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Author: Surjit Raiguru

Interpreting The Principle of Utilitarianism as given by Bentham as a Socio-Economic Parameter of Government Policy when put in Practical Terms.

Introduction to Principle of Utilitarianism as given by Bentham

“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”

- Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham defined utilitarianism as an ethical philosophy that holds that morality and law should be set up to provide the most happiness to the greatest number of people. Bentham emphasized that deeds should be evaluated based on how much they benefited society as a whole. The highest potential happiness of the society should be the sole goal of governance. An individual's happiness rises according to how few and few his sufferings are, and how vast and plentiful his pleasures are. He should be left nearly fully alone to take care of his hobbies. The prevention of sufferings is the main goal of governance. It achieves this goal by giving people rights that include those for personal safety, honour protection, property rights, and the ability to receive assistance in times of need. Offenses of various types relate to these rights[1].

Bentham was innovative in emphasizing the effects of behaviour rather than the intention behind it. He didn't care about motives and thought that doing the right thing would lead to the right results. He said that the joy and pain quality resulting from the results of our activities should be the most crucial factor. Simply explained, an activity is considered good if it brings about pleasure and negative if it brings about misery. According to the concept of utility, a decision should be made based on whether it results in benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness or avoids harm, pain, or misery.

According to Bentham[2], pleasure and pain are the two sovereign lords who govern over humanity. Bentham continues by pointing out that individuals often use their bodily hostility as a cover for moral antipathy and the ensuing impulse to punish those who offend them. However, he also promoted the idea that governments and people should behave morally according to the concept of usefulness. Actions are deemed acceptable when they tend to bring about happiness or pleasure and rejected when they tend to bring about sadness or suffering.

Bentham disagreed with the notion of collective interests. Instead, he said that organizations cannot exist independently of individuals and that the interests of all members of a group are added together. In addition, he said that because suffering is the theory's primary issue, everyone is treated equally when determining the pleasure associated with an activity.

Critical Analysis to Mill’s alterations of Benthamite Utilitarianism

John Stuart Mill is a staunch advocate of individualism and utilitarianism. In his justification, Mill posited a modern-day compromise between utilitarianism and individuality. Mill argued that quality metrics may be used to quantify the distinction between pain and pleasure.

The first and most significant factor is Mill's resistance to the Benthamite viewpoint, which holds that all joys are fundamentally equal. Instead, Mill contends that we need to distinguish between greater and lower pleasure. Utilitarianism is an ethical philosophy that holds that each action's goodness is determined by how it affects the outcomes, particularly how happy people are. It should concentrate on the things that make the most people happy. It aims to demonstrate that morality has a logical and scientific basis[3]. Science is based on observation, while rationality is based on calculation. According to Bentham[4], a course of action is morally appropriate if it results in more joy than suffering. According to Mill, an activity will provide the majority of people the greatest pleasure if it follows the norms that are universally accepted. Mill also takes into account qualitative pleasure in addition to quantitative pleasure, as does Bentham. Therefore, the following critiques may be summarized in the following points:

1. Bentham argued that the number rather than the quality of joys and sufferings differs. He claimed that both joys and sufferings could be quantitatively calculated. However, Mill asserted that only in terms of quality can pain and pleasure be quantified mathematically.

2. Individual interest and overall pleasure are at odds, according to utilitarianism advocated by Bentham. However, Mill reduced the gap between personal interests and satisfaction in society.

3. Bentham only accepted punishments from outside sources. But since every person has an innate desire to see all others happy, Mill understood that internal punishments might also be used to force someone to work toward promoting pleasure in society.

4. In a society of wolves, Bentham's principle of utility would elevate wolfishness; in a society of saints, it would elevate saintliness. But according to Mill, the standard for usefulness in any community should be saintliness.

5. Bentham's utilitarianism is in favour of doing what is best for the most people. However, there is a danger that the rights of minorities might be curtailed here. Mill thus favoured individuality.

6. Bentham backed democratic government under all circumstances, whereas Mill favoured monarchy for cavemen and democratic government for those who could appreciate its benefits. It indicates that Mill favoured democracy based on the state of the human race.

7. Bentham categorically rejected the idea of the state interfering with an individual's freedom. However, Mill argued that the State may just as well tax the values that were established by society, supporting State sovereignty over the institution of private property.

According to the aforementioned observations, I conclude the notions of divine rights, natural rights, and social contract were destroyed by the utilitarian approach to political responsibility. This idea prioritized the person above the State. It is not egotistic, but it is altruistic. The idea of utilitarianism has now taken centre stage in all laws. The greatest pleasure for the largest number of people is really the foundation of the current democratic governance. Although there are certain gaps in the idea, they may be minimized by using the approach.

