It appeared to Bentham, at an early period of his life, that the Philosophy of human action was incomplete, until some general principle should be discovered, to which the actions of mankind ought all to tend. The way had been so far cleared by the Inductive system of Philosophy. Bacon laid down the grand and general law, that experiment is the means of obtaining a knowledge of what is true; but a question was left to be answered — to what end men, after having achieved the knowledge of what is true, should use that knowledge? It was clear that though experiment might teach us how to achieve that end when it had once been pointed out, it could not be the means of discovering it; for the very supposal of an end predicates something, not sought after, but predetermined. It was after much thought that he decided that the end in view ought to be the creation of the greatest possible amount of happiness to the human race. The word “utility,” was the first shape in which the end presented itself;‡ but this term left the question “what constitutes utility” an open one. The answer to — what constitutes utility? and the more abstract principle afterwards adopted, were one and the same. That is useful which, taking all times and all persons into consideration, leaves a balance of happiness; and — the creation of the largest possible balance of happiness — became the Author’s description of the right end of human actions. The manner in which he stated his axiom was at first in the words, “The greatest happiness of the greatest number,” or “The greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number;” but as there were here two conflicting elements of extent — the intensity of the happiness and the number of persons among whom it is dispersed* the respective limits of which could not be fixed, the simple expression The greatest happiness was determined on.
The Author was quite aware that this principle was liable to the imperfection of all axioms. It was simply like others of its kind, the closest approach to the abstract that could be made by reasoning. Logic could tender it no support; it must itself be the base on which reasoning should rest; and unless in so far as he could obtain admission for it, it must remain unproductive of good. He says, in the Introduction to the Constitutional Code.
When I say, the greatest happiness of the whole community ought to be the end or object of pursuit, in every branch of the law — of the political rule of action, and of the constitutional branch in particular, what is it that I express? — this and no more, namely, that it is my wish, my desire, to see it taken for such, by those who, in the community in question, are actually in possession of the powers of government; taken for such, on the occasion of every arrangement made by them in the exercise of such their powers, so that their endeavours shall be, to render such their cause of action contributory to the obtainment of that same end. Such then is the state of that faculty in me which is termed the will; such is the state of those particular acts or modifications of that faculty, which are termed wishes or desires, and which have their immediate efficient causes in corresponding feelings, in corresponding pleasures and pains, such as, on the occasion in question, the imagination brings to view.
In making this assertion, I make a statement relative to a matter of fact, namely that which, at the time in question, is passing in the interior of my own mind; — how far this statement is correct, is a matter on which it belongs to the reader, if it be worth his while, to form his judgment.*
But it was not to the announcement of his first principle that Bentham trusted for its adoption, but to the influence it would have on the minds of his readers when they studied the forms in which he brought it out in detail. And this brings us to examine the extent to which the author lays claim to the merit of originality. It was not the principle itself, that constituted his discovery, but his rigid adherence to it in all his expositions — his never losing sight of it, in what he did himself or called upon others to do. He did not say that the world had hitherto been ignorant of such a principle; he found the theory of utility to a certain extent promulgated by Hume, and references to the “greatest happiness” in the works of Beccaria and of Priestley; while something like the Utilitarian Principle is announced at the commencement of the Nicomachean Ethics. He found indeed that it was at the root of all systems of religion and morality; that all codes of law were more or less founded upon it; and that it was, in all places and at all times, an unseen and unacknowledged guide to human action. But he was the first to bring forth this guide, to prove to the world that it should be followed implicitly, and to show that hitherto, from not keeping their guide in view, men had often wandered from the right path. “The good of the community,” “the interests of the public,” “the welfare of mankind,” all expressions to be found in the mouths of those who talk of the proper ends of action, were so many acknowledgments of the Greatest-happiness Principle, and vague attempts to embody it. There is here an apt parallel with the philosophy of Bacon. Long before his day experiments were made, and thinkers, even in their emptiest theories, in some shape or other looked to experience. Fact was then, as now, the source of knowledge; but for want of an acquaintance with what their source of knowledge really was, men wandered about among vague theories, and Bacon was the first to discover, that wherever experience and the induction from it are lost sight of, there is no check to the errors of thought. In like manner does Bentham show, that, when the greatest happiness of mankind is lost sight of, in the pursuit of more immediate ends, there is no check to the aberration of human action.
There is, perhaps, no better illustration of the operation of the utilitarian principle in minds which are ignorant of, or do not acknowledge its existence, than in the appreciation which Bentham’s works have met with by the majority of his readers. His general principle has received few adherents, in comparison with the number who have adopted his detailed applications of it. There is no project of change, or plan of legislative reform, in which he has not kept the greatest-happiness principle in his eye as the end to which it has been adapted; yet there are many who accede to his practical measures, while they repudiate his general principle. Thus, that jurymen should not make oath, each to vote according to his conscience, and then be coerced till they are unanimous; that there ought to be a general register of real property, in which all sales, burdens, and pledges may be entered; that the price paid for the use of money ought no more to be fixed by law than the consideration given for any other contract — are all opinions admitted by a large portion of practical men, who, when their attention is directed to the end to which all these proposals are but means, intimate a distaste of vague theory, and turn their backs upon it. There can be no doubt, then, that had Bentham contented himself with an exposition of his leading principle, instead of giving the world, on so wide a scale, the details of its operation, he would have had far fewer followers than he has: and that, indeed, it has generally been through the influence of his practical adaptation of it, that he has brought his pupils to the adoption of his central principle.
It is a circumstance worthy of remark, that the philosophy of Bentham met with an opponent even in the extent to which its leading principle was practically admitted. The quantity of utilitarianism that was in mankind, had rooted certain opinions so firmly in their breasts, that they took a suspicion of that sceptical philosophy which took them up and examined them, though the examination ended in approval. People lost patience with the system, when they heard its author ask whether theft and falsehood were hurtful to mankind, before he condemned such acts. When it was said that murder, if beneficial to society, would be a virtue instead of a vice, it was indignantly maintained, that under no presumable circumstances could it be anything but what it is — the most atrocious of crimes. That fact was, indeed, one of the most broad and clear cases in which the utilitarianism of the world had made up its mind from the beginning. Almost, in all ages and in all nations, men had leaped at the conclusion without a perceptible interval of ratiocination. It was a startling thing to see so long decided a question called up for trial, and to hear the evidence against it investigated and weighed, before judgment was pronounced, as if there were really room for any dubiety. The feeling was somewhat akin to the popular cry which, in the case of a public and notorious criminal, tries to bear down the calm deliberation of the judicial tribunal, and is scarcely content when the proceedings end in punishment, because the very weighing of evidence, in such a case, seems to be a trifling with truth which frightens people into the belief that it is possible justice may be got the better of. Viewing them with reference to the question of their popularity, the prudence of some of these illustrations of the utilitarian principle might be questioned. Putting the case that murder would be justifiable if it were for the benefit of the community, was like putting the case, that if that which was bad were good, then it would not be bad. The conclusion was so clearly leaped to, both by the public and the philosopher, that the mere supposititious questioning of it by the latter, looked like a play on words. Yet, all who have followed tissues of abstract reasoning, know how very necessary it is to have clear views of the simpler propositions of a series, as a preparation for the proof of the more complex. That the opposite sides and angles of a parallelogram are equal to each other, seems too simple a statement to require any proof: but, if it were not demonstrated, a link would be lost in the chain of reasoning which shows that the square of the hypothenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the squares of the other two sides. Though men admitted the evil effect of murder, they had not followed the utilitarian principle so closely as to see much mischief in condemning a man to death according to law, when a smaller punishment is sufficient: and while theft encountered condemnation almost universal, the number of those who carried out the principle to the condemnation of the wilful accumulation of debts, which the debtor knows he has no chance of paying, was small. In both cases, however, the proof of the simpler proposition was an introductory step to the proof of the more complex.
