- Utilitarians (The early)
- The early utilitarians Bentham and James Mill G.L.Williams Jeremy Bentham was born in 1748 in London; his prosperous father, a lawyer who became wealthy from property rather than the law, planned out for his son a brilliant legal career. After an early education at Westminster and Oxford he was called to the Bar in 1769. However, instead of mastering the complexities, technicalities, precedents and mysteries of the law in order to carve out a successful career, Bentham’s response to such chaos and absurdity was to challenge the whole structure of law and to attempt to replace it with a system as perfect and as rational as it could be. In many ways a typical philosophe of the eighteenth century, Bentham at this early stage seized on the possibility of improvement through knowledge, on the supremacy of reason over superstition and of order over chaos. Despite his living and writing into the new age of the nineteenth century—post-revolutionary, industrialized, democratic—this early inspiration that enlightenment would bring about a better world never left him. To help create a world as it might be—as it ought to be—rather than succeed in a world as it was—customary, prejudiced and corrupt—was his constant aim whatever the particular object he pursued within his encyclopaedic interests, and whether the study be abstract and philosophical or detailed and practical. His central concern was the study of legislation, a concern developed from his own disillusionment with the state of English law and his positive response to the works of those like Helvetius and Beccaria who had argued that there must be some general and rational test as to the adequacy of existing law in order to justify its reform. As we shall see, this task involved both expository and censorial elements and the principle of utility which Bentham formulated provided the basis of his life’s work. During the eighteenth century his main approach assumed that the successful achievement of Enlightenment thought would lead to its equally successful application through direct contact and conversion of benevolent despots or at least their influential advisers. In the 1780s he spent two years in Russia with some hope of convincing Catherine the Great, but with his failure to gain influence amongst the powerful, whether over his general ideas or over his detailed projects, he became increasingly convinced that sinister interests—the law, the Church, Parliament—would act as obstacles to Reason and Reform. In which case, politics would have to be reformed—the ruling elite would have to be tamed—before his life’s work could be realized. Constitutional law not just civil and criminal law stood in need of drastic reform. The influence of James Mill and later the growth of a school of reformers—the Philosophical Radicals—gave Bentham, now in his sixties, a new zest for work and an added commitment to reforming the law in Russia, America, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Latin America, as well as to reforming all manner of abuses in British public life. Indeed he was as productive in the last twenty years of his life as he had ever been before, if not more, and his belief in the supremacy of his method and his principle as the key to philosophical and practical advancement was as clear and deep as when he first discovered it over sixty years earlier. The starting point for the whole project which gives meaning and form to these brief biographical points was Bentham’s early realization of the importance of language. Not only in the field of law, where falsehoods, absurdities and nonsensities were common, but in many other fields as well, careful definition was sacrificed to vagueness and emotiveness. The dominant and therefore sinister interests in any area—law, morality, politics—maintained a language in which the words were either totally unclear or contained an inherent prejudice or bias in their favour. Unless language could be made clear the truth would be concealed and the possibility of improvement would be lost. Definition is the key and it depends first on distinguishing between real and fictitious entities and then on determining the legitimacy or not of the latter by Bentham’s new method—that of paraphrasis. Nouns can be divided into those which are names of real entities—those things whose existence gives immediate consciousness, which can be directly perceived by the senses, and which are either states of body or states of mind—and fictitious entities which are referred to as if they really exist but need further exposition to give them meaning. In the first category the most basic examples would be pleasure or pain while in the latter the most frequent examples, say in law, would be duty, right or power. These latter are linguistic constructs and as such are ‘fictions’ but, as those examples show, this does not mean that language could do without them. Although they do not exist in themselves and although they give rise to doubt and confusion this does not mean that they are all meaningless. Fictions then are necessary, but how to distinguish fictions that are legitimate from those which are strictly speaking nonsense—fictional entities from fabulous entities? The key here is a method which while ‘translating’ fictional entities into real entities at the same time gives a criterion for denying meaning to those fictions incapable of such ‘translation’. The method Bentham discovered was that of paraphrasis, the only mode of exposition for those abstract terms where there was no superior genus to which they belonged and where the Aristotelian method of definition per genus et differentiam was thus inapplicable. To define a fictitious entity only by reference to other fictitious entities offered no solution. The clarification needed is in terms of the real and perceptible; Bentham does this not by translating one word by another or one term by its component parts, but by translating one sentence in which the term appears into another which is equivalent but in which the fictitious entity is replaced by a real one. In these two parallel propositions the import would be the same but the device of paraphrasis would give simple clarity to the sentence translated and if such translation into real terms were impossible it would reveal the fabulous or nonsensical nature of the original ([1.5], 495). An example might help here: however much we might classify rights and duties, the general idea of a right or duty can only be explained by paraphrasis—thus a sentence containing those terms would be translated into one explaining for what the law makes us liable to punishment, for doing or not doing, and punishment is then further explained in terms of pain, a real entity. Thus a fiction is made clear by its translation into its relation to the real. Ideas are thus clarified by reference to their context—the sentence; whether or not the sentence can be paraphrased into one which contains real terms is the deciding factor with regard to its sense or nonsense. In a sense the substitute sentence provides the possibility of verifying the original by reference to the world of real entities. Thus if the word ‘duty’ were used without reference to the pain through punishment which the law laid down then the ‘duty’ would have no more meaning than an expression of opinion. In this way the law, by distinguishing between the real and the fictitious and between the fictitious which can be paraphrased or verified and those fictitious entities which cannot be, can be clarified and reformed. The fabulous entities will be purged, the (legitimate) fictional entities will be established on firm—because real—foundations. These real entities are pleasures and pains and where some might refer to ‘frugality’ and ‘thrift’ and others to ‘meanness’ and ‘greed’ these in the end come down to the pleasures and pains consequent on the action not on any inherent goodness or badness in the motive. The real world must be recognised in this way and all fictions, however necessary, must be referable to them. It is thus important to reform language to give it meaning and so be in a position to change the real world. The slate of confusion, mystery and corruption must be wiped clean and on it written only that which makes sense by being real. Once this is done the process of describing, classifying, quantifying as well as the process of prescribing and reforming can begin—a science of legislation both accurate in detail and conducive to improvement can begin to be formulated. Once vagueness and ambiguity are eliminated and abstract terms are replaced by concrete detail then the way is open for a clear understanding of human nature which will provide the basis for a system of legislation which in turn will be the great instrument for social progress. Bentham’s intention was to combine the discovery of new principles with detailed attention to their practical uses; indeed he saw his own genius as lying in the introduction of rigorous detailed investigation to supplement the more traditional concern with general principles. In this he compared his work with that of the natural scientist though in his case the detail came not from observation and experiment but from analysis, classification and division. His belief in the fundamental importance of a clear and accurate vocabulary underlay his early optimism that reason once employed would be the vehicle of both accurate exposition of the law as it was and enlightened criticism of the law as it ought to be. The Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation ([1.5], 11) is Bentham’s best known attempt to outline the fruits of this new method by outlining his principle of utility and the structure of law which would result from its adoption and application. 