(The following is composed of selections from Bentham's An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation)
I. Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it. In words a man may pretend to abjure their empire: but in reality he will remain. subject to it all the while. The principle of utility recognizes this subjection, and assumes it for the foundation of that system, the object of which is to rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and of law. Systems which attempt to question it, deal in sounds instead of sense, in caprice instead of reason, in darkness instead of light.
But enough of metaphor and declamation: it is not by such means that moral science is to be improved.
II. The principle of utility is the foundation of the present work: it will be proper therefore at the outset to give an explicit and determinate account of what is meant by it. By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever. according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness. I say of every action whatsoever, and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government.
III. By utility is meant that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness, (all this in the present case comes to the same thing) or (what comes again to the same thing) to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered: if that party be the community in general, then the happiness of the community: if a particular individual, then the happiness of that individual.
IV. The interest of the community is one of the most general expressions that can occur in the phraseology of morals: no wonder that the meaning of it is often lost. When it has a meaning, it is this. The community is a fictitious body, composed of the individual persons who are considered as constituting as it were its members. The interest of the community then is, what is it?—the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.
V. It is in vain to talk of the interest of the community, without understanding what is the interest of the individual. A thing is said to promote the interest, or to be for the interest, of an individual, when it tends to add to the sum total of his pleasures: or, what comes to the same thing, to diminish the sum total of his pains.
VI. An action then may be said to be conformable to then principle of utility, or, for shortness sake, to utility, (meaning with respect to the community at large) when the tendency it has to augment the happiness of the community is greater than any it has to diminish it.
VII. A measure of government (which is but a particular kind of action, performed by a particular person or persons) may be said to be conformable to or dictated by the principle of utility, when in like manner the tendency which it has to augment the happiness of the community is greater than any which it has to diminish it.
VIII. When an action, or in particular a measure of government, is supposed by a man to be conformable to the principle of utility, it may be convenient, for the purposes of discourse, to imagine a kind of law or dictate, called a law or dictate of utility: and to speak of the action in question, as being conformable to such law or dictate.
IX. A man may be said to be a partizan of the principle of utility, when the approbation or disapprobation he annexes to any action, or to any measure, is determined by and proportioned to the tendency which he conceives it to have to augment or to diminish the happiness of the community: or in other words, to its conformity or unconformity to the laws or dictates of utility.
I. It has been shown that the happiness of the individuals, of whom a community is composed, that is their pleasures and their security, is the end and the sole end which the legislator ought to have in view: the sole standard, in conformity to which each individual ought, as far as depends upon the legislator, to be made to fashion his behaviour. But whether it be this or any thing else that is to be done, there is nothing by which a man can ultimately be made to do it, but either pain or pleasure. Having taken a general view of these two grand objects (viz. pleasure, and what comes to the same thing, immunity from pain) in the character of final causes; it will be necessary to take a view of pleasure and pain itself, in the character of efficient causes or means.
II. There are four distinguishable sources from which pleasure and pain are in use to flow: considered separately they may be termed the physical, the political, the moral and the religious: and inasmuch as the pleasures and pains belonging to each of them are capable of giving a binding force to any law or rule of conduct, they may all of them termed sanctions.
III. If it be in the present life, and from the ordinary coursed of nature, not purposely modified by the interposition of these will of any human being, nor by any extraordinary interposition of any superior invisible being, that the pleasure or the pain takes place or is expected, it may be said to issue from or to belong to the physical sanction.
IV. If at the hands of a particular person or set of persons in the community, who under names correspondent to that of judge, are chosen for the particular purpose of dispensing it, according to the will of the sovereign or supreme ruling power in the state, it may be said to issue from the political sanction.
V. If at the hands of such chance persons in the community, as the party in question may happen in the course of his life to have concerns with, according to each man's spontaneous disposition, and not according to any settled or concerted rule, it may be said to issue from the moral or popular sanction.
VI.If from the immediate hand of a superior invisible being, either in the present life, or in a future, it may be said to issue from the religious sanction.
I. The business of government is to promote the happiness of the society, by punishing and rewarding. That part of its business which consists in punishing, is more particularly the subject of penal law. In proportion as an act tends to disturb that happiness, in proportion as the tendency of it is pernicious, will be the demand it creates for punishment. What happiness consists of we have already seen: enjoyment of pleasures, security from pains.
II. The general tendency of an act is more or less pernicious, according to the sum total of its consequences: that is, according to the difference between the sum of such as are good, and the sum of such as are evil.
III. It is to be observed, that here, as well as henceforward, wherever consequences are spoken of, such only are meant as are material. Of the consequences of any act, the multitude and variety must needs be infinite: but such of them only as are material are worth regarding. Now among the consequences of an act, be they what they may, such only, by one who views them in the capacity of a legislator, can be said to be material (or of importance) as either consist of pain or pleasure, or have an influence in the production of pain or pleasure.
I. The general object which all laws have, or ought to have, in common, is to augment the total happiness of the community; and therefore, in the first place, to exclude, as far as may be, every thing that tends to subtract from that happiness: in other words, to exclude mischief.
II. But all punishment is mischief: all punishment in itself is evil. Upon the principle of utility, if it ought at all to be admitted, it ought only to be admitted in as far as it promises to exclude some greater evil.
III. It is plain, therefore, that in the following cases punishment ought not to be inflicted.
IV. I. Where there has never been any mischief: where no mischief has been produced to any body by the act in question. Of this number are those in which the act was such as might, on a some occasions, be mischievous or disagreeable, but the person whose interest it concerns gave his consent to the performance of it. This consent, provided it be free, and fairly obtained, is the best proof that can be produced, that, to the person who gives it, no mischief, at least no immediate mischief, upon the whole, is done. For no man can be so good a judge as the man himself, what it is gives him pleasure or displeasure.
V. 2. Where the mischief was outweighed: although a mischief was produced by that act, yet the same act was necessary to the production of a benefit which was of greater value than the mischief. This may be the case with any thing that is done in the way of precaution against instant calamity, as also with any thing that is done in the exercise of the several sorts of powers necessary to be established in every community, to wit, domestic, judicial, military, and supreme.
VI. 3. Where there is a certainty of an adequate compensation: and that in all cases where the offense can be committed. This supposes two things: 1. That the offence is such as admits of an adequate compensation: 2. That such a compensation is sure to be forthcoming. Of these suppositions, the latter will be found to be a merely ideal one: a supposition that cannot, in the universality here given to it, be verified by fact. It cannot, therefore, in practice, be numbered amongst the grounds of absolute impunity. It may, however, be admitted as a ground for an abatement of that punishment, which other considerations, standing by themselves, would seem to dictate.
VII. 1. Where the penal provision is not established until after the act is done. Such are the cases, 1. Of an ex-post-facto law; where the legislator himself appoints not a punishment till after the act is done. 2. Of a sentence beyond the law; where the judge, of his own authority, appoints a punishment which the legislator had not appointed.
VIII. 2. Where the penal provision, though established, is not conveyed to the notice of the person on whom it seems intended that it should operate. Such is the case where the law has omitted to employ any of the expedients which are necessary, to make sure that every person whatsoever, who is within the reach of the law, be apprised of all the cases whatsoever, in which (being in the station of life he is in) he can be subjected to the penalties of the law.
IX. 3. Where the penal provision, though it were conveyed to