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A brief notes on Utilitarianism: A study on Bentham and J.S.Mill views

Utilitarianism is a moral and ethical philosophy in political theory. Though the traces can be finding even in ancient Greek philosophy it was popularized because of contributions made by Jeremy Bentham and J.S.Mill. This concept has played an important role in the first half of the Nineteenth century. Utilitarianism is a theory mainly based on the principle greatest happiness to the greatest member. Utilitarianism became a core principle for all most all Nations in their political, economical, social functioning today. Though Bentham and J.S.Mill are the strong supporters of Utilitarian concept there are some differences between their approaches.

Bentham strongly said that men's life always lies between two different masters like Pain and Pleasure. Moreover Bentham said that pain and pleasure can be measured through arithmetical method and there is a possibility for quantitative difference between pain and pleasure. J.S.Mill is the strong supporter of the utilitarianism and individualism. Mill in his explanation he pawed a mid way between utilitarianism and individualism on modern bases. Mill explained that the difference between pain and pleasure can be measured through quality measures.

Utilitarianism is an English philosophy. It is a theory of morality. It is a tradition of ethical philosophy. It advocates actions that foster happiness or pleasure and opposes actions that cause unhappiness or harm, when directed toward making social, economic, or political decisions. A utilitarian philosophy would aim for the betterment of society as a whole. It would say that an action is right if it results in the happiness of the greatest number of people in a society or a group.

Utilitarianism considers the interests of all humans equally. Though Utilitarianism is one of the most powerful and persuasive approaches to normative ethics in the history of philosophy. But this concept was not articulated until the 19th Century.

The traces regarding utilitarianism can be found in ancient Greek philosophy
  • The ancient Greek philosopher and hedonists[1] Aristippus[2] and Epicurus[3] viewed that the happiness as the only good for well being of the people. Later this idea became principle/doctrine and
  • Scottish philosopher David Hume became the founder of Utilitarianism.
  • English philosopher Joseph Priestly vigorously advocated the utilitarianism.
  • Scottish philosopher Francis Hutcheson (in his book �A system of moral philosophy') was the first to use the formula of the �greatest happiness of greatest number'.
  • More over Cumberland, Shaftesbury, John Gay etc also supported the concept of utilitarianism.
  • English philosopher Jeremy Bentham made a systematic exposition of utilitarianism. He made it most popularized. Later it was famously known as �Bentham's School'. So, the entire of popularizing Utilitarianism theory goes to Bentham, for giving a systematic exposition of this theory, and making it widely known and its conceptions, characteristics.
  • J.S.Mill improved and modernized utilitarian approach to political obligation by inducting qualitative aspect of its substance.
However, utilitarianism substitutes absolute empiricism[4] for absolute idealism and promotes egalitarian concept.

  • Utility means the quality or state of being used; the quality to satisfy human wants; a public utility, a service provided by one of these.
  • Utilitarianism means the doctrine, expounded by Jeremy Bentham, that the moral and political rightness of an action is determined by its utility, defined as its contribution to the greatest good of the greatest number.

Utilitarian approach to political obligation means the habitual obedience of the people to the laws of the State because of its utility to promote the general happiness of the greatest number of people. Utilitarianism is hedonistic, pragmatic and altruistic. According to G.H. Sabine, the philosophical radicals hold that utilitarianism is the only guide to private morals and public policy. Utilitarianism is its sole justification. Utility is the basis of Government.

Objectives of the State according to Utilitarianism
In the utilitarian State, political obligation depends upon the objectives of the State. When the State sought to promote general welfare of the people, the people are obliged to obey the laws made by the State.
The State exists for the individual. But the individual does not exist for the State.

Therefore, the State cannot absorb the individual. That means it is not purely supports individualism and idealism.
The main object of the utilitarianism is enlightened benevolence.

Enlightened Benevolence
Everyone seeks pleasure and avoids pain. Utilitarianism has an ethical appeal. Reason reconciles self-regarding and other regarding impulses of individual. Utilitarian approach to political obligation does not separate individual from the society. It blends the individual happiness with the happiness of others. This is called the philosophy of enlightened benevolence.

Jeremy Bentham (1748 to 1832)

Jeremy Bentham was an English philosopher, Jurist, economist and Social reformer. He regarded as classical philosopher and the founder of modern utilitarianism. He was rightly regarded as the foremost apostle of the practical and the leader of Utilitarian school of England. He has been described as one of the oddest figures in the history of political thought. His father was a lawyer. He also studied law at the Lincoln's inn.

Though he studied law he was not interested on advocate profession. He concentrated on the study of legal philosophy (Jurisprudence). His legal and political thoughts influenced the development of welfarism. He worked in several fields like economics, logic, psychology, penology, theology, politics and ethics etc. because of his eminent knowledge the Portuguese Constitutional committed had took the services of Bentham.

Bentham was influenced by both Hobbes explanation about human nature and Hume's account of social utility.

