AND JEREMY BENTHAM
AND JEREMY BENTHAM
Jeremy Bentham and Immanuel Kant were the two famous philosophers, who elucidated the criterion for evaluating human actions. Jeremy Bentham introduced the concept of assessing actions through the intensity of happiness it produces to the highest number of people; a notion that is based on utilitarianism. On the contrary, Immanuel Kant expounded the same through Categorical Imperative. Moral rightness of a decision according to Bentham’s Consequentialist Utilitarian theory is defined by the outcomes it produces, while Kant focuses on the moral rightness of the action. This paper will highlight the major similarities and difference in between these two conflicting thoughts.
The Categorical Imperative and Maximum Happiness for Maximum People
According to Jeremy Bentham, an action can be declared “just” if it provides least pain and maximum happiness to the maximum number of people, who are directly or indirectly associated with the actions. According to Bentham, utility is the property of the actions that give pleasure, benefit, good, happiness, and pleasure or hampers the occurrence of unhappiness and pain. Actions, in this case, are compared with the results or consequences it produces. In other words, consequences are the touchstone to justify actions.
The basis for Bentham’s political and moral philosophy is based on three pivotal characteristics, which includes universal egoism, happiness principle, and artificial identification of one’s interest in comparison with others. According to him, we should focus more on the total pleasure by total number of people in the community, rather than total pleasure acquired by a single person.
Kant, on the other hand, had a complete different thought about how actions should be evaluated. According to him, rather than the assessment of consequences, the duty and rules should be a basic tool to gauge the actions because the human being cannot control consequences. This theory formulated by Kant is also called Kantian ethics. It is deontological as deontology is based on the position of normative ethics that evaluates the action’s morality based on the adherence to a certain set of rules. He elucidated that the action can be declared unjust or just without considering the consequences it may have. He identified that only “goodwill” is the only good thing in the universe. This ethical theory by him can be comprehended through understanding the meaning of the term, “goodwill”.
The fundamental principle of “Categorical Imperative”, guides the Kant’s ethics. He explained that if someone wants to assess the actions then he must ask a primary question to himself that what would be the consequences if the same action is made a universal law. This brief exercise will guide if the action is moral or immoral.
The core notion of Kant’s theory is his concept of “Intend”. He expounded that to evaluate the morality and immorality of an action; the intention should be assessed to term a specific action. This concept can be explained through an example. Suppose a person observes a helpless man at road in the night. There is hardly any person except them. The first person intends to rob the helpless man after seeing this opportunity. After pondering, he thought that if he approaches him for robbery, the other person can scream, and police might come. Thinking about it, he leaves the place in haste. Now, think for a moment about the mentioned person; was he a moral person or not? According to Kant’s idea, the intention will be evaluated in this case. He left the scene because he wanted to save himself from being caught up by the police. He did not restrict himself because he thought that it is his a moral duty. This situation highlights that although the consequence of the actions were not negative but still the actions committed by a man are negative because he had negative intention in his mind, but he was not able to execute his plan.
Since individuals have less control over the consequences, Kant’s approach seems more practical as is assesses individual actions and it’s intend. For instance, there was a scientist, who was endeavoring to find a cure for the lung cancer. During the course of his research and even before it, he had the true intention to provide his services to humanity. After few years of hard work, he could not make a medicine for lung cancer, but his experiments invented new substances that can be used as chemical weapon that can potentially kill myriad human beings. According to the concept of Kant, his actions will be still considered moral. On the contrary, Bentham’s theory will entitle this action as immoral because the consequences generated by this action were negative. Although, the scientist had a true intention of service to human kind but still he would be called an immoral person.
According to Bentham’s book, “An Introduction to the Principles of Moral and Legislation”, it identifies how the legislative practices ties with a view of morality and it elucidates the principles of utility. The principle of utility identifies something like “good” based on the action that gives greatest pleasure and the least amount of pain. The actions that produce least pleasure and the most pain are considered as evil. This concept of pain and pleasure can be specified as spiritual and physical by Bentham. According to him, these principles are manifested in the legislation of the societies. For measuring the extent of please and pain that certain decision can generate, he created a criteria.