Having established the pursuit of the greatest happiness as the leading object which all men should hold in view, the next step was, to find what principles there were in human action to be made conducive to this end. In examining the real state of the actions and impulses of mankind, and going back from particulars to the most general principle of action, the philosopher came to the conclusion, that every human being, in every action which he performs, follows his own pleasure. He had to deal with a multitude of prejudices, in his use of this term, but he would perhaps have hardly propitiated his opponents if he had chosen a new one. The very universality of its individual action was against it as a general term; for every man felt so strongly that what was pleasure to his neighbour was not pleasure to himself, that he revolted against the application of the same word to qualify motives which appeared so distinct. Among a large class of persons, the expression, “the pursuit of pleasure,” had inherited the bad reputation which has popularly attended the doctrines of Epicurus. It was connected in some way with sensuality and mere corporeal enjoyment, and stood in opposition to those objects and pursuits which the better part of mankind hold in esteem. In the popular discussions on this subject, there is generally a want of observance of the distinction between pleasure as attained, or, in one word, happiness, and pleasure as an object sought after. The latter is an unknown quantity — the former presents us with the arithmetical results of the experienced pains deducted from the experienced pleasures. Many a man makes himself unhappy; but no man pursues unhappiness, though one may be very unsuccessful in his pursuit of happiness. One man is seen industrious, prosperous, surrounded by a well-educated moral family; his contemporary and class-fellow has been bringing himself gradually to the grave by profligacy — has impoverished himself, and has lost the respect of his fellowmen by the desperate alternatives to which misery has driven him. It is not easy to believe that both these men are in their actions directed by the same motive — the pursuit of pleasure. One man is seen cautiously laying up for himself a depository of future enjoyment, at the price of present privation; another, yielding to all immediate influences, scatters at once the whole of the material of enjoyment which nature has put at his disposal; while a third is systematically depriving himself of the ordinary appurtenances of human gratification, that he may dedicate them to heaven, or to the relief of those portions of his race who have been less gifted than himself. It requires that one should have a very abstract and unconventional notion of the term happiness, to believe that it is the moving force in each one of these cases.
Perhaps it may serve the purpose of farther explaining the sense in which Bentham used the terms happiness and pleasure, to compare them with those words which more nearly approach to them. In the first place, it is necessary to keep in view an essential difference in the acceptation of the two words. Happiness is applied to the state in which the mind is placed when enjoying a continuity of pleasure: pleasure is applied to each of the individual sensations which, when aggregated, produce happiness. It is generally, therefore, more convenient to use the word, pleasure, when the immediate results of actions are talked of, and the word, happiness, when ultimate and permanent effects are the subject. In popular language, the distinction is sometimes drawn to the extent of contrast, and a man is said to pursue pleasure to the destruction of his happiness. When speaking, therefore, as we are now doing, of the immediate impulse of acts, it is convenient to use the word, pleasure: when we come to the discussion of acts in their general results, the term, happiness, will be more applicable.
The term nearest to being synonymous with pleasure, is volition: what it pleases a man to do, is simply what he wills to do. By considering it for a moment in the light of mere volition, we separate it from the notion of actual enjoyment — that popular acceptation which is most likely to lead us astray. What a man wills to do, or what he pleases to do, may be far from giving him enjoyment; yet, shall we say that in doing it, he is not following his own pleasure? A man drinks himself into a state of intoxication: here, whatever may be the ultimate balance of happiness, people can at least imagine present enjoyment, and will admit that the individual is pursuing what he calls his pleasure. A native of Japan, when he is offended, stabs himself to prove the intensity of his feelings. It is difficult to see enjoyment in this case, or what is popularly called pleasure; yet the man obeyed his impulses — he has followed the dictate of his will — he has done that which it pleased him to do, or that which, as the balance appeared to him at the moment, was, in the question between stabbing and not stabbing, the alternative which gave him the more pleasure.
Those hasty acts, the result of sudden impulse, which one afterwards repents of having done because they militate against ultimate happiness, are the operations which people can with least facility ally to the pursuit of pleasure. They cannot imagine a balance struck in the mind in favour of pleasure, in cases which, by their results, and the feeling which the actor afterwards expresses regarding them, have evidently been so much the result of want of consideration. But, unless it be denied altogether that will has any influence in such cases, it cannot be denied, that what the man wills to do is that which gives him, at the moment, greater pleasure than abstaining from it. A man, in a fit of fury, stabs his best friend. The deed followed the impulse as quick as lightning; but was not the will brought into play? if it was not, ask legislators why they make laws for punishing those who give way to their passions — ask them if the fear of punishment has not often been the actual sanction which restrained the assassin’s blow, even when the deed he would have committed is one which he would afterwards have repented of? The rapidity of the operation of the will — of the action of choice — is exemplified in every day life. It transcends, in its quickness, the power of self-discernment; and thus, working undetected, its existence is forgotten. A rapid penman, quickly writing a letter to his friend, has his volition exercised on the choice of subjects, on the manner in which he is to treat them, on the words he is to use, and on the letters which he is consecutively to set down as the method of spelling these words. On the choice of subjects, and the manner of treating them, the operation of the will may, perhaps, be distinctly perceptible. It is not so distinctly traceable in the choice of words; and in the collocation of letters, succeeding each other at the rate of several hundreds in a minute, it will be quite imperceptible. The acts which are called rash — those which are the effects of sudden volition, are notorious for their malign influence on happiness. The imperfection generally attributable to hasty operations is perceptible in them. By too rapidly making up his mind on the question what is for his pleasure, the hasty man makes a wrong decision, and does that which, in the end, brings him a heavy balance of misery. Sudden acts may be fortunate, but they are not to be calculated upon as the most conducive to happiness, and the suppression of the habit of doing them will be found to be one of the ends of morality. A gambler may make himself rich by a lucky turn of the dice; but the best chance of permanent opulence is in favour of the man who practises a rigid system of industry, honesty, and self-restraint.
The terms, choice and preference, are useful in explaining the meaning of the word pleasure, as used by Bentham, though they are not so completely equivalent as will, being only employable where more than one thing is presented to the will, each with its own inducements. Between two courses, which a man has before him, he adopts, from pique or disgust, that which is foolish, wicked, detrimental to his own happiness, and he repents of it afterwards; still, at the moment, it was not less the object of his choice, his preference, his will, his pleasure.
