Essay on the Quantitative Utilitarianism Theory of Bentham


According to Altruistic Hedonism, universal or general happiness i.e., the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the ultimate moral standard. J. Bentham (1748- 1832) and J.S. Mill (1806-73) advocate this view. But they differ in that Bentham recognizes only quantitative distinction of pleasure, whereas J.S. Mill admits their qualitative distinction as well.

Jeremy Bentham | Publish with Glogster!

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This theory is called Utilitariaism, because it judges all actions according to their utility as means for the promotion of general happiness or prevention of general pain.


Dimensions of pleasure:

Bentham holds that the only standard of valuation of pleasure is quantitative. But quantity takes different forms. It has seven dimensions of value, viz., (i) intensity, (ii) duration, (iii) proximity, (iv) certainty, (v) purity (freedom from pain), (vi) fecundity (fruitfulness), and (vii) extent i.e., the number of persons affected.

One pleasure is more intense than another. Of pleasures otherwise equal, the more intense pleasure is preferable to a less intense pleasure. One pleasure is more c3urable than another. Of pleasures otherwise equal, the more durable pleasure is preferable to a less durable pleasure.

A proximate pleasure is preferable to a remote pleasure. A certain pleasure is preferable to an uncertain pleasure. A pleasure is pure when it is free from -pain; and it is impure when it is mixed with pain. A pure pleasure is preferable to an impure pleasure.


A pleasure is said to have fecundity when it gives rise to a number of other pleasure. A fecund pleasure is preferable to a barren pleasure which does not give rise to other pleasure. A pleasure may be enjoyed by a small number of persons or a large number of persons!

A pleasure of greater extent is preferable to one of less extent. A pleasure enjoyed by a large number of persons is preferable to pleasure enjoyed by a small number of persons. These are intensity, duration, proximity or propinquity, certainty, purity, fecundity, and extent of pleasures.

Psychological Hedonism:

Bentham is an advocate of psychological Hedonism. He says, Nature has placed man under the empire of pleasure and pain. We owe to them all our ideas; we refer to them all our Judgements and all the determination of our life. His object is to seek pleasure and shun pain.


The principle of utility subjects everything to these two motives. Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point what we ought to do, as well as to determine. When we shall do. Bentham argues that because we do desire pleasure, therefore we ought to desire pleasure. He bases ethical hedonism on psychological hedonism.

Hedonistic Calculus:

Bentham believes in hedonistic calculus. He says, Weigh pleasures and weigh pains, and the balance stands, will stand the question of right and wrong. An action is right if it gives pleasure or excess of pleasure over pain.

An action is wrong if it gives pain or excess of pain over pleasure. Thus Bentham gives a purely hedonistic critertion of right and wrong. Rightness consists in pleasurableness; Wrongness consists in painfulness. In calculating pleasures and pains we must take into account .their intensity, duration, proximity, certainty, purity, fecundity and extent.

Gross Utilitarianism:

Bentham’s Utilitarianism may be called gross or sensualistic because he does not admit qualitative differences among pleasures. For him, any one pleasure is as good as another provided they are equal in quantity. He says, quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry. We must bear in mind that Bentham does not mean by purity any superior quality but merely freedom from pain. A pleasure is pure according to Bentham, when it is unmixed with pain.


Bentham’s Hedonism is altruistic, because he takes into account the extent of pleasures, i.e., the number of persons affected by them. If a pleasure is shared by many persons, it has a greater extent and as such it is to be preferred to pleasure that can be enjoyed by only one person. Thus Bentham by introducing ‘extent’ as a dimension of pleasure introduced altruism into the doctrine. The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the moral standard.


Though Bentham is an advocate of altruistic Hedonism, he clearly recognizes the natural egoism of man. Ha says, “To obtain the greatest portain of happiness of himself is the object of every rational being. Every man is nearer to himself than he can be to any other man, and no other man can weigh or him his pleasures and pains. He himself must necessarily be his own concern. His interest must, to himself, be the primary interest. That man in naturally egoistic is repeatedly asserted by Bentham and most emphatically in the following passage. ‘Dream not that men will move their little finger to serve you, unless their own advantages in so doing be obvious to them. Men never did so and never will, while human nature is made of the present materials. But they will desire to serve you, when by so doing they can serve themselves. Thus Bentham clearly admits that man is egoistic by nature, but still he is an advocate of altruistic hedonism as shown above. He says, Each is to count for one, and no one for more than one. This is the democratic principle of justice.

Moral Sanctions:

Bentham accounts for the transition from egoism to altruism in the following manner. He explains it by means of four external sanctions, such as: physical or natural sanction, political sanction, social sanction and religious sanction. They operate through the pleasures and pains caused by nature, the state, the society and God to an individual and compel him to be altruistic.

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