After reading this article you will learn about Jeremy Bentham:- 1. Life, Interests and Works of Jeremy Bentham 2. Political Ideas of Jeremy Bentham 3. Influence on Political Thought.
Life, Interests and Works of Jeremy Bentham:
The man who controlled the English political thought for one hundred years is Jeremy Bentham. Although there were several exponents of the doctrine of utilitarianism, the name of Bentham tops the list.
In fact, the doctrine is so much associated with Bentham that one cannot be separated from another. “He did for utilitarianism” comments Plamenatz, “what Sidney and Beatrice Webb did for British socialism. But intellectually he was superior to the Webbs”.
Jeremy Bentham was born just one hundred years before the publication of The Communist Manifesto, that is, in the year 1748, and he died in the year 1832 when the Reform Bill was passed by the British Parliament.
Bentham’s parents saw in their child the markings of an intellectual prodigy. While other children of his age spent their time in playing games, he read classics. He started reading at the age of three.
The result of all these was that he could not receive formal education. He came of a very well-to-do family of lawyers. There was no dearth of money, mentality and material atmosphere necessary for education. Different classics of Latin were stocked in his father’s library.
His early life was quite uneventful. He had no acquaintance with the real world. Since his father and grandfather were successful lawyers and built up a big fortune through their vast practice, young Bentham entered Lincoln’s Inn after his graduation in 1763.
Young Bentham did not feel any compulsion to earn his daily bread through practice of law. Moreover, because of his disinterestedness in the practice of law he could not follow it seriously. His interest was shifted to jurisprudence. He listened to famous judgments and lectures of Blackstone and Mansfield.
Bentham’s interests were many and varied. Economics, logic, psychology, penology, theology, ethics and politics—nothing escaped his attention. But his main interest was law and government.
Jeremy Bentham viewed the activities of judicial department and public administration with a censorial outlook. In fact, the government and law motivated him to write books or propound theory.
Throughout his life Bentham had advocated reforms of the legal system. He thought that this department had become irrelevant and failed to meet the demands of an industrialized society. However, he is better known for his doctrine of utilitarianism.
His first work was published in 1776 and this is the Fragment of Government. In 1789, one hundred years after the Glorious Revolution, Bentham’s second work Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation was published.
His third book Draught of a Code for the Organization of the Judicial System of France was published in 1790. The French Revolution could not evoke much interest in him.
He had no support for the revolutionaries. But he, like Burke, did not condemn them. “Hume anticipated the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham. He held that there were strict limits to the lengths to which human reason could go, and that to postulate a state of nature antecedent to society in which isolated individuals came together to forge a social contract was a fiction that was of no use in explaining how or why men behave as they do in society.” —Dante Germino—Machiavelli to Marx—Modern Western Political Thought.
Political Ideas of Jeremy Bentham:
1. Principle of Utility:
Though Bentham, in the strictest sense, was not the father or originator of the doctrine of utilitarianism, there is no denying the fact that he is the greatest and best interpreter of the principle of utility or utilitarianism.
His clear dictum is – each and every government—while formulating any policy or taking any decision or implementing any action regarding the management of state—must remember that whether or to what extent that policy or action or principle is capable of maximising comfort or pleasure of the people.
This announcement of Bentham is clearly individualistic in tone. The comfort or pleasure of the people is of primary importance for any government worthy of its name.
At the beginning of his an Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation Bentham writes:
Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters— pain and pleasure… In words a man may pretend to adjure their empire, but in reality he will remain subject to it all the while.
The principle of utility recognizes this subjection and assumes it for the foundation of that system, the object of which is to rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and law
He further says:
To them we refer all our decisions, every resolve that we make in life. The man who affects to have withdrawn himself from their despotic sway does not know what he is talking about.
To seek pleasure and shun pain is his sole aim, even at the moment when he is denying himself the greatest enjoyment or courting penalties of the most severe kind. This maxim, unchangeable and irresistible as it is, should become the chief study of the Moralist and of the Legislator. To these two motives the principle of utility subjects everything.
These two observations of Bentham clearly state what he wants to say about the doctrine of utilitarianism. In every sphere of life and in every action man’s sole guide is the calculation of pain and pleasure.
So it is a must for the legislator or administrator to see that men are getting pleasure or will get pleasure while taking any action. What Bentham emphasizes is that it would be unwise and undesirable to adopt any policy that will not be able to cater to the interests of general public or will not be able to avoid pain and augment the quantity of pleasure.