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. This striking though rather compressed summary of his basic philosophy puts forward two distinct claims, though in a manner not altogether without confusion. Following Hume, Bentham was always emphatic that the idea of what is must be kept distinct from the idea of what ought to be, and thus he is here making two claims, a factual or descriptive one and also a normative or prescriptive one. The first is that human beings are so constituted that what they seek is pleasure and the second is that every action is judged right or wrong according to its tendency to augment or diminish such happiness (or pleasures over pains) for the party involved. Thus Bentham is involved in two enquiries—the one into human nature and the other into moral philo-sophy. Although the second should accord with the first it could not be logically deduced from it; indeed strictly speaking it could not be proved at all. However, that these are two separate statements is important to recognize despite Bentham’s linking of them both to Nature. The normative or critical principle indicates what ought to happen, the end, the goal of legislation; the descriptive indicates the material, the limitations imposed on the legislator in achieving those ends. For the project to work these two aspects must be made consistent—the pursuit of pleasure by the individual as a natural activity must be made compatible with the achievement of the happiness of the community over whom the ruler legislates. Only if the two principles are kept separate can the critical one do its work, the work of improvement and reform; indeed only then does it have a role at all. The principle of utility or the ‘greatest happiness’ principle is meant to be realizable and thus must recognize the natural qualities of human beings, but it has to work on or modify the ensuing conduct in order to achieve its moral end. Whether and how the individual pursuit of pleasure can co-exist with the community’s aim of greatest happiness is an issue to be resolved once further exploration of the two claims is completed. The natural statement—of what is the case—amounts to a form of psychological hedonism, that all action willed by human beings is motivated by the desire to obtain pleasure or avoid pain. This does not necessarily imply psychological egoism, that it is only the agent’s own pleasure or pain which acts as the motivating force, though, as we shall see, Bentham sees this as a general rule. However, is the hedonism which Bentham believes in a matter of fact, a matter of definition, or itself also a generalization? Is it an a priori axiom or the result of observation? Although Bentham at times seems to incline towards the latter, in that he cites evidence and the results of observation, his enumeration of the great range of motives is entirely in terms of pleasures and pains—not certainly all egoistic—but nevertheless making all human conduct analysable in those terms. Thus the ‘facts’ of human psychology reflect Bentham’s earlier view that the only real entities are pleasures and pains. Such motives can be social, dissocial, or self-regarding but they all correspond to pleasures, even those of goodwill or benevolence. Where all examples can be thus described in terms of pleasure and pain, the original assumption becomes definitional rather than empirical. However, such pleasures are not all self-regarding even if in the final analysis the pleasure sought is the agent’s own, for it is still possible to distinguish such pleasures from those more obviously concerned with self-preference. Put differently, while every motive has a corresponding interest this need not strictly speaking be self-interest in a crude egoistic sense. Nevertheless, having made due allowance for the social motives of sympathy and benevolence, Bentham did not consider them to be of great force and argued that generally self-preference was predominant; certainly it should be the basic assumption for the art of legislation. He argues that such self-preference is the normal state for normal people and that the design of law should reflect this. It is not a definition a priori The early utilitarians 7 nor a factual truth—the one would be trivial and the other false—but a generalization which is not only true as such but is the only working assumption which a legislator can adopt. In this way all human conduct with all the possible motives influencing it can be reduced to pleasures and pains—real entities experienced by real individuals whose psychology generally puts themselves first. Thus a scientific approach becomes possible in that pleasures and pains become the unit of classification, measurement and comparison. Certainly this will be no easy process, not least because each individual may judge pleasures differently, but the fact that the legislator is dealing with observable conduct which it can be assumed indicates the strength or weakness of the motive opens up the possibility of rational calculation. The evidence of interests, of the pleasures which motivate people, is thus their conduct, and the relative value of such pleasures and pains can be observed. As it is only consequences that count and as these are empirically observable then science can begin its work. The process of analysis and quantification in terms of calculable units offers the opportunity of seeing human conduct with a clarity and precision never before seen. Although there were a huge variety of pleasures and although exact comparison between the pleasures of different people with different sensibilities and in different circumstances would not be possible, nevertheless from the point of view of the law or policy-maker general calculations were possible. This was to be done through recognizing that pleasures had certain dimensions of value and that the sum of these would give the overall result. Thus intensity and duration were relevant in estimating value as were the degree of certainty and the degree of remoteness of a pleasure, the likelihood of further pleasure following on or the opposite effect occurring. In addition the number of people affected, or the extent of the pleasure, must enter the calculation. Unless this sort of common measure, or currency, were introduced then no comparison would be possible and neither individuals nor legislators could conduct their affairs with any order or rationality or predictive force, those very elements needed for the successful pursuit of the interests which all human beings aimed at. As well as giving Bentham a fundamental reality by which to describe human behaviour, the idea of pleasure and pain also enters into his moral principle that the only legitimate standard for the individual and the community is utility or the ‘greatest happiness principle’. This is his great critical principle designed to promote reform, not a principle, as with Hume, to explain the rationality of custom and constraint but to emphasize the gulf between what is and what ought to be. It is Bentham’s attempt to erect an external standard by which disputes can be resolved by a rational calculation of various options; these options being in turn resolvable down to questions of pleasures and pains. The principle cannot be proved but it is for Bentham the only objective alternative to the mere expression of personal taste. Utility or caprice, reason or mere sound—these are the