Oct 23, 2020 in Informative

Utilitarianism: The Hedonic Calculus

Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus is sketched in Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation and appears to make utilitarianism the easiest ethical theory to apply to an issue. It stands for a process of elaborating the summation of pain and pleasure generated by some act or operation and the general value of its outcomes and repercussions. In fact, Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus is also outlined as the felicific calculus. The current paper will define and explain Bentham’s method of evaluating pleasures and pains, which stands for Hedonic Calculus.

Bentham is commonly referred to as a hedonist. It presupposes that he actually believed that pleasure appears to be good in itself. On the other hand, other things can be regarded as good only if they involve or produce pleasure and destitute pain. He believed that nature has positioned humankind under the control of two supreme masters, meaning the pain and the pleasure. Therefore, a person can elaborate and analyze, which action to make by estimating which option can result in the greatest quantity of pleasure. When defining what action is appropriate in a selected situation, it is important to regard the pains and pleasures appearing from it by tilizing seven major characteristics. The first one accounts for duration, meaning the length of pleasure/pain continuance. The second characteristic stands for certainty, meaning the likeliness of pleasure/pain consequences. The third feature accounts for intensity, defining the powerfulness of pleasure/pain. The fourth feature encompassed propinquity, meaning the distance of the pleasure/pain. The fifth accounts for fecundity, standing for the chance that a pleasure/pain is followed by other ones. The sixth feature stands for purity, which can be outlined as the possibility that pleasure is followed by pain and vice versa. Finally, the seventh feature stands for extent, denoting the quantity of individuals affected and experiencing pleasure/pain. Therefore, it is highly important to consider disjunctive courses of action. In a perfect situation, this method will define which action has the best tendency and orientation and, therefore, appears to be right. In fact, Bentham anticipated that the calculus could be utilized for criminal law reform as, given a crime of a specific type, it would be probable to elaborate the minimum penalty required for its prevention.

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Bentham’s ideas and perspectives on this situation highlight the significance of his hedonic calculus. If people are constantly directed by appraisals of pains and pleasures, these appraisals are supposed to be performed as precisely as possible. This is the main reasons why Bentham analyses the settings, which are supposed to be regarded and takes into account the “value” or “force” of pains and pleasures, though these concepts are actually equal and identical for Bentham. Therefore, in accordance to Bentham, a pleasure or pain, taken by itself, will differ regarding the four conditions and settings of duration, intensity, propinquity, and certainty. In a case when the effects are regarded, it is highly significant to take into account two other conditions, meaning its fecundity (standing for the chance of pain/pleasure being followed by other feelings of the analogous type) and its purity (denoting the chance of pleasure/pain not being followed by feelings of an opposing type). In a case when more than one individual is regarded, then estimation of the quantity of individuals should also be taken, which practically stands for the scope of the pain or pleasure. In a case of estimating the advantage of any specific action to a community, each person impacted by the action should be considered and evaluated individually. In fact, it is important to calculate the value of each appreciable pleasure provoked by the action in regard to the previously mentioned circumstances. Generally speaking, the value of each identifiable pain should be calculated in the analogous manner. The sum of all pain can be subtracted from the sum of all pleasures after executing these actions for each and every person affected. Therefore, the surfeit of pleasure will admeasure the good disposition and trend of action. On the other hand, in a case when the pains dominate the pleasures in the total sum, the balance of pain will admeasure the vicious proclivity of the action.

This might appear to be a rigorous and meticulous calculation, but it provides merely an obscure concept of the minute detail into which Bentham pursued an estimation of good or evil. The essential characteristic of this method concerns the fact that it appears to be quantitative. The analogous method had been proposed by Hutcheson and others before him. The facts reveal that Hutcheson’s contemporary Paley utilized this method to some extent, but Bentham appeared to be the first to follow it out into all its consequences and effects through a comprehensive and full-scale listing and classification of every possible outcome. Bentham’s objective was to make legislation and morality as accurate and indubitable as the physical sciences. This is the main reason why he observed and regarded the quantitative propositions as highly necessary. Bentham did not stop atenquiring whether quantity was generally applicable to pleasure and pain. In fact, he assumed that it was and his assumptions were probably correct. In fact, he also took curiously for a norm of measurement of these quantities, including every physical science. Even in regard to the exact observations concerning which instruments of precision can be rendered as probable in the physical sciences, assumptions were supposed to be made for the individual equation of the observer. Nevertheless, it appears that Bentham practically ignored individual equations, even in matters of feelings. He did not appropriately permit the discrepancies of individual receptivity or for the degree to which it changes during a sole lifetime and during the history of a race. In addition, Bentham did not elude the falsity of debating whether one individual’s pleasure was constantly a safe directive for other individuals. Similarly to the way he concluded that people appear to be constantly regulated by rational and reflective speculations, he also claimed that people are much more similar than they really are. In fact, these two assumptions account for the majority of weaknesses and even absurdities of his projects.