His name would be remained as a reformer in the English legal history. He denounced antiquates and the age-long institutions. He is one of the leading theorist in Anglo- American philosophy of law. He opposed the idea of natural law and natural rights of the men.

He had made a serious comment about divine principle as it is nonsense. He supported for positive law and individual legal rights. He advocated for individual and economic freedoms, the separation of church and state, worked for freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce and he also proposed through an unpublished essay for decriminalizing of homosexual acts.

He supported for abolition of slavery, capital punishment (death) and physical punishments (too much painful), more importantly he raised his voice against violent punishments to children. He is well known animal lover and proposed for animal rights.

By his virtues he influenced many well known persons among them James Mill and his son John Stuart Mill, the legal philosopher John Austin and Robert Owen, who is the one of the founder of �utopian socialism', are prominent persons.

Bentham was the practical men with a typical character. One of the examples for this is his will about his death. He left instructions for his body to be first dissected, and then to be permanently preserved as an auto-icon, which would be his memorial. This was done, and the auto-icon is now on public display in the entrance of the student centre at University College London (UCL). He is the spiritual founder of UCL.

Bentham made his explanations in his famous work Fragmentation of Government and Introduction to the principles of moral and legislation. He said that the true end of the State was to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. In his theory the following issues are the most important. They are:
  • Mankind placed between two sovereign masters
    According to Bentham, Nature itself has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, namely Pain and Pleasure. So, he said that it is the duty of the State or the State is necessary to the individual to maximize his pleasure and minimize his pain. More over according to him utility is the property in any object whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, happiness or to prevent happening of mischief, pain, evil or unhappiness.
  • Sanction
    According to Utilitarianism the business of the government is to promote the happiness of the society. If there is any disturbance the State has every power to punish the culprits. Bentham distinguished four sanctions like physical/natural, religious, moral and political.
    1. The Physical or Natural Sanction comprises the pains and pleasures which we may experience or expect, in the ordinary course of nature, not purposely modified by any human interposition
    2. The Moral Sanction comprises such pains and pleasures as we experience or expect at the hands of our fellows, prompted by the feeling of hatred or good will, or contempt or regard; in a word, according to the spontaneous disposition of each individual. The sanction may also be styled popular; the sanction of public opinion or of honour, or the sanction of the pains and pleasures of sympathy.
    3. The Political Sanction comprises such pains and pleasures as may experience or expect, at the hands of the magistracy, acting under law. This might, with equal propriety, be termed the legal sanction.
    4. The Religious Sanction comprises such pains and pleasure as we may experience or expect, in virtue of the forebodings and promises of religion.
      Here, Bentham said that men obey the laws of the State because the probable mischief of obedience is less than the probable mischief of disobedience.
  • Pain and Pleasure could be calculated on Felicific Calculus
    According to Bentham there are two kinds of pleasures and pains are there. They are:
    1. Simple pleasures or those which cannot be resolved into other (as the pleasures of senses, wealth, skill, amity, good name, power, piety, benevolence, malevolence, memory, imagination, expectation, assistance and relief etc.) and
    2. Complex pleasures are those which can be resolved into various simple ones.

    Simple pains are privation, awkwardness, enmity, ill-repute, benevolence, malevolence, memory, imagination, expectation and association.
    Complex pains are those which can be resolve into simple ones.

According to Bentham, pleasure or pain could be arithmetically calculated by taking into account seven factors, namely:

  1. Intensity (more or less efficaciousness)
  2. Duration (longer or shorter life)
  3. Certainty (consideration of definiteness or indefiniteness)
  4. Propinquity (consideration of nearness or remoteness of time)
  5. Purity (accompaniment of all pleasure or pain)
  6. Fecundity (capacity of being productive or barren) and
  7. Extensiveness (the number of persons fallen under influence)
These seven factors influence on pleasures or pains. More over according to him the balance will show the tendency of good or bad. He also had given a list of 12 simple pains. These factors make one pleasure more or less and create dimensions. But Bentham said that these can be mathematically calculated. However, the critics said that pain and pleasure can't measure in quantitative methods.

Utilitarianism rejects Natural rights and Social Contract theory

Bentham utilitarianism rejected the dogma of natural rights. He regarded the natural rights as �rhetorical nonsense upon stilt'. Rights are created not by nature, but by law (men made law). Need not the contract, is the basis of state. People obey law because it aims at four ends, viz., security, substance, abundance and equality. Government exists because they promote happiness of the people, but not because of any social contract.

The greatest good of the greatest number

This is the most important formula of Bentham Utilitarianism. It is the central idea of this theory. Each government is obliged to adopt such policies which could give the greatest good of the greatest number. A government which works for the good of a few numbers is not at all a good government. It is tyranny and unjustifiable government. Thus the principle of �the greatest good of the greatest number' is benevolent and universalistic shape.