options and Bentham emphasizes the need for a standard which can be empirically applied. There is no ultimate proof that happiness is better than suffering but, once presented in this way, Bentham is confident that all reasonable people would choose the former and having done so his task is to convert such a principle into a detailed and radical weapon for change. If happiness is the goal and if moral language is meaningless without reference to this standard then the legislators’ task is to create a legal order in which the fictions with which they work are constantly reduced to the real entities of pleasure and pain which should act as their guide in maximizing the community’s good. Thus the moral evaluation of a law or a policy proposal comes down in the end to matters of fact, to observation of consequences, to verification. Similarly the tools which the law uses in order to create ‘the greatest happiness’ are also examples of pleasures and pains, the most notable of course being punishment. The attractiveness of the principle then is that it provides a framework for moral criticism and evaluation which respects the reality of nature and by judicious modification of human behaviour it transforms what could be a life of irrational suffering into one of happy enjoyment. The prescriptive principle is not confused with the descriptive acts; otherwise it would have no role to play. Instead it enables us to become moral actors rather than mere pleasure-seekers, to appreciate our duties and to follow them rather than pursue without restraint the self-preference which our nature inclines us towards. The terms ‘duty’, ‘ought’, ‘right’ and ‘good’ carry no meaning for Bentham unless they are used of actions which conform to the principle and thus can be translated into statements whose factual elements can be verified. How then are the duties which arise from the moral principle to be reconciled with the pursuit of the self-regarding interests which are posited by the psychological principle? Is the latter, which sees the agent’s own happiness as the natural goal of behaviour, compatible with the former, which directs us to act in conformity to the greatest happiness? Could an answer be found which preserved both of the two claims which Bentham is concerned to support? Certainly Bentham did not want to depart from the view that the driving force in society was the individual pursuit of happiness and there is no attempt to replace this with moralistic pleas for altruism or benevolence; equally he holds firm to the principle of utility. Thus duty or conformity to the principle would also have to be something which it was in the interest of the agent to perform. Given the assumption of how people do behave, the society must be so ordered that this behaviour coincides with how they ought to behave. In other words, through the use of sanctions—physical, moral, political and religious—the society would give people an interest in performing their duty. The most powerful influence to bring this about would be punishment, that artificial pain, which would force men to recalculate their happiness and act in accordance with the general well-being. The motives natural to each individual would remain the same but the new threat of pain would deter the anti-social act and create a situation where it would be in an individual’s interest to do his or her duty. It is on the basis of this belief in people as they are and society as it ought to be that Bentham undertakes his massive investigation into the principles of law—constitutional, civil and criminal—and the detailed application of these in all areas of life. And this was a political activity, one geared to bringing about change, not merely an intellectual project aiming at clarity and enlightenment. Bentham was well aware that utility had been a standard held by others in the past; the need now was for it to be applied in detail and through this to be accepted and implemented. Utilitarianism was a theory about the State, government, law, public matters generally, and although Bentham’s works published in his own lifetime wander from principle to detail, from general to particular, the total work is a logical and exhaustive—and exhausting—survey of the most general framework of law, the constitutional, down to the most minute detail of actual laws, offences and punishments. If we turn to the broadest framework of law relevant to the utilitarian aim of reform, Bentham’s major work was the Constitutional Code [1.6] not begun until he was over seventy and the most developed account of his mature views. In his earlier days he had held a rather naive view that enlightenment—clarity and reason—would itself persuade rulers of the need for legislative reform, but after his adoption of the need for a radical overhaul of the system of government he developed his detailed system of representative government. The Constitutional Code was envisaged as the first stage to three other Codes—Procedure, Penal and Civil—which together would make the Pannomion, a complete body of law. It was meant to be a three-volume work but only one was printed in Bentham’s own lifetime, a volume which included chapters on the electorate, the legislature, the prime minister and the administration—the whole framework within which the democratic principle would work and where laws would be made according to the principle of utility rather than in response to the sinister interest of those in power. Unless the constitutional arrangements are right then the resulting laws and policies will be likewise flawed. These arrangements must be based on the principle of utility, not on any useless fiction like the original or social contract, a point he had made as early as 1776 in his Fragment on Government [1.5]. However, the point is now made in conjunction with his suspicion of sinister interests, and the framework must now be democratic and also contain protection against the tendency of those in power to rule in their own interests. As with human nature in general, interest must be brought into accord with duty, and this is as important a problem in the constitutional arrangements as it is in the spheres of civil and penal law. The possibility of divergent interests between the rulers and the ruled, the few and the many, would not simply disappear with the inauguration of representative democracy but would need rigorous safeguards to prevent it. It is on this issue of making rulers constantly accountable that Bentham is at his most novel and most detailed. In his own time, Bentham’s analysis of democracy was somewhat overshadowed by the more popular and striking writings of James Mill and it is only in recent years that painstaking and illuminating research has brought out the range and quality of Bentham’s innovative ideas ([1.6] and [1.50]). The older view of Bentham as someone arguing naively from first principles to their logical and democratic conclusion (people put their own interests first, the rulers do likewise, therefore the people must rule in order to maximize the general interest) is replaced by a much more sophisticated account which combines the empirical approach with the critical utilitarian one. At its heart is a scepticism regarding the ability of institutional arrangements alone to bring about the greatest happiness; they must be subject at all times to the scrutiny of an informed and involved public. If we turn first to the arguments in favour of representative democracy and then to the extra safeguards to protect against misuse of power we can appreciate most fully Bentham’s originality and, it can be argued, also the value of his neglected contribution to democratic thought. Viewing political societies generally, Bentham replaces the traditional concern with discovering their origins in order to define their character, limits and legitimacy with the simpler view that they exist wherever there is a general habit of obedience to a person or assembly. In a democracy the sovereign constitutive authority lies with the people while the legislative authority is omnicompetent within its own domain. It is the people who choose the rulers and who may dismiss them if they fail to serve the greatest happiness; in turn only the rulers have the power to make and execute laws which, because of their representative nature and their accountability to the people, they are likely to do in the common interest. Looking at the more detailed application of this basic relation between rulers and ruled, we see the state divided into equal districts each electing a member to the legislature while also