It is in the cases where the instruments of palpable enjoyment are given up by one human being for the sake of the happiness of others, that its common popular acceptation renders the use of the word pleasure in its philosophical sense least commodious. He who sacrifices self for the good of others will be said to yield to the dictates of duty, of generosity, of humanity, of benevolence, of patriotism, as the case may be; but generosity revolts against attributing to him the selfish motive of the pursuit of pleasure. There is no harm — indeed there is much good — in the terms of eulogy which are applied to the motives of such actions. Bentham was not less conscious of their excellence than other moralists; but in looking at their direct and immediate motive, he found it the same one ruling principle — the pursuit of pleasure — the doing that which it pleases a man to do — the doing that which volition suggests. The misunderstanding of his opinions arose from the defect already stated — the inability of men to see sources of pleasure to others, in things which were not sources of pleasure to themselves. The sources of pleasure, both corporeal and mental, are almost innumerable; and he made them the subject of a most laborious and minute classification, under the title of “A Table of the Springs of Action.”*
It is probable that this list may not be quite complete; and from the nature of such a task, if the accomplishment of a completely exhaustive list were demanded as a condition of the admission of the Utilitarian doctrines, the condition would probably not be fulfilled. It is the less difficult process, and is certainly not an unfair one, to ask the objector to point out any other motive but his own pleasure as actuating any man when he does that which he chooses to do. When Howard found himself possessed of an unappropriated sum of money, the first use for it that suggested itself was a pleasure trip on the continent; but on second thoughts he devoted it to the accomplishment of his benevolent schemes. In popular language, he was said in this instance to have made a sacrifice of his pleasure, or of his enjoyment; and in the case of an ordinary man, had Howard possessed over him the power of appropriating to the improvement of prison discipline, the money which the owner of it had intended to spend on travelling, and had he so exercised his power, that owner would probably feel that Howard had deprived him of a pleasure. But the source of enjoyment and the will to choose it were fitted to each other, and placed in one mind; and who shall say that the choice headopted was not that which gave Howard pleasure? Of a kindred spirit were the whole of the events of Bentham’s life: they were a rejection of the more gross and tangible objects of human enjoyment: a recourse to elements of pleasure and satisfaction, for which vulgar and truly selfish minds have no appreciation. Seclusion, temperance, and hard labour were preferred, as the outward and visible signs of enjoyment, to popularity, indulgence, or luxurious ease; and the inward source of satisfaction was the consciousness of doing permanent good to the human race. Of his capacity for appreciating a character like his own, let his opinion of Howard stand as an illustration. “My venerable friend,” he says, “was much better employed than in arranging words and sentences. Instead of doing what so many could do if they would, what he did for the service of mankind was what scarce any man could have done, and no man would do but himself. In the scale of moral desert, the labours of the legislator and the writer are as far below his, as Earth is below Heaven. His was the truly Christian choice: the lot in which is to be found the least of that which selfish nature covets, and the most of what it shrinks from. His kingdom was of a better world! He died a martyr after living an apostle.”*
It will not increase our appreciation of such men to endeavour to prove that self-gratification was not their rule of action, and that their minds were not better suited to derive pleasure from such acts, than those of the more ignoble section of mankind whose elements of enjoyment lie on the surface of the earth they tread. As hopeful a task would it be to prove that the father has no satisfaction in denying himself the luxuries of life that he may increase his son’s fortune, or that a wife cannot in reality suffer pain from seeing her husband pursuing a career of vice, if she be assured of a sufficiency of food and clothing to herself so long as she lives. The self-sacrifices made in domestic life are the cause of wonder to those who, not having like ties, have not the same sources of enjoyment: but it is useless to question, that between the doing and the not doing these acts of self-devotion, the balance of pleasure is felt to be on the side of doing them. There is almost an experimentum crucis in some cases where mischief is done by yielding to the pleasures of self-sacrifice. Children spoilt by an over-indulgence, purchased by privation on the part of their parents, are a frequent illustration. To avoid the pain of sympathy, a charitable person parts with money to give it to a mendicant, suspecting probably that he is an impostor and will make a bad use of it, or knowing that indiscriminate almsgiving has a deleterious and degenerating influence on society. Thus, too, will a jury allow a dangerous malefactor to escape and continue his ravages among the community, of which they form a part, because they have not firmness enough to do their duty at the expense of what is called their humanity.
Having found the psychological fact, that each man in all his actions pursues his own pleasure, and laid down the rule that the right end of action is the increase of the sum-total of the pleasure or happiness of mankind, the next question came to be — how the pursuit could be brought to bear upon the end? and he decided that, as a general rule, the happiness of the community would have the greatest chance of enlargement, by each individual member doing the utmost to increase his own. The conclusion, that the pursuit of pleasure should thus be deliberately set down as the proper end of life — the great duty of man — seemed startling to those whose notions of felicity were drawn from its most palpable, but least potent department, sensual gratification. But here again, as in the other departments of his system, he appealed to the conduct of all men — to the views of all moralists — as illustrations that he was founding no new system of morality, but merely clearing up that which had, with more or less of deviation, been acted upon and taught in all ages. The first great point to be kept in view is, to distinguish between the pursuit of immediate pleasure, and the doing that which, probably at an expenditure of present pain, will have the effect of securing a balance of pleasure when the whole transactions of a life are wound up. People call the former the pursuit of pleasure — the latter they call the practice of morality. The gambler, the spendthrift, the drunkard, adopt the former course. Heedless of consequences, they snatch at present enjoyment; but before the end of their days the balance of pleasure has turned fearfully against them. The upright, industrious, abstemious man, has braced himself to resist these allurements. He has struck the balance accurately at the beginning, and at each passing moment of temptation he keeps it steadily in view. When the opportunities of fleeting enjoyment start up before him, he says, “No; I will pay dearly for it hereafter:” it will conduce to his pleasure afterwards that he has avoided it; and, reflexly, to avoid it is pleasure to him at the moment. When his days are ended, the book of life shows a balance of pleasure — an increase to the stock of the happiness of society, to which he has been an ornament and a benefactor by the acts which have conferred felicity on himself. Moralists and divines may disguise it as they will, but the balance of happiness is always the reward which they hold out for good actions. Be temperate — you will secure health and respect. Make your expenditure meet your income — you will avoid shame and embarrassment. Be liberal — you will have the good-will of mankind, their praise, and their kind offices. When the teacher looks beyond the world and opens up motives on which it is not necessary here to dwell, (for Bentham did not discuss religion in itself, but merely spoke of it as one of the influencing engines of society,) the appeal is still the same, and happiness in a future state is held out as the reward of virtue here.
If people did not follow their own pleasure, it might be a puzzling question — what morality ought to teach them? but since so it is, that every action they do is done in the pursuit of their own pleasure, the moralist’s task is simplified. He teaches them how to avoid mistakes and miscalculations. He shows them how they are to obtain in its greatest quantity that which they are in search of.
It will scarcely be denied that every man acts with a view to his own interest — not a correct view — because that would obtain for him the greatest possible portion of felicity; and if every man, acting correctly for his own interest, obtained the maximum of obtainable happiness, mankind would reach the millennium of accessible bliss; and the end of morality — the general happiness — be accomplished. To prove that the immoral action is a miscalculation of self-interest — to show how erroneous an estimate the vicious man makes of pains and pleasures, is the purpose of the intelligent moralist. Unless he can do this he does nothing:— for, as has been stated above, for a man not to pursue what he deems likely to produce to him the greatest sum of enjoyment, is in the very nature of things impossible.*
In having discovered that it is a search after the greatest attainable amount of happiness, the rule of morality is far from being developed. The difficult problem, What line of conduct will be most conducive to happiness? has to be worked out. The Author, however, believed that he had done much to facilitate this operation by laying before people the ultimate, in place of the secondary objects of morality. He admitted that all the world — both the moral and the immoral part of it — were searching for the same desideratum, but he maintained that they would be more likely to find it, if they did not forget the object of their search by having their attention distracted by the various matters they encountered on their way. He found, that in the search two distinct classes of mistakes were made. Some acted hastily, following the dictates of present enjoyment without weighing the consequences; these were the immoral men. Others, after a laborious investigation, divulged schemes, which being acted on, left a balance of pain greater than the pleasure; these were the propounders of false moral doctrines. The object of morality and moral discussions is to show the former the folly of their ways, and to assist the latter in their attempts to discover the right path.
