Skip Ribbon Commands Skip to main content
B entham’s theses: “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 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.” (466)
1. descriptive thesis = psychological hedonism
2. prescriptive thesis = ethical hedonism
Three utilitarian principles
1. consequentialist principle (466)
2. utility principle. How does Bentham argue for this? (466-7. Note: part of this argument is an argument against Hume’s moral sentiment theory.)
3. impartiality principle “the greatest good for the greatest number” (466)
Each person “counts as one and no more.” (469)
Why should we care about the greater good? (468)
These principles, utilitarians say, give us the standards for right actions, for both individuals and societies. These standards are concrete and measurable, not abstract and metaphysical.
Objection 1: a “doctrine worthy only of swine”
John Stuart Mill attempts to answer this objection: Human beings are capable of pleasures much more sophisticated that those of swine. And some kinds of pleasure are more valuable (470)
Bentham denies this: “the game of pushpin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry.”
What is his point?
Objection 2: calculating utility: see Bentham’s “hedonic calculus” (467)
Do you see any problems for this calculus?
Objection 3: Nozick’s “experience machine”
A problem for which principle of utilitarianism?
Other possibilities for ultimate ends?
Objection 4: the problem of justice
What does the film example tell us?  In general, sometimes utilitarianism seems to require us to commit injustice.  In fact, utilitarianism seems to (occasionally) require us to commit injustice even while punishing crimes.
Utilitarian justifications for punishments:
See 468. When is punishment justified for Bentham? When is it not?
Note that “justice” is not a utilitarian justification!
© 2014 Irvine Valley College