having its own sub-legislature and forming a judicial district. This model, depending on the size of the State, would be applied also to sub-districts and if necessary to smaller units again. The electorate in each district is based, with few exceptions, on universal manhood suffrage (the world may not yet be ready to grant female suffrage though there is no logical reason to exclude women) and the electors both choose and may dismiss the representatives; mistrust is built into the system and the power of the people preserved. The legislature so elected by secret ballot is a single chamber, normally elected for one year, and comprising full-time and paid members. While this legislative branch is checked by the constitutive branch—through elections and dismissals—it in turn is responsible for the appointment and control over the administrative and judicial branches. The prime minister and justice ministers are elected from outside by the legislature and they in turn appoint ministers from within the legislature and judges respectively. The power to dismiss such appointments lies with the prime minister and justice minister but also with the legislature and the electorate as a whole, such power extending in the latter two cases also to dismissing the prime and justice ministers themselves. Thus the administration and the judiciary, while not being directly elected by the people but chosen for their intellectual and moral qualities, would nevertheless be subject to popular control through the electorate’s power of dismissal and if need be punishment. To render this democratic control meaningful, Bentham insists on the open nature of government, administration and judicial affairs, and includes maximum publicity at all stages of the conduct of public affairs. Further, a similar arrangement of elections, legislatures, administration and judiciary is applied at the local level, maximizing at all levels the power of the people and thus the securities against misrule. In this way, the tendency of those in power to pursue their own interest—one which in an unreformed system sees the wealthy rule at the expense of the poor—must be guarded against even in the reformed constitutional democracy which Bentham outlines and the major antidote to the sinister power of government is public opinion. However precise, exact and carefully constructed the constitutional details may be, it is the power of public opinion which is the final guarantee against misuse of power by the rulers. So important was this view to Bentham that he envisages a Public Opinion Tribunal, the voice of the general interest speaking through meetings, speeches, writings and the press, in order to inform, criticize, praise or support the actions of the more formally constituted elements of government. Thus while the people do not themselves rule, their involvement is not restricted to mere elections; they are the guardians as well as the source of power. More than this, Bentham also believes that his proposed system would protect the individual against abuse of power by the government. Although dismissing any idea of natural rights as nonsense, as fictions which are illegitimate because untranslatable into the real entities of pleasure and pain, he nevertheless pursues a somewhat similar goal of defending the individual, through his concern with securities against misrule. In a sense the whole constitutional system is designed to deter the rulers from abusing their power—through elections, dismissals, publicity, and so on, i.e. through the practice of responsibility and accountability. The system is based on the principle of mistrust and although the legislature is omnicompetent it is limited by the continual scrutiny of the public over its actions as well as by its limited duration. The legislature is essentially dependent on the people and this for Bentham is a greater guarantee of the security and liberty of the citizen than any appeal to rights, whether abstract or legal. In addition, as we shall see, one of the main aims of the law is security, as one of the essential elements of happiness, and for Bentham this security, which it was the duty of the law to maintain, solves those problems traditionally discussed in terms of individual liberty. Constitutionally, however, accountability was the chief means to ensure the security of the individual against oppressive State power through the ability of individuals to control their rulers. Given this radical overhaul of the system of government it is necessary to see why it has taken place—whatever the source, power and limits of the legislature its function is to create and impose law according to the principle of utility, thus providing an alternative to the traditional view of law as something which grew organically and embodied the wisdom of the past modified by judges in the light of new experience. In many ways this idea of common law was always Bentham’s chief target for he saw it as a massive and illegitimate fiction; real law was the expression of the will of the sovereign legislature and should be clear, known and in the general interest not vague, dependent on judges and serving the interest only of lawyers. The law should be the deliberate and rational instrument whereby to create the greatest happiness through the harmony of duty and interest. The test of law should always be its success or failure in making individuals so act as to maximize their own pleasures but in doing so refrain from inflicting pain on others. To attain this end of modifying human behaviour it must be known in advance; otherwise it could not serve its purpose, and Bentham’s alternative to the mysteries of the common law was his proposal for the systematic codification of all law. Its validity would be gained from its source, the legislator; its morality from its purpose, utility; but its efficacy from its clear and rational formulation in the form of a code. Such codes would make the law accessible and comprehensible to all through the clear enumeration of offences and the accompanying rationale in terms of utility. It is through the classification of offences and their corresponding punishments that a framework is established such that the good of community can be maintained. Only then would it be known unambiguously what was unlawful, what rights existed, and what punishments were threatened. In this way the unlawful act would be deterred and lawful ones encouraged. The security of the individual would thus be assured. The key to offences where punishment is involved is their detrimental nature to others; if the offence is entirely self-regarding and involves no other individuals, groups of individuals or the community at large, then the law has no role to play. In this area of an individual’s duty to himself or herself, he or she can be left alone to pursue happiness in the way judged best. Punishment being itself a pain is an evil and can be justified only if it prevents the greater evil of the offence under consideration. The threat of punishment should influence the calculation which the individual makes of his or her own interest; it is this fear which acts as the primary deterrent. Punishment looks ahead—it is concerned to prevent future mischief—rather than backwards, as a retaliation for mischief done. Within this perspective there are four further restrictions on the use of punishment (in addition that is to self-regarding conduct): where it is groundless, there being no real mischief to prevent; where it is inefficacious, where it cannot work to prevent mischief; where it is unprofitable, where the cost is too great; and where it is needless, where other means would do as well. At the heart of the perspective is the idea of punishment being used economically—an offence brings a profit and the punishment must threaten a loss sufficient to outweigh the temptation to commit the act. If Bentham’s constitutional reforms were in place and his view of law established, with offences and punishments reflecting the principle of utility, a major question would still remain—would the laws aim at the maximization of aggregate happiness and thus risk the possible sacrifice of individual happiness if and when necessary for the general good, or would the laws work towards the general welfare within the limits of some standards of fair distribution such that individuals would have rights or securities against despotic domination? Is there any connection between Bentham’s theory and the liberal desire to protect individual rights against democratic rule or are the two perspectives hopelessly at odds? Should the