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Utility, Publicity, and LawEssays on Bentham's Moral and Legal Philosophy$
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Gerald J. Postema

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198793175

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198793175.001.0001

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Publicity and the Development of Bentham’s Theory of Value

Publicity and the Development of Bentham’s Theory of Value

(p.72) 4 Publicity and the Development of Bentham’s Theory of Value
Utility, Publicity, and Law

Gerald J. Postema

Oxford University Press

Bentham was tempted to think of the welfare of the community as a grand composite of the pleasures and pains of individuals and he suggested that it is possible to construct a powerful ethical deliberating machine capable of churning out precise, determinate, and publicly verifiable judgments and prescriptions for all moral occasions (the “felicific calculus”). Yet, he also articulated a sophisticated critique of the assumptions on which this model rests. Although pleasure and pain must ultimately anchor all moral judgments, he insisted that the language of the ordinary business of utilitarian moral deliberation, policy making, and law making must be fully public. Despite his criticisms of the quale conception of pleasure, Bentham did not abandon rationality or the principle of utility. Proper utilitarian reasoning still, in Bentham’s view, involved “calculation”—that is, tracing out the consequences of all the options for action, laws, or institutions, consequencesassessed in terms of their impact on the welfare of all the members of the community in view. But these calculations need not fit the simple model, in fact, they must not, since the simple model cannot meet the demands of moral reasoning, in particular the demands of publicity. Bentham’s universal consequentialism took for its core theory of value concerns about expectations and interests, rather than immediate sensings of pleasure or pain.

Keywords:   felicific calculus, interest, interpersonal comparisons of utility, moral reasoning, publicity, proxies, qualia, theory of value, willingness to pay

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