Application of the Utilitarian Principle to Vaccination Policy followed by the Government

A blatant example is immunization requirements. Because getting everyone or almost everyone vaccinated is a simple technique to accomplish excellent results in eliminating communicable illnesses or keeping them gone, we often don't offer parents a choice and so restrict their liberty. It is one of the greatest examples of the utilitarian philosophy being used by the government to further its goals.

In a pandemic, egalitarians are non-existent. Prioritizing the needs of the many is unavoidable given the size of the issue facing health systems and public policy. A failure to thoroughly analyse the effects of actions might result in a significant amount of avoidable loss of life. It is difficult to treat all people equally. A pandemic presents a compelling ethical case for thinking about how to do the greatest good overall. According to the popular moral theory of utilitarianism, the appropriate action is the one that is likely to result in the greatest good.

At the initial phase, the Indian government received modelling during the pandemic that said COVID-19 would cause around 500,000 fatalities in the absence of prevention efforts. By putting in place significant social alienation measures, this may be lowered to 20,000 at lockdown. Economic consequences of liberty restrictions will inevitably lead to significant employment losses, mental illness, and elevated health risks. The extension of misery and perhaps death will ensue from postponing elective procedures and treatments. Due to a lack of beds, patients with non-COVID illnesses may not be able to obtain treatment at a hospital.

In this case, they applied the Doctrine of Utilitarianism in the following manner:

1. Capacity

Save the most people possible while keeping all other factors constant. By estimating how many lives would be lost if lockdown were to be implemented or not, this rule might be applied to the lockdown dilemma. The amount of time spent on a ventilator in a situation of shortage affects the number of lives saved. More individuals might die because they won't have access to breathing assistance the longer one person is on a ventilator. Resources equal life when there aren't enough of them. There are less resources accessible for others the more resources are used by a therapy or a person.

2. Longevity of the existence of life

According to utilitarianism, the duration of a benefit is important since it impacts the quantity of good that is created. In order to preserve more lives, longer-lasting therapies should be chosen above those that just prolong life for a short time. Therefore, age is a de facto measurement of length. Utilitarianism favours preserving the lives of the young since they often pass away earlier than elderly individuals. However, it is the anticipated duration of the benefit that matters, not the age itself. Because of this, utilitarianism is not ageist in a morally troubling sense and does not engage in unjust discrimination.

3. Standard of Living

Utilitarians take into account a person's quality of life in addition to how long they will live after receiving therapy. Life quality is significant to them. Comparisons of an individual's general well-being, however, are not simple. The likelihood that someone with a handicap would experience less happiness than someone without a disability is not a given. What determines happiness or what makes a person's life good is perhaps the most important ethical topic. The issue of the lockdown might also be related to quality of life. If the lockdown life years saved were anticipated to be of worse quality, it would affect how much value is obtained overall and, hence, what financial expense would be worthwhile.

4. Actions and oversight are correspondent, as are its removal and concealing

Any type of first-come, first-served scheduling for treatment would be rejected by utilitarianism. It is ethically immaterial to decide whether or not to treat a patient based on when they are in need of care. We have referred to this idea as the concept of temporal neutrality in other places. According to utilitarianism, medical professionals should be ready to stop treating patients with terrible prognoses in order to continue treating patients with better prognoses when they show up later. Examining actions and inactions is also pertinent to broader societal issues brought up by the epidemic. When the results of two choices are the same, failing to adopt a good policy is comparable to intentionally enacting a poor policy. Utilitarians hold policymakers accountable for both their actions and their inactions. For utilitarians, failing to adopt alternative policies that lead to preventable, anticipated fatalities is tantamount to killing. This implies that decision-makers are as responsible for the failure to eliminate malaria as they would have been had they chosen not to respond to coronavirus.

5. Societal Wellbeing

Giving precedence to health care professionals, those delivering important services, and those who are required to offer critical benefits to others during pandemics is one general norm that is likely to maximize value. Several nations have used this for coronavirus testing. It may, however, also relate to getting access to ventilators or other kinds of medical care. This is explained by the possibility that they may be able to return to work sooner. The possibility of abusing its operationalized principles is taken into consideration by utilitarianism. Since social worth is often manipulated by the powerful to claim privilege and priority, it should be taken into consideration while considering whether to operationalize a concept or not.

[1]Crimmins, J. E. (1996). Contending Interpretations of Bentham’s Utilitarianism. Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue Canadienne de Science Politique, 29(4), 751–777. [2]Goldworth, A. (1987). The Sympathetic Sanction and Sinister Interest in Bentham’s Utilitarianism. History of Philosophy Quarterly, 4(1), 67–78. [3]Viner, J. (1949). Bentham and J. S. Mill: The Utilitarian Background. The American Economic Review, 39(2), 360–382. [4]Anderson, B. A. (1983). MILL ON BENTHAM: FROM IDEOLOGY TO HUMANISED UTILITARIANISM. History of Political Thought, 4(2), 341–356.


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