law aim directly at utility or should it aim to establish rules through which individuals are guaranteed an area in which they pursue their own good in their own way? Is there a framework of rights within which individuals operate or is the general happiness to be pursued and dictated according to the changing judgement of the law and policy-making body? Having established a system of government in which public opinion plays a dominant role, what is there to prevent such opinion operating in a tyrannical way? In order to answer these questions it is useful to look more closely at the ends at which government ought to aim. As we have noted, the major aim of legislation is security, without which there could be little pleasure or happiness. Unless security of expectation were established no ordered social life would be possible, happiness could never be enjoyed with confidence, long-term pleasures would not be pursued, well-being would be constantly threatened. Although in a general sense pleasure is the only real goal, yet individuals differ on their estimation of what gives them pleasure, and thus the legislator cannot judge on their behalf and thus should not aim to maximize the individual’s pleasure but rather provide the basic security, or liberty, by which individuals, judging for themselves, maximize their own happiness. By defining offences and establishing rights, the law created an area free from interference where pleasure could be pursued without harmful consequences to the interests of others. Security is the necessary guarantee of both present and future enjoyment of individual interest, and this is what above all the law provides and provides uniquely. Within this perspective the problem of defining, comparing and calculating pleasures becomes less important, for within the limits laid down by the law the problem passes over to individuals to evaluate and to act as they see fit. This emphasis on individual judgement and control, together with his concern for free elections, free speech and freedom of the press, has led some modern commentators to see Bentham as a liberal utilitarian rather than seeing his utilitarianism as a threat to individual liberty. By seeing security as one of the four main aims into which the general happiness can be divided, it is argued that Bentham’s theory avoids the authoritarianism conventionally ascribed to him. Protection against intentional offences was the first priority of law but Bentham also envisaged a fairly wide area of responsibility for the government in preventing a whole range of dangers which could threaten the security of individuals. By thus minimizing pain the individual was free to pursue pleasure in the sphere made secure through the protection of the law. The second major end involved in the general happiness was subsistence and although in general this could be left to individuals who would naturally seek it, there would nevertheless be circumstances where its attainment would demand government action either by intervention in the economy or through direct provision of relief, involving the limited transfer of means from the rich to the poor. Similarly with the third end, abundance, this would normally be a natural goal best left to individuals. However, the fourth of the subordinate ends, equality, is at once something desirable from a general utilitarian point of view and something threatening from the particular point of view of security. In Bentham’s argument, equality follows from the diminishing marginal utility of wealth or other goods—a pound is worth more in terms of pleasure to a poor man than it is to a rich man; thus redistribution of wealth would maximize aggregate happiness. However, pursuit of this goal appears to threaten the chief object of law which is security of expectation. While equality of rights can be maintained—everyone’s security is equally protected—a substantive equality of wealth cannot be guaranteed without undermining people’s expectations of future enjoyment. Where the reduction of inequality could occur without damage to security—through various forms of taxation, for example, or through the provision of services to aid the sick, the uneducated or the poor—then this would be justified, but generally Bentham’s commitment to political equality does not extend to the material sphere. The primary goal is always security as the framework for the realization of happiness but where suffering and pain can clearly be eliminated through government intervention then this is an obvious responsibility which the government should accept. Indeed much of Bentham’s writing is concerned with practical proposals for the reform of prisons, factories, health and safety, education, poor relief and other social institutions. Although much of Bentham’s reputation came from his fierce denunciations of the sinister interests of the ruling establishment of his own day, he was as concerned to construct proposals for future government action as he was to oppose present government action. The test was always utility and, while this might point to action in some cases or inaction in others, it could never justify negligence. In general, nothing could restrict the omnicompetence of the legislature—except utility—and Bentham sees its work not as interventionist or laissezfaire in principle but as guided in practice by the general welfare as broken down into its four aims of security, subsistence, abundance and equality. And where utility pointed, Bentham followed—and in great detail. Thus, not content with merely outlining the principles of punishment, he devised in great detail and at great personal expense and over many years a model prison, the Panopticon ([1.12], vol. 4). Similarly in other areas, principles had to be applied and in minute detail to test their possibility and to make utilitarianism a practical reforming creed rather than merely a philosophical rationale. Whether it be the architectural details, the hours of work, the rates of pay, the balance between humanity and economy, the details of the syllabus, the form of record-keeping, whether it be prisons or workhouses, schools or factories, detail was always the test of principle: what ought to be must always be compatible with what could be. Morality must work with Nature not against it, thus making it a realistic cure for social ills. At times this concern with gathering facts and information can make Bentham appear to value the exercise for its own sake but that would be to forget the inspiration behind his life’s work—the desire to do good for a species which ironically he had to assume was itself only concerned with its own good. It was not enough to be a philosopher; his ambition was to be practical, useful and realistic—a critic who could construct as well as demolish, whose goal was both modest and magnificent—to build a system in which people might be happy. And the system as finally devised was one in which the people themselves controlled the system. Indeed one test of the whole enterprise was that once the creation had been completed, the creator was no longer needed. This movement in Bentham’s thinking from reforming the law to reforming the whole structure of political arrangements from which the law would emanate—the movement from adviser of rulers to champion of the people in order to bring about the reign of utility—owed a great deal to the influence of James Mill, who brought to the utilitarian cause not only a sharp, lucid and persuasive style of powerful literary propaganda but also a democratic hostility to the establishment and a rigorous reforming programme in the fields of law, education and political economy based on a foundation of associationist psychology. Often overshadowed in the literature by his friend Bentham and by his son, John Stuart Mill, James Mill was a thinker and active reformer of independent stature. In many ways he was a more dominant figure amongst the radical utilitarians than the master himself. James Mill was born in 1773 in a small village in Scotland, the son of a shoemaker and a farmer’s daughter. After his early education he went to the University of Edinburgh in 1790 and after that studied Divinity and was licensed as a preacher in the Church of Scotland in 1798. Engaged as a tutor by Sir John Stuart he accompanied him to London in 1802, married in 1805 (John Stuart Mill was born a year later), and met Bentham in 1808. From 1806 to 1817, he was busy writing the History of India while also writing journal articles and his influential essays for the Supplement to the fifth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Following