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Jeremy Bentham
Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
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"Mankind is governed by pain and pleasure"

Wikipedia - Full Text - Print Edition: ISBN 0486454525

INTRODUCTION TO Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

In London on the 15th February 1748, Jeremy Bentham was born to into a wealthy ambitious Tory family. Expected to succeed as a lawyer, Jeremy got into Oxford University at the age of 12, gained his MA at 13 and began training as a barrister aged 15. Disillusioned with the chicanery of legal practice he soon retired to Westminster, where, for nearly forty years, (barring a couple spent in Russia) even in his eighties, he churned out ten to twenty manuscripts a day commenting on the laws or proposing new ones. He denounced Blackstone's revered 'Commentaries on the Laws of England' for its obsession with the unyielding "rule of law" and proposed a circular 'panopticon' design for prisons. And in between all that he came across the phrase "the greatest happiness to the greatest number" in the Italian jurist Beccaria's book 'Crimes and Punishments' and made this 'principle of utility' into both an ethical formula and a rallying-cry.

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SquaPo has got Aristotle's Ethics and Politics, and nice little abridgements of works by his predecessors Plato and Socrates such as The Republic.


This condensed edition is based on the abridgement first published in 1919 under the editorship of John Hammerton.


Jeremy Bentham, 1789
Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

"Mankind is governed by pain and pleasure"

Mankind is governed by pain and pleasure. Utility is that property which tends to produce happiness. The principle of utility makes utility the criterion for approval or disapproval of every kind of action. The legislator must be able to guage the value of pleasure and pain. These depend on intensity, duration, certainty or uncertainty, propinquity or remoteness; on the probable multiplication of like sensations; and on the number of persons pleasurably or painfully affected. All these being weighed together, if the pleasurable tendency predominates, the act is good; if the painful, bad. The business of government is to promote the happiness of society by rewarding and punishing, especially by punishing acts tending to diminish happiness. Hence with regard to each action we have to consider its circumstances, the intention, motive and the consequences. Punishment, being primarily mischievous, is out of place when groundless, inefficacious, unprofitable, or needless. Punishment is inefficacious when it is ex post facto, or extra-legal, or secret; in the case of irresponsible (including intoxicated) persons; and also so far as the intention of the act was incomplete, or where the act was under compulsion. It is unprofitable when the evils of the punishment outweigh the offence. It is needless when the end can be attained otherwise. Punishment must outweigh the profit of the offence to the doer; (2) the greater the mischief, the greater the expense worth incurring to prevent it; (3) alternative offences which are not equally mischievous, must not be equally punished; (4) the punishment must not be excessive. An offence - a punishable act - is constituted such by the community; though it ought not to be an offence unless contrary to utility, it may be so. Those cases described as unmeet for punishment are all within the realm of personal ethics, but outside the legislative sphere.

The Squashed Philosophers Edition of...

Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
Jeremy Bentham
Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes © 2011

MANKIND is governed by pain and pleasure. Utility is that property in anything which tends to produce happiness in the party concerned, whether an individual or a community. The principle of utility makes utility the criterion for approval or disapproval of every kind of action. An act which conforms to this principle is one which ought to be done, or is not one which ought not to be done; is right, or, at least, not wrong. There is no other criterion possible which cannot ultimately be reduced to the personal sentiment of the individual.


The sources or sanctions of pleasure and pain are four - the physical, in the ordinary course of nature; political, officially imposed; moral or popular, imposed by public opinion; and religion. Pains under the first head are calamities; under the other three are punishments. Under the first three heads they concern the present life only. The second, third and the fourth, as concerns this life, operate through the first; but the first operates independently of the others.

Pleasures and pains, then, are the instruments with which the legislator has to work; he must, therefore, be able to gauge their relative values. These depend primarily and simply on four things - intensity, duration, certainty or uncertainty, propinquity or remoteness. Secondarily, on fecundity, the consequent probable multiplication of the like sensations; and purity, the improbability of consequent contrary sensations. Finally, on extent - the number of persons pleasurably or painfully affected. All these being weighed together, if the pleasurable tendency predominates, the act is good; if the painful, bad.

Pleasures and pains are either simple or complex - i.e., resolvable into several simple pleasures, and may be enumerated; as those of the senses, of wealth, of piety, of benevolence, of malevolence, of association, of imagination. Different persons are sensible to the same pleasure in different degrees, and the sensibility of the individual varies under different circumstances. Circumstances affecting sensibility are various - such as health, strength, sex, age, education; they may be circumstances of the body, of the mind, of the inclinations. Their influence can be reckoned approximately, but should be taken into consideration so far as is practicable.

The legislator and the judge are concerned with the existing causes of pleasure and pain, but of pain rather than pleasure - the mischiefs which it is desired to prevent, and the punishments by which it is sought to prevent them - and for the due apportionment of the latter they should have before them the complete list of punishments and of circumstances affecting sensibility. By taking the two together - with one list or the other for basis, preferably the punishment list - a classification of appropriate penalties is attainable.

An analytical summary of the circumstances affecting sensibility will distinguish as secondary - i.e. as acting not immediately but mediately through the primary - sex, age, station in life, education, climate, religion. The others, all primary, are connate - viz. radical frame of mind and body - or adventitious. The adventitious are personal or exterior. The personal concern a man's disposition of body or mind, or his actions; exterior, the things or persons he is concerned with.

