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Bentham on human rights and liberty  Identification versus anonymity in e-government
 Bentham on social control


The principle of utility

We wrote that Bentham proposes to use the utility principle instead of ‘rights’ to resolve conflicts. ‘The right end of all human action is’, says Bentham, ‘the creation of the largest possible balance of happiness’, and this tendency to produce happiness is what he meant by utility. For Bentham, the morally right action in any circumstances is the one that will tend to maximize total happiness. Each individual counts equally in the calculation of how much pleasure is produced by an action, and the total of pleasurable states is summed to determine how we should act. Bentham’s utilitarianism aims at achieving the greatest aggregate happiness, that is the largest total sum of happiness irrespective of how that happiness was distributed.

This utility principle is the foundation of all Bentham’s schemes of legislation. ‘The end and aim of a legislator should be the happiness of the people. In matters of legislation, general utility should be his guiding principle’ (Principles of Legislation, Ch. I). Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pleasure and pain. To these two motives the principle of utility subjects everything: the principle is respected on an individual or collective level when ‘anything’ tends to augment pleasure. Hence, (criminal) law becomes ‘a simple piece of practical business’. Measuring pleasure and pain allows one for to measure the good or evil of any action; manipulating pleasure and pain allows for controlling the behaviour of man.

This brings us to Bentham’s theory of punishment. Bentham conceived certain pains and pleasures so annexed to actions as to form bonds, constraining a man, as it were, to the observance of some particular rule of life or conduct. Hence he believed that the whole duty of man might be enforced by the operation of ‘physical’, ‘political or legal’, ‘moral or popular’, and ‘religious’ sanctions. ‘Many men’, says Bentham, ‘fear the wrath of Heaven; many men fear loss of character; but all men are acted upon, more or less, by the fear of the gaol, the scourge, the gallows, the pillory, and so forth" (Principles of Legislation, Ch. VII). This quote gives us the best possible illustration of Bentham’s theory of punishment formulated as a genuine theory of social control.


Bentham on human rights and liberty  fidis-wp5.del5.4-anonymity-egov_01.sxw  Bentham on social control
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