Jeremy Bentham

Amnon Goldworth (ed.), The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: Deontology together with A Table of the Springs of Action and Article on Utilitarianism

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1. Greatest happiness principle by J. B. put to use as a Direction post.

2. It is the oracle to applicants for instruction.

3. As such, it serves: 1) as end in view; 2) as a means of attaining that end; 3) as a motive inducing men to act in ways conducive to that end.

4. For making application of it, another instrument, a list of pains and pleasures, was found necessary.

5. These articles, the stock employable by human happiness manufacturers.

6. The history of the principle is the indication of the several contributions to this stock.

7. In other words, the indication of the several literary works by means of which any advance has been made toward the practical application of the principle.

8. Epoch One. Horace's Satire, Utilitas. 'Sensus moresque repugnant atque ipsa utilitas justi prope mater et aequi.' Instruction as far as it goes correct in this observation.

9. Epoch Two. Phaedrus' Fables. 'Nisi utile est quod feceris stulta est gloria.'

10. In both these instances, the principle in embryo only.

11. The principle unheeded from that time to the next epoch.

12. Epoch Three. Anno 1742, David Hume's Essays. First mention of utility as a principle.

13. Used merely as synonymous to 'conduciveness to an end'.

14. No intimation of happiness as connected with the idea.

15. No mention of pleasures and exemptions from pain as ingredients of happiness.

16. Of pleasures, no mention but in the general way in which utility is mentioned. Of pains, no mention, or next to none.

17. Of particular virtues, named in abundance, but all placed on the same level and undistinguished.

18. None but vague generalities on the subject.

19. So of reason and sentiment as the foundation of morals.

20. On good and evil, as on utility, all he says is mere speculation.

21. Epoch Four. Anno 1749. Hartley on Man.

22. Epoch Five. Anno 1758. Helvetius' de l'Esprit. Light thrown on the field by that book.

pg 32023. J. B. much indebted to that work.

24. In that work, no nomenclature or classification of pains and pleasures.

25. The most instructive of the lights thrown by it is that which presents to view the influence of interests on opinions.


History of the principle originally styled the principle of utility, now at last the greatest happiness principle.

1.The character in which, for so many years past, Mr. Bentham has been putting this principle to use is that of an instrument of direction: or, say, in more familiar language, a direction for pointing out the path most proper to be pursued, on every occasion, in public as well as private life; to be pursued by every individual, whether acting in his private and individual capacity, as a member of the whole community, for his own benefit alone, or in his public capacity acting for the benefit of others in the character of a member of the governing part of the community, in the exercise of the powers belonging to him in that same character.

2. It is the oracle to which, on every occasion, he applies for instruction: and the several arrangements which in relation to the several parts of the field of thought and action it suggests, together with the reasons from which those same proposed arrangements derive their explanation and support, constitute its responses.

3. To this purpose it renders service to him in three distinguishable capacities: 1. as end in view; 2. as a storehouse of means employable for the attainment of that end; 3. as a storehouse furnishing motives by the force of which, on the several occasions, men may be induced to act in ways conducive to that end.

4. To the making application of it to these several aims or purposes, another instrument was found indispensably necessary, namely, a list of the several pleasures and pains of which man's nature is susceptible. In the several pleasures, and in exemption from the several pains, he saw the elements of which happiness is composed, and of which, in number and value taken together, it was to be a constant object of his endeavours to shew how the greatest quantity possible may be made to have place. In the several pleasures and exemptions from pain operating in the character of motives, he saw pg 321so many means adapted to the purpose of attaining or, say, of accomplishing, those same ends.

5. Applied to the business of government, legislation and administration included, the indication given of the above-mentioned articles may be considered as so many elementary parts of the stock employable by men in the manufacture of human happiness.

6. The history of the principle in question will consist of an indication given of the several distinguishable contributions made towards supplying the manufactory of the several articles of stock necessary to the carrying on of its several operations, and to its capacity of turning out, whenever, if ever, it shall happen to them to be bespoken, the several articles of finished work to which that same manufactory is capable of giving instance.

7. In other words, it will consist in an indication of the several literary works by which, by means of the instruction respectively afforded by them, so many distinguishable advances were made in the road leading from the principle in its purely speculative and unemployed state, to the state in which, in a degree of detail the most immediately applicable to practice, that is to say, in the state of a list of laws expressed in terminis,1 application is made of it.