In a word, the avoidance of pain and attainment of pleasure shall be the guiding principle of any governmental policy. By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency of which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question.
The action may be of any private person or it may be any measure of government. The acceptance or rejection of every action or measure depends upon its ability to provide pleasure or pain.
Bentham then defines utility. By utility is meant that property in any object whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good or happiness or to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered.
2. Sources of Pleasure and Pain and Measurement:
There are generally four sources of pleasure and pain which are distinguishable from each other. These are physical, moral, political and religious. These may combinedly be sanctions. The physical or natural sanction comprises the pains and pleasures which we may experience or expect in the ordinary course of nature, not purposely modified by any human interposition.
The moral sanction comprises such pains and pleasures as we experience or expect at the hands of our fellow beings prompted by feelings of hatred or goodwill or contempt or regard; in a word, according to the spontaneous disposition of each individual.
This sanction may also be styled popular, the sanction of public opinion or of honour, or the sanction or pains and pleasures of sympathy. When the political authority as well as its laws and decisions happen to be the source of pain and pleasure for the individuals we call it political.
Sometimes religion or religious authorities-through different acts and decisions-create both pleasure and Pain or any one-we term it religious. The scrutiny of the value of pleasure reveals that it depends on generally four circumstances and, in the view of Bentham these are – intensity, duration, certainty or uncertainty and proximity or remoteness.
While the individuals measure or estimate pleasure or pain they bring these four circumstances under consideration. But when the value of any pleasure or pain is considered for the purpose of estimating the tendency of any act by which it is produced, there are two other circumstances to be taken into account.
These are its fecundity and its purity. The fecundity and purity are, in strictness, not deemed the properties of pleasure and pain.
An important part of Bentham’s theory of pleasure and pain consists of calculation or what may be called measurement. If pain and pleasure cannot be measured, it would not be an easy task for the individual to take decision or arrive at conclusion.
Bentham’s suggestion runs as follows:
Begin with any one person whose interests seem to be most affected by any act of the authority.
Then we are to calculate the value of each distinguishable pleasure and as well as the value of each distinguishable pain. Sum up all the values of all the pleasures on the one side and those of all the pains on the other. If the balance is on the side of pleasures then the act or decision will be treated as good.
The individual will give his consent to it if the balance is on the side of pains the tendency is bad and the person concerned will argue against the implementation of the policy or act. Take an account of all the persons whose interests appear to be concerned and if we sum up the pleasures and pains according to the above process then we shall see whether the tendency is good or bad.
Jeremy Bentham tells us that the value of a lot of pleasure or pain varies with its intensity, its duration, its certainty, its uncertainty, its propinquity, its fecundity, its purity and its extent we have already pointed out all these.
These are what Bentham calls the seven dimensions of pleasure and pain and he believes that by operating with them we can assess the value, by which he means the quantity or any sum of pleasure or pain.
He admits that, in practice, such calculations can seldom be made with accuracy, but he supposes that they are, in principle, possible. He further observes that it is not to be expected that this process should be strictly pursued previous to every moral judgment or to every legislative and judicial operation. It may be always kept in view and as near as the process actually pursued on these occasions approaches it, so near will such a process approach the character of an exact one.
3. Features and Significance of Utilitarianism:
It has been claimed by renowned scholars that Bentham has not categorically used the term utilitarianism though he was the father of the term. J. S. Mill, son of fames Mill, has been found to use the concept liberally.
It is, however, undeniable that the structure of the doctrine was built up by Bentham. Again, the analysis of the concept provides an excellent picture about the theory and some characteristic features.
Theory of utilitarianism is a “felicific calculus” or it is also called a “Hedonistic calculus.” Why? In Bentham’s opinion both pleasure and pain are measurable and the amount of one offsets that of another. Since both of them are calculable they can be summed up.
The balance will determine what is pain and what is pleasure. In this calculation four dimensions or phases are to be considered—the mention of which has already been noted. These are intensity, duration, certainty and remoteness.
We have stated Bentham’s method of measurement. In his judgment man is rational and this enables him to decide what will give him pleasure and from what source he will get pain.
