He makes similar claims in his essay “On Bentham”(CW X: 110–11).
Bentham allows that we may be moved by the pleasures and pains ofothers. But he appears to think that these other-regarding pleasurescan move us only insofar as we take pleasure in the pleasure of others(V 32). This suggests that Bentham endorses a version of psychologicalegoism, which claims that the agent's own happiness is and can be theonly ultimate object of his desires. In his unfinishedConstitutional Code (1832), Bentham makes this commitment topsychological egoism clear.
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On the occasion of every act he exercises, every human being is ledto pursue that line of conduct which, according to his view of thecase, taken by him at the moment, will be in the highest degreecontributory to his own greatest happiness. (Introduction, §2)
Bentham is a hedonist about utility or happiness, treating happinessas consisting in pleasure (Principles I 3). So the version ofpsychological egoism to which he is attracted is psychologicalhedonism. Bentham does not say why he believes that one's own pleasureis the only ultimate object of desire. He may see it as ageneralization from his observations about the motives underlying humanbehavior.
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Bentham is not unaware of this tension. He addresses part of theproblem in the political context in other writings, notably hisPlan for Parliamentary Reform (1817). In the politicalcontext, the problem is how we can get self-interested rulers to rulein the interest of the governed, as utilitarianism implies that theyshould. Bentham's answer invokes his commitment to representativedemocracy. We can reconcile self-interested motivation and promotion ofthe common good if we make rulers democratically accountable to (all)those whom they govern, for this tends to make the interest of thegoverned and the interest of the governors coincide. Bentham'sargument, elaborated by James Mill in his Essay on Government,is something like this.
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It was this reasoning that led Bentham and James Mill to advocatedemocratic reforms that included extending the franchise to workers andpeasant farmers.
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In Principles Chapter IV Bentham sets out his conception ofpleasure and utility in more detail, distinguishing between intrinsicand relational dimensions of pleasures. For our purposes, somedimensions matter more than others. Hedonism says that pleasure is theone and only intrinsic good and that pain is the one and only intrinsicevil. All other things have only extrinsic or instrumental valuedepending on whether and, if so, how much pleasure or pain theyproduce. Because the utilitarian asks us to maximize value, he has tobe able to make sense of quantities or magnitudes of value associatedwith different options, where he assigns value to pleasure and disvalueto pain. Intensity, duration, and extent would appear to be the mostrelevant variables here. Each option is associated with variouspleasures and pains both within a single life and across lives. For anygiven option we must find out how many pleasures and pains it produces,whether those occur in a single life or in different lives. For everydistinct pleasure and pain, we must calculate its intensity and itsduration. That would give us the total amount of (net) pleasure (orpain) associated with each option. Then we must do that option withgreatest total. If there are two (or more) options with the greatesttotal, we are free to select any of these.
Overall, the best value to function is the .
Bentham does not assume that our estimates of what will maximizeutility will always be reliable. Nor does he assume that we shouldalways try to maximize utility (Principles I 13, IV 6). Doingso is costly, and we may sometimes promote utility best by not tryingto promote it directly. Nonetheless, utility, he thinks, is thestandard of right conduct.