The business of government is to promote the happiness of society by rewarding and punishing, especially by punishing acts tending to diminish happiness. An act demands punishment in proportion to its tendency to diminish happiness - i.e. as the sum of its consequences does so. Only such consequences are referred to as influence the production of pain or pleasure. The intention, as involving other consequences, must also be taken into consideration. And the intention depends on the state of the will and of the understanding as to the circumstances - consciousness, unconsciousness, or false consciousness of them.

Hence with regard to each action we have to consider
(1) the act itself,
(2) the circumstances,
(3) the intentionality,
(4) the attendant consciousness, and also
(5) the motive, and
(6) the general disposition indicated.

Acts are positive and negative - i.e. of commission and omission, or forbearance; external or corporal, and internal or mental; transitive, affecting some body other than the agent's, or intransitive; transient or continued (mere repetition is not the same as habit). Circumstances are material when visibly related to the consequences in point of causality, directly or indirectly. They may be criminative, or exculpative, or aggravative, or evidential.

The intention may regard the act itself only, or its consequence also - for instance, you may touch a man intentionally and by doing so cause his death unintentionally. But you cannot intend the consequences - though you may desire them - without intending the action. The consequences may be intended directly or indirectly, and may or may not be the only thing intended. The intention is good or bad as the consequences intended are good or bad.

But these actually depend on the circumstances which are independent of the intention; here the important point is the man's consciousness of the circumstances, which are objects not of the will, but of the understanding. If he is conscious of the circumstances and of their materiality, the act is advised; if not, unadvised. Unadvisedness may be due either to heedlessness or to misapprehension.

And here we may remark that we may speak of a bad intention, though the motive was good, if the consequences intended were bad, and vice versa. In this sense also, the intention may be innocent - that is, not bad, without being positively good.

Of motives, we are concerned with practical motives only, not those which are purely speculative. Those are either internal or external; either events in esse, or events in prospect. The immediate motive is an internal motive in esse- -an awakened pleasure or pain at the prospect of pleasure or pain. All others are comparatively remote.

Now, since the motive is always primarily to produce some pleasure or prevent some pain, and since pleasure is identical with good and pain with evil, it follows that no motive is in itself bad. The motive is good if it tends to produce a balance of pleasure; bad, if a balance of pain. Thus any and every motive may produce actions good, indifferent, or bad. Hence, in cataloguing motives, we must employ only neutral terms, i.e. not such as are associated with goodness - as piety, honour - or with badness - as lust, avarice.

The motives, of course, correspond to the various pleasures as previously enumerated. They may be classified as good, bad, or indifferent according as their consequences are more commonly good, bad, or indifferent; but the dangers of such classification are obvious. In fact, we cannot affirm goodness, badness, or indifference of motive, except in the particular instance.

A better classification is into the social - including good will, love of reputation, desire of amity, religion; dissocial - displeasure; self-regarding - physical desire, pecuniary interest, love of power, self-preservation.

Of all these, the dictates of good will are the surest of coinciding with utility, since utility corresponds precisely to the widest and best-advised good will. Even here, however, there may be failure, since benevolence towards one group may clash with benevolence towards another. Next stands love of reputation, which is less secure, since it may lead to asceticism and to hypocrisy. Third comes the desire of amity, valuable as the sphere in which amity is sought is extended, but also liable to breed insincerity. Religion would stand first of all if we all had a correct perception of the divine goodness; but not when we conceive of God as malevolent or capricious; and, as a matter of fact, our conception of the Deity is controlled by our personal biases.

THE self-regarding motives are, ex hypothesi, not so closely related to utility as the social motives, and the dissocial motives manifestly stand at the bottom of the scale. In respect to any particular action there may be a conflict of motives, some impelling towards it, others restraining from it; and any motive may come in conflict with any other motive.

It will be found hereafter that in the case of some offences the motive is material in the highest degree, and in others wholly immaterial; in some cases easy, and in others impossible to gauge.

Goodness or badness, then, cannot be predicated of the motive. What is good or bad in the man when actuated by one motive or another is his disposition, or permanent attitude of mind, which is good or bad as tending to produce effects beneficial to the community. It is to be considered in regard to its influence on (1) his own happiness; (2) other people's. The legislator is concerned with it so far as it is mischievous to others. A man is held to be of a mischievous disposition when it is presumed that he inclines to acts which appear to him mischievous. Here it is that 'intentionality' and 'consciousness' come in.

Where the tendency of the act is good and the motive is a social one, a good disposition is indicated; where the tendency is bad and the motive is self- regarding, a bad disposition is indicated. Otherwise, the indication of good or bad disposition may be very dubious or non-existent. Now, our problem is to measure the depravity of a man's disposition, which may be defined as the sum of his intentions. The causes of intentions are motives. The social motives may be called tutelary, as tending to restrain from mischievous intentions; but any motive may become tutelary on occasion. Love of ease, and desire of self- preservation, in the form of fear of punishment, are apt to be tutelary motives.

Now we can see that the strength of a temptation equals the sum of the impelling motives, minus the sum of the tutelary motives. Hence, the more susceptible a man is to the standing tutelary motives, the less likely is he to yield to temptation; in other words, the less depraved is his disposition. Hence, given the strength of the temptation, the mischievousness of the disposition is as the apparent mischievousness of the act. Given the apparent mischievousness of the act, the less the temptation yielded to the greater the depravity of disposition; but the stronger the temptation, the less conclusive is the evidence of depravity. It follows that the penalty should be increased - i.e. the fear of punishment should be artificially intensified, in proportion as, apart from that fear, the temptation is stronger.

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