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Jeremy Bentham And John Stuart Mill

1783 words - 8 pages

All of human life is marked by a series of problems and questions that must be confronted and answered. Everyday we face basic choices, to eat the ice cream or the cake, to swim or to bike, to play soccer or basketball, to read or watch TV. Such examples are trivial, but there are much more important ones with more foreboding consequences: to go to college or not, where to go, choosing a career, a spouse, a house. Yet, there are even more serious dilemmas that must be faced, some that may have eternal consequences: to go war or not, to lie and cheat or not, to unplug a loved one from a respirator, and so on. Such moral questions have enormous weight to them. And as human beings, we have no ...view middle of the document...

But Bentham is not so simple, not only is he an Ethical Hedonist, he is also a Psychological Egoistic Hedonist. It will be necessary here to define our terms. A Psychological Egoistic Hedonist believes that the only things that we do, or perhaps can, desire as ends are things that provide pleasure for ourselves. An Ethical Hedonist believes that the things that we ought to desire as ends are things that provide pleasure. It is assumed that an Ethical Hedonist will have altruistic tendencies, that is, we ought to desire ends that provide pleasure for some others at least some of the time. These two doctrines may seem to be opposed to one another. How could someone believe that the only things we can do is to provide pleasure for our self, and yet we ought to provide pleasure for others? And yet, Bentham holds both these positions. To understand how he reconciles this we must understand his doctrine of sanctions and his distinction between Natural Harmony of Interests and Artificial Harmony of Interests.

First then, Bentham characterizes four sanctions, physical, political, moral or popular, and religious. These sanctions are the sources of pleasure and pain. “There are four sources from which pleasure and pain are in use to flow: considered separately, they may be termed the physical, the political, the moral, and the religious: and inasmuch as the pleasures and pains belonging to each of them are capable of giving a binding force to any law or rule of conduct, they may all of them be termed sanctions” (Bentham 382). The physical sanction is basically all that occurs in the ordinary course of life due to the workings of nature and free from any human or supernatural interference. The political sanctions are sources of pleasure and pain that are brought about by a particular individual or groups of individuals whose purpose it is to judge and “dispense” of it according to the sovereign rule. The moral sanctions are those of any indiscriminate person who happens to personally make a judgment that does not necessarily reflect any concrete law. These sanctions provide the key to reconciling Bentham’s positions. One who observes all these sanctions must consider the judgments of others. The physical sanction is the only one that is irrespective of other humans. In order to maximize one’s happiness, he must get as much pleasure from these sources as possible, and most of these sources involve other people. This means one must rely on these people for happiness, in the way they judge and treat him. Therefore, if one is to maximize that happiness for himself, he must also be altruistic and increase the happiness of others who can influence his happiness for good or ill. And thus Bentham reconciles Psychological Egoistic Hedonism with Ethical Hedonism. Because we desire maximum pleasure for ourselves, we ought to increase the pleasure of those who can increase our own.

The second point that must be addressed is Bentham's distinction between...

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