The Enlightenment Period

Thomas Reid and Jeremy Bentham

What is hedonic calculus?

According to Jeremy Bentham, courses of action should be chosen based on their consequences in terms of the pleasure and pain experienced by all involved. Everyone counts for one, and no one counts for more than one. All pleasures are on the same level, and in Bentham’s famous words, “all quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry.” (Pushpin was a bowling-type game of the time.) The value of justice reduces to its greater utility over injustice. Punishment, for example, is only just or unjust in terms of its consequences as a deterrent to future crime. Bentham’s hedonic calculus consisted of literally quantifying pleasures and pains according to these factors: how near or far, how long-lasting, how intense, how likely to cause pleasure or pain of the same kind, and how many are affected.


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