stay home and cultivate that relationship with your future spouse?
End Quote What has an aptness to produce pleasure in us is what we call good and what is apt to produce pain in us we call evil John Locke