Bentham explained that the happiness of one individual on the one side and that of the many on the other, the formula of the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the right answer. Bentham observed that only under a system of self-government, the interests of the governors and those of the governed would coincide.

Bentham regarded State as law-making agency. According to him, the State is a group of persons organized for the promotion and maintenance of happiness; but for this end, it acts through law. By means of law, the State rewards or punishes so that the happiness is increased and the pain decreased.

According to him, the law should take cognizance of bad actions and inflict punishment on the people so that the net balance of pleasure is increased and that of pain decreased. Mere morality is not sufficient and unless law comes into operation, bad things cannot be out of place. Only law being the command of the sovereign can secure habitual obedience of the people.

John Stuart Mill (1806 � 1873)

Early life of the J.S.Mill

J.S.Mill was a British philosopher. He is a prominent economist, political philosopher and more over he was worked as a civil servant in East India Company. He is the reformist of the utilitarianism and the best of the individualist. He is the liberalist, feminist, supporter of utilitarianism, representative democracy and economic freedom.

J.S.Mill was the son of James Stuart Mill, who is the best friend and follower of Jeremy Bentham. J.S.Mill guided by God fathers James Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. After the death of his father he become independent researcher and became an ardent defender of liberty.

Mill regarded individual liberty as the supreme possession of man and declared the government is the best which governs the least (laissez � fair theory). According to Mill liberty included with the freedom of thought, expression, freedom of conscience, association etc. He believed that the social well-being has inevitably bound with individual well-being. Like these explanations and through his strong support to individual freedom he became one of the prominent individualists. He advocated for compulsory education, minority representation, woman franchise, plural voting, open ballot etc.

The famous works of the Mill are Principles of political economy, Essays on liberty, Utilitarianism, Considerations on representative government, Subjection of women, Autobiography etc.

J.S.Mill - Utilitarianism

In his famous works Utilitarianism and Individualism and liberty one can find the views of the Mill about Utilitarianism and individualism. Though Mill is strong supporter of Utilitarianism he himself declared that he is the reformist of the utilitarianism and proposed several modifications. Because of this he became one of the prominent personalities in utilitarianism approach.

Mill considerably modified Bentham's thesis of pleasure versus pain by admitting and emphasizing the qualitative aspect of pleasure. He asserted that pleasures also differ in quality. Those pleasures which go with the exercise of intellectual capacities are higher and better than sensuous pleasures. Mill made a difference between higher quality of pleasure and lower quality of pleasure. He preferred more noble pleasure over less noble pleasure.

The main differences between Bentham theory and Mill theory are:

  • Bentham advocated that the pleasures and the pains differ in quantity and not in quality. He said that pains and pleasures can be computed mathematically. But Mill said that pain and pleasure can't be measured arithmetically they differ in quality only.
  • According to Bentham utilitarianism there is a gulf between individual interest and general happiness. But Mill narrowed down the gulf between individual interest and general happiness.
  • Bentham recognized only external sanctions. But Mill recognized not only external, but internal sanctions also which would constrain the individual to promote general happiness, because every individual possesses a feeling for the happiness of mankind.
  • Bentham's principle of utility, in a society of wolves, would exalt wolfishness; in a society of saint it would exalt saintliness. But according to Mill saintliness should be the criterion of utility in any society whatsoever.
  • Bentham utilitarianism supports the greatest good of the greatest number. But here there is a chance for suppression of minorities' rights. So, Mill supported individualism.
  • Bentham supported democratic government in any condition but Mill supported monarchy for primitive man and democratic government for people who are able to understand value of democratic government. It means Mill supported democracy based on condition of man.
  • Bentham purely did not accept State's intervention in the individual's liberty. But Mill supported State control over the institution of private property by holding that it can well impose taxation on the socially-created values.

However, Mill reformed Utilitarian concept with his liberal thoughts. But according to criticism made by Wayper In all these alterations that he makes in Benthamism, Mill may think that he is defending it, but in fact he is destroying it.

Utilitarian approach to political obligation demolished the theories of divine rights, natural rights and social contract. This concept placed the individual before the State. It is altruistic, but not egoistic. At present the concept of Utilitarian became the core concept of all legislations. In fact the present democratic government based on the principle the greatest happiness to the greatest member. Though the concept is not free from lacunas they can be reduced in implementation of the principle.

  1. Hedonism is a school of thought that argues seeking pleasure and avoiding suffering are the only components of well being.
  2. Aristippus of Cyrene was a pupil of Socrates. He is the founder of the Cyrenaic school of Philosophy.
  3. Epicurus was the one of the ancient Greek philosopher. He was influenced by Aristippus. He established a school knows as �the Garden' in Athens.
  4. The theory that all knowledge is based on experience derived from the senses.
Written By: Dr. Koneru Anuradha Assistant Professor in Law, SVD Siddhartha Law College, Kanuru, Vijayawada, Krishna DT, AP State, India. Pin code: 52007.
Phone no. 9491448532. Email: [email protected]

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