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Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) was an English philosopher, jurist and the founder of modern utilitarianism. It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.

Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham, utilitarian English philosopher


Sources of Jeremy Bentham quotes: WikiQuotes, GoodReads, BrainyQuotes, Bentham-Project,


Quotations from Jeremy Bentham

Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. 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 …

Create all the happiness you are able to create: remove all the misery you are able to remove. Every day will allow you to add something to the pleasure of others, or to diminish something of their pains. And for every grain of enjoyment you sow in the bosom of another, you shall find a harvest in your own bosom; while every sorrow which you pluck out from the thoughts and feelings of a fellow creature shall be replaced by beautiful peace and joy in the sanctuary of your soul.

It is with government, as with medicine. They have both but a choice of evils. Every law is an evil, for every law is an infraction of liberty: And I repeat that government has but a choice of evils: In making this choice, what ought to be the object of the legislator? He ought to assure himself of two things; 1st, that in every case, the incidents which he tries to prevent are really evils; and 2ndly, that if evils, they are greater than those which he employs to prevent them.
There are then two things to be regarded ; the evil of the offence and the evil of the law; the evil of the malady and the evil of the remedy.
An evil comes rarely alone. A lot of evil cannot well fall upon an individual without spreading itself about him, as about a common center. In the course of its progress we see it take different shapes: we see evil of one kind issue from evil of another kind; evil proceed from good and good from evil. All these changes, it is important to know and to distinguish; in this, in fact, consists the essence of legislation.

The day may come when the rest of animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but “Can they suffer?

Create all the happiness you are able to create; remove all the misery you are able to remove.”

There are two types of people in this world; those who divide the world into two types, and those who do not.

All punishment is mischief; all punishment in itself is evil.

Every law is an infraction of liberty.

Tyranny and anarchy are never far apart.

In the mind of all, fiction, in the logical sense, has been the coin of necessity;—in that of poets of amusement—in that of the priest and the lawyer of mischievous immorality in the shape of mischievous ambition,—and too often both priest and lawyer have framed or made in part this instrument.

What is the source of this premature anxiety to establish fundamental laws? It is the old conceit of being wiser than all posterity—wiser than those who will have had more experience,—the old desire of ruling over posterity—the old recipe for enabling the dead to chain down the living

It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.

As to the evil which results from a censorship, it is impossible to measure it, for it is impossible to tell where it ends.

The power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law

Every law is an infraction of liberty.

The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.

Lawyers are the only persons in whom ignorance of the law is not punished.

It is vain to talk of the interest of the community, without understanding what is the interest of the individual

Nature has placed mankind under the government of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure – 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

He who thinks and thinks for himself, will always have a claim to thanks; it is no matter whether it be right or wrong, so as it be explicit. If it is right, it will serve as a guide to direct; if wrong, as a beacon to warn.

Indeed, between poetry and truth there is natural opposition: false morals and fictitious nature. The poet always stands in need of something false. When he pretends to lay has foundations in truth, the ornaments of his superstructure are fictions; his business consist in stimulating our passions, and exciting our prejudices. Truth, exactitude of every kind is fatal to poetry.

In proportion to the want of happiness resulting from the want of rights, a reason for wishing that there were such things as rights. But reasons for wishing there were such things as rights, are not rights: a reason for wishing that a certain right were established, is not that right: wants are not means: hunger is not bread.
That which has no existence can not be destroy’d: that which can not be destroy’d can not require any thing to preserve it from being destroy’d. Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense, nonsense upon stilts.

Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion, and the surest of all guards against improbity. It keeps the judge himself, while trying, under trial.


COMMENTS on Jeremy Bentham

The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation. This was my working option for the long-term view for human happiness, based on the maxim total population for ten thousand years. The maximum short-term population isn’t the same as a long term one. The definition of happiness became a problem, so in my scheme I replaced it with maximizing moments of personal freedom to choose their behavior.
Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion, and the surest of all guards against improbity. It keeps the judge himself, while trying, under trial. This is a very dear freedom, and one which our present world, so easily surveilled by electronic means, needs to protect by having independent means for the public, or least some randomly selected portion of them, to have a view of all of the government’s surveillance operations.

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