Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) & John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

Auguste Comte (1798-1857)


and Rise of


2.        We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Preamble to the United States Constitution).

          the industrial revolution & breakdown of feudal forms of life

o        economic: rise of the "middle class"

         feudal: wealth (& power) tied to land

         modern wealth (& power) tied to commerce & industry 

o        political: from monarchy to democracy or tyranny

         feudal: hereditary monarchs 

         ruling by "divine right"

         with the support of the landed aristocracy

         modern: democracy or secular autocracy

         elected official ruling by the "consent of the governed" {1}

         autocrats ruling by popular demand or brute force

o        ideological: from religious to secular

         feudal: religion the source & arbiter of value

         modern: search for secular bases for moral authority

         "consent of the governed" v. "divine right"

         increase of religious diversity & unbelief

         Catholic v. Protestant

         Protestant v. Protestant

         reason and science esteemed as common intellectual currency

         Bentham & Mill among the "Reformers" who agitated for liberal democratic reforms.

o        followers of the ideas of Locke & Hume  influenced: Adam Smith, & many others {2}

1.        That to secure these rights [to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. (Jefferson, Declaration of Independence)

Bentham: Hedonistic Utilitarianism

1.        [T]he greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.

2.        Moral good is good only on account of its tendency to secure physical benefits: moral evil is evil only on account of its tendency to induce physical mischief.

3.        [W]e must discover some calculus or process of moral arithmetic.


         Overview of Utilitarianism

o        Proposed as a secular moral basis for legislative decision making.

o        Consequentialist: the end justifies the means {1}{2}

o        Economic (spreadsheet) model of moral calculation: {3}

         calculate the probable costs v.    benefits -- "the utility" of each available policy or course of action

         choose the course which yields the greatest utility, for all affected.

         unlike economic calculation in two respects

         the costs & benefits not monetary but intrinsic

         the calculation is nonegoistic: not just private gain but the general welfare at issue. {4}

         Hedonism: pleasure is the only intrinsic good {5}{6}

o        only quantity matters {7}

o        valuation of individual pleasures' quantities {8}

         counts: intensity & duration

         discounts: uncertainty & nonproximity

o        further consequences to be considered

         fecundity of productivity (of further pleasure or pain)

         purity (absence of admixed pain/pleasure)

         Issue: a "morality fit for pigs"?

o        Is pleasure a good thing at all?: "Pain don't hurt" (G. Anderson)

o        The only good thing?: what of truth, beauty, & justice?

         Are there qualitative differences between pleasures?

o        ignoble low-brow pleasures: pushpin 

o        elevated high-brow pleasures: Pushkin

o        Connected issue: To what extent is moral concern for animals warranted? {9}

4.        Every one to count for one and nobody to count for more than one.

5.        Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, Pleasure and Pain. To them ... we refer all our decisions, every resolve that we make in life. ( 165)

6.        I am an adherent of the Principle of Utility when I measure my approval or disapproval of any act, public or private, by its tendency to produce pains and pleasures. (165)

7.        [Q]uantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry.

8.        Now, if we examine the value of a pleasure considered by itself and in relation to a single individual, we shall find that it depends on four circumstances: ( 1 ) Its Intensity;  (2) its Duration; (3) its Certainty; (4) its Proximity. (165)

9.       The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. ... The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but Can they suffer?

J. S. Mill:

1.        It is better to be a human being dissatisfied, than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied". (John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism)

2.        [T]he sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self protection. ... Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. (166)

3.        This then is the appropriate region of human liberty. It comprises, first, the inward domain of consciousness; ... liberty of thought and feeling; . . . of tastes and ursuits; ... of doing what we like ... without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong. (167 )

4.        We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still. (167 )

5.        [I]t is as certain that many opinions now general will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present. (167)


         Distinguished qualities of pleasures {1}

o        Pushkin is better the pushpin! -- as those who have known both pleasures testify.

o        Importance of education in forming cultivated individuals. {7}

         Utilitarian Defense of Liberty

o        Only purpose for which society is warranted in interfering with individual's liberty of action is to protect others from harm.

         not benevolence: to keep them from harming themselves

         not morality: for their own moral improvement

         not offense: to protect others from being offended. {2}{3}

o        For this reason: liberty within these broad limits best maximizes utility

         best bet for each individuals' pursuit of happiness is to allow them to pursue their own aims as they choose

         evervone is the best judge of what they themselves want

         getting what we want is what makes us happy

         application: freedom of speech & opinion

         some argue that we should restrict. false speech and opinion: false belief is unprofitable

         but freedom of expression is profitable: where freedom of thought & speech are permitted 

         the truth will out

         falsehoods will be outed 

         understanding is deepened and strengthened by disputation {6}

         cultivation of educated & informed individuals, capable of higher quality pleasures, is fostered best by free and open discussion.

o        Jones' discussion

         Contrast Hegel: for whom individuality was to be surpassed by assimilation; for whom freedom is obedience.

         Criticism: Mill's principle goes too far

         restrictions on possession & use of drugs would be unwarranted {8}

         restrictions on prostitution and other victimless crimes
would be unwarranted

         Criticism: unclear in cases

         pimping or keeping a gambling house? {9}

         drug sales?

         Other Noteworthy Views

o        Women's Liberation: Equality for Women {10}

o        Argument from Analogy: Proposed Solution to the Other Minds Problem {11}

         In my own case I observe: stimulus -> mental state  ->  response

         step on tack -> felt pain  -> "ouch!"

         "All in favor" -> thought: I'm in favor -> "Aye!"