the publication of his History of India in 1818 [1.59], he was appointed to the East India Company where he became Chief Examiner in 1830. He continued to write regularly for radical journals, published his Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind [1.54] and his Fragment on Mackintosh [1.58]; he died in 1836. His association with Bentham lasted from 1808 until the latter’s death in 1832; for some four years he and his family lived with Bentham at Ford Abbey, but his influence on the utilitarian movement was that of someone who brought to it a systematic philosophy already formed rather than that of a mere disciple. Mill had been educated at Edinburgh and was strongly influenced by the Scottish philosophy of Dugald Stewart and Thomas Reid. From Stewart, amongst other things, he learnt the importance of adding a concern with reform of existing institutions and the development of enlightened legislation to the more traditional concern with explanatory description, a distinction similar to Bentham’s between censorial and expository jurisprudence. Thus philosophy must move from the reflective or sceptical to the active and optimistic. In addition, Stewart’s lectures introduced Mill to the philosophy of Reid. Reid’s philosophy of experience and common sense came down firmly on the side of induction and against deduction, following Bacon and Newton, and although Mill later rejected the Christian underpinning of this philosophy—that we know only because God has given us the power of perception—he held fast to the importance of induction, learning from experience, in order to formulate general laws which in turn would be the basis for deductive reasoning. For Mill the centre of such enquiries into the laws governing human behaviour were the laws of psychology which could be known through observation of the study of mental phenomena. The result was Mill’s doctrine of association: the mind perceives the external world by sensations—smell, taste, hearing, touch, sight—and what remain once the sensations cease are ideas. These ideas are copies of the sensations, and just as sensations are associated together, and more strongly the more frequent and vivid the connection, so ideas are associated in the same way. Knowledge is the result of frequency of conjunction; in some cases the frequency and strength is such that the ideas cannot be separated and this is what gives us our belief in the external world. All our mental faculties can be explained by this principle of association as can our behaviour in response to the two ultimate elements of painful and pleasurable sensations. We learn about the world by associating certain actions with certain sensations and thus learn to avoid the one kind and seek the other. Thus the route to the fundamental reality of pleasure and pain which Bentham had discovered through his logical notion of real entities was found by Mill through his notion of the psychological association of ideas as copies of sensations. And just as Bentham’s discovery gave him a weapon by which to attempt to change the world so did James Mill’s; that their objectives coincided should not blur the differing starting points. It is in pursuing their shared objectives that, at least in a political sense, Mill shows himself the superior. While Bentham wrote voluminously but published relatively little about the whole range of philosophical, constitutional and legal enquiries, Mill directed his attention to converting the relevant public through concise and clear articles. His Encyclopaedia articles were superb examples of a combination of his philosophical views—notably his doctrine of associationism—and his radical political views. They were intended to have an impact and in this they succeeded. His article on ‘Education’ is probably the clearest example of this attempt to put philosophy into practice. Given that the mind knows only through sensations and their sequences, the object of education is to provide for the constant production of those sequences most conducive to happiness; the individual is virtually what education in the broadest sense makes him or her. If the right associations are made early on in life then education improves not only the intellect but also the moral character. The whole environment has an effect on the progress of the mind, and thus ‘education’ for Mill encompasses a far wider range than conventionally thought of, and has implications for social and political change. Thus domestic education starts at birth, and associations must be so ordered that the happiness of the individual is the end but one that is bound up also with the happiness of others. After this early formation of character, education in the more normal sense continues to aim at the development of both the intelligence and the moral feelings as the key to happiness. This is supported by the effect of society and government which should provide the environment in which the pursuit of individual happiness harmonizes with general utility. Thus education is a question not simply of the advancement and spread of knowledge to all members of the community but, as importantly, of the development of mutual sympathy and benevolence amongst them. Thus where Bentham had relied on sanctions in order to bring duty and interest into harmony, Mill is more optimistic of the beneficial effects of education in developing the right associations between one’s own pleasure and the good of others. To achieve this, early environment as well as school education needs reform within the context of a reformed society led by a reformed government. Only then will individuals pursue their happiness with that degree of self-control which recognizes the importance of the happiness of others. However, such moderation and harmony cannot be generally expected in an unreformed society and the key to improvement here is to change the system of government. Here Mill’s next famous and influential article was his essay on ‘Government’ [1.56] which highlights the link which Mill forged between utilitarianism and radicalism and which explains his importance to the school of philosophical radicals. His basic argument is that government is necessary in order to protect for each individual the fruits of his own labour. As it is labour not Nature that provides the means for life and happiness and as men, without restraints, would take from each other what they desired and thus undermine the whole enterprise, then a system of government is necessary. Unhappily, however, governments are also composed of men who again, without restraints, would plunder and oppress their fellow men. The laws of human nature are such that the pursuit of pleasure is the primary motive for those within as for those without government, and the main means to such ends are wealth and power. The mere establishment of government, therefore, provides no guarantee that the rulers will follow the general interest rather than their own; indeed it guarantees the very opposite. Hence, the need for government is accompanied by the need to ensure against its oppressive tendencies. Human nature explains the need for government, the dangers of government, and also the key to good government, where the basic problem is one of restraining the power-holders from abusing their role. Such securities against misrule cannot be found within any of the traditional forms of government. A democratic government—in the literal sense of the whole community gathering together as often as the business of government required—would be near impossible as well as ill-adapted to decision-making. An aristocratic form of rule would naturally pursue its sinister interest against that of the community; so much more so would a monarchical form. Further, any mixture of these three forms is also unable to secure against abuse and thus guarantee the general interest. If there are three powers, two of them will always be able to swallow up the third, and that will mean the monarchical and aristocratic, whose sinister interests are opposed to the people’s interests, rendering the community defenceless against its powers. We all desire our pleasures and we all need wealth and power to achieve them; small wonder that the prize of government is so keenly sought by those who want to further their own interests. From the general viewpoint there is therefore always a tendency for government to be badly conducted, for power to be abused; the antidote lies in a system of checks or securities to prevent such abuse. It is the discovery of representation which makes this possible, where the