Criticism of the Quantitative Utilitarianism Theory of Bentham

Bentham’s Gross Utilitarianism is open to the following objects:-

(1) Bentham is an advocate of Psychological Hedonism. So his doctrine suffers from all the defect of psychological Hedonism. Our desire is primarily directed towards some object, the attainment of which is followed by pleasure. If we desire a pleasant object, it does not follow that we desire pleasure. Moreover, very often the more we seek pleasure, the less we get it. This is the fundamental paradox of Hedonism. Moreover, even if we naturally seek pleasure, it does not follow that we ought to seek pleasure. In fact, if we naturally seek pleasure, there is no point in saying that we ought to seek pleasure. Thus psychological Hedonism does not necessarily lead to Ethical Hedonism. There is no necessary connection between the two. In fact, the ideal cannot be evolved from the actual.

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(2) Bentham recognizes several dimensions of value among pleasures. He holds that the surplus of pleasure over pain determines the Tightness of an action, and that the surplus of pain over pleasure determines the wrongness of an action, so he looks upon pleasure and pain as concrete things which can be added and substracted and thus quantitatively measured. But feelings of pleasure and pain are purely subjective states of the mind and can not be measured like coins. They are highly variable in character. They depend upon variation in mood temperament and circumstances. Thus hedonistic calculus proposed by Bentham in impracticable.


(3) Bentham clearly recognizes the egoistic nature of man, but still he advocates Altruistic Hedonism. He does not offer any argument for altruism. He does not give any reason for our pursuit of general happiness. He thinks the nature of man to be essentially egoistic. To obtain the greatest portion of happiness or himself, says. Bentham, is the object of every rational being. From this pure egoism, Bentham can never evolve altruism; but still he recognizes the extent of pleasure, and thus introduces altruism into his doctrine.

(4) Bentham introduces altruism into his doctrine by taking into account the extent of pleasures, i.e., the number of persons affected by them. But he gives no reason why the pleasures of greater extent are preferable to those of smaller extent. In fact, intellectual pleasure and aesthetic pleasure can be shared by a large number of persons. The former are higher pleasures- since they satisfy reason. The latter are lower pleasures since they satisfy sensibility. But Bentham does not recognize qualitative difference among pleasures. The extent of pleasure covertly refers to its quality.

(5) The external sanctions can never explain the transition from egoism to altruism. We choose to obey the laws of Nature, Society, State and God not for their sake, but for our good. We are compelled by these external sanctions to sacrifice our own pleasure and interest to those of other by prudential considerations. These external sanctions can create a must or physical compulsion, but never an ought or moral obligation.

(6) Bentham’s altruism is gross or sensualistic, because he does not recognize the qualitative difference of pleasures. Though he recognizes purity as a dimension of value in pleasures, he does not mean by ‘purity’ qualitative superiority, or intrinsic excellence. All pleasures are equally alike in kind or equality. But this is a distinction of psychological facts. Intellectual pleasure, artistic enjoyment and spiritual bliss are decidedly higher in quality than the pleasures of eating and drinking.


(7) Bentham, by recognizing the extent of pleasures, makes hedonistic calculation extremely difficult. How can we weight the pleasures of others ? Should we give preference to others’ pleasures to our own ? From the hedonistic stand point, it is not Justifiable. To give weight to others’ pleasures independently of our own in to pass to a new standard of f value altogether. Why should others pleasures be preferable to our own ? Moreover, we cannot calculate the pleasurable of all mankind.

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