Comprehensive coverage

How Jeremy Bentham tried to make everyone happy, and ended his life like his mummy

Bentham had a strange and unusual idea. Almost revolutionary. He believed that it is possible to determine whether an act is 'good' or 'bad' according to the level of happiness or pain it causes the person taking the act and others around him.

Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham

Here is a puzzle for you to think about. You just finished your medical studies yesterday, and were admitted to a hospital as a full-fledged doctor. The future is bright for you, and the world is showing you its kindness. However, what is terrible and unpleasant, you have not yet practiced medicine long enough to lose the measure of humanity and mercy. And so you find yourself standing terrified at the door of the emergency room in front of five patients, each of whom needs a different organ to live. One lacks a liver, the second has heart failure, the third needs lungs, the fourth a cornea and the fifth a pancreas. And here, miraculously, he entered the hospital drunk and fell asleep on the bench. One look is enough for you to know: the tissues that will come from him can restore the lives of all five wounded people whose safety you are entrusted with.

what will you do Will you sacrifice the drunkard - his name is Moshe, by the way - against his will, in order to save five other people?

If you answered the question in the affirmative, then you belong to the school of Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher and lawyer from the 18th century. Bentham had a strange and unusual idea. Almost revolutionary. He believed that it is possible to determine whether an act is 'good' or 'bad' according to the level of happiness or pain it causes the person taking the act and others around him.

You, the modern readers, must be reading the last paragraph and rubbing your eyes in amazement. And how else can a good deed be defined, except from the good feeling it causes others? And what is a bad act, if not one that causes harm and pain to human beings? However, in Bentham's time these insights were not yet self-evident. 'Good' was to do as the church or the ruler said. And if you rebelled against the authority of God or the sovereign, then you did a 'bad' act. Bentham's teachings were innovative, daring and revolutionary - and of course gained great popularity among the young philosophers.

In order to make strange theories flourish, strange people are needed, and there is no doubt that Bentham was one until the bitter end. Throughout his life he wrote more than five million words. He acquired a strong affection for the written and spoken language, and loved to invent new and complicated words, some of which, such as 'international' (international) and maximization (maximize), remain to this day and have become language coins. To protect other exceptional people, Bentham founded University College London, which was specifically designed for non-conformists, Jews and Catholic Christians.

But Bentham had a problem. Actually, he didn't have one. He was satisfied with his theory, even though it justified in principle the killing of our drunkard, in order to bring the greatest measure of happiness to the other five men. To this day the slogan used by Bentham followers is 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people'. Preserving the rights of the individual is not necessary, and provided that their removal brings happiness to a large number of people - large enough to atone for the sorrow caused to that individual whose organs were taken from him. And it may not sound like such a bad idea, until you realize that we may stand in the place of the drunkard one day, and that when we let other people determine our fate for death or grace, there is no escaping corruption that differentiates between 'what is good for the leaders' and 'what is good to the people of the country'.

Other philosophers also understood the problems in Bentham's theory, but only at the beginning of the 19th century was born the man who added a small but important correction to it. It was John Stuart Mill, the prodigy of philosophy. At the age of three he already knew how to write in Latin about Boria. At the age of eight, he had already read Xenophon's 'Masa Rabba' (highly recommended, if you manage to find the Hebrew translation in Israel) and all the writings of Herodotus, the first Greek historian. At the age of 12 he began to invest all his energy in studying logic and reading Aristotle in the original language. At the age of twenty she had a nervous breakdown.

Admit you saw this coming.

After he recovered and married, Mill developed the most important principle that guides today's liberalism, and that is the harm principle. To summarize briefly, Mill came to the understanding that every person has the right to behave as he wishes, as long as he does not cause harm to others. The only situation in which society is allowed to impose its will on the individual is in order to prevent him from harming others. But if he wants to harm himself of his own free will - the company has no right to prevent him from doing so. The only exceptions are those who have not yet developed a cohesive world view, as children and madmen. The rules of society must be imposed on them, even if only with the use of force.