The criteria to measure pain and pleasure can be divided into categories as duration, intensity, proximity, certainty, purity, productiveness, extend. He reviewed the concept of punishment using the same measurement. For legislation, he identified the punishment should only be used as far as it produces least pain or more pleasure in the society. The kind of punishment should be properly designed so it serves its purpose rather than increasing evil in the society. For creating greatest good for the maximum number of people, he called upon the legislators to associate the laws and regulation to the measurement of pains and pleasure. According to him, some legislation and punishment can result in a greater crime than the crime for which the punishment is given. He also identified that his theory should not be considered for the individual happiness of individuals because individual happiness of a person can lead to high pain and less happiness to the society. Therefore, the notion should be applied by considering the society as a whole. In the backdrop of it, he suggested that legislation should be made by considering the minimum level of pain and maximum pleasure for the maximum number of people.
Both the ideas can be further elucidated by the following example. Consider that a hospital has 10 patients who are about to die if blood is not transfused into their body from a healthy person. During the same time, a healthy person visits the same hospital for a regular general check-up. To make the situation hypothetical, we consider that the healthy patient has no relatives, friends and family members. In this case, doctor has the option to kill the healthy person and transfuse his blood to the 10 critical patients. Now, if we will apply the theories formulated by Bentham and Kant, we may have two different scenarios in front of us.
According to Bentham, he evaluates only the consequences and looks for the greatest happiness for the maximum number. In this case, if the patient will kill the healthy patient and transfuse his blood to 10 patients then he will kill one person and save 10 lives. According to Bentham, his actions will be justified because it benefits a greater number of persons. On the contrary, if we apply the theory proposed by Kant to this situation then it will first evaluate the action of killing the healthy person. It will not evaluate the consequences of the situation and the benefit the dying people could have. On the other hand, it will assess what if such a situation will be made a universal law. Of course, if such situation is made a universal law then there would be myriad instances, where any person could be killed by doctors. In this case doctors will become legitimate murderers of thousands of individuals. As this situation cannot be declared as a universal law; therefore, Kant will view this action as immoral. No matter what benefit the actions can produce, Kant’s view will not be affected by the situation as it assesses the actions itself and not consequences. Even in the real world, if such a situation arises, the doctors do not have any authority to kill anyone, and if someone does, so he will have to face criminal charges.
In comparison with Bentham, Kant’s idea looks more rational, but there a multitude of tricky situations that make it difficult to accept Kant’s concept completely. Suppose, you are in a board that is going to another country and some people have caught a bomber, who has concealed a bomb in the board. The people who believe in Bentham might the water boarding torture, so he identifies where he has put the bomb. On the contrary, Kant’s believes will not do such a thing. Now in this case, is it correct to support Kant’s theory?
This case can further be explained by the recent incident in Germany. German Police captured the kidnapper, who has kidnapped a kid. Although, he was in police custody and the entire ransom amount was retrieved by the police, but he was not identifying that where the boy was. Considering this, the German Police gave him some sort of torture, and he finally uttered that he had killed the boy just after kidnapping. After few days, there was an interesting story in newspapers as the court has punished the police officers who tortured the kidnaper. Although, he was a kidnapper, who is of course an immoral personal but still the police officer was punished as it was against their laws. German laws have incorporated the Kant’s idea into their system effectively due to much criticism they received after the ruthless killing and torture of Jewry by Nazi Germany. Such laws in United States of America (USA) and United Kingdom (UK) are quite vague, and the court deals with such situations on case to case basis.
Both the concepts formulated by Bentham and Kant have some shortcomings, as well. According to Bentham, the greatest happiness for the maximum number of people should be a touchstone to specify any actions as moral or immoral. There is a major flaw in this notion as happiness is a subjective thing; therefore, it cannot be measured. Highest level of happiness might not be happiness for someone else. Moreover, there is also a problem associated with the situation that what if we have a positive intend, but out produced outcomes are negative. In this case, will this be considered moral or immoral as the consequences causes’ pain to the society? As the majority part of the society become happier, it may cause pain to the minority group. Abuse, slavery, rape, bullying and murder, in these cases, can become moral under the utilitarian concept of Bentham.