8. Epoch the first. A few years before Christ. Earliest known mention of the principle, or allusion to it, that made by Horace in his Satires, Satire the Third, Utilitas.2 After speaking of the doctrine attributed to the Stoics, namely that all misdeeds (peccata) stand upon the same level in the scale of ill desert, or, say, in respect of the degree of disapprobation with which they ought to be considered, to this doctrine he says: sensus moresque repugnant Atque ipsa utilitas justi prope mater et aequi '; in a state of repugnancy to this doctrine are men's feelings, their customs, and utility herself, mother as she may in a manner be said to be of justice and equity. Instructive, as far as it goes, and, even metre notwithstanding, correct is this observation. True it is on this occasion [that] by utility may have been meant conduciveness to an end, whatsoever be that end: but on this occasion, there is but one end, namely, that to which justice and equity tend and are subservient—that is to say happiness. What is more, another intimation conveyed by it is, that the idea of utility is the source from which our ideas of justice and equity will, if clear and correct, have been deduced.

9. Epoch the second. A few years before or after Christ. Second known mention of, or allusion to, the principle, that made by Phaedrus in his Fables. 'Nisi utile est quod feceris, stulta est pg 322gloria':1 unless there is something of usefulness in that mode of conduct for which glory is assumed by you, the assumption is a foolish one.2

10.3 On neither of these occasions does it present itself (so to speak) in the character of a full-grown principle capable of being adopted and worshipped by a house of votaries. In neither instance is it in any other than as it were an embryo state: or residing as yet in the Elysian fields, among the 'Ilustris animas superumque ad lumen ituras'4 which Anchises in his situation of Inspector General was found by Aeneas passing under review.

11. Its unheeded state from those times down to that of the next epoch presents itself as resembling that of the aphorism by which ideas of all other sorts are stated as having their origin in the five senses: the loose hint which somehow or other had incidentally dropped from the almost unconscious pen of Aristotle without being accompanied with so much as the faintest concept of the important consequences deduced from it by Locke,5 and employed in the subversion of the universal empire usurped by Logic under the command of this same Aristotle.

12. Epoch the third. Year 1742: year in which David Hume's Essays made their first appearance.6 Contained in this year was the first moment at which it came out in the garb and with the style and note of a principle.

13. Ambiguous, however, and variable was the character under which on this occasion the idea of usefulness presented itself: sometimes indeed as being synonymous to 'conduciveness to happiness', pg 323but at other times as being synonymous to 'conduciveness to the end or purpose proposed', whatsoever may happen to be that same end or purpose. Accordingly inanimate are among the subject matters in which it is then spoken of as capable of being found inhering: 'a machine, a piece of furniture, a vestment, a house'.1

14. On no occasion is any express intimation given, that the idea of happiness is inseparably connected with the idea signified by it. Incidentally, it is true, do the words 'pleasure' and 'pain' on that occasion present themselves: but no where are pleasures and exemptions from pain presented to view as the elements of which the aggregate designated by the word 'happiness' is composed.

15. Pleasures, pains, desires, emotions, affections, passions, interests, virtues, vices, talents and other psychological entities are brought together like so many equestrians in the ride called 'Rotten Row': but the whole group in a state of the most perfect confusion and without any attempt to show in what relationship they stand to one another; all these objects undefined and indistinct, dancing before the eye like atoms in the sunshine.

16. As to pleasures, mention is indeed, as above observed, made of them, but no otherwise than in the same general way in which utility itself is mentioned: and as to pain, exemption from which is at least as necessary to happiness as pleasures are, instead of correspondent mention, either no mention is made, or next to none; nor of any such idea as that of giving a list of the different sorts of end is any the least trace visible. Of these elementary component parts of every mass of good and evil, whether pure or mixed, no account is taken—no criterion of right and wrong—no answer to the question, 'What ought to be done and what ought to be left undone?' is on any occasion endeavoured to be furnished.

17. As to virtues, of particular virtues names in great abundance are scattered here and there, but, for want of any instruction to the contrary, they are all placed on the same level, as by the Stoics, if Horace is to be believed, misdeeds (peccata) are in express terms;2 nor are any boundary lines by which they might be distinguished from one another anywhere attempted to be drawn. They are distributed into classes: but by the classification given to them little, if any, assistance is given to the operation of determining in what different ways or proportions they are conducive to happiness.

pg 32418. Visible scarce any where is any proposition of a character more instructive than that for the designation of which the term 'vague generalities' has been devised by Mr. Bentham. As on the field of law till of late years what ought to be is seldom made a question, and, when it is, is, without notice, confounded at every turn with the question what is, so in the field of morals in this work of David Hume.

