Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
Of The Principle Of Utility.
I. Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters,
. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we
shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and
effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think:
every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm
it. In words a man may pretend to abjure their empire: but in reality he will remain. subject to it
all the while. The
principle of utility
recognizes this subjection, and assumes it for the foundation
of that system, the object of which is to rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and of
law. Systems which attempt to question it, deal in sounds instead of sense, in caprice instead of
reason, in darkness instead of light.
But enough of metaphor and declamation: it is not by such means that moral science is to
II. The principle of utility is the foundation of the present work: it will be proper
therefore at the outset to give an explicit and determinate account of what is meant by it. By the
of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action
whatsoever. according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of
the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to
oppose that happiness. I say of every action whatsoever, and therefore not only of every action of
a private individual, but of every measure of government.
III. By utility is meant that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit,
advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness, (all this in the present case comes to the same thing) or
(what comes again to the same thing) to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or
unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered: if that party be the community in general,
then the happiness of the community: if a particular individual, then the happiness of that
IV. The interest of the community is one of the most general expressions that can occur
in the phraseology of morals: no wonder that the meaning of it is often lost. When it has a
meaning, it is this. The community is a fictitious
, composed of the individual persons who
are considered as constituting as it were its
. The interest of the community then is, what
is it?—the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.
V. It is in vain to talk of the interest of the community, without understanding what is the
of the individual. A thing is said to promote the interest, or to be
the interest, of an
individual, when it tends to add to the sum total of his pleasures: or, what comes to the same
thing, to diminish the sum total of his pains.
VI. An action then may be said to be conformable to then principle of utility, or, for