The Principles of Morals and Legislation

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Prometheus Books, 1988 - Philosophy - 336 pages
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Jeremy Bentham's work on The Principles of Morals and Legislation emerges from its historic roots in hedonism and teleology as a scientific attempt to assess the moral content of human action by focusing on its results or consequences. Proceeding from the assumption that human beings desire pleasure (and avoid pain), Bentham's unique perspective, known as utilitarianism, is used to construct a fascinating calculus for determining which action to perform when confronted with situations requiring moral decision-makingthe goal of which is to arrive at the "greatest happiness of the greatest number." Toward this end, he endeavors to delineate the sources and kinds of pleasure and pain and how they can be measured when assessing one's moral options. Bentham supports his arguments with discussions of intentionality, consciousness, motives, and dispositions.

Bentham concludes this groundbreaking work with an analysis of punishment: its purpose and the proper role that law and jurisprudence should play in its determination and implementation. Here we find Bentham as social reformer seeking to resolve the tension that inevitably exists when the concerns of the many conflict with individual freedom.

The Principles of Morals and Legislation offers readers the rare opportunity to experience one of the great works of moral philosophy, a volume that has influenced the course of ethical theory for over a century.

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Contents

L Of the Principle of Utility I
1
Of Principles Adverse to That of Utility
8
Of the Four Sanctions or Sources
24
Copyright

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About the author (1988)

Jeremy Bentham was born in London, on February 15, 1748, the son of an attorney. He was admitted to Queen's College, Oxford, at age 12 and graduated in 1763. He had his master's degree by 1766 and passed the bar exam in 1769. An English reformer and political philosopher, Bentham spent his life supporting countless social and political reform measures and trying as well to create a science of human behavior. He advocated a utopian welfare state and designed model cities, prisons, schools, and so on, to achieve that goal. He defined his goal as the objective study and measurement of passions and feelings, pleasures and pains, will and action. The principle of "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," set forth in his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, governed all of his schemes for the improvement of society, and the philosophy he devised, called utilitarianism, set a model for all subsequent reforms based on scientific principles. Bentham also spoke about complete equality between the sexes, law reform, separation of church and state, the abolition of slavery, and animal rights. Bentham died on June 6, 1832, at the age of 84 at his residence in Queen Square Place in Westminster, London. He had continued to write up to a month before his death, and had made careful preparations for the dissection of his body after death and its preservation as an auto-icon.

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