19. Employed as the title to one part of his awkwardly divided hodge-podge are the words 'Of the general Principles of Morals', and presently afterwards, after speaking of the general foundation of morals, reason and sentiment are spoken of as the only foundation (terrain would have been more appropriate) from which they can have been derived;1 but the whole composition being a tissue of vague generalities, no reference is there, or so much as allusion, to particular pains and pleasures; and, upon the whole, the question is left by him in a state of confusion little if anything less thick than that in which he found it.

20. As to good and evil, as it is no otherwise than by observation made of the pleasures and pains issuing from the several species of action in question and of the elements of value in regard to each that any account can be taken or estimate (made of the good)2 and evil respectively produced by them, all that he says on these subjects, including all he says on the subject of utility, consists of mere speculation; no part of it has been applied by him, or is capable of being applied, in such sort as to be of use to practice: like a cloud which, floating in the air at different levels but never in the form of rain descending upon the earth, does but tantalize the thirsty traveler without contributing anything towards his relief.

21. Epoch the fourth. 1749: date of the first edition of Hartley on Man. In that work, for the first time, an intimation is given of the connection of the import of the word 'happiness' with that of the word 'pain' and that of the word 'pleasure'; and a translation is thereby made of the language (so to speak) of happiness into the language of pain and pleasure; a list is given of pleasures and a corresponding and parallel one of pains.3 But neither by the name of the greatest happiness principle, nor by that of the principle of utility, nor in short by any other name, is any express mention made of the principle in question in the character of an all-directing guide in the walks of public as well as private life.4

pg 32522. Epoch the fifth. Year 1758: date of the first publication of the work of Helvetius entitled de l'Esprit:1 a word to which, unhappily, no clear idea stands attached and of which no equivalent is to be found in the English language. Important is the service for which morals and legislation stand indebted to this work: but to give in any small number of words any totally correct and complete conception of the virtues of that service is scarcely possible. The light it spreads, on the field of this branch of art and science, is to that steady light which would be diffused over it by a regular institute or say didactic treatise, like what the meridian sun sheds over a place when bursting forth one moment from behind a cloud it hides itself the next moment behind another, is to that comparatively pale but regular and steady system of illumination afforded to a street by two constantly lighted rows of lamps.

23. To this work Mr. Bentham has often been heard to say that he stands indebted for no small part of the ardour of his desire to render his labours useful to mankind upon the largest scale, and for the energies he finds to persevere in them, and for the hope and belief that they would not be altogether fruitless.

24. In that work, mention of different sorts of pleasures does indeed occur: but [neither] in the marshalling of them is any method observed, nor is so much as the idea started of any such task as that of making out a list of them.

25. Of the lights just mentioned as derived by him from that work, one of the most instructive he felt to be that which presents to view the influence exerted by interest on opinions:2 and those not only opinions declared but opinions actually entertained; and from these lights it is that he deduced those ulterior ones by which he was enabled to make out the list he has so often employed of the four psychological causes of misconduct in men, more particularly public men, that is to say, sinister interest, interest-begotten prejudice, authority-begotten prejudice, and primaeval or say inbred weakness.

25. Epoch the sixth. Year 1768: date of Priestley's tract entitled Essay on Government. In the concluding page of it, if memory is not deceitful, on the character of the only proper end of government, appears in italics the phrase 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number'.3 Of this phrase, the good effect is the substituting to the pg 326equivocal word 'utility' the unequivocal phrase of which happiness is the principal and sole characteristic ingredient. In the change herein consists the whole of the improvement at this time made.