It would be a very palpable mistake to presume that it was the Author’s meaning that immoral practices always bring their punishment with them in this world. The problem he works out is one of chances; not of direct cause and effect. He maintains only the possibility of discovering a moral rule, the pursuit of which will give the individual the best chance of leading a happy life. The principle has been thus propounded by an eloquent disciple —
It may not be accordant with experience that in every individual case the man who lives in the breach of moral rules shall, in exteriors at least, be less happy than some other; — any more than it is accordant with experience that every man of eighty will die before every man of twenty-five. On the contrary it may be allowed to be certain, that in some instances the contrary will happen. But what is urged is, that in the same way as it is proveable by experience that a man would be a simpleton, who with all the chances before him, should choose an annuity on the life of an average man of eighty in preference to one of twenty-five — so it is proveable that a man commits an error and a folly, who, with all the chances to encounter, chooses the quantity of happiness which shall be consequent on a course of immorality, in preference to the quantity he might have obtained by another course. The way in which each of these propositions must be established, is by individual attention to the evidence, that though now and then a man of eighty sees the funeral of a man of twenty-five, or a man of immoral conduct is (in outward appearance at least) more fortunate and happy than some one of opposite character, this does not destroy the general inference that nine times out of ten the event is of a contrary description, and that the man is a blockhead who makes his election the wrong way. If indeed anybody says he sees reason to believe, that men of eighty are on the whole better lives than those of twenty-five, or that immoral men do upon the whole lead happier lives than moral ones, he is at perfect liberty to support his own opinion. All that is insisted on is, that there are reasons sufficient to induce the greatest part of mankind to come to a contrary conclusion.*
It is one of the evils of the imperfection of language as an accurate vehicle of thought, that the full meaning of what is involved in Bentham’s views regarding the pursuit of happiness cannot be comprehended by any species of simple exposition: the student will know them best by examining them, inductively as it were, in the various works in which they are practically applied. Among the elements of the greatest-happiness principle, or of the utilitarian principle, he will find characteristics very different from that pursuit of sensual pleasure which popular prejudice attributes to the one, or that hard limitation to what are called the immediately useful and rejection of the ornamental objects of life, attributed to the other. There was no one more fully endowed with the feeling, that everything which lifts the soul of man above the clod he treads, and purifies its elements of enjoyment, tends to the fulfilment of that end which he had set before himself as the right one. The progress of a system of intellectual instruction, the most refined and elevated in its nature which the position of the individual could admit of, was one of his favourite schemes — one towards the practical adoption of which he laboured with a zeal worthy of better success. The gradual removal of the pupil’s mind from contact with those objects and practices in which man shows the greatest amount of his animal, and the least of his intellectual nature, was the peculiar moral benefit he anticipated for his system. He was a zealous admirer of what may be called intellectual discipline. He conceived that the minds of youth, in almost all grades, and under all systems of education, were allowed too much relaxation from the bracing influence of severe thought. If it had been in his power, he would have made every man a thinker; he would have taught all men to meditate on the ends of their actions; to check their propensity towards immediate enjoyment, to govern their passions, and to look into the future.† It is a common error to proclaim Bentham an opponent of the Fine Arts. The charge was artfully founded on his protest against taxing the poor for national institutions accessible only to the rich:* he was friendly to the devotion of such national funds as were not required for purposes more urgent, to the support of institutions for improving the taste of the people. He was in his own person an accomplished musician, and passionately attached to the pursuit. Towards poetry and painting the bent of his mind did not lead him; but, while he felt that his own intellectual exertions were to be in a different sphere, he denied not the respect due to these arts in the persons of their more eminent professors; and he saw in them great sources of intellectual enjoyment to those whose tastes and habits led them in the direction of such pursuits.†
Those petty sacrifices of selfish inclination, for the pleasure of others, which constitute the rules of good-breeding, politeness, and courtesy, formed part of his system of morality. These are not important acts, taken individually; but collectively they are the materials of which much of the happiness of social man is created.‡ He was not deaf to the greater calls for admiration made by that species of disinterestedness, which makes large sacrifices of what is called personal enjoyment, for the good of others. He looked on the disinterested benefactors of their species — men rarely occurring, and highly gifted, as those whose greatest happiness was centred in the consciousness of doing good to mankind; and he conceived it right and just that the acknowledgment of their services should be amply given. But these were not the men for whom he could cast his scheme of morality. Greatly as they raise themselves, in the unapproached grandeur of their minds, above the people of the every-day world, it is for these latter that codes of morality must be constructed; it is to the size of such minds that they must be fitted. It is useless to ask whether it would be better that men should find their chief enjoyment in something higher than the usual objects of ambition; suffice it that experience shows these to be the ruling motives, and therefore the instruments with which the moralist must act. He who addresses himself only to Howards and Washingtons, leaves several millions of well-intentioned men, with narrower minds and lower objects of ambition, unguided. The economy of the world would be different from its present constitution were it otherwise. “The virtue of beneficence, though its objects embrace all mankind, can be exercised to a very limited extent, and, as applied to any single individual, yet narrower is its sphere of action. And this is well; for, if every man were disposed to sacrifice his own enjoyments to the enjoyments of others, it is obvious the whole sum of enjoyment would be diminished, nay, destroyed. The result would not be the general happiness, but the general misery.”* Again —“Take any two persons, A and B, and suppose them the only persons in existence: call them, for example, Adam and Eve. Adam has no regard for himself: the whole of his regard has for its object Eve. Eve, in like manner, has no regard for herself: the whole of her regard has for its object Adam. Follow this supposition up: introduce the occurrences which, sooner or later, are sure to happen, and you will see that, at the end of an assignable length of time, greater or less, according to accident, but in no case so much as a twelvemonth, both will unavoidably have perished.”†
It is not inconsistent with an appreciation of disinterestedness, to hold that mankind would not be advanced but deteriorated, if all the shopkeepers deserted their counters to revolve schemes for the public good. The produce of the selfish industry of commonplace moral men and good citizens, is the fund with which philanthropy deals on an extensive scale. Aggrandizing, money-getting Britain, gave twenty millions for the emancipation of slaves: how could such an act be accomplished by a nation of Aristideses and Epictetuses?
Bentham’s appeal to the practice of mankind was unsuccessful in this respect, that, in the separate course of action of the virtuous and the vicious man, there were so many apparent contrasts, that it was very difficult to find any common element in their motives. But even when it was explained that the former made a sacrifice of the present to the future, it did not appear that he encountered and overcame difficulties which the vicious man failed to defeat, in anything like the proportion in which the two differed from each other in the quality of goodness. “The one man,” it would be said, “is wicked, and the other is virtuous; but if wickedness be a yielding to the temptations of immediate appetite, and virtue be the resistance of them, the virtuous man’s life must be a continual up-hill struggle. Now we see none of this: he goes on easily and naturally; he makes no great effort to be virtuous — not even so great an effort as that which his vicious neighbour makes, and makes in vain — to reclaim himself: it must just be the natural tendency of the one to be a good man, and of the other to be a bad man.” It is undoubtedly the case, that there are physiological and psychological differences, which will make the avoidance of a given act a matter of greater effort on the part of one man than on that of another; but it does not the less follow, that there is a measure of self-restraint at the command of both, and that the individual will be better and happier if it be exercised. The circumstance which misleads the world, is the ease with which self-restraint is accomplished after it becomes a habit. The drunkard must tear himself from his stimulant, with a violent effort; but the man who has overcome the first temptation to indulgence meets the recurrence with quiet ease.