If we study Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism we shall find that the entire fabric of the concept is buttressed by the idea that man is quite reasonable and rational. Though there is considerable doubt about this over-simplification, it is a fact that he accepted it.
Jeremy Bentham further says that happiness has a sacred side and that is most desirable. That is why no one wants to neglect the pleasure and, to the contrary, makes all efforts to maximize pleasure or happiness.
The concept that happiness is measurable is based on certain inferences, though these are questionable. He states that happiness may be both stable and unstable.
Due to this, rational man desires to have stable or permanent pleasure. As to the measurability of pleasure Bentham has categorically indicated the special importance of the legislator.
If we thoroughly and carefully analyse Bentham’s views regarding the measurement of pleasure and pain it will appear that utility can be measured mathematically. That is, through calculation, man can know how much pleasure he has got. In other words, both pleasure and pain are mathematically calculable.
If we go through the various aspects of Benthamite theory of utility we shall find that he has not given recognition to the concept of natural rights because he believed that there could not be anything like natural rights.
These rights are unrelated to real situation; they are simply metaphysical or unreal. The foundations of American Declaration of Independence or the French Declaration of Rights are the natural rights.
They are not related to the utility or happiness of the citizens. Even the natural rights do not account how much pleasure people will get from them. Bentham has said that even after independence not a single slave got emancipation.
So what is the value of natural rights if they do not find their implementation in actual life?
According to Wayper the doctrine of utility is a doctrine which is concerned with results and not with motives. Utilitarians, particularly Bentham, hold the view that the goodness or badness of an action cannot be determined from the motive.
Only the results will say whether the decision is good or bad. Of course Bentham and his followers have agreed to make a compromise in certain exceptional circumstances, but the motive cannot be accepted as a general principle Wayper concludes according to the doctrine of utility we cannot say whether an action is good until its consequences are known.
The doctrine of utility is universal in the sense that all the conducts of man are expressed in one form or other of utility. That is, there is utility behind every conduct. Bentham says of the principle of ascetism; Asectics derive their perverted pleasure from ascetism.
Ascetism has painful consequences. It is explicable in terms of hedonism, while hedonism is not explicable in terms of ascetism.
Wayper has drawn our attention to another feature of the principle of utility. The doctrine is supposed to be objective, verifiable, unequivocal and clear. Bentham does not support the view of the founding fathers of the American Constitution and the writers of the Federalist Papers. The authors said that justice was the basis of government as well as its end. In Bentham’s consideration this is improper.
Why not happiness? He asks. Every man knows quite well what is happiness. But the idea of justice is subjective and it varies from person to person. On the contrary, everyone knows what is happiness and, according to Bentham, on rare occasions dispute arises on the question of happiness.
Hence it is a worthy criterion of policy determination. The doctrine of utility is not an imaginary one. It is based on solid foundation. It is applicable and ascertainable, since it is measurable.
The Industrial Revolution that took place in the second half of the 18th century changed the economic, social, political and cultural aspects of society and, simultaneously, certain deep rooted consequences and evils.
An overall change in the entire structure of society was badly needed. Bentham thought that changes were to be made but behind every change there must be consent of individuals.
Again, they will give consent on the basis of utility they are supposed to get from the proposals. The individuals will calculate utility and after that they will give consent.
The individuals are intelligent enough and capable of giving correct opinion. Whether a city will be made clear of slums, that may create heated controversy and it may happen that no definite decision can be taken. But if both evils and advantages are placed before the general public or policy-makers a decision could easily be taken. People will easily understand the exact picture of slum life.
Sabine says “The theory of pleasure and pain and also the sensationalist psychology associated with it, had for Bentham another value besides that of enabling him to calculate the effects of legislation. He believed that by using the psychology he could track down and neutralize the “fictions” which he saw everywhere in social studies and political reasoning.”
Bentham classifies pleasures and pains into simple and complex. According to Bentham there are at least fourteen simple pleasures and twelve simple pains. Pleasures of health, sense, power and piety, etc. are instances of simple pleasure. Privation, enmity, etc. are simple pains. Simple pains and pleasures are the foundations of complex pains and pleasures.
W. T. Jones criticizes Bentham’s doctrine of utility on the grounds that it is ambiguous, it is insufficient and, finally, it is inapplicable. Let us see what Jones says. The principle of utility is full of ambiguities, because it does not clearly state and define what it means and ultimately to what it leads.