27. Epoch the seventh. Year 1776: date of the publication of the Fragment on Government. In this publication, the principle of utility is, under that same sense, taken in hand and placed up against the Original Contract. On this occasion, the language of happiness, so to speak, is not substituted to that of utility, the word 'utility' being employed as well as the word 'happiness'; but the two languages are translated into one another, and the two locutions represented as interconvertible. This is all that on this occasion is done. Neither the language of utility nor that of happiness [is] rendered into that of pain and pleasure. No such things [are] brought to view as the names of particular species, either of pains or pleasures. Scarcely, as yet, do any such words as 'pain', 'pleasure' or 'happiness' make their appearance.1

28. Epoch the eighth. Year 1789: date of the publication entitled Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. On this occasion, for the first time, not only are pains and pleasures brought to view under heads the list of which is regarded as complete and sufficient for all purposes, or not wanting much of being so, but the several corresponding motives are brought to view by the side of them respectively, and the idea associated with the word 'motive' is for the first time rendered clear and determinate.2 Notice is also taken, and that for the first time, of the three species of denominations employed in speaking of the same motive: the eulogistic, expressive of a sentiment of approbation as attached to the idea of the motive; dyslogistic, [expressive] of a sentiment of disapprobation; and neutral, expressive of neither the one nor the other of those two collateral and frequently irrelevant and delusive adjuncts.3 But on this occasion neither of interests nor of desires is anything said: nor of the above-mentioned denominations is any endeavour applied to the rendering the list complete. Word here employed in the mention made of the principle, 'utility' alone: not as yet 'happiness'.

29. Epoch the ninth. Publication of the work entitled Chrestomathia. Year of publication, of Part 1,1816; of Part II, 1817. Design and business of it, amongst other things, bringing and by tables pg 327holding up to view the conduciveness of the several branches of art and science to the maximum of happiness, and, by means of that common property, exhibiting their relations to each other.

30. Epoch the tenth. Year 1817: date of the publication entitled Table of the Springs of Action. Here, for the first time, the list of the above-mentioned denominations of the three classes is endeavoured to be rendered complete. Here, too, to pains, pleasures and motives are added the corresponding desires and interests, and so, for the sake of consistency and completeness, names are proposed for the several interests: as in some instances, though without any view toward completeness, had been done by Helvetius. Lastly, here, for giving facility to comparison and observation of the mutual relations of the several classes of objects, one to another, they are placed together on one surface, in the form of a Table. To it are subjoined Notes in which of other psychological entities, such as affections, passions, virtues, vices, moral good, moral evil, etc., in no inconsiderable number, explanation is given, and the sense rendered clear and determinate by indication given of their relation to the before mentioned ones. But of the all-embracing and all-ruling principle, no need was found, on this occasion, of making mention, by either of its names.

31. Epoch the eleventh. Year 1822: date of the publication entitled Codification Proposal etc.1 In this publication, for the first time, to the words 'greatest happiness' addition is made of the words 'of the greatest number',2 and of each of the several arrangements proposed, averment is made that 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number requires' etc.: and the three languages above-mentioned, that of utility, that of happiness, and that of pains and pleasures, are brought together, and rendered and thoroughly explained by each other: indication at the same time given how, by exemption from pains—from particular pains—the happiness of all will be augmented by the all-beneficent means there proposed.

32. In the above-mentioned year, 1817, under the title of Papers relative to Codification, had been published a work having for its object and business the recommendation of that same measure: but, on that occasion, under no other name than that of the principle of Utility is the principle in question spoken of: no epoch, accordingly, pg 328with reference to the present purpose, does that publication constitute.