In proportion as a man has acquired a command over his desires, resistance to their impulse becomes less and less difficult, till, at length, in some constitutions, all difficulty vanishes. In early life, for example, a man may have acquired a taste for wine, or for a particular species of food. Finding it disagree with his constitution, little by little, the uneasinesses attendant on the gratification of his appetite become so frequent, so constantly present to his recollection, that the anticipation of the future certain pain gain strength enough to overpower the impression of the present pleasure. The idea of the greater distant suffering has extinguished that of the lesser contemporaneous enjoyment. And it is thus that, by the power of association, things, which had been originally objects of desire, become objects of aversion; and, on the other hand, things which had been originally objects of aversion, such as medicines, for instance, become objects of desire. In the case above referred to, the pleasure not being in possession, could not, of course, be sacrificed— it was non-existent; nor was there self-denial in the case, for as the desire which had originally been calling for its gratification was no longer in existence, there remained no demand to which denial could be opposed. When things are in this situation, the virtue, so far from being annihilated, has arrived at the pinnacle of its highest excellence, and shines forth in its brightest lustre. Defective, indeed, would that definition of virtue be, which excluded from its pale the very perfection of virtue.*
But the main difficulty which has been raised against the Greatest-happiness principle, is in the allegation, that each man, in pursuing his own greatest happiness, will sacrifice that of others; and that to call upon a man to pursue his own greatest happiness in this world is simply inviting him to pillage his neighbours of their proper fund of felicity. The answer to this is the same plea on which the captain of a ship, which has run short of provisions, would recommend all the crew, both weak and strong, to submit to an arrangement for short allowance. To A and B alone it would be their greatest happiness, perhaps, to have the run of the ship’s store, but there are C, and D, and E, and F, with the same inclinations counteracting them; and though A and B might resist all the calls of humanity and sympathy, and might be even able, at the moment, to carry their point of preference by force, they would run the risk of a final accounting with the law. All, therefore, see that it will be their greatest happiness to make an average division; and good ship-economy will show how this is to be accomplished on such a system as to make an equal distribution, keeping in view the number of the crew and the time they are likely to be at sea. Just so is it in the world at large. Each man feels that the best security for himself getting a share of happiness, is to give way to a certain extent to his neighbour. Such is the habit more or less in every portion of the globe; and it is in the countries where practice has settled the proportion, of how much should be kept and how much given away, with the greatest accuracy, that the end of morality has been best accomplished. The strongest counter-illustration which an opponent could find, is, perhaps, that of a despotism; but even here the principle is followed, though, according to our Author’s opinion, very barbarously and unsatisfactorily. If the despot presides over a docile people who will not rebel, it is a sign that they prefer the ease of submission to the exertion of independence, and they are following their happiness in their own way. Among such a people, the temptation to play the pranks to which despotism is liable, is greatest, and, to say the truth, does least harm. But if an autocrat were calculating what course would produce him, on the whole, the greatest happiness, it is believed that he would not find it to be in roasting his subjects before slow fires, or skinning them alive, or hunting them with blood-hounds; and that the despot who has taken the best estimate of a happy reign, is he who has resolved to make his sway wise and beneficent; to do justice and to love mercy. But it is seldom that the embers of the spirit of resistance have been so completely extinguished that no gust will waken them into a blaze; and more or less, the fear of resistance holds the despot in awe, providing in his person an illustration, though certainly but a rudely developed one, of the counteraction which is supplied by the universality of the pursuit of self-enjoyment.
There can be no better illustration of the wide embracing influence of what has been denounced as “the selfish system,” than its extension not only to all classes of mankind, of whatever colour or persuasion, but to every living thing to which the Deity has given, along with animal life, the capacity of physical pain and pleasure. Bentham was a strenuous supporter of the legislative protection of the brute creation from cruelty.† Perhaps in his own case he needed no train of philosophical deduction to teach him the duty and pleasure of treating them with humanity; but he thought their claims not the less worthy of attention when he could place them on the ground of self-interest. He believed that it was the interest of mankind at large to suppress all indulgence in cruelty, because the habit of being callous to animal suffering propagates itself in crimes of violence and brutality — a phenomenon which will have to be farther noticed in its relation to the subject of Punishment. In another form he inculcated the cause of humanity on grounds of self-interest, by displaying the high intellectual nature of the enjoyment derived from its exercise.
Bentham made a rigid analysis of the various forms in which the fear of consequences check a man in the pursuit of what may be his own individual pleasure; and having ranged and grouped them, he divided them into four classes and called them sanctions — the chains, as it were, which bind a man from following his own wild will. These are, 1st, The Physical Sanction, viz., the bodily phenomena, which, in the course of human conduct, arise from certain classes of acts, and punish the individual by the painful sensation created, or reward him by the pleasurable. Disease produced by dissipation — health nourished by temperance and exercise, are the most common and the broadest developments of this sanction. 2d, The Political Sanction, which is in other words the law of the land, created for the punishment of offences and the protection of the virtuous. 3d, The Moral Sanction, which is the operation of the moral habits of the state of society he is in, so far as it affects the individual — the difference between this and the legal sanction will be afterwards particularly explained, because the two together occupy the greater part of Bentham’s labours. The fourth is the Religious Sanction, acting through the Anticipative operation of future rewards and punishments.* The proper direction of these sanctions constitutes the field of labour of a man who would do good to his species. The medical man — not he who merely cures diseases individually as they are presented to him — but he who investigates them in the direction of cause and effect, and gives the world the benefit of his discoveries, is a labourer in the cause of the proper end of the Physical Sanction. He discovers the sources of disease, leaving probably to others the task of observing how much happiness a man sacrifices by encountering it, and how much happiness he will save by avoiding it. The moral philosopher is the man who deals with the moral sanction. As to the legal sanction, there are few men, from the emperor down to the non-elector wearing a party badge, who has not some influence in its operation; and a right influence is developed in the making of good laws, a wrong in the making of bad. The influence of the religious sanction is also, more or less, in all men’s hands, but chiefly in that of the clergy. It is, under some circumstances, the most potent, either for good or evil. Of its operation in the former shape, no illustration will be needed in a Christian land. For the latter, we can look at all the crimes which have been produced by religious influences — the great tragedy from which Christianity dates, the Massacre of St Bartholomew, the Inquisition, the murder of Archbishop Sharp, the persecution of the Irish Catholics.† Of the operation of the sanctions, the following is an illustration from the Deontology — it is a sort of narrative adaptation of Hogarth’s Industry and Idleness. It will be observed that it admits of a fifth sanction — the social — which the author seemed to consider might either be viewed separately, or as a branch of the moral.
Timothy Thoughtless and Walter Wise are fellow apprentices. Thoughtless gave in to the vice of drunkenness; Wise abstained from it. Mark the consequence.
1. Physical sanction. For every debauch, Thoughtless was rewarded by sickness in the head; to recruit himself he lay in bed the next morning, and his whole frame became enervated by relaxation; and when he returned to his work, his work ceased to be a source of satisfaction to him.
Walter Wise refused to accompany him to the drinking table. His health had not been originally strong, but it was invigorated by temperance. Increasing strength of body gave increasing zest to every satisfaction he enjoyed: his rest at night was tranquil, his risings in the morning cheerful, his labour pleasurable.
2. Social sanction. Timothy had a sister, deeply interested in his happiness. She reproved him at first, then neglected, then abandoned him. She had been to him a source of great pleasure — it was all swept away.
Walter had a brother, who had shown indifference to him. That brother had watched over his conduct, and began to show an interest in his wellbeing — the interest increased from day to day. At last he became a constant visiter, and a more than common friend, and did a thousand services for his brother, which no other man in the world would have done.
3. Popular sanction. Timothy was member of a club, which had money and reputation. He went thither one day in a state of inebriety; he abused the secretary, and was expelled by an unanimous vote.
The regular habits of Walter had excited the attention of his master. He said one day to his banker — The young man is fitted for a higher station. The banker bore it in mind, and on the first opportunity, took him into his service. He rose from one distinction to another, and was frequently consulted on business of the highest importance by men of wealth and influence.
4. Legal sanction. Timothy rushed out from the club whence he had been so ignominiously expelled. He insulted a man in the streets, and walked pennyless into the open country. Reckless of everything, he robbed the first traveller he met; he was apprehended, prosecuted, and sentenced to transportation.