What is meant by the greatest good of the greatest number? The number may be the greatest, but the happiness may not be greatest, or the vice versa.
There is no certainty that both number and good will happen in reality. That is, good of the greatest number may not be the greatest good. Again, suppose a case. A can produce 100 units of happiness for each of his five companions and the total happiness is 500 units. B can produce 100 units of happiness for each of his four companions and the total happiness stands at 400. Who is acceptable? Who is better? It is very difficult to decide. Jones comments; “What appear on the surface to be a single self-evident exhortation is really two separate exhortations, which contradict each other.”
Bentham’s theory of utility does not provide us sufficient explanation of human’ motives. Men may generally seek pleasure and try to avoid pain. But it is not correct to generalize this motive. Men are guided by a number of motives and seeking pleasure and avoiding pain are one of them. Bentham does not recognize this.
In fact, it is an over-simplification of human motive. Human nature and motives are so complex that these cannot be explained in simple terms. Even a cursory analysis of human character reveals that. Men want many things and with the passage of time his wants change. His want is not permanently fixed on Bentham’s formula or simply pleasure and pain. Even he does not want these at the cost of other’s interest. It is unfortunate that Bentham overlooks this.
The intensity of pleasure cannot be measured against its duration, or its duration against its certainty or uncertainty. Of all the dimensions mentioned by Bentham only two couples are commensurable duration with extent and fecundity with purity.
We can say that a pleasure or pain of a given intensity experienced by a person for two minutes is equal to that same pleasure or pain experienced by two persons for one minute. We can also say of a pleasure that its fecundity exceeds its purity. In other words, all his dimensions are not equally applicable to practical situation.
Criticizing Bentham’s principle of utility Plamenatz points out that he also confused measurements of quantity with comparisons of effects. When a man has to choose between two alternative pleasures, one of which is mild and lasting and the other intense and brief, he never can choose the greater for the simple reason that neither is greater.
Jeremy Bentham has said that while calculating pleasure and pain people generally estimate the possible consequences of various actions and make comparisons among them and after that they take decisions.
They also think about alternative proposals. In substance, people do not take hasty decisions.
They apply reason, past experience etc. The inference that can be drawn from this is that his people are enlightened and aware of all the aspects of society and its functioning. But the fact is that Bentham’s presumption is not true to fact and unsound assumption.
His inordinate sympathy for middle led him to propound such a theory. Moralists and idealists have united in denunciation of its “base” materialism. He judged human beings as though they were swine.
Murray complains that if we take away conscience as Bentham does there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral action though there may remain acts that are generally useful or the reverse as there is no individual conscience there is no collective conscience. The culprit does not feel the censure of the community.
His method of reconciliation between the individual and community is unsuccessful He has taken it for granted that there cannot be any contradiction between the individual and the state. But the policy of the state cannot always ensure hundred per cent materialization of the pleasures of all individuals comprising the community. It is impossible. However, any attempt of reconciliation between individual and community is an impossible adventure.
It is unfortunate that Bentham forgot to take note of several other factors on which pain and pleasure depend. For example, in a class society, the attitudes of poor and rich towards pain and pleasure will considerably vary. Again, people s attitude towards pain and pleasure will vary with the change of social, economic and political conditions.
The calculation of pain and pleasure is related with rationality of individuals. But it is not correct that a rational person does not always think about pain and pleasure. His aim may be nobler than mere pain and pleasure. Pain and pleasure are also subject to change when persons come in contact with other persons of foreign countries.
4. Legislator and Theory of Law:
Since Bentham was a man of jurisprudence and had special attachment to it, it is quite natural that legislation will receive added significance in his political writings. The theory of law is a consequence of that. It is, therefore, expected that he would have great respect for law. Individuals’ obligation to law is to be determined by its capacity to satisfy the utility.
So the law is to be enacted in such a way as to fulfill this basic demand. Naturally, the person who takes the leading part in the enactment of law must know the people’s requirements. In Bentham’s society the legislator had a very crucial part to play.
Now we shall quote him:
“The end and aim of legislator should be the happiness of the people. In matters of legislation, general utility should be his guiding principle. The science of legislation consists in determining what makes for the good of the particular community whose interests are at stake, while its art consists in contriving some means of realisation. To apply this principle with complete efficiency, that is, to make the very foundation of a system of reasoning.”
