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Mill and Bentham

Mill and Bentham

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Mill and Bentham

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  1. Mill and Bentham

  2. Jeremy Bentham • 1748 – 1832 • Legal and social reformer, advocate for progressive social policies: woman’s rights, abolition of slavery, end of physical punishment, animal rights

  3. Bentham and welfarism • What is the aim of social policy and the law – what ends or goals should they aim to bring about?

  4. Bentham’s Central Aim • Notions of utility were popular in Bentham’s day (and before). • Bentham’s aim was to reduce utility to a single measure and develop a method for measuring it. • Moral science to be based on a felicific or hedonic calculus.

  5. What is utility? • 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… • By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever. according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question

  6. Dimensions of utility • 1 The intensity of pleasure or pain • 2 Its duration • 3 Its certainty or uncertainty • 4 Its propinquity or remoteness • 5 Its fecundity, or the chance it has of being followed by sensations of the same kind (i.e., pleasure followed by more pleasure, or pain followed by more pain) • 6 Its purity, or the chance it has of not being followed by sensations of the opposite kind • For n>1, Its extent; that is, the number of persons to whom it extends; or (in other words) who are affected by it.

  7. Bentham’s Procedure • Begin with any one person of those whose interests seem most immediately to be affected by it: 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… • 6. Take an account of the number of persons whose interests appear to be concerned; and repeat the above process with respect to each. Sum up the numbers expressive of the degrees of good tendency, which the act has, with respect to each individual, in regard to whom the tendency of it is good upon the whole: do this again with respect to each individual, in regard to whom the tendency of it is good upon the whole: do this again with respect to each individual, in regard to whom the tendency of it is bad upon the whole.

  8. Bentham’s legacy • Welfarism: the judgment of the relative goodness of alternative states of affairs must be based exclusively on, and taken as an increasing function of, the respective collections of individual utilities in these states. • Sum-ranking: one collection of individual utilities is at least as good as another if and only if it has at least as large a sum total • AmartyaSen, Utilitarianism and Welfarism

  9. Criticism of bentham • Psychological hedonism: only pleasure or pain motivates us • normative hedonism: only pleasure has worth or value, only pain has disvalue • Quantitative hedonism: pain and pleasure are measured along a single-dimension scale. • Bentham notoriously claimed that “the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry” provided the quantities of pleasure yielded were equal. • Bentham thought a benefit of his system was that it could easily be applied to nonhuman animals, since they can also experience pleasure and pain. However, Bentham’s view was criticized on these grounds. Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) called it a “pig philosophy”, based on the “swinish pleasures” of the multitude’

  10. John STUART MILL • 1806-1873 • Father James Mill and Bentham educated J.S. Mill

  11. aims • To defend principle of utility from Bentham’s critics and to expand the theory • Introduce not only quantitative but also qualitative differences to pleasure

  12. Greatest happiness principle • The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure • pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things (which are as numerous in the utilitarian as in any other scheme) are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.

  13. Qualitative differences • Now, such a theory of life excites in many minds, and among them in some of the most estimable in feeling and purpose, inveterate dislike. To suppose that life has (as they express it) no higher end than pleasure- no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit- they designate as utterly mean and grovelling; as a doctrine worthy only of swine • It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone.

  14. The competent judge • Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure • Higher pleasures: pleasures of the intellect, e.g. poetry, debate Non-human animals incapable of these pleasures • Lower pleasures: pleasures of the body, e.g. consumption, sex Can be shared by humans and non-humans

  15. The competent judge • Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties. Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast's pleasures; no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base, even though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs

  16. Pigs and philosophers • It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.

  17. Self-regarding vs other-regarding utility • As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator.

  18. Summary • Some Attractions of Utilitarianism • Simple • A decision procedure which is easy to follow • A criterion of right action which is easy to apply • Intuitively appealing (at least initially) • Deterministic: delivers a verdict in (almost) every case • Applies to both acts and omissions • Impartial: individual prejudices and preferences are irrelevant • Can be extended to animals (though Mill won’t count them equally)

  19. Problems for Mill • Imprecision • Having abandoned Bentham’s calculus, how are we to assign precise quantities • to pleasure and pains, especially when they are other people’s? • The timescale of consequences is also not defined. Many actions have both short-term and long-term consequences. Which should we consider? When utilitarianism is used as a decision procedure, this is an urgent question which could make all the difference to what we do. • 2. Pleasure is not always good • Consider some apparently bad pleasures: • Pleasure in others’ suffering (sadism) • Pleasure in overeating/drinking

  20. IS pleasure the only good • What we take pleasure in is important to us too. Consider the experience machine again. Just experiencing a supremely satisfying life would not be enough. • value pluralism?

  21. Too demanding? • Since overall pleasure is to be maximized, and everyone’s pleasure is equallyimportant, the Utilitarian is committed to saying that whenever it’s possible to do so, one should do so. • Given the current state of the world, and that a small sacrifice could relieve a huge amount of suffering in distant countries, Utilitarianism commits us to saying that we should forego our luxuries (which would only increase overall pleasure by a very small amount) until this suffering has been relieved. • Intuitively we think that charity, while perhaps morally desirable, is not actually obligatory.

  22. Permits intuitively immoral actions? • Since the end (of overall maximized pleasure) always justifies the means (whatever that is), no action is ruled out however appalling it may seem. • Consider the transplants example: • 5 people are dying in intensive care. All of them are young and have promising careers ahead of them, as medical doctors, entertainers, Nobel peace prize winners, etc.. Each of them would make a full recovery were they to receive a healthy organ (heart, kidney, liver, etc.). • Bill is single, middle-aged and has no family. He will not contribute much to the world in the remainder of his lifetime. But he is perfectly healthy, and as luck would have it, has a set of organs which are a perfect match for the five people in intensive care. • What should we do?

  23. Is utilitarianism self-alienating • Joe and the Indians • The biological warfare job