Walter had been an object of approbation to his fellow-citizens. He was called, by their good opinion to the magistracy. He reached its highest honours, and even sat in judgment on his fellow apprentice, whom time and misery had so changed, that he was not recognised by him.
5. Religious sanction. In prison, and in the ship which conveyed Timothy to Botany Bay, his mind was alarmed and afflicted with the apprehension of future punishment — an angry and avenging Deity was constantly present to his thoughts, and every day of his existence was embittered by the dread of the Divine Being.
To Walter the contemplation of futurity was peaceful and pleasureable. He dwelt with constant delight on the benign attributes of the Deity, and the conviction was ever present to him that it must be well, that all ultimately must be well, to the virtuous. Great, indeed, was the balance of pleasure which he drew from his existence, and great was the sum of happiness to which he gave birth.*
There are two main objects in view, in those of Bentham’s works which are intended to influence human action — the direction of the Moral, and the direction of the Legal Sanction. The one is to instruct the individual as to what he ought to do — the other is to instruct the legislator what he ought to enforce and restrict. Where the former has been the end in view, the science has been denominated Morals or Ethics — by Bentham it was called Deontology, from the Greek το Δέον, That which should be, or which is right. Where the latter end is held in view, the science is called Politics or Political Philosophy, and embraces within it the art and science of Legislation. To this department of his general system for the regulation of human actions, by far the greater part of Bentham’s works have been devoted. Although the Greatest-happiness principle be the end in view of all the author’s writings, whether they instruct men how to direct their own individual actions, or teach them how to make rules for the action of others, yet there is a broad demarcation between these two subjects, beginning at the very root of both of them. That which it may be each man’s duty to do, it may not be right for each legislator to enforce upon his subjects, because the very act of enforcement may have in it elements of mischief to the community, preponderant over the good accomplished by the enforcement. In other words, it may tend to the greatest happiness of society, that a man should voluntarily follow a certain rule of action; but it may be injurious to the happiness of the community in general, to compel him to follow such a rule if his inclination be against it. For instance, in the Defence of Usury, the lending and borrowing of money at high interest, for the purpose of improvidently ministering to extravagance, is condemned; but, on the other hand, it is found that the laws for suppressing usurious transactions are so mischievous in their effect, that they too are condemned for precisely the same reason — their malign influence on human happiness. Thus it is, that the rule of action for the individual, and that for the legislator, are kept distinct from each other; and it is shown by Bentham, that much of the mischievous legislation which he attacks has its origin in this distinction being overlooked. Legislators forget that they have to strike two balances, and not one only, before they act. The first arises out of the question, whether a given course of action is beneficial to the human race; and when this is answered in the affirmative, there comes the second, and frequently overlooked question, whether the enforcement of it, by any laws within the power of the governing authority to put in practice, will likewise show a balance of benefit. Moreover, as legislators often forget to strike the second balance, they also often come to a general conclusion without taking the two seriatim, and, either omit altogether, or fail in taking a due estimate of the first. But it is clear that the law which is made without the first balance being struck, as well as the second, must be unapt. Unless it be first settled that the thing proposed to be done would be good if done voluntarily, there is no room for propounding the question, whether it can be advantageously enforced. It thus occurs, that the field of Deontology embraces within it the field of legislation, and that the two are not co-extensive, the latter being smaller than the former. From this want of co-extensiveness there arise mistakes in arguing from the latter to the former. The Law is a choice of evils, because coercion is itself an evil. This element of evil is not inherent in a man’s voluntary acts, and, therefore, in them, no allowance can be made for it. If, therefore, a man square his voluntary morals by the law, he may act on a totally erroneous estimate of what they should be. This he is liable to do, even in the case of the law being deduced from a moral system abstractly accurate; and the circumstance, that legislators are liable to make mistakes and erroneous deductions, increases the chances against his being right.*
In pointing legislation towards the distribution of the greatest possible amount of happiness among mankind, the chief difficulty was found to consist in the adjustment of the proper proportions in which certain objects of the law, to some extent conflicting, should be respectively aimed at. These objects Bentham classified as,
These have all to make, to a certain extent, sacrifices to each other, and the source of difficulty is in the adjustment of these sacrifices. There can be little happiness in a state where there is no security for property; but, on the other hand, if the right of property were so absolute, that one portion of the population should be permitted to starve to death ere the property of those who happen to be richer can be touched, it is clear that there will be much misery in such a country, and that a feeling of unhappiness, most vividly experienced by those who are subjected to actual want, will spread upwards, in the form of apprehension, among those who have more or less chance of being involved by the revolutions of the wheel of fortune in such a calamity. Hence comes the necessity for a provision for the poor, that the unfortunate may be preserved from death by starvation. But the principle of security to property and industry, on the other hand, demands that this provision be so regulated, that it shall never become an inducement to able-bodied men to live upon the property of others instead of resorting to honest industry. As the Author happily says, “The treasure of the comparatively rich is an insurance office to the comparatively indigent;” but care must be taken that the Insurer be not bound to pay till the calamity he insures against has occurred. The law supplies this insurance office to the public by favouring abundance — allowing means for the accumulation of capital, and protecting it when it is accumulated. The various advantages accruing from the existence of capital are for consideration under the head of Political Economy.
The principle of equality has a rivalship, to a certain extent, with that of abundance. The more extensively property is distributed, the more happiness does it produce; for the amount of felicity which each person enjoys is not increased with the relative proportion of his riches. A may have nine times the riches of B without having twice as many sources of enjoyment. It would thus conduce to general happiness if there were many small fortunes and few large; but here security and abundance come in for their claims. Unless men be assured in the enjoyment of their wealth, they will not exert themselves to increase it; and that abundance, so beneficial to the community, will fail to be created. But, on the other hand, the law produces distinct mischief by favouring or compelling the accumulation of property in the person of individuals. The former it does in the hereditary system — the latter in the law of Entail. The law, besides its direct effect, has its bearing on the habits and opinions of society, and the malign influence of the hereditary principle has spread itself beyond the sphere of its mere legal enforcement. Legislation, instead of favouring the accumulation of a family property in favour of one member, should have directed an equal distribution within certain bounds; and thus, both in law and in national habits, equality would have been the rule, and the hereditary principle the exception.*
The Greatest-happiness principle may perhaps receive elucidation from some account of the most important of the subsidiary principles which its Author deduced from it — viz., The Non-disappointment or Disappointment-preventing principle, developed in measures tending to obviate disappointment, and the pain with which it is always accompanied.
Among the cases in which he found that legislation, in its hasty and empirical course, had neglected to strike the balance between good and evil with sufficient minuteness, was that in which small clusters of individuals came to be affected by general legislative measures. He kept in view, that individual interests are the units by the aggregation of which the collective term, “the public interest,” is created, and that there is no living being whose certain or probable welfare, in relation to any proposed measure, should not be thrown into the scale when its disadvantages are weighed against its advantages.† The principle, that private interests should yield to the public good, he thus so far modified, that from the amount of any public good done, he deducted whatever private interest might be injured. In estimating the evils done to individuals, he examined minutely the pain caused by disappointment, and found it to be, on arithmetical principles, greater in the average case than the pleasure of acquisition, and than the pain (if it can be so called) of non-acquisition. The income of A is taken from him and given to B— A loses his all, but B gets merely an addition to what he had before. The whole pleasure in the possession of a source of livelihood is removed from the one; the other only receives the secondary pleasure of an increase. Let A’s income be dispersed among the public — he loses all, and is eminently unhappy; while that which constituted the source of his former content is distributed in portions so minute, that the amount of happiness produced by it may be scarcely perceptible. On the other hand, so long as A is left in the enjoyment of his income, according to the prospects held out to himself and to society at large, from the first — as no man expected to obtain any of it, no one is disappointed by its not being distributed, and he himself is content. The non-disappointment principle is the great foundation of the sacredness of property. More injury than good is done, by allowing either individuals, or the public at large, to interfere with that which a man has, under the sanction of the laws, been allowed to call his own. The pain of disappointment to the proprietor is the primary evil of attacks on property. The secondary evil is the alarm to society at large — the dread which each individual has, that he too may be the victim of spoliation.