The facts reveal that later utilitarians attempted to avoid some of these entanglements by posing emphasis on the significance of the constant objects reagarding personal and social life, which appear to be sources of pleasure, instead of highlighting specific pleasant experiences. It is important to mention that Bentham himself adheres to analogous lines in estimating four subordinate ends of society happiness in his different works. These ends account for abundance, equality, subsistence, and security. In fact, security and subsistence appear to be the most crucial among the four, as “equality could not last a day without security, while abundance could not exist at all without subsistence”. Therefore, law appears to have little or even no direct connection to the presence of subsistence and abundance.

Bentham’s interpretation of equality appears to be outstanding because of specific “pathological propositions”, which he established in regard to the impact of wealth upon happiness. Nevertheless, he demonstrates that the primary care of law stands for security, when the principle of security broadens to the abstinence and preservation of all expectations, which law has actually created. In fact, security appears to be a requirement for social life and for any average and measurable degree of human happiness. On the other hand, equality also stands for the character of a luxury, which legislation should advance in cases when it does not intervene with security. In regard to liberty, it does not appear to be one of the leading and chief objects of law, but rather a branch of security, which law cannot help simplifying. Rights of any type, particularly rights of property, can be designed or sustained only by limiting liberty, due to the fact that all laws generally appear to be abrogative of liberty.

The enumeration of separate pleasures and pains stands for Bentham’s predominant method. Bentham himself points out that any theory including his own should not be obscured through the explanations between the discrepancies of the greatest happiness of an individual and the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Nevertheless, even Bentham deliberates, both in his earlier and in his later writings, in asserting that it is a duty of each particular individual to promote the happiness of all. Bentham explains that an individual never acts without motives, due to the fact that each individual appears to have the social motive of sympathy and the semi-social motive of love and reputation. Nevertheless, an individual might have, and actually has, motives which are directed in a discrepant tendency and might even concern the powerless. The contrast and difference vividly appear in the lines, where Bentham presents the concurrences between legislation and private ethics. In fact, there is no mental merger between the egocentric and the social categories of motives. Moreover, there is no natural sameness between the courses of conduct to which they direct, which presupposes that the recognition of self-interest with public interest can merely be created artificially through means of superadded pains and pleasures. They actually stand for the sanctions of the utility principle, which Bentham decreases to four, including the religious, the physical, the popular also outlined as moral, and the political. Thus, the physical sanction appears from the natural law. It might be illustrated as the headache that results from the lack of moderation or restraint. This illustration stands for the sanction’s prudence and not beneficence. Additionally, the popular sanction appears to be the result of the hostility of society in any kind of its non-political appearance. It frequently stands for a vigorous deterrent, which does not appear to have any specific correspondence with the public interest, but it is suitable to variations and inconsistencies. Futhermore, Bentham does not actually rely on the religious sanction. They are regarded as the remains of the political sanction, standing for the rewards and punishments executed by society organized in the form of a state. Therefore, it becomes obvious that the entire weight of the doctrine, regarding the fact that the overall happiness stands for the rule of right and wrong for individual conduct, actually relies upon penal law. In fact, it appears to be the duty and interest junction prescribing principle. Nevertheless, this principle is also found as imperfect. In fact, even when punishment appears to be neither baseless nor inessential, there are situations when it might appear to be inefficient, which presupposes that it will provoke more unhappiness than it might actually prevent. Generally speaking, it might stimulate incorruptibility but it cannot stimulate benefaction. Therefore, the sanctions doctrine collapses in establishing the thesis of utilitarianism regarding the fact that the general happiness stands for the rule of right.

In conclusion, the paper has demonstrated that Bentham’s methods of valuating pains and pleasures can be applied to egocentric hedonism. Moreover, the addition of the utilitarian factor, which stands for the scope of pleasure, can be broadened to any quantity of individuals. Bentham utilizes seven variables. Some of the existing variables reveal the value of pleasure or pain. It demonstrates that Bentham did not observe pain and pleasure in form of opposite notions. Other variables appear to be characteristics of the action or event created by pain or pleasure. However, these variables are not properties of pain or pleasure. The calculus itself presupposes making numerous assumptions regarding satisfaction and preferences in a tentative of ensuring consistency. This calculus assists in estimating the degree of pleasure or pain, which a particular action can provoke. Therefore, it appears that Bentham assumed that the moral appropriateness or wrongness of any action can be regarded as a function of the amount of pain or pleasure generated. This actually helps in defining the moral status of each conducted act.


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