Psychological Hedonism: Pleasure, Pain, and Value
Bentham found pleasure and pain to be the sole motivators and only absolutes in the world. He opens his
Bentham gives his account of what motivates human beings. As with previous psychological hedonists like Epicurus, Bentham claims that human beings are under the spell of the twin “sovereign masters” pleasure and pain. People will move toward objects and activities they find pleasurable and shun those they find painful. There is possibility for reform, however. If a person finds study to be painful, he will need to have his behavior reformed so that he can take pleasure in it. Perhaps the reward of learning new things or the satisfaction of getting an A on a test will lead him to find learning pleasurable.
Would Bentham say that it is a higher pleasure to read poetry or play a game?
Bentham said that “the quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry” (pushpin was the British name for bowling). Bentham differed from Mill in thinking that quantity of pleasure was more important than quality.
Utility and Value
From Bentham's view of pleasure and pain he derived his rule of utility: that the good is whatever brings about the greatest happiness. Utilitarianism, then, is a teleological moral theory, the goal of which is to produce the greatest amount of net utility (pleasure minus pain) where utility is defined in terms of happiness or pleasure. Thus, if it is within your power to bring about equal amounts of happiness in three people or in two people, you should bring about that happiness in three rather than two.
In general, goodness or value is defined in terms of utility. Utility, in turn, is defined in terms of how much pleasure is produced. With Bentham's philosophy you could analyze topics as diverse as the ethics of warfare, mercy killing, abortion, and other matters of applied ethics. A war could be judged by whether it produced more long-term pleasure or pain. The principle of utility analyzes results but overlooks motives, for as John Stuart Mill, Bentham's successor in utilitarianism said, “He who saves as a fellow creature from drowning does what is morally right, whether his motive be duty or the hope of being paid for his trouble.” So in the
The Happiness Calculus
For utilitarians an action is right
Since he had social reform at heart, Bentham thought that legislators ought to improve society by increasing general pleasure and decreasing the pain of its citizens. “Pleasures and the avoidance of pains are the ends which the legislator has in view,” Bentham wrote in the
These are the components that make up the “hedonic calculus.” How does it apply to actual practice? Bentham offered an answer. Suppose you are contemplating which action to do — study for a final exam that is two days away or attend a campus party on one of the nights before the exam. How would you analyze what to do? “Sum up all the values of the pleasures on one side, and those of all the pains on the other side,” Bentham says. A person reviewing these choices finds the
Jeremy Bentham was a bit eccentric. Bentham's mummified body is present at every Board of Trustees meeting at the University College of London. He bequeathed his fortune to the school with the proviso that he attend every such meeting indefinitely.
The person may include in his calculation certainty and uncertainty, propinquity and remoteness, fecundity, and extent. But the result of Bentham's “hedonic calculus” in this and other cases is clear. The lasting pleasures all fall on the side of the mental pleasure of studying; partying, by contrast, includes only short-term pleasures. One might reply, however, that the person attending the party will meet the love of her life and so the party pleasure may turn out to have greater duration. Following Bentham, our student would sacrifice going to the party to put in the necessary hours studying.