The legislator is the most effective instrument for realizing the greatest happiness of the greatest number. As to his skillfulness he is to be universally recognized. With the help of his skillfulness he can rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and law.
The legislator needs to know only the special circumstances of time and place that have produced peculiar customs and habits. The legislator with his weapon of law-making power can control the customs and habits by imposing penalties.
Why did Bentham want a complete subordination of customs and habits to man- made laws? In fact, this constitutes a major part of his theory of jurisprudence. He believed that history was full of crimes and follies of mankind.
So the habits and customs behind which there was no reason and which were not guided by the principle of utility could not be the basis of scientific jurisprudence. In his judgment connection between law and utility is essential because only this can give law a scientific foundation. It also makes law practical.
How is the utility of legislation to be measured? Bentham’s categorical reply is it is to be measured in terms of its effectiveness, the cost of its enforcement and, in general, by its consequences.
That is, how much a law is advantageous or disadvantageous to a community that shall be decided by the consequences created by law? The chief function of the law is to allocate the penalties to produce desirable results. Law, in other words, prevents the undesirable activities and enhances the scope of pleasure.
In this connection we can refer to Bentham’s views of obligation. The citizens are bound to obey law if it is in conformity with their utility. That is, it gives them pleasure and saves them from pain. But Bentham does not forget to point out that the legislator cannot enact a law which is going to violate morality and even if he legislates such a law the citizens are not obliged to show respect to such laws,
Bentham recognizes the right to property because it provides security and enables men to calculate pain and pleasure. But law should be so enacted as to ensure a comparatively equal distribution of property.
If it is not possible the law can make attempt to stop the arbitrary inequalities. It implies that Bentham was not strictly in favour of equal distribution of property. Bentham’s contemporary socioeconomic political situation was not ripe for equal distribution of property. However, the purpose of property would be to provide security and law must aim at that.
The law will check the criminal activities through the imposition for penalties. He asserts that in all cases the pain of punishment shall exceed the gain received from violating the law or committing the crime.
If it is possible to introduce this criminal activities will come down. Bentham wanted to abolish the savage methods of penalties which were quite ineffective.
Commenting on Bentham’s theory of law Sabine says “Bentham’s jurisprudence, which was not only the greatest of his works but one of the most remarkable intellectual achievements of the nineteenth century.”
Bentham’s theory of law consists of systematic view of civil and criminal law and also procedural law. He wanted to reform the entire judicial system so as to meet the needs of a changing society.
In his theory of law we find clear influence of the middle class standpoint. From Bentham’s theory of law and other concepts we can make certain views about his attitude towards obligation.
An individual is obliged to carry out the order of authority or obey the law if both meet the requirements of pleasure and avoidance of pain. If citizens find that the law of the legislator or decision of the authority goes against the attainment of pleasure and in favour of the enhancement of pain they may refuse to show obligation.
Though Bentham has not clearly stated this in clear terms, we can formulate it from his analysis. He has said that the aim of the legislator is to augment pleasure. But, if he fails, what will happen? The silence of Bentham is quite significant.
5. Concept of State:
The state, according to Bentham and his followers, is a group of persons organized for the promotion and maintenance of utility—that is, to achieve greatest happiness or pleasure of the greatest number. Bentham had no interest in the investigation regarding the origin of state. He started his analysis with the presumption that there existed a political organization—state—by name. He then proceeds to explain what would be its unction He had no interest in the metaphysical, religious or ethical pursuits of state.
The state should focus its attention to the enhancement of citizen’s pleasure or happiness. This is stark materialism. Later on Harold Laski said that the primary duty of state is to meet the effective demand of citizens.
Though pleasure and effective demand do not follow in the same category there is a fine and interesting link between the two.
Jeremy Bentham elsewhere said:
“The community is a fictitious body composed of individual persons who are considered constituting, as it were, its members. The interest of the community is what? -The sum of the interests of the several members who compose it. it is vain to talk of the interests of the community, without understanding what is the interest of the individual A thing is said to promote the interest or to be for the interest of an individual, when it tends to add to the sum total of his pleasures or, what comes to the same thing, to diminish the sum total of his pains.”
The most important duty of state, according to Bentham, is promotion of happiness and alleviation of pain and the state performs this duty through the implementation of laws that are enacted by the legislator.