community’s interest in good government acts as a check on the representatives who in turn operate as a check on government. The representatives, while having an identity of interests with the community, have sufficient power to guard against abuse and thus secure good government. Limited terms of office and regular elections would guard against the representatives pursuing their sinister interest and thus destroying the identity which is the rationale of the system. In terms of whose interests should be represented—in crude terms, who should vote—Mill is prepared, at least in this essay which is an argument for parliamentary reform in the 1820s as well as a treatise on the foundations of government, to exclude those whose interests are included in those of others. Thus women and men under forty can all be protected by others and their interests pursued on their behalf. Such a system of representative democracy with an extended franchise could confidently be relied on to pursue the general interest, not least because the dominant part, the middle rank of society, is also the most virtuous and the one whose opinions are most respected by the class of people below them. They are the ones to set the political and social standards which will form the wider educational context for the general improvement of the community. Their influence, combined with that of the law and the formal educational system, will create a culture in which duty and interest go together, not so much as in Bentham because the citizens have an interest—through the various sanctions—in doing their duty but because through the principle of association the pursuit of interest will constantly have the consciousness of others’ interests allied to it. Thus with political reform as with educational reform an effect on character will be produced as well as an effect on intelligence and wisdom. In comparing Mill’s case for representative democracy with that of Bentham a curious paradox appears. Mill, the historian of British India, who stressed the need for a close examination of the manners and institutions of that society before recommending any appropriate changes in its organization or government, here adopts a largely abstract deductive method, whereas Bentham, the upholder of that method of logic, appears in the Constitutional Code to include much more empirical evidence about the actual practice of societies in order to achieve the end of good government. Thus Mill is optimistic that representation can itself achieve an identity of interests between the rulers and ruled; frequent elections are the key safeguard. Bentham, as we have seen, insists on additional securities against misrule, so that while the legislature remains omnicompetent it is still subject to the power of the people, and much of his evidence in the Code is from existing countries rather than from the logic of the situation alone. In fairness, of course, Mill could claim that the deductive method was one based on a prior and thorough induction giving rise to comprehensive and known principles of human nature. Further, his essay is a brief and direct case for reform rather than a complete study of government. Whatever the case, it is true that it was Mill’s method as much as his conclusions which gave rise to fierce criticism at the time. Mill’s leading opponent, Macaulay, accused him of assuming certain principles of human nature and then arguing deductively from them, ignoring completely the history and practice of government through the centuries. Even if there were any absolutely true principles of human conduct, no science of government could be deduced from them. Knowledge of politics comes from empirical study and induction, and the generalizations which result will be related always to the context of their discovery ([1.47] 97–129). As already noted, Mill’s case, as the utilitarian one generally, was that the original proposition that it is selfinterest which is the dominant motive was in fact based on experience. Without any checks, so would men behave, and this need to prevent men from injuring each other in the pursuit of their interests is recognized as the chief function of government. The problem here lies in the status of the original proposition: is it a law of human nature supported by empirical evidence and holding true without exception or is it the only sensible assumption to make in order to organize social and political life? Mill’s position seemed to waver between the two—a law that men’s actions are governed by their interests, in turn explained by the association of ideas, or a prudential maxim that everyone should be supposed to be acting in their interests; in either case the only safeguard for good government lay through a system of representation to check against the abuse of power. It was this certainty in Mill’s thinking, that utilitarianism had to point in a politically radical direction, that helped move Bentham from his original expectation that an enlightened despot or aristocracy would usher in the reign of utility to his mature position that democracy was an essential instrument towards the desired end. That James Mill’s position is more complex than might be assumed from his essay on ‘Government’ and the deductive method applied there can be seen by examining his further articles in the Supplement to the Encyclopaedia. Apart from what seems to be a simple faith in the identity of interest created by regular elections, Mill is aware that for electors to make informed choices and judge their rulers wisely they must have knowledge of their actions and be free to criticize them. Freedom of expression is thus added to the other securities against misrule. His essay on the ‘Liberty of the Press’ [1.56] attends to this problem. For the government to pursue the greatest happiness, for the system of checks to work, knowledge or the glare of publicity is essential. Democracy as institutionalized mistrust depends on the ruled knowing what the rulers are doing. Truth acts as the great restrainer; a free press is an essential security without which free elections would not serve their purpose. Having established good government and provided securities against misrule, the question arises as to its responsibilities. As with Bentham, Mill sees the law as providing the framework of organized and secure social life. The law creates offences and these are violations of rights, every infringement of which involves an injury. Utility determines what should be rights and the law should translate these into legal rights. Not all painful acts are to be treated as injuries, for example when they result from people’s antipathies to actions which cause no evil, as in the religious hostility to eating or drinking certain types of food or drink, as argued in ‘Liberty of the Press’ [1.56], 11). Thus while liberty is to be restricted where rights are violated, not every evidence of pain is to count as good reason for legal protection. As with Bentham’s four types of case where punishment is not appropriate—because groundless, inefficacious, unprofitable or needless—so Mill excludes intervention where the evil of punishment is not outweighed by some positive good. The law’s concern is primarily to deter the commitment of mischievous acts not to compel the individual to seek his or her own happiness in prescribed ways. A duty to oneself is a matter of individual prudence; the law steps in when duty to others is involved. And the moral sanction or public opinion reinforces the force of law in matters where considerations of utility can be objectively shown to be involved. There must be empirical evidence of mischief or injury not merely prejudice or antipathy; with Mill as with Bentham this was what made the principle of utility superior to others. Where there would be no pain without the antipathy, no harm without the dislike, then the case for interference is groundless. Utilitarianism is an external standard capable of being applied empirically. And so the law creates the conditions in which all individuals are allowed to pursue their own conception of happiness secure in the knowledge that fellow individuals will not injure their rights and they likewise are equally secure, equally free to maximize their own good. The individuals’ original mistrust of others is replaced by a trust based on the rightness and strength of the law. Mill is optimistic that democratic reform would lead to utility and rejects the criticism that the poor, once in majority power, would pursue a short-term self-interest which would threaten the security of person and property