         In the case of others I observe: stimulus -> ? -> response

         Therefore, I infer by analogy with my own case, from the fact that others respond much as I do in similar circumstances, that others have similar mental states.

6.        But much more of the meaning ... would have been understood, and what was understood would have been far more deeply impressed on the mind, if the man had been accustomed to hear it argued pro and con .... (167)

7.        Individuality is the same thing with development, and it is only the cultivation of individuality which produces or can produce, well-developed human beings. (168)

8.        [Drugs] may, however, be wanted not only for innocent but for useful purposes, and restrictions cannot be imposed in the one case without operating
in the other. (l68)

9.        [F]ornication, for example, must be tolerated, and so must gambling; but should a person be free to be a pimp, or to keep a gambling house?  ...  There are arguments on both sides. ( 168)

10.     That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes -- the legal subordination of one sex to the other -- is wrong
itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equalitv, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other. ( The Subjection of Women)

11.   I am conscious in myself of a series of facts
connected by an uniform sequence, of which the
beginning is modifications of my body, the middle is
feelings, the end is outward demeanour. In the
case of other human beings I have the evidence of my senses for the first and last links of the series, but not for the intermediate supposing the link to be of the same nature as in the case of which I have experience ... I bring other human beings, as
phenomena, under the same generalizations which
I know by experience to be the true theory of my own existence. (An Examination of Sir William Harmilton's Philosophy 6th edition)

Criticisms of


o   “One man ought never to be dealt with as a means subservient to the purposes of another.”  (Kant)

o  An “is” cannot entail an “ought.” (Hume’s Principle)


2.        Juridical punishment can never be administered merely as a means for promoting another good either with regard to the criminal himself or to civil society, but must in all cases be imposed only because the individual on whom it is inflicted has committed a crime.

          Rights and Justice Issues:

o        Would condone distributive injustice

         distributive equity involves fairness or justice issues a utilitarian  calculation cannot take adequately into account

         Reply: Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility gives utilitarian reasons to prefer equitable distribution. 

o        Would condone retributive injustice contrary to Kantian scruples{2}

         Incommensurability Issues: how to weigh different pleasures & pains

o        monetary valuation equates apples and oranges, but money seems to crass a measure for moral purposes (Marx's derisive dismissal of Utilitarianism as "the ethics of English shopkeepers")

o        Problem of things beyond price (compare Kant)

         a life is priceless {it's sometimes said)

         does everything have a price?

         inalienable rights such that no ends can justify means that would violate them?

         Naturalism & Scientism: Bentham and Mill both argue from the fact of pleasure or happiness being desired to its being the one thing desirable: {1}

o        this is fallacious: "Is does not entail ought
that something is desired does not entail that it ought be.

1.        The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible, is that people actually see it. The only proof that sound is audible, is that people hear it: and so of the other sources of experience.  In like manner, I apprehend the sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people actually do desire it. ... This being a fact, we have not only all the proof which the case admits of but all which it is possible to require, that happiness is a good: that each person's happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons. (Mill: 171)

Comte: Positive
Knowledge & Sociology

1.        Now that the human mind has grasped celestial and terrestrial physics -- mechanical and chemical; organic physics, both vegetable and animal -- there remains one science, to fill up the series of sciences of observation -- Social physics. This is what men have now most need of and this it is the principal aim of the present work to establish. (Positive Philosophy, Ch.1)

         Compte's Aim: to make a science of sociology {1}

o        to put the study of human social relations & institutions and especially development on a scientific footing 

o        as Gallileo had done for physics by his determination "merely to investigate . . . some of the properties of accelerated motion, whatever the cause of this acceleration may be." {2}

o        an empirical science based on observation & experiment yeilding positive knowledge: contras Hegel's abstract rationalistic approach.

         Law of Three Stages {3}

o        Theological: "In the theological state, the human mind, seeking the essential nature of beings, the first and final causes (the origin and purpose) of all effects --in short, Absolute knowledge -- supposes all phenomena to be produced by the immediate action of supernatural beings." {Positive Philosophy, Ch.1)

o        Metaphysical: "In the metaphysical state, which is only a modification of the first, the mind supposes, instead of supernatural beings, abstract forces, veritable entities (that is, personified abstractions) inherent in all beings, and capable of producing all phenomena. What is called the explanation of phenomena is, in this stage, a mere reference of each to its proper entity." (Positive Philosophy, Ch.1)

o        Positive: {2}

         Practical application to European History

o        Feudal theological stage of socio-political thought: dogma of "divine right"

o        Metaphysical liberal democratic stage: dogma of liberty of conscience & of the sovereignty of the people

o        Postivistic stage of scientific socal management {4}


2.        In the final, the positive state, the mind has given over the vain search after Absolute notions, the origin and destination of the universe, and the causes of phenomena, and applies itself to the study of their laws -- that is, their invariable relations of succession and resemblance. Reasoning and observation, duly combined, are the means of this knowledge. What is now understood when we spcak of an explanation offacts is simply the establishment of a connection between single phenomena and some general facts, the number of which continually diminishes with the progress of science. (Positive Philosophy, Ch.1)

3.        From the study of the development of human intelligence, in all directions, and through all
times, the discovery arises of a great fundamental law ... that each of our leading conceptions -- each branch of our knowledge -- passes successively through three different theoretical conditions: the theological, or fictitious; the metaphysical, or abstract; and the scientific, or positive. (Positive Philosophy, Ch.1)

4.       Can it be supposed that the most important and the most delicate conceptions, and those which bv their complexity are acccssible to onlv a small number of highly-prepared understandings, are to be abandoned to the arbitrary and variable decisions of the least competent minds?(177)

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