33. In the year 1785 came out for the first time the work of the Reverend Dr William Paley entitled Elements of Moral and Political Philosophy. But, in the catalogue of the works constitutive of so many epochs in the history of the principle in question, this work has not been inserted, because though, to wit by the name of the principle of utility, mention is made of this same principle, yet, as to any indication made of the relation borne by the idea attached to it to the ideas attached to the words 'pain' and 'pleasure', no such elucidation does it give. The eyes for which the work was designed were those of the youth belonging to the University of Cambridge in one of the Colleges of which he was at that time Tutor:1 in that meridian eyes were not strong enough, nor was it his desire that they should be strong enough, to endure true lights in such a field. In black and white, professed and self-declared advocate of insincerity and subornation of insincerity in the shape of subscription to articles—over a bottle, self-avowed lover of corruption, rich enough to keep an equipage but not 'to keep a conscience'2—after publishing editions upon editions of that same work and filling both universities with them to saturation, he departed this life in the year 1805, knowing better all that time [than] to know anything of the works in and by which that of which mention has here been made had even then been done towards putting to its use that all-beneficent principle, or to know that any such person as the author was in existence.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 These marginals are taken from UC xiv. 398.
Editor’s Note
1 This text is taken from UC xiv. 399–411.
Editor’s Note
1 'in definitive form'.
Editor’s Note
2 See Long Version, p.299 n. 2. The Satires were written c.35–30 BC.
Editor’s Note
1 See Long Version, p. 299 n. 1. Phaedrus was active around AD 40.
Editor’s Note
2 Here Bentham wrote the following note to Bo wring: 'I must beg of you to fill up the gap with matter correspondent to that which is inserted under the last preceding head. I have no copy of Phaedrus' Fables. A Delphin Edition has, I suppose, an Index Verborum, as that of Horace has.' The Delphin and Variorum Classics was an early nineteenth-century series of classical texts.
Editor’s Note
3 Sections 10 and 11 are taken from UC xiv. 402. Portions of this sheet were crossed out by Bentham, the sheet as a whole having originally belonged to a slightly earlier version of the opening passages of the essay. (It bears the date 9 June, whereas sheets 399–401 and 403 are dated 10 June.)
Editor’s Note
4 The reference is to the passage in the Aeneid where Aeneas finds his father Anchises in Elysium, reviewing the souls destined for rebirth in the world above. The line Bentham has in mind is book 6, line 680, 'Inclusas animas superumque ad lumen ituras' ('imprisoned souls destined to pass to the light of the upper world'); but he has not remembered it quite correctly, as the word illustris belongs to line 758 of the same book ('Illustris animas nostrumque in nomen ituras').
Editor’s Note
5 Cf. Aristotle, Analytica Posteriora, II. 19, 100a4–6. Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, ed. P. H. Nidditch, Oxford, 1975, pp. 104–5.
Editor’s Note
6 See Long Version, p. 290 n. 1.
Editor’s Note
1 The reference is to Hume's Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, London, 1751, p. 27: 'A machine, a piece of furniture, a garment, a house, well contrived for use and conveniency is so far beautiful, and is contemplated with pleasure and approbation.'
Editor’s Note
2 Horace, Satirae, 1. 3. 18.
Editor’s Note
1 Hume, Principles of Morals, pp. 6–8.
Editor’s Note
2 MS damaged.
Editor’s Note
3 David Hartley, Observations on Man, His Framef His Duty and His Expectations, 2 vols., London, 1749, i, pp. ii-iii.
Editor’s Note
4 Here Bentham wrote the following note to Bowring: 'Not having a copy of that book, I am under the necessity of leaving to you if you think it worthwhile the task of consulting it for the purpose of security against misrepresentation.'
Editor’s Note
1 See Long Version, p. 290 n. 2.
Editor’s Note
2 Claude Adrien Helvetius, De Vesprit, Paris, 1758, Discours II, chap. III.
Editor’s Note
3 See Long Version, p. 291 n. 4.
Editor’s Note
1 The last three words have been crossed out in MS but are necessary to the sense.
Editor’s Note
2 An Introduction (CW) chap. 10.
Editor’s Note
3 Ibid. pp. 115–16. Bentham is incorrect. He appears to have used the terms for the first time on 2 Jan. 1805 (see UC xiv. 21). They appear in print for the first time in the 1815/17 version of the Springs (see in particular p. 95 above).
Editor’s Note
1 Codification Proposal addressed by Jeremy Bentham in all Nations professing Liberal Opinions, London, 1822 (Bowring, iv. 535–94).
Editor’s Note
2 Bentham had in fact used the whole phrase 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number' in 1776 in the Preface to his Fragment on Government', see A Comment on the Commentaries and A Fragment on Government (CW), p. 393.
Editor’s Note
1 William Paley (1743–1805) was elected a fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1766 and was appointed tutor in 1771. He left Cambridge, having been presented to the rectory of Musgrave in Cumberland, in 1776.
Editor’s Note
2 According to G. W. Meadley, Memoirs of William Paley, 2nd edition, Sunderland, 1810, p. 89, Paley sympathized with the Feathers Tavern Petition of 1772 for a relaxation of the terms of subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles, but declined to sign the petition, saying that he 'could not afford to keep a conscience'. According to H. D. Best, Literary and Personal Memoirs, London, 1829, p. 184, Paley said in conversation: 'I was always an advocate for bribery and corruption. . . . Who is so mad as to wish to be governed by force? Or who is such a fool as to expect to be governed by virtue? There remains then nothing else but bribery and corruption.'
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