Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarianism can be summarized as follows:
Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two Sovereign Masters viz Pleasure and Pain. These masters point what we ought to do and determine what we shall do. Bentham argues that we do desire pleasure therefore we ought to desire pleasure.
Pleasure is the only desirable. All other things like wealth, power, knowledge etc. are desired because they lead to happiness.
Bentham says weigh pleasures and pains in our actions. An action is right if it produces pleasure. An action is wrong if it produces pain. The worth of an action consists in its utility to produce pleasure and to avoid pain.
Bentham believes that all pleasures are alike. Pleasures do not have qualitative differences. Pleasures have only quantitative differences i.e. they are more or they are less. Bentham argues that the quantity of pleasure remaining the same, pushpin (a game) is as good as poetry.
The quantity of pleasure can be calculated. The quantitative differences can be measured by seven point scale. To calculate pleasure, Bentham considers seven dimensions of pleasure. The Hedonistic Calculus (Calculus of Pleasure) is as follows:
1. Intensity 2. Duration 3. Proximity 4. Certainity 5. Purity i.e. freedom from pain, 6. Fruitfulness i.e. capacity to give rise to other pleasures and 7. Extent i.e. the number of persons affected.
Bentham argues that each man desire his own happiness. Each man’s happiness is good for him. Therefore general happiness is good for all.
Bentham asserts that by nature man is egoistic and selfish. Man can be altruistic only when, by being altruistic he satisfies his own desire too. Here Bentham suggests the moral standard of “the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people.” The moral standard is not the greatest happiness of one individual but it is happiness of a number of people. Bentham suggests the maximum happiness of maximum number of people.
Bentham’s doctrine of Hedonism becomes altruistic by the dimension of “Extent” and by Four Moral Sanctions. The transition from egoism to universalism is explained by Four external sanctions.
According to Bentham, pleasure and pain are the prime, governing motives of human conduct. Our conduct is regulated by Four Sanctions. These sanctions imply higher powers viz. nature, the state, the society and God. There is a threatened penalty i.e. pain for disobeying the related laws.
- Natural or Physical sanction i.e. consideration of health and fear of disease.
- Political sanction i.e. fears of punishment by the State.
- Social sanction i.e. fears of social boycott.
- Religious sanction i.e. fear of Divine wrath or the justice of God.
Due to these Four external Sanctions man sacrifices his extreme, selfish pleasures and thinks about pleasures of others i.e. general happiness. Man obeys the laws of Nature, the State, the Society and God as they operate through pleasures or pains for individual.