Like the other great principles expounded by our Author, the non-disappointment principle pervades society in all its acts; but it was his task, by a minute analysis of its principle and operation, to discover cases in which its application had been neglected and misunderstood. He applied it to the principle of compensation for offices abolished, or for any other injury caused to individuals by the march of improvement. He was in favour of allowances to those whose official emoluments were affected by law reforms,* and to the owners of slaves on emancipation;† and he even hints at such a concession to the owners of proprietary seats in parliament, in the case of their disfranchisement by parliamentary reform.‡ In the estimate of the incidence of good and evil on society at large, he saw that there was a clear gain in a government following out the principle, that when a man steadily and honestly follows his calling, and makes his livelihood by it, he should feel the assurance, that no act of the government of his country shall remove it from him. But he found a secondary advantage in the principle of compensation: it has a tendency to remove the opposition perpetually operating against improvement, in the sinister interests of those who benefit by abuses. Pay off the incumbents, is thus a liberal policy, by which those who are most conversant with the operation of any institution, are relieved of a temptation to overlook or defend its defects.§ The system is capable of abuse. Offices might be created for the compensation which will accrue on their speedy abolition. But this is an evil as much to be guarded against on true utilitarian principles, as the other; and it has to be remembered, that a people who take upon themselves the burden of compensation, are the more likely to criticise the propriety of the institution created. The countries most liable to government abuses of every description — despotic and disorganized states — are, at the same time, those where the interest of individuals is most ruthlessly overwhelmed in national changes.
Bentham extended this principle to Finance, holding that, apart from other elements of good or evil, it made indirect preferable to direct taxation. It is better that a deduction should accrue to a sum of money before it reaches the possession of him for whom it is destined, than that, after being in his hands, a portion of it should be withdrawn. The operation of the principle in this department he found to be limited. There were but few cases, such as that of the legacy duties, in which the deduction could be truly said to be practicable before the money was in possession — in the case of an annual salary, the mere knowledge of the amount is nearly equivalent to possession, and a deduction before payment differs little from a charge after payment. A tax on consumption is another method in which the principle may be brought to bear. The tax is paid, in the first place, by the dealer, to whom it is, in reality, not a tax, but a portion of capital expended in the form of duty which otherwise he would have to expend on commodities. The purchaser pays dearer for the commodity; but it is maintained that, in doing so, he does not experience the same feeling of hardship which would arise if the sum charged as duty were separately taken from him after his purchase has been made. In the general case, a direct tax is a thing obligatory; a tax on consumption, unless it be on the absolute necessaries of life, calculates on its voluntary adoption by the purchaser.∥ This species of tax has, it is true, its defects, in as far as it may impede or disturb commerce and manufactures; but these are objections belonging to Political Economy.
A plan was proposed by Bentham for raising a revenue by the application of this principle to the law of succession, and in arranging his plan he inquired into to the principles of succession, and the extent to which the existing systems in Britain are founded on reason. Whatever theorists may promulgate on the anomaly of a man dictating for his property after death, or on the principle that at when the man is done with the use of his goods they should go to the state, the practice of mankind in all places and times has supported a law of succession; and an examination, on the principles of the utilitarian philosophy, vindicates the practice as a right one. He who has brought children into the world is the person against whom there is the strongest claim to support them, and the law justifies this claim by giving them his property on his death. If children have been brought up in the gratification of certain tastes and luxuries; in short, in a particular rank of life and with a certain expenditure — it is better, so long as no one is injured by it, that they should continue in the same course. The most simple and the least injurious method of giving them the means of doing so, is by continuing in their possession the wealth by which the luxury and rank are purchased, on the death of its previous holder.* Let the daughter of a labourer be left without any pecuniary provision — it is nothing but what she expected, she suffers no hardship or disappointment, and goes forth to her labour with a glad heart. Let the daughter of a wealthy owner or merchant be left in the same position — a fearful calamity has fallen upon her — a calamity undeserved, and heavier than the punishment of many a formidable crime. So much for the case of the individuals; but the benefit of succession operates also on the public at large. The providing for a family, or, even if a man have no family, the faculty of destining his money to what purposes he pleases, is one of the greatest inducements which he can have to make and to save property — the one an increase of the general capital of the community, the other a preservation of the increased capital from dispersal. Were it not for the wife and children he will leave behind him, there are many men taxing their heads and hands to great efforts who would be idle and worthless; there are many founders of great manufacturing and commercial projects who, but for such a motive, would never have thus distributed the means of industrial wealth around them.
But it comes to be a question whether the law has not carried the operation of succession beyond the bounds within which it is useful. Between the children who have shared in their parents’ fortune, and the distant relation who never heard of the wealth thrown at his feet, till some scrutinising lawyer made the discovery of his relationship, there is the greatest possible difference: there are strong reasons for the law of succession operating in the one case — none for it in the other. On this principle Bentham founded his plan that succession should open only to near relations, and not to distant. If the law were once so established and known, there could be no disappointment among distant relations, (excepting those to whom the law was ex post facto;) but even independently of a knowledge of the law, there are multitudes of cases where the distance of the relationship precludes expectation. It is true that a man may adopt a distant relation — the same who, in the present course of succession, would be his heir — as a member of his family, partaking in his luxuries, and acquiring habits, a sudden check on which would be a hardship. This is true; but in the same manner may a man adopt a stranger; and in either case there is proposed to be open to him the right of bequest. The line which Bentham proposed to draw, is that of the forbidden degrees. He suggested that, where the nearest relation to the deceased is beyond those degrees, there should be no succession, except through bequest. He found in this plan two secondary advantages; it would cut off a great source of expensive litigation, (of which the country, in providing judicial establishments, bears part of the expense,) in the enforcement of distant claims to relationship through obscure and conflicting evidence; and it would afford an inducement to men having property to leave behind them, to marry. The plan is developed in the tract called Escheat vice Taxation.*
‡ See the Fragment on Government, Works, vol. i. p. 260 et seq.
* For instance, if the question were put, whether a measure which gives twelve people happiness to the extent of 4 each, or eight people happiness to the extent of 8 each is the preferable measure, the former statement of the principle would leave it doubtful which of the two should be adopted, for, though the extent of four be but half of that of eight, twelve is a greater number than eight. By the latter principle the process is simply arithmetic. 8 times 8 being 64, and 4 times 12 only 48, the happiness to the extent of 8 each, distributed among eight people is to be preferred.
