Chapter 23. "Happiness Is the Greatest Good" by Jeremy Bentham

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from Morals and Legislation
The Reading Selection from Morals and Legislation
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Bentham, The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University

About the author…

Jeremy Bentham's (1748-1832) abiding concern in life was the total reform of British society and law based on the principle of utility. He believed this principle was the most reasonable guide to both individual morality and public policy. He formed the Westminster Review and convinced radicals, opposed to both the Whigs and Tories, to join the Benthamite movement. The group founded University College, London.

About the work…

In his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation,[1] Bentham attributes the inconsistency of English law, its complexity as well as it inhumanness, to its foundation on the moral feelings of "sympathy" and "antipathy." He argues that the laws of all nations should be rationally based, not emotionally based, on what appeared to him to be the self-evident principle of the greatest good for the greatest number. In an effort to apply this principle of utility to legal reform, Bentham develops the hedonistic, or as it is sometimes called, the felicific calculus. As an ethical teleologist,[2] Bentham devises a method of calculating the most pleasure vis--vis the least pain by means of a quantitative scale. Historically, the hedonistic calculus was a major step in the development of rational decision theory and utility theory.

Ideas of Interest from Morals and Legislation

  1. According to Bentham, what are the causes of human action? What is the principle of utility?

  2. Explain what Bentham means by the principle of asceticism. Is this principle related to the principle of sympathy and antipathy? Why does Bentham think that these principles lead to inconsistent application and undue punishment?

  3. Can pleasure be quantified? Explain whether you think the use of the hedonistic calculus for the individual and for society is feasible.

  4. What does Bentham mean when he explains that motives are neither bad nor good? Why doesn't Bentham think that evil motives can be productive of over-all good? Explain his analysis of motives.



Jeremy Bentham. Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1907.


I.e.,, Bentham believes our behavior is directed toward and shaped by the purpose of seeking pleasure.