Like Hobbes or Austin, Jeremy Bentham does not assign the law-making function to the absolute sovereignty e legislator will do the job and the administrative sector will implement it.
Therefore the law of the state is supposed to be an instrument which enables authority to increase pleasure and avoid pain. He also observes that the function of the state may curtail the freedom of individuals. But this is to be accepted because, according to Bentham, happiness is more important than liberty.
We, therefore, find that here is nothing in this world which may be compared with the pleasure of the individuals. Laws’ is a restraint on the unwanted functions of some elements or persons. We, therefore, find that the law and the state are the chief actor’s in the field of attaining happiness and avoiding pleasure.
It has already been indicated that the state is the only creator of law. So the state is the supreme authority. We can say that Bentham’s state is the sovereign state. In the words of Way per “It is the hallmark of a sovereign state that nothing it does can be illegal”.
Jeremy Bentham assumes that neither the law of nature nor the law of reason can limit the power of the state. His apprehension is that if the power of the state is limited, the greatest happiness principle may be affected. If the state fails to fulfill the demand of happiness its very justification will be at stake.
The state is not only the source of law; it is also the source of rights. In his opinion there is no such thing as natural rights, it is simply a figment of imagination. Natural rights are, simply, nonsense. Without state there cannot be any existence of rights.
Again, without state the realization of rights is impossible. This view of rights has been highly acclaimed by many.
We may add a few words to his view on obedience to state. As such the individual-has no right against the state or he cannot defy the order of the state on any flimsy ground. But if he finds that his continued obedience gives him more pain and less’ pleasure, he can disobey the state. Only on this ground he admits disobedience. The obligation of the individual to the state depends upon to what extent the latter is able to give pleasure and alleviate pain.
In Aristotle, the state was prior to individual. In Bentham, the individual is prior to state. His individual is endowed with reason and rationality and can make distinction between pain and pleasure, right and wrong.
He can also calculate pleasure and pain. He even existed before the state. So the place of the state cannot be higher than that of the individual. The individuals do not exist for the state but the state exists for them. Bentham’s state is, therefore, a trustee for the individuals.
Bentham’s state stands for equal rights and equality in other respects. People enjoy not only equal rights, but they are also equal before law. He also suggests equality of property. When he speaks of equality he does not mean that there can be no inequality in the state.
The inequality is inevitable in any real state, but too much of inequality is a hindrance to the attainment of happiness. “He recognized, and he was right in recognizing, that a society which is without gross inequalities of fortune is happier than one which is not”.
Bentham’s state is fundamentally a negative one. Its task is to maximize the happiness or pleasure and the state does it through the splendid weapon of law. But the state does not take any step to change the character of the individual.
He does not recognize that happiness can be augmented by taking some positive steps which will change the character of the individuals. The state imagined by Bentham is not a place to develop what is best in him. He does not assign that function to the state. Wayper concluded – “For it is not the state that moulds the citizens, it is the citizens that mould the state”.
6. Idea of Democracy:
From the writings of Bentham we come to know that he wanted a powerful state. But this does not lead one to conclude that he was a supporter of autocracy. He was democratic-minded. His state is a democratic state. We have already noted that he did not believe in natural rights. He spoke of the rights created by the state.
Every individual has equal rights in his state. This means he also admitted equality. Every man has the right to claim the greatest happiness and it is the primary duty of any state worthy of its name to fulfil that demand. It will be a useless institution if it fails to perform this fundamental task.
Benthamite democracy proceeds from the assumptions that every man has right and that he is a rational being and so he can judge what is his real happiness and how he can get the greatest happiness. He also assumed of equality—although not in its absolute from. Two kinds of equality were active in the mind of Bentham.
The first is one man’s happiness must count for as much as another’s. This is an equality of right. Second, every man is apt to be the best judge of his own interest which is a sort of natural equality. This indicates that so far as right and equality are concerned Bentham has made his position clear and this makes him in the eyes of his readers a great democrat.
Jeremy Bentham wanted to reduce the interference of the government with individual’s affairs to the lowest level. That is, his government is a limited one. It cannot control all the spheres of human activity.
He believed that an all-powerful state cannot ensure the greatest happiness for its citizens in the largest number. In this sense his government is a negative one the role is not constructive but negative.
The first duty of the government is to ensure that men get in each other’s way as little as possible. The government cannot directly increase the happiness of its subjects.
