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UTILITARIANISM: the ethical theory for all times.

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Benthams utilitarianism will be will be developed by me in a separate essay, one in which I advance this theory of moral actions and answer its stock criticisms. However, below is a little commentary on his famous maxim on pushpin and poetry--made famous by his godson John Stuart Mill. Bentham wrote in The Rationale of Reward that, "Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry." Mill in his still widely studied "Utilitarianism", published 20 years after the death that Bentham, wrote that Bentham held that, "Push pin equals poetry." This a particular example used to illustrate Bentham's position that all pleasures are reducible to the dimension of quantity. Mills differed.

Following the lead of Epicurus, who held that all pleasures are reducible to quantity, Bentham wrote of seven parameters for the measurement of such quantity. However, he held that the so-called higher pleasures were reducible to quantity. He did not deny, nor did Epicurus, that certain pleasures produced in the long run, because of the development of good character, a more pleasurable life, or that other produce greater benefits for society, he simply held that these considerations were reducible to quantity. I find Mill's placement of music and poetry on a higher level unconvincing.


The Rationale of Reward--Table of Contents:

Preliminary Observations: Book I---Of Rewards in General. Chapter I, Definitions. Chapter II, Matter of Reward---Sources. Chapter III, Reward and Punishment combined. Chapter IV, Union of Interest with Duty---Self-executing Laws. Chapter V, Matter of Reward---Reasons for Husbanding. Chapter VI, Remuneration ex-post-facto. Chapter VII, Punition and Remuneration---their Relations. Chapter VIII, Remuneration---where hurtful. Chapter IX, Remuneration---where needless. Chapter X, Proportion as to Rewards. Chapter XI, Choice as to Rewards. Chapter, XII Procedure as to Rewards. Chapter XIII, Rewards to Informers. Chapter XIV, Rewards to Accomplices. Chapter XV, Competition as to Rewards. Chapter XVI, Rewards for Virtue. Chapter XVII, Accompaniments to Remuneration.

Book II---Reward Applied to Offices. Chapter I, Salary---how a Reward. Chapter II, Rules as to Emoluments. Chapter III, Fees and Perquisites---none. Chapter IV, Minimize Emolument. Chapter V, No more Nominal than Real. Chapter VI, Couple Burthen with Benefit. Chapter VII, By emoluments exclude corruption. Chapter VIII, Give Pensions of Retreat. Chapter IX, Of the Sale of Offices. Chapter X, Of Qualifications. Chapter XI, Of Trust and Contract Management. Chapter XII, Of Reforms.

Book III---Reward Applied to Art and Science. Chapter I, Art and Science Divisions. Chapter II, Art and Science Advancement. Chapter III, Art and Science Diffusion.

Appendix (A) On Subscriptions to Matters of Opinion. (B) Mischievousness of Reward Latent---Exemplifications.

A Table of the Springs of Action


Bentham's analysis of pleasure fell well within the 18th century approach to psychology. In fact, when one examines pop psychology, cognitive psychology, and psychoanalytic approaches one can conclude that little progress has been made in over 200 years.


The following was added by Bentham appeared in the Second Edition of The Rationale of Reward, a statement by Helvetius: Chaque passion a donc ses tours, ses expressions, et sa manière particulière de s'exprimer: aussi l'homme qui, par une analyse exacte des phrases et des expressions dont se servent les différentes passions, donneroit le signe auquel on peut les reconnoître, mériteroit sans doute infiniment de la reconnaissance publique. C'est alors qu'on pourroit, dans le faisceau de sentiments qui produisent chaque acte de notre volonté, distinguer du moins le sentiment qui domine en nous. Jusques-là hommes s'ignoreront eux-memes, et tomberont, en fait de sentiments, dans les erreurs les plus grossières.* Helvetius, de l'Esprit. Tom. ii. Disc. iv. Ch. ii. p. 305.

In Helvetius books Table Entries: No. I Pleasures and Pains of the Taste---the Palate, & c. No. II Pleasures and Pains of the Sexual Appetite. No. III Pleasures and Pains of Sense, of the Senses. No. IV Pleasures and Pains derived from the Matter of Wealth. No. V Pleasures and Pains of Power, Influence, Authority, &c. No. VI Pleasures and Pains of Curiosity. No. VII Pleasures and Pains of Amity. No. VIII Pleasures and Pains of the Moral or Popular Sanction. No. IX Pleasures and Pains of the Religious Sanction. No. X Pleasures and Pains of Sympathy. No. XI Pleasures and Pains of Antipathy. No. XII Pains of Labour. No. XIII Pains of Death, and Bodily Pains. No. XIV Pleasures and Pains of the Self-Regarding Class. Explanations of the Table Observations on the Table Section 1 Pleasures and Pains the basis of all the other entities: these the only real ones; those, fictitious, Section 2 No Act, properly speaking, disinterested, Section 3 Appellatives Euglogistic, Dyslogistic, and Neutral--Cause of their comparative penury and abundance, as applied to Springs of Action, Section 4 Good and Bad---Attributives, applied to species of Motives: impropriety of the application---its causes and effects, Section 5 Proper subjects of the attributives good and bad are consequences, intentions, acts, habits, dispositions, inclinations, and propensities: so of the attributives virtuous and vitious, except consequences: how as to interests and desires, Section 6 Causes of misjudgment and misconduct---intellectual weakness, inborn and adoptive---sinister interest, and interest-begotten prejudice, Section 7 Simultaneously operating motives---co-operating, conflicting, or both, Section 8 SUBSTITUTION OF MOTIVES. Acts produced by one motive, commonly ascribed to another--Causes of this misrepresentation.


* The quote of Helvitus is of interest for two reasons, one that he was one of the 5 predecessors and significant proponents of enlightened-hedonistic ethics during the 18th century. However, none came close to the effect of Bentham, and thus he has been called the father of utilitarianism. He even coined its very name, Utilitarianism; he also coined "maximize" and "minimize".

The most profound of early Americans, Benjamin Franklin was a guest of the Helvitus family, and loved his wife.



There are a number of obstacles in analyzing or just merely studying the works of a great philosopher. Among them is that one must develop a familiarity with the questions that the philosopher is addressing and the then current debate. Secondly one must understand how he and his contemporaries perceived the world. Thirdly there is that of language, of which some is specialized. And finally there is the question of how much is written for a wider audience and how much has been said in jest. All these things are for the scholar, and though I, through extensive readings, can venture to deal with these obstacles, I wish to spare the audience. My highest purpose is to promote utilitarianism, Bentham and Mill are vehicles for that end.

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