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132 Notes on Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill

132 Notes on Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill - Notes on...

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Notes on Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill Bentham Bentham is best known for his elaboration and defense of a normative theory called Utilitarianism, which he spelled out in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. (1789) There he argued that, rather than base morality and law on our gut intuitions about right and wrong, or on moral rights (which he referred to as "nonsense on stilts") or on natural law, we should look for a more rational foundation. We find such a foundation when we look to see what people value and are motivated by. Whenever we look for this, Bentham argued, we eventually end up with pleasure and the absence of pain. Hence, Bentham defended a moral and legal philosophy that sought to increase pleasure and to minimize pain. The value of any particular experience of pleasure is measured by considering 1) its intensity, 2) duration, 3) certainty/uncertainty, 4) propinquity or remoteness. When we realize that experiences of pleasure occur within a context, we also value pleasure by noting 5) fecundity, 6) purity, 7) extent. We decide what we morally ought to do by doing a Hedonic Calculus. (This is the ideal, though we may often be justified in using some rule of thumb.) First we consider 1-5 for each person affected: 1) immediate pleasure 2) immediate pain 3) fecundity of immediate pleasure/impurity of immediate pain 4) fecundity of pain/ impurity of pleasure 5) sum up value of pleasure and pains Then we 6) sum up the value of pleasure/pain over the total number of persons involved. Pleasure is intrinsically good, everything else is instrumentally good (as a way to create pleasure). We are all solely motivated by pleasure and pain. (This is a version of Psychological Egoism, but Bentham included sympathy in his catalogue of pleasures, so he didn't assume that all our actions are narrowly self-interested.) No motives are in themselves good or bad. We may properly call motives good when they tend to produce pleasure or avert pain, bad when they tend to produce pain or avert pleasure. Mill Notes on Utilitarianism (Quotes and page numbers are from the Priest edition by Bobbs Merrill.) Ch. 1
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He begins with a discussion of the foundation of morality. "The truths which are ultimately accepted as the first principles of a science are really the last results of metaphysical analysis practiced on the elementary notions with which the science is conversant; and their relation to the science is not that of foundations to an edifice, but of roots to a tree which may perform their office equally well though they be never dug down to and exposed to light." (4) He then looks at two versions of moral sense theory. In the first, moral senses are like physical senses. He claims that this view is widely discredited among philosophers.
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