Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarianism

English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, influenced by the work of Hume and Hobbes, introduced the foundation of utilitarianism in his 1789 book, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. In his book, Bentham created the principle of utility, in which an action is approved of when it has the tendency to provide and enable the most happiness.

According to Bentham, happiness is defined as the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. He created a formula, known as the felicific (meaning “happiness-making”) calculus, with which to measure the value of different pleasures and pains. When measuring pleasure and pain, Bentham looks at duration, intensity, certainty versus uncertainty, and nearness versus farness. Bentham then reasons that what makes an act right is the extent to which it increases the pleasure and decreases the pain. His theory is identified as hedonistic because it believes pleasure and pain to be the only things of value and is referred to as “act utilitarianism” because it applies utility directly to actions.

For Bentham, utilitarianism was based on the consequences of actions that were taken. Most importantly, Bentham emphasized the happiness of the community as the most important thing, since the happiness of the community is the sum of the happiness of the individual people within the community. Therefore, the principle of utility determined that the moral obligation to perform an action was based on doing whatever produced the greatest amount of happiness in the largest number of people affected by the action. For Bentham, it was about quantity over quality. No matter how complex or simple the pleasure, each was treated the same. Bentham firmly believed more, quantitatively speaking, is better.

Bentham’s Views on Crime

Bentham believed social policies should be evaluated based on the general well-being of those affected, and that punishing criminals effectively discouraged crime because it made individuals compare the benefits of committing a crime to the pain involved in the punishment.