Jeremy Bentham’s Principles of Morals and Legislation: Pain and Pleasure

29 Jun

May be a long one, bear with me. The first part will be about the sanctions of pain and pleasure, the second part is about the kinds of pain and pleasure. In Bentham’s book Principles of Morals and Legislation, the principle of sovereign unity is understood and it leads to the explanation of pains and pleasures. Towards the beginning of the book, Bentham makes understood four sources of pain and pleasure, along with the different kinds of pain and pleasure.

First, Bentham explains the four sources of pain and pleasure by making them understood as sanctions. He does this because each source has the ability and tendency to conform and bind to legal and logical stipulations. The first source of pain/pleasure is the physical sanction.

The physical sanction is explained as ‘that which pleasure or pain is expected to derive if:

  • its in the present life
  • from ordinary course of nature
  • not purposely modified by the interposition of human beings
  • not purposely modified by the interposition of superior invisible being

The physical sanction is purely natural because no interference by Being occurs and it comes from the course of nature. This source states that most operations in the world are only existent because of nature. Due to this fact, pain and pleasure directly is caused by nature and its operations. This sanction is a precursor to the succeeding sanctions because the later sanctions involve modifications of interpositions of human and superior beings. The physical sanction just includes pain and pleasure causes deriving from natural operations of the world.

The physical sanction may be difficult to exemplify because of the fact that it is not modified by human/superior being interposition. I think that an accurate example of pleasure from the physical sanction would be pleasure and happiness from surfing the waves of Maui, Hawaii. Those waves are created by natural processes, and the common surfer enjoying the gnarly essence of the wave is pleasure being derived from the physical sanction. Pain being derived from the physical sanction could be exemplified as Hurricane Katrina or the tsunamis in Indonesia from earthquakes. Those are natural processes only that wreaked havoc and chaos in Louisiana and Indonesia. Only pain came from these occurrences. The people that died and the damages of property only brought pain. This is from the physical sanction both Hurricane Katrina and the waves in Maui.

*The physical sanction states that pain and pleasure are only derived from it if there is no modifications from the interposition of human or superior beings. It is my opinion and the opinion of others that in every body, process, phenomenon and occurrence, a superior being (God) is always involved. There cannot be pain or pleasure without some involvement of a superior being. This fact would make the physical sanction obsolete and nonexistent, but the superior being makes these processes regular and irregular by some regulation.  Because of this unknown regularity that the superior being creates, the processes of the world and the body creating phenomenon and processes are easily understood as to not have any relation to a superior being. Because of this regularity the superior being imposes upon His creatum, the body, processes, and phenomenon can be expressed, argued, and understood without the understanding and involvement in argument of God (superior being).  So, because of God’s processional regularity in the world, people often misunderstand the world as to not have ever been involved with or created by a God. If people can argue that the world never included a God, we can argue that processes that occur on the earth can be included in the physical sanction.

The political sanction is the sanction of pain/pleasure in environments controlled by one person, or a set/community of people ruling. If something causes pain or pleasure, and it comes from a government, it has modifications by interposition of human beings. This succeeds the physical sanction because this modification is included. I think that mostly pain is derived from this sanction these days.

This sanction is easily exemplified. If President Obama were to increase the minimum wage to $8 (would never happen), pleasure would be derived from the sanction to those who work hourly jobs and live paycheck to paycheck. This would derive pain for businesses struggling because $8 per hour per employee would be harder for them to maintain and still make a profit even with income. Any other sanction that involves a human being/beings as governing figurehead is political in its nature.

Unlike the physical sanction, the political sanction is what I like to call double effective. By double effective I mean that within the political sanction, what may be pain in one effect, is pleasure in another. I do not think this exists within the physical sanction because each action that derives pain/pleasure always yields one or the other. Hurricane Katrina brought pain in all its dimensions. The Haiti earthquake brought pain in all aspects, just like the BP oil spill has and will brought/bring pain in all aspects. However, within the political sanction, if Obama were to raise minimum wage like I exemplified before  to $8, some would get pain, some would get pleasure. For a real current example, when Obama decided to redistribute the wealth more, the people who do not work gained pleasure, because they got money for doing nothing, while the people who work hard for their money got pain because their money they work hard for was taken away for bad causes. Most things that occur within the political sanction is double effective: Pain will be derived  just as well as pleasure is derived.

The moral/popular sanction is the sanction where pain and pleasure is derived if the body is at the hands of  ‘chance people’ in the community. People may have certain considerations with this person that has rule and influence. This person also does not have ‘ settled or concerted’ rule. This chance person usually has no true ruling power as the figurehead of the political sanction has. The chance person describes its own sanction because of the moral and popular understandings and rulings that most of the population has. The name moral is used interchangeably with popular because morality is usually popular and desired in the majority of the body of people. This sanction is just like the political sanction in the fact that it adheres to a certain course of action and belief, causing improvements, causing pain and pleasure. The difference is that in political sanctions, the governing head has the course of action that causes the pain and pleasure, while with the popular sanction, the public opinion has the course of action that creates pain and pleasure.

The popular sanction is also easily exemplified. If it was the general public opinion to make laws forcing Mexicans out of the country and back to Mexico, pain and pleasure would be yielded. This sanction is also double effective because pain will be yielded in one way while pleasure another. Using the back to Mexico scenario, people who need jobs and got laid off would be yielded pleasure because they could go back to their previous way of life. Pain would be yielded for most of the country as a whole because of how those Mexicans do work hardly no white man wants to. The economy status would shift if not shift directly downward. The popular scenario is also double effective.

