Posted by: CS | September 13, 2012

The Ugly Interior of Jeremy Bentham’s Head

Jeremy Bentham’s head (Source

Yes, that’s Jeremy Bentham’s mummified head. In accordance with his will, his corpse was stuffed with hay and “put on public view for all to see” However, in time, his head got knocked off and was replaced with a wax replica. The original head (shown above) was locked in box and remains in the keeping of University College, London.

As you can see, by the end, Bentham’s head was not in good shape. Unfortunately, what was inside Jeremy Bentham’s head was even uglier than the exterior.

Bentham invented a new moral philosophy called utilitarianism. This is the basis of all liberal thought and can be summed up in the single rule:

It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.

The consequences of this idea have been utterly toxic. My purpose here is to consider why. But first, what does it mean?

What is happiness? How do you measure it? Is it to be determined by the number of one’s sexual partners, the amount of junk food one consumes, the length of one’s life, one’s freedom from work or responsibility?

Obviously, the idea is nuts. Happiness is not measurable, and what people think will bring the greatest happiness often brings only misery.

And how do you maximize happiness? Most people would say their happiness would be maximized if they were free to do exactly as they pleased. And allowing and even encouraging people to do exactly as they please is the basic liberal program: no-fault divorce, state-funded abortion, euthanization of tiresome elderly relatives, oral sex as part of the school curriculum, and no, oral sex is not talking a good line, as we of the older generation may have assumed. But as the poet T.S. Eliot remarked,

If you give people what they want, you begin by underestimating them and you end by corrupting them.

Exactly, which is what the liberal program has done.

And the project is idiotic because a state of persistent happiness is physiologically unattainable. We possess adaptive mechanisms that make suffering more endurable and pleasure cloy. We are made to strive, drawn by unsatisfied desire and propelled by the experience of discomfort and dissatisfaction.

The wise individual seeks not happiness but fulfillment: moral, physical and intellectual.

But there is another and truly evil implication of the Benthamite doctrine. If the happiness of the greatest number is the object of public policy and the measure of good and evil, then there is no absolute morality and the unhappiness of a few is a morally acceptable price to ensure the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

Three thousand dead Americans on 9/11 provided the hoped for catalyzing event that kick started the NeoCon Project for the New American Century, aka the long war for American global empire. How easily such mass murder can be justified by the Benthamite calculus. Which means that if 19 incompetent Arabs with paper knives were insufficient to complete the task, why not help them out with a Norad stand-down? The subsequent death of a hundred thousand Iraqis is also easily justified in terms of the greater good.

Single-handedly, with one ridiculous and tawdry idea, Bentham provided the means for the destruction of Christendom, the greatest civilization the World has yet seen.

See Also:

Britain’s Peeping State: Bureaucrats At the Washroom Keyhole

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Responses

  1. "It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.""..the unhappiness of a few is a morally acceptable price to ensure the greatest happiness of the greatest number."But given that the 'greatest number' has in fact yet to be born ('think of the children!') it could be argued that the unhappiness of just about everyone is a morally acceptable price to ensure the greatest happiness of the greatest number of the offspring of those most capable of… greatness (who clearly enjoy the best type of happiness).

  2. Yes, the case you suggest seems consistent with utilitarianism. In fact you could probably argue just about anything on the principle of utilitarianism.Bentham rejected the transcendent moral standard that is central to each of the great religions. But if there is no transcendent moral standard, what value does Bentham's principle have? None, it would appear, unless it happens to justify personal self interest, which is what liberals must love about it.Delete

  3. After writing the above I went back to reading David Stove's 'Against the Idols of the Age'. Coincidentally, two pages later (p155), he mentions Bentham, stating that his only justification amounted to a mistaken appeal to tautology (in a chapter concerned with the fallacy of pulling contingent rabbits out of tautological hats), which as I read it is simply begging the question. Ignoring the dubious attempt to make such a qualitative notion as happiness quantitative (and the reduction of ethics to its measurement), there is no rational justification, even from Bentham, that the application of the principle (which could only be speculative) leads necessarily to that which it values.

  4. I haven't read David Stove, but he seems to have the right idea.Bentham's doctrine amounts to no more than this: we ought to pursue happiness because happiness is what we pursue. Then he makes the ludicrous assertion that because I pursue my own happiness, I necessarily wish to promote your happiness too.It's a theology for morons and humbugs. If it's profitable to me, why should I care about your pain?Utilitarianism has no divine sanction and so has no transcendental force. Therefore, there is no reason to apply the principle except when it serves one's own interest.The atheist David Hume had the last word on the consequences of abandoning religious faith, and he precisely defined the basis of liberal behavior — as opposed to avowed liberal morality:Honesty is the best policy, but the wise knave will take advantage of every exception. Corresponding rules apply to the other virtues.

  5. Adam Smith had a more optimistic view. He held that we were inclined to act with consideration for others due to an innate sympathy, although when it comes to a conflict between sympathy and self-interest the outcome is rarely edifying. Patrick Nowell-Smith, author of the book Ethics, believed that our conduct was moderated by the desire for public approbation and the desire to avoid disapprobation. These checks on conduct seem to have had little effect on Nowell-Smith, however, who was booted from his chair at the University of Leicester for moral turpitude.According to an obituary in the Guardian, where his enthusiasm for fornication is, presumably, admired:"A colleague of Patrick's joked that he was the only man he had ever met who felt that he had a positive moral duty to sleep with other men's wives. On hearing this, Patrick, who believed that wives were under no less an obligation, joked back that, as a utilitarian, he believed that he should add to the sum of human happiness – and had striven to do so."That pretty much tells you how much you can trust a utilitarian to do the right thing when he's alone with your wife.

  6. […] CanSpeccy: The Ugly Interior of Jeremy Bentham’s Head […]


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