And so we reach our situation today, where we oscillate between Jeremy Bentham's theory of utilitarianism, and Mill's liberalism and the harm principle. And as in any quarrel worthy of its name, justice is found on both sides. Who among us would not be interested in living in a country where everyone is obliged to donate organs after death? Who among us would not want mandatory service in the army or national service to be enforced on all citizens? And on the other hand, from the moment the state imposes its decisions on you, the road to totalitarian rule is short and slippery - even if it is the rule of the majority. The modern liberal-democratic state constantly oscillates between Bentham and Mill, between the necessity to impose on the citizens rules that will contribute to the general happiness of society, and the need to maintain the independence of the citizen and allow him to develop according to his way and personality - and to contribute to the state according to his will and ability.

The two philosophers stuck to their teachings until the bitter end, and it is hard to believe that the debate that started two hundred years ago will be resolved in the near future. What is certain - Bentham will not turn over in his grave either way, because he was never buried. In his will he asked that his body be donated for the benefit of science. The will was fully respected, and the body was opened in an educational autopsy performed in front of an audience of medical students. After that, the body was kept as a sign of honor, and in 1850 it was transferred to the authority of the university he founded. To this day, it is placed in the corridor in a glass cabinet, with Bentham's original head, which was destroyed in the conservation process, placed on a plate at her feet, and the generation's wax head takes its place on her shoulders.

Once a year it is brought to the meeting of the university's board of directors, and Bantam again takes his place in the protocol as "present, but not voting". He is content to watch from the sidelines, ignoring the ultra-orthodox looks of the council members, some of whom feel as if they must justify themselves to him for every decision they make. If he could speak, he would certainly express his satisfaction with the whole event. After all, without any effort on his part, he promotes the general good. And what could be wrong with that?

14 תגובות

  1. 2 Where did you get that the Nazis enjoyed the abuse of the Jew, from the Hollywood movies? Perhaps some enjoyed it because in every society there is a percentage of psychopaths or just idiots as in the case of the abuse of Iraqis by Americans who mocked them or of Saddam's soldiers shooting opponents of the regime while laughing, or groups of thugs beating a weak child and endless other such situations!
    It is certain that this is not what Bentham meant, but a real benefit, such as in the case of organ transplantation or a rare situation in which one of the survivors has to be eaten in order to survive, as in stories we have heard, or in times of famine in which one had to make difficult decisions in order to live, these are actually survival situations... and in my opinion, Mill's concept is already failed from a practical point of view and is also immoral, on the other hand Bentham's concept is a breakthrough in social thought (this is the first time I hear about it) and it comes from reality and relative to what has happened in the world it is more subtle than people think, at least if I were drunk or permanently drugged I would be happy if they cut me off And distributed my organs to others because these are not truly alive!
    And a small correction... the drunk is called Boris or Dmitri or Sasha... No Moshe!

  2. Not a bad idea at all, to place a mummy that will scare the decision makers.
    I imagine the cabinet meeting opening, and Ben Gurion's mummy looking on
    On those present in the room, when the protocol states: Ben-Gurion is present but does not participate in the vote....

  3. 8. Totally agree with you
    But reading the article it seems as if utilitarianism is trying to extort
    And liberalism tries to maintain the existing
    And not even 10000 people have the right to kill a person dying for them

  4. Definitely a nice article. But it is so extreme that it is impossible to even respond seriously.
    There are so many other things that developed due to utilitarianism, especially in the management of the economy, that I can still agree with them. But utilitarianism must remain in the economic aspect and liberalism in the spiritual aspect. In my opinion, this is the best way to combine the two approaches. And when utilitarianism penetrates the spiritual aspect and liberalism the economic aspect, the problems begin.

  5. L 2 During the holocaust in Germany, a Jew was not considered a human being, they were an inferior species, a kind of ape, so that according to both indicators, the abuse and murder of Jews is a mandatory thing

    Without any connection harming animals is also desirable and positive according to these two indicators so that these two indicators belong to a dark period that we have not yet come out of

  6. Who would want a drunkard's liver (which is surely damaged by the cheap alcohol) to be transplanted into his body

  7. A beautifully written article, but it would be wrong to agree with Bentham completely.
    Looking at the testimonies from the Holocaust, there is no doubt that the abuse of the Jews brought great happiness both to the Nazi abuser, and to his friends, and often to all the residents who stood around and enjoyed. The only one who suffered is the Jew himself. Would you define it, according to this measure, as a good deed?

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.