Political Philosophy of Jeremy Bentham

Introduction

Jeremy Bentham was a philosopher, jurist, and social reformer from England. He was born in 1748 in London. He was a child prodigy. He started studying Latin at the age of 3 years. He attended Westminster school in 1760 at the age of 12 then his father send him to Queen’s College Oxford where he completed his bachelor’s in 1763 and Master’s in 1766. He was lawyer by profession but never practiced law. He was deeply frustrated with the English legal system and even called it “Demon of Chicane”. Whenever the utilitarianism is discussed, Jeremy Bentham’s name comes to the fore. It is Jeremy Bentham who introduced the school of thought called utilitarianism. In addition, he gave the famous principle of “greatest happiness of greatest number”. Jeremy Bentham’s liberal ideas completely changed British society.

Following are the major works of Jeremy Bentham;

  • The Fragments of Government (1776)
  • Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789)

Basic Assumptions of Jeremy Bentham

He says, ” Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters- pain and pleasure. It is for them to point out what we ought to do as well as to determine what we shall do”.

Jeremy Bentham is of the view that human beings are basically pleasure seeking and pain avoiding animals. They do those things which gives them pleasure and avoid those things which gives them pain.

In addition, he gives the Pleasure-Pain Theory. This theory is discriptive as well as normative. It explains how people actually behave. This discriptive aspect is also called Psychological Hedonism. On the other hand, normative or prescriptive aspect explains how people should behave. It is called ethical hedonism.

The Principle of Utility

The utility principle states that acts and attitudes are correct when they promote happiness or enjoyment, and incorrect when they appear to cause unhappiness or pain. “By utility is meant that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefits, advantage, pleasure, good or happiness.”

Features of Utilitarianism

This doctrine is comprehensive and deterministic. It states that every human action or activity is for pleasure seeking. It is consequentialist, and it is quantifiable. In addition, it is not similar to egoism or self-interest focused. The highest principle of morality is to maximize happiness, the overall balance of pleasure over pain.”

Utility of pleasure is measured on the following grounds;

  • Intensity
  • Duration
  • Certainty
  • Propinquity
  • Fecundity
  • Purity
  • Extent

The Greatest happiness principle of Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham is of the view that an action is right in so far it promotes the greatest amount of happiness (pleasure) for the greatest number of people. What is important is the quantity of pleasure or utility. Maximization of pleasure or utility is the only moral goal.

Conclusion

Jeremy Bentham tends to take his idea to its most logical extreme. He focuses only the quantity of pleasure and was not concerned with the quality. His greatest happiness principle can override the interest of minority for the greater happiness of the majority. Apart from that, his ideas many a time went against the tenets of individual liberty. The idea of quantifying pleasure and pain remained impractical.