What happens if a stronger country takes control of a Middle Eastern country and subsequently its oil field? Then the country may ask their citizens that since they that have already earned a huge amount of money through the Arab oil; therefore, you all are not required to pay income taxes. In this case, most of the citizens will be happy and thus it will be fine according to Kent’s notion. In this case, the maximum number of people will be happy with this happening. In this case, a wrong ethical action is proved right by the Bentham’s notion of maximum happiness for maximum people. On the other hand, if that Middle Eastern country is fighting for its rights then it will be counted as immoral and the country stealing their rights will be specified as moral. The same dilemma can be expounded by the following example.
Suppose, you live in Singapore with your family during the World War II period. During the same time, the house of Mr. San has been bombed by Japan. Now after few days, the Japanese Army has learned that he is living with you in your house. The Japanese Army has come to your house to inquire you about Mr. San. Now you have two options with your, either tell them the truth and the army will kill Mr. San or you lie them to safe Mr. San. Now according to Bentham’s concept, you can evaluate that as Mr. Tan is the sole guardian of his family, and if the Army kills him then his entire family will be in much trouble and Japanese Army will not be able to get anything by killing Mr. San. Bentham’s idea will assess its consequences to his entire family. On the contrary, if the believer of Kant concept is faced with such a situation, he will not be concerned about the potential consequences of his actions. He will not be concerned about the life of Mr. San. He will only believe that as lying is a wrong thing, and he will utter the Japanese forces that Mr. San is living in his house. In this condition, the ethical view of this scenario suggests that it is right to utter a lie at when you can save a life of an innocent.
Consider a situation in which a lady who is being treated at a hospital for heart disease. Doctors have specially advised the family members not to discuss anything with her that can give her any emotional or mental shock for at least two weeks. In between this situation, that family learns that the son of that lady, who was coming to see his mother, had an accident, and he has been taken to the hospital for treatment. Now the lady is in the conscious state and asks his husband, where her son is? Now in this paradigm, effective evaluation of the consequences is mandatory because if her husband says the truth, the lady’s conditional will become lethal. Bentham’s view will guide him to lie her about his son for the next at least two weeks, but the proponents of Kant will speak the truth in front of her without considering the consequences. This situation again exposes a critical challenge of applying the Kant’s idea into practical implementation. An assessment of both the ideas suggest that if we want to critically evaluate a situation then we must use our intellect to see which idea between these philosophies can be applied in the particular situation.
In a nutshell, it can be concluded that Bentham focused on the consequences of the actions and Kant focused on intention of the actions. According to Jeremy Bentham, an action can be declared “just” if it provides least pain and maximum happiness to the maximum number of people, who are directly or indirectly associated with the actions. Kant, on the other hand, had a different thought about how actions should be evaluated. According to him, rather than the assessment of consequences, the duty and rules should be a basic tool to gauge the actions because human beings cannot control consequences. Since individuals have less control over the consequences, Kant’s approach seems more practical as is assesses individual actions and it’s intend. The fundamental principle of “Categorical Imperative”, guides the Kant’s ethics. He explained that if someone wants to assess the actions then he must ask a primary question to himself that what would be the consequences, if the same action is made a universal law. The basis for Bentham’s political and moral philosophy is based on three pivotal characteristics, which includes universal egoism, happiness principle, and artificial identification of one’s interest in comparison with others. According to him, we should focus more on the total pleasure by total number of people in the community, rather than total pleasure acquired by a single person. Both the concepts formulated by Bentham and Kant have some shortcomings, as well. According to Bentham, the greatest happiness for the maximum number of people should be a touchstone to specify any actions as moral or immoral. There is a major flaw in this notion as happiness is a subjective thing; therefore, it cannot be measured. On the other hand, Kant’s theory does not consider the negative consequences that an action can create, which makes it difficult to practically implement it.
- Bentham, Jeremy, and Laurence J. Lafleur. An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation (New York: Hafner Pub. Co., 1948), 220
- Kant, Immanuel. Foundations of the metaphysics of morals, and What is enlightenment? (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1959), 104