What it can do is that it will remove the hindrances by ensuring the proper implementation of laws. When the government interferes with individuals affairs it does it for the benefit of the entire society, not for particular person or group of persons. It forbids certain kinds of behaviour and encourages others.
His attitude towards democracy and allied ideas reveals that he was in great favour of representative form of democracy. Of course, it is quite natural for him, because in the second half of eighteenth century this type of democracy was accepted by British people and was very popular. He also believed that this type of democracy would be able to meet the requirements of people.
Only such a government is able to conciliate the individual interests with common interests. Moreover, the representative government will take active interest in furthering general welfare or happiness of the people on the ground that if they fell to do it they will lose power.
In the representative form of democracy, people will get chance to test their power of judgment and exercise the in political right. He also believed that a representative democracy would not dare to work for the benefit of any particular section.
He did not stop in suggesting a representative democracy. He strongly argued for radical reforms in the electoral system, votes for women, annual Parliament and secret ballot. The members of the Parliament should be mere delegates and the Prime Minister should be chosen by the Parliament. He recommended the appointment of civil servants through competitive examination.
The government, according to Bentham, is a necessary evil. He advised his countrymen to keep a watch upon the activities of the government. People must see that the government is doing its duties.
As Jeremy Bentham grew older his suspicion for government’s ability to meet the demands and to follow the democratic values and norms increased considerably.
Though he had great faith in the British type of representative democracy he was quite suspicious of its inability. A powerful government might jeopardise the realisation of basic rights and thereby attainment of pleasure and alleviation of pain.
His suggestion was that people must always be alert and watch the activities of the government. He said that it was the duty of the people to protect their own rights and to see that their happiness is not jeopardised.
If we look at what Bentham had said about democracy, happiness and pain, it will be found that his attention was always focused on the interests of the rising middle class. He had unlimited sympathy for this class.
In his time there were middle class, capitalist class and also working class. There were large number of educated men in the middle class and the members of this class were eager to have a share in the administration.
This inspired him to support representative form of government. Bentham was against the House of Lords, because its members were not elected by the people. His theory of utilitarianism was built up to protect the interests of the middle class. Common men generally fight for the maintenance of their physical existence and not for the enhancement of pleasure.
Influence of Bentham on Political Thought:
While estimating Bentham’s influence we are faced with a clear paradox. He is not an outstanding philosopher. Nor did he invent any principle nor propound any theory In spite of this he occupies an important place in the history of political thought. This is the paradox.
“He took his theory of knowledge from Locke and Hume, the pleasure and pain principle from Helvetius, the notion of sympathy and antipathy from Hume, the idea of utility from any of half a score of writers. Lacking originality and full of prejudice in his speculations, he is as confused and contradictory in his own theoretical adventures as he is complacent”.
Wayper has also criticized the opening sentences of the Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. In his view, these sentences make no meaning. Bentham tries to remove confusion but, instead, creates chaos.
He never explains what is exactly meant by the sovereign mastery of pleasure and pain. Yet this concept constitutes the central part of his political philosophy.
Maxey observes that the weakest points of Bentham’s philosophy are that his psychology is inadequate and his reconciliation of individual and community satisfactions is unsuccessful. He has failed to go into the deep of human psychology.
He has probed only a part of it. In this sense we cannot say that his diagnosis is a complete one.
Even some critics say that he had not the intellectual capacity to draw a comprehensive picture of human psychology. Others hold the view that he was clearly biased to the middle class interests.
In fact, his political ideas have centred around the aims and ambitions of the British middle class people which arose out of Industrial Revolution. Bentham’s philosophy and reform proposals are for the rising middle class, not for the entire society. The capitalist class was already well-established.
It is the opinion of other critics that, like Hobbes and Locke, Bentham lent his support to the bourgeois class. The persons who are completely free from every problems and necessities can think of pleasure and pain.
Only these persons can pursue their happiness. He wanted to reduce the interference of the state to a minimum level considering the interests of the bourgeoisie. His argument for equality of property is simply eyewash. He never wanted it sincerely and he also knew that it was impossible.
Like Hobbes, Bentham has emphasized upon security. He wanted the security of property. His main concern was pleasure and pain. He has not uttered a single word against the evils of industrialization.
Jeremy Bentham has not suggested anything about how to save the society from these evils. Some people say that he had an intention to redistribute property for bringing about equality. But this cannot be said that he was an advocate of socialism. Rather, he was the classical supporter of bourgeois state.