Like everything else in Bentham’s Philosophy, it is by its reference to practice, and an observation of the extent to which it is acted on, that the direction of the argument thus abstractly stated, will be observed. In cases of distribution, the greatest quantity of happiness is produced where the number among which it takes place is the largest; and almost all human laws have a tendency, more or less strong, to prevent individuals from absorbing in their own persons an exorbitant proportion of the elements of happiness at the disposal of the community. Again, on arithmetical principles, property in the ordinary case removed from one person and given to another, adds a smaller element of happiness to the person who receives it, than that which the person deprived of it loses; hence the laws for the protection of property and vested rights. But the following quotation from a Pupil of Bentham, equally clear in his explanations and happy in his illustrations, will make the matter more distinct: “The latest improvement, therefore, of the philosopher whose long life has been dedicated to the diffusion of the principle — and of which the present Article has to boast of being the announcement and the organ — is to dismiss the superfluous ‘greatest number,’ and declare that the just object of politics and morals, is simply ‘the greatest happiness.’ In this manner the magnificent proposition emerges clearly, and disentangled from its accessory. And the accessory proposition is, that the greatest aggregate of happiness must always include the happiness of the greatest number. For the greatest number must always be composed of those who individually possess a comparatively small portion of the good things of life; and if anything is taken from one of these to give to the others, it is plain that what he loses in happiness, is greater than what the others gain. It is the mathematical assertion, that a quantity x is greater in comparison of a small quantity it is taken from, than of a large one it is added to. It is the avowal that half-a-crown is of more consequence to the porter who loses it, than to the Duke of Bedford who should chance to find it; — that a chief portion of the baseness of the rich man who seized the poor’s ewe lamb, consisted in taking what caused so much greater pain to the sufferer, than happiness to the receiver.”—Colonel Thompson’s Works, vol. i. p. 136.
In the Deontology there is the following statement on the subject of the Author’s abbreviation of his axiom:—
“In the later years of Mr. Bentham’s life the phrase ‘Greatest happiness of the greatest number’ appeared, on a closer scrutiny, to be wanting in that clearness and correctness which had originally recommended it to his notice and adoption. And these are the reasons for his change of opinion, given in his own words:—
“ ‘Be the community in question what it may, divide it into two unequal parts; call one of them the majority, the other the minority; lay out of the account the feelings of the minority; include in the account no feelings but those of the majority — you will find, that to the aggregate stock of the happiness of the community, loss, not profit, is the result of the operation. Of this proposition the truth will be the more palpable, the greater the ratio of the number of the minority to that of the majority; in other words, the less the difference between the two unequal parts; and suppose the undivided parts equal, the quantity of the error will then be at its maximum.
“ ‘Number of the majority suppose 2001, number of the minority, 2000. Suppose, in the first place, the stock of happiness in such sort divided, that by every one of the 4001 an equal portion of happiness shall be possessed. Take now from every one of the 2000 his share of happiness, and divide it any how among the 2001: instead of augmentation, vast is the diminution you will find to be the result. The feelings of the minority being, by the supposition, laid entirely out of the account, (for such, in its enlarged form, is the import of the proposition,) the vacuum thus left may, instead of remaining a vacuum, be filled with unhappiness, positive suffering, in magnitude, intensity, and duration taken together, the greatest which it is in the power of human nature to endure.
“ ‘Take from your 2000, and give to your 2001 all the happiness you find your 2000 in possession of: insert, in the room of the happiness you have taken out, unhappiness in as large a quantity as the receptacle will contain: to the aggregate amount of the happiness possessed by the 4001 taken together, will the result be net profit? on the contrary, the whole profit will have given place to loss. How so? because so it is, that such is the nature of the receptacle, the quantity of unhappiness it is capable of containing, during any given portion of time, is greater than the quantity of happiness.
“ ‘At the outset, place your 4001 in a state of perfect equality, in respect of the means, or say, instruments of happiness, and in particular, power and opulence: every one of them in a state of equal liberty: every one independent of every other: every one of them possessing an equal portion of money and money’s worth: in this state it is that you find them. Taking in hand now your 2000, reduce them to a state of slavery, and, no matter in what proportions of the slaves thus constituted, divide the whole number with such, their property, among your 2001; the operation performed, of the happiness of what number will an augmentation be the result? The question answers itself.
“ ‘Were it otherwise, note now the practical application that would be to be made of it in the British Isles. In Great Britain, take the whole body of the Roman Catholics, make slaves of them, and divide them in any proportion, them and their progeny, among the whole body of the Protestants. In Ireland, take the whole body of the Protestants, and divide them, in like manner, among the whole body of the Roman Catholics.’ ”—Deontology, vol. i. p. 328-330.
In connexion with this, the first reference made to the Deontology, it may be well to state the reason why this work was not published in the collected edition of Bentham’s works. It was collected and published by Dr Bowring, so lately as the year 1834, in two volumes; and as the impression is not nearly exhausted, it was supposed that a reprint in the collected edition would be a waste of funds, which would be better employed in the publication of works from the author’s MSS.
* Works, vol. ix. p. 4.
* Works, vol. i. p. 195 et seq.
* Works, vol. iv. p. 121.
* Deontology, vol. i. p. 12-13.
* Colonel Thompson’s Works, vol. i. p. 231-232.
† See the plan of a Chrestomathic System of Education, in the Works, vol. viii. p. 1 et seq. See also the Rationale of Reward, in vol. ii. p. 192 et seq.; where the different beneficial objects of encouragement are discussed. See also vol. i. p. 569 et seq.; vol. viii. p. 395 et seq.
* See Works, vol. ix. p. 451.
† See Works, vol. i. p. 317; vol. ii. p. 253 et seq.; vol. iv. p. 18; vol. x. p. 32.
‡ The rules of politeness are discussed in “The Deontology,” vol. ii. p. 132 et seq. The subject is commenced with the following remarks:—“The dependence of man upon his fellow men is the sole source of the extra-regarding, as it is of the benevolent principle; for, if a man were wholly sufficient to himself, to himself he would be sufficient; and as the opinions and conduct of others towards him would, by the supposition, be indifferent to him, no sacrifice would he make to obtain their friendly affections. In fact, such sacrifice would be but a waste, and such waste would be a folly.
“Happily for each, happily for all of us, the human being is differently constituted. Of man’s pleasures, a great proportion is dependent on the will of others, and can only be possessed by him with their concurrence and cooperation. There is no possibility of disregarding the happiness of others, without, at the same time, risking happiness of our own. There is no possibility of avoiding those inflictions of pain with which it is in the power of others to visit us, except by conciliating their good will. Each individual is linked to his race by a tie, of all ties the strongest, the tie of self-regard.
“Dream not that men will move their little finger to serve you, unless their advantage in so doing be obvious to them. Men never did so, and never will, while human nature is made of its present materials. But they will desire to serve you, when, by so doing, they can serve themselves; and the occasions on which they can serve themselves by serving you are multitudinous. The intelligent will catch at opportunities which escape the eyes of the vulgar; and in these mutual services there is virtue, and there is little virtue beyond them; and happily of such virtue, there is more than those who do not possess it are willing to acknowledge or able to believe.”
* Deontology, vol. i. p. 208.
† Works, vol. ix. p. 192.
* Deontology, vol. i. p. 144-5.
† See the Works, vol. i. p. 142-143, 562; vol. x. p. 549-550.
* For the Exposition of the Sanctions, see Deontology, vol. i.; Works, vol. i. p. 14 et seq.; iii. 290; vi. 18 et seq., 260 et seq.
† “Fanaticism never sleeps: it is never glutted. It is never stopped by philanthropy, for it makes a merit of trampling on philanthropy. It is never stopped by conscience, for it has pressed conscience into its service. Avarice, lust, and vengeance, have piety, benevolence, honour — fanaticism has nothing to oppose it.”—Works, vol. i. p. 75, note.
* Deontology, vol. i. p. 118-121.
* The best exposition of the Greatest-happiness principle is, perhaps, in the Introduction to the Constitutional Code, in vol. ix. of the Works. See also vol. iv. p. 537 et seq., and see the Index to the Works, voce Happiness.
* See Works, vol. i. p. 301 et seq.; ix. 11 et seq.
† Works, vol. ii. p. 252.
* See Works, vol. iii. p. 325; v. 505.
† Ibid. vol. i. p. 346.
‡ Ibid. vol. iii. p. 533.
§ Ibid. vol. v. p. 277.
∥ See Works, vol. ii. p. 573, 580.
* See Works, vol. ix. pp. 16, 17.
* Works, vol. ii. p. 585.
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