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Jeremy Bentham and The Foundation of Utilitarianism

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In the 1800s the industrial revolution caused many people to reconsider the laws that were introduced to society. One of the people who wanted change was an English Philosopher named Jeremy Bentham. His views on the law came from this industrial revolution in the 18th century there was a lot of laws that were deemed unjust by Jeremy Bentham, this is what he wanted to change. And he did so, using utility. This essay will explain a little about him and what inspired him to reform law rather than practising it. It will also tell about his main belief known today as Utilitarianism. It will then move on to tell about the advantages and disadvantages of Utility and utilitarianism.

Bentham was an English philosopher, a social reformer who founded utilitarianism and a jurist. He came from Houndsditch, City of London, the United Kingdom, Born in 1748 and died at the age of 84 after living a long successful life. He was an advocate of individual and economic freedoms, separation of church and state, the rights to divorce and he even went further wanting equal rights for women. Bentham also wanted to abolish slavery and capital punishment and also wanted animal rights. He also didn’t believe in natural law. Bentham came from a family of lawyers and he attended Westminster school, as well as Queen’s College in Oxford. He then became a practitioner of law before he dropped it because he became frustrated with the complexity of the law and how unjust the law became. His views were structured from the industrial revolution and how people were being treated and this why he wanted to reform the law. He influenced many philosophers that followed his line of work after he died on June 6, 1832. 

Jeremy Bentham once exclaimed, “The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.” This quote explains that actions are deemed right if they are useful or for the benefit of society. This is what Jeremy Bentham believed ultimately, that laws should be brought into society if they bring the greatest happiness to the greatest amount of people. He believed that the basis and origin of the law came from this idea called utility. He wanted to recreate law so that it worked with society and make sure that the laws that were introduced increased pleasure and happiness. Bentham also believed in actions having consequences and if you have more pleasure doing a specific action the consequences will be that you will experience pleasure. However, if you do an action which induces pain the consequences will also be painful. 

One advantage of Utilitarianism is the fact that it’s a theory that works to implement good in society and make laws that will benefit society in total. We are looking towards actions that will provide us with the most pleasing overall. This would be an advantage because overall it’s introducing positive actions and consequences into society. It influences people to choose actions that will benefit them and will make them feel more pleasure than pain. Utilitarianism is a process which allows us to determine independently what is wrong and right from moral and ethical perspectives. It focuses on the result of the action otherwise known as a consequence instead of the motive behind the action. It also includes science into the equation which provides some people with comfort because when using science it has to be backed by evidence and this provides evidence so it means more people would support this theory and not question it. 

Another advantage of Utilitarianism is the fact that the idea is based on universality. Which means including everyone with different religions and beliefs. Utilitarianism is very inclusive and goes alongside Christianity. Although utilitarianism doesn’t directly mention God the aspect is the same, mentally judging a deed is similar to what happens in Utility. Using the hedonic calculus is like the ethical principle of using one’s conscience. So therefore we see that utilitarianism is an inclusive theory that works to incorporate all religions. The idea of making a law that brings happiness to the greatest amount of people is relatable to what many religions believe. Also many religions believe in being inclusive and so letting society into the law means that you are being inclusive and it makes society happy. However, a disadvantage would be that it is tough to measure happiness. 

One disadvantage of Bentham’s theory is that although it is easy to say that a law should be introduced if it brings happiness or pleasure to society how are you supposed to measure happiness how much happiness a person holds from a certain action. Actions give different reactions to different people and that will be hard to measure, every individual is different and unique and so happiness or pleasure is brought in by different actions. What might make people happy or ecstatic will not necessarily bring another person the same level of happiness. Also how long does this happiness last in certain situations like winning the lottery does happiness last for a long time or does it wear off when the money has gone or been used. This is the fact that things can change what may bring you happiness now could ultimately provide less pleasure in the near future. This is the issue because if a law gets passed that brings a great amount of pleasure to society how do we know that in a couple of months to a year it will make society sad. 

Another disadvantage of Utilitarianism was that the basis has to do with justice. It sometimes requires us to punish innocent people in certain circumstances. People believe as a society that it is wrong to punish the innocent however utilitarianism focuses on the happiness it will bring. So if punishing the innocent provides peace in a society and makes the majority happy there is no question what the utilitarian will do. However, punishing the innocent is wrong but they won’t see that they will just see the joy it brings society. Using this theory can justify the punishment or death of an innocent man just because it makes society happy. This is a serious issue with the principle of utility. Therefore when looking at actions and consequences sometimes utility can cloud judgement because as soon as they would see that most of society is happy they would then punish based on happiness not if it’s true or not. It gives people the chance to justify any action based on this theory. For example: if a girl was killed by multiple men the Hedonic Calculus (made by Bentham) would ultimately mean that the act is justified because the majority of the people had pleasure from this action. 

To conclude, in our day and age it becomes easy for us to judge his idea because times have evolved and different people have different views. However, given the times that Jeremy Bentham was a philosopher in the 1800s when law was unfair and unjust. It wasn’t focused on introducing society into the decisions of whether a law should be introduced, it was very much focused on the government deciding laws. Jeremy Bentham introduced society into government and allowed them to take part in the decisions which would ultimately affect society. Bentham’s idea to introduce science into law gave people more confidence in his work. Because if a law was backed by science not many people could argue with the law. 

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