When all this is said about the drawbacks of Bentham something and even far more than this can be said in his support. Maxey says that here was a doctrine to rock the foundations of all accredited political theory. With the help of ruthless logic Bentham brushed aside the radical and conservative thought.
He denied the feudal right, divine right, historical right, natural right and contractual right. In his view there is only one type of right and this is constitutional right or the state, created right, In this sense—Bentham is, no doubt, a radical philosopher.
Bentham’s contribution in the field of jurisprudence is worthy of mention, particularly his criminal jurisprudence. In this field his influence was immediate and’ lasting. “No man did more to unravel the complexities of medieval law or introduce simplicity, clarity and practical good sense into legal thinking”.
Though Bentham’s theory of utility suffers from a number of drawbacks its importance cannot be ignored. It paves the path of a welfare state. A government cannot ignore the welfare of its citizens.
What we call welfare of general public; Bentham has called it happiness or pleasure. When the welfare is achieved people will be happy.
Bentham thought that the growing influence of capitalists cornered the middle class people and men of other sections. He was sure that this process must be stopped; otherwise the progress of society would be a simple myth. This also indicates that the state can claim obedience from citizens if it can meet their requirements. In this way men can get happiness.
The interpreters of Benthamite philosophy have stressed the point that his views must be treated in larger perspective and not simply in the formula of pleasure and pain. That is why Maxey correctly observes that it is the duty of the government to justify itself through its functions and responsibility towards the citizens. In other words, it is the duty of the government to serve the people in the maximum possible ways.
Ebenstein has paid high tribute to Bentham. He says that one of Bentham’s richest legacies of government is his awareness that good government is more than a matter of tradition, common sense etc.
it needs a foundation of preliminary research and investigation. Any government of the modern age gives more emphasis upon research and investigation and, in fact, the investigation has become the fourth organ of the government.
Jeremy Bentham was the first philosopher who carefully treated the investigative aspect of the government. A government is no longer the day-to-day affair of simple dimensions confining itself to the maintenance of law and order.
It must see the consequences of its policies and approach. He applied an empirical and critical method of investigation. Here lies the credit of Bentham.
In 1948, the bicentennial of Bentham was celebrated in England and Times of London made the following observation:
“Bentham still exerts a posthumous despotism over English politics and on the whole it is a benevolent despotism.”
From the beginning of the nineteenth century Bentham’s idea and philosophy worked behind all the reforms and policies of the British government.
Bentham’s influence crossed the territorial boundary of England. The procedure of the French Assembly was based largely on a sketch by Bentham. The political and legal proposals of Bentham influenced many French thinkers and statesmen.
His doctrine created enthusiasm in America and Russia, Portugal and Spain. The legal codes of many countries were revised according to the advice of Bentham. He proposed to the President of USA in 1811 to draw up a scientific code of law.
The English and American lawyers throughout the nineteenth century strictly followed the analytic jurisprudence and they knew that John Austin and his school were the founders of this system. But, in the words of Sabine Austin did little more than bring together systematically ideas that were scattered through Bentham’s voluminous works.
Towards the end of his life Bentham was a great critic of monarchy and aristocracy. In these two forms of government, Bentham thought, the personal interests of the governors always got precedence over the collective interests of the society.
These two types of government neglected the welfare projects and from this he came to the conclusion that it was impossible for monarchy and aristocracy to implement the radical changes aiming at the common good of community.
Only a democratic form of government can do it. Liberal democracy, it is said, received the best treatment at the hands of Bentham.
Wayper observes that the great captains of Industrial Revolution were demanding that the efficiency, cheapness and uniformity—which they worshipped in their industrial undertakings—should also be introduced into government and law. But they were unwilling to accept the conservative philosophy of Edmund Burke and his respect for landed nobility.
They had, of course, no respect for anarchism of Godwin and Shelley. They did not like Jacobinical principles and Natural Rights.
They wanted reforms which would be sensible and practical and far-reaching without being too far-reaching, reform which would acknowledge the movement of power from the aristocracy to themselves without doing anything to encourage its further movement from themselves to masses.
Jeremy Bentham and his followers were also demanding uniformity, cheapness and efficiency. The captains of Industrial Revolution got their answer in the writings and proposals of Bentham.