The religious sanction is the sanction bringing pain and pleasure when things and decisions come from the direct hand of a superior invisible being. Pain/pleasure stemming from this sanction does not have to be effected exactly on the time the superior being acts. Unlike the physical, popular and political sanctions, the religious sanction allows time shifts in the effects (pain and pleasure) of the superior being. This sanction is also doubly effective. Even more so than the other 3 sanctions. A certain action by the superior being yields pleasure at one point, but later may yield pain, and vice versa. Because of how Jesus died on the cross before the beginning of the Years of Our Lord, a man that lives 200,000 years later will be yielded pleasure because of this. At this same time period, the common atheist is yielded pain at first because he is proved wrong of his beliefs. However, this atheist will be yielded pleasure later because with help he finds his way. Reversibly, the devout Christian may be yielded a bit of pain later because he loses his faith because of how he distances himself from God. This sanction is doubly effective as well as time omniscient. Only this fourth sanction has the time omniscience.

Now shifting to the different kinds of pains and pleasures, Bentham brings pain and pleasure together and names them interesting perceptions (they are indeed). Bentham then divides interesting perceptions (pain and pleasure) into simple and complex. Simple interesting perceptions are those that cannot be resolved or understood into more than that one interesting perception. The simple i.p’s are indivisible and not diverse in any way. A complex interesting perception is the perception that either yields all pain or pleasure, but often both at different instances of time. Whether there is one ip or the other, there are many of them. In simple ip’s there is only 1.

Bentham exemplifies many different pains and pleasures of each kind. I will exemplify 3 of each category.


Bentham includes here wealth, skill, and memory along with others. Like I explained before, the physical sanction is not doubly effective while others are. Simple ip’s are not doubly effective, therefore making them simple. The item at hand in the simple ip’s either yields pain or pleasure, and never the other at any time. For example, wealth always yields pleasure for all people in all times. Wealth gives success in society and happiness to some extent. It cannot be understood a situation where wealth yields pain. I can think of some times where a person is not altogether pleasured with the money he has, but there is always some degree of that pleasure regardless, and no pain every comes out of it.  Wealth is just simple in its essence. Skill is similar in that those who have skill of any kind can do some sort of work giving them money to succeed. Skill always yields pleasure. The skills allow a person to get hired and to sometimes become wealthy to some extent. One cannot think of a situation where a man states “I wish I didn’t know how to do this.” Again, one may think of sometimes where that skill is not giving much work or it is a burden to know that skill, but in all cases, pain is never yielded. Memory also cannot yield anything except for pleasure. One has a lot of good things happen to him or he has a skill. If he has memory, he can remember the skill and also remember the good times he had in his life. To Bentham, memory only yields pleasure. I picked this third pleasurable ip because memory is a complex i.p. because just like a man has good memories to reflect on, he also has bad memories that he inevitably remembers. This brings no pleasure, but in fact pain. The fact that pain and pleasure can be derived from the same i.p. states that memory is complex.


Bentham exemplifies many pains. I will explain pain of disappointment, regret and the senses. When there is expectation, and nothing is yielded from that expectation, pain of disappointment exists. This is simple because disappointment can never yield pleasure. Pain of regret stems from regret of things grounded on pleasure or on the memory of pleasure. Regret occurs when looking back on the memory or stance of the pleasure because the person did not supposedly act upon that pleasure to make it last. This notion brings regret, and from regret only comes pain. Finally, pain is yielded from the  senses in various ways. These include hunger, thirst, bad tastes, bad odors, pains of the touch (burns etc.), pains of hearing (too loud etc.), pains of sight,  extreme temperature pains, pains of disease, and the pain of exertion. These senses are all painful in what they yield. These specific things are exemplified to show how the senses yield pain. Senses is an interesting perception that is complex in its nature, because it can yield pain and pleasure in different instances. Bentham exemplifies senses to show that it can yield pleasure as well.

So, specific interesting perceptions are either simple or complex in their nature referring to whether or not that specific yields pain and/or pleasure. It is my opinion that complex interesting perceptions are those that are most existent in the world because everything is understood differently.

I probably should have broken this into two parts. Sorry if I dragged you out, but of course you wouldn’t read if you didn’t want to.

Thanks for your support see you tomorrow.

Comment below if you see any inconsistencies in how I showed Bentham’s arguments or inconsistencies in my arguments, or any other of your thoughts. I love comments.


5 Responses to “Jeremy Bentham’s Principles of Morals and Legislation: Pain and Pleasure”

  1. radiancy July 7, 2010 at 6:50 am #

    If there were no Hell then would Morals exist?

    • zcosmos July 7, 2010 at 8:00 am #

      Having done this post last week, I cannot remember anything that Bentham may have said on the subject in that section of the book, but I have my own thoughts on your question: If there were no hell, the differentiation between good and evil would not exist. Hell is the place for the bad, heaven is the place for the good, and these places somehow make this differentiation. If there was no place for the bad things, all things and actions would not be described as good/evil. Because of how this differentiation would disappear, the good would disappear, morals along with it…. in my opinion. Thanks.

    • zcosmos July 7, 2010 at 9:35 am #

      Thanks for having sparked my thoughts. I am going to do a post about your question because of how it intrigues me.

  2. CNA Certification August 1, 2010 at 12:27 am #

    Keep up the good work, I like your writing.

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