which it was the law’s main business to protect. He believes, on the contrary, that they would act on their long-term interests which involved the maintenance of private property and respect for individual rights. Both the influence of the middle class and the power of education would show people that the rational course demanded such moderation. In such a reformed environment people will indeed successfully pursue their own interests, but in an intelligent, temperate and benevolent manner. In this way Mill injects into utilitarianism a more high-minded tone than generally appears in Bentham, a tone to be accentuated further by his son, John Stuart Mill. The influence of both Bentham and James Mill is a matter of some controversy, not least because it has to be assessed both philosophically and practically in order to respect their claims that proper understanding could only be tested by practical results. More than this, any practical changes which did occur cannot be unquestionably attributed to the utilitarian philosophy which recommended them. There were many other influences at work. Furthermore, it is difficult to pin-point the exact extent of Bentham’s own influence exerted as it was by correspondence, conversation and public discussion as much as by his published work. That much of the reform was in accord with Bentham’s thought is not conclusive proof of a connection yet the general atmosphere conducive to reform seems clearly to have been formed at least partly by the activities of Bentham, James Mill and their school of radical utilitarians. Generally speaking the reforms— political, legal, administrative and social—which took place in nineteenth-century Britain were much more modest than Bentham and Mill would have liked and the sinister interests so vehemently attacked by both thinkers were much more powerful and enduring than even they thought possible. Bentham’s theory of democracy based on mistrust, accountability and publicity failed to dominate and instead the growth of democracy was attended with deference and secrecy. No written constitution was enacted, the Lords and monarchy survived, as did the Common Law, and the movement Bentham hoped for towards equality of power to challenge the privilege and corruption of the ruling few did not take place. Bentham’s faith in the people and his hostility to those in power unless checked by the people was not the faith which motivated democracy; rather a distrust of the people and a reliance on a new ruling elite, more akin to James Mill’s version, was the dominant theme in the movement towards democracy. Once Bentham had been converted to the radical cause he was clear that the key to happiness—a life of security, with adequate subsistence, the possibility of abundance, growing equality—lay in a democratic system with accountability as the primary value. In this sense his influence was less than that of James Mill or John Stuart Mill, both in different ways concerned with the quality of the rulers rather than the vitality of the people; this is not of course to say that Bentham’s argument was wrong, simply that his radical democracy was overshadowed by a version in which the people ruled only in a distant sense and with little direct involvement or power of supervision. In the matter of more detailed legislation—parliamentary reform, local government reform, the Poor Law, prison legislation, public health—the growth of government intervention and central administration was influenced by the Benthamites along with humanitarians, philanthropists, working-class radicals and Christian campaigners. The pressure for reform came from many sources but in formulating the detailed proposals and insisting on central control through inspection, in making the new system accountable to government, the Benthamites played a key role. It is of course in the field of moral philosophy that Bentham is best known largely because of his supposed inferiority to his successor, John Stuart Mill. He has been seen as the proponent of a crude version of utilitarianism which the younger Mill sought to improve. In this way his contributions in the whole field of law and of reform were often seen as suspect, resting as they did on what was seen, following J.S.Mill, as a defective philosophy. Mill’s debt to Bentham and to his father was generally concealed behind his somewhat severe criticisms of them. Thus J.S.Mill’s Autobiography, though giving a distorted picture of his father’s character and influence, was regarded as the authorized version, and his critical essays on Bentham were thought to be no more than the master deserved. In consequence, the younger Mill’s attempt to defend a new version of utilitarianism, despite later criticisms of it, was thought at least to be an advance on the original. Similarly with J.S.Mill’s concern with individual liberty, it was seen as a radical departure from a form of utilitarianism which had no liberal dimension. The influence of Bentham and James Mill was thus cast in terms of an influence from which Mill liberated himself with the aid of new more sensitive, romantic and emotional guides. While there is no doubt that J.S.Mill made important changes to the older version of utilitarianism, the continuities are also important; furthermore the evidence of change does not itself indicate improvement. Given Bentham’s ambition to change the world through the power of enlightened law and thus liberate people from the constraints placed on them by the power of sinister interests, and given John Stuart’s different agenda to liberate them through the improvement of their characters, perhaps comparison is a misconceived exercise. If it is allowed, who is to say that Bentham’s massive but modest practical enterprise is inferior to the grander but more elusive project which animated J.S. Mill? Into this picture James Mill constantly strays, exhibiting at times the practical optimism of Bentham and at other times a sterner pessimism about the possibility of improving character in a world beset with prejudice, ignorance and selfishness. Generally speaking, the older utilitarians took men (and women for Bentham) as they were and looked to laws as they might be, before considering society as it could be. For Bentham, and James Mill to a lesser extent, the strength of his position was that the changes recommended were all possible because tangible; they involved no change in human nature but only in the conditions in which men and women find themselves. All people want a happy life, a life of well-being, and it is politics which can assure them of the right context for such a very human ambition. From this standpoint Bentham never deviates, though James and John Stuart Mill are constantly worried by a more paternalistic concern with evaluating the happiness of the individual, a matter which Bentham is happy to leave to the individual to decide. In some ways the different interpretations given to utilitarianism were part of its strength as an enduring ethical principle. Thus for those concerned with matters of practical efficiency and reform it offered the possibility of empirical calculation of consequences, while for those concerned with the more spiritual improvement of mankind it offered a standard of qualitative judgement. Thus within the broad utilitarian perspective many versions persisted but all in some ways or other owed much to the classical formulation of Bentham either directly or through its modified transmission by James Mill. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bentham: manuscripts 1.1 Bentham Manuscripts in the University College London Library. 1.2 Bentham Manuscripts in the British Library, Add. MSS 33, 537–64. 1.3 Dumont Manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire, Geneva. Editions of Bentham’s works Complete and selected works The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, general eds, J.H.Burns, J.R. Dinwiddy, F.Rosen: 1.4 Chrestomathia, ed. M.J.Smith and W.H.Burston, Oxford, 1983. 1.5 A Comment on the Commentaries and A Fragment on Government, ed. J.H. Burns and H.L.A.Hart, London, 1977. 1.6 Constitutional Code, vol. 1, ed. F.Rosen and J.H.Burns, Oxford, 1983. 1.7 The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, vols 1–2, ed. T.L.S.Sprigge, London, 1968; vol. 3, ed. I. Christie, London, 1971; vols 4–5, ed. A.T. Milne, London, 1981; vols 6–7, ed. J.R.Dinwiddy, London, 1984; vols 8–9, ed. S.Conway, London, 1988, 1989. 1.8 Deontology together with A Table of the Springs of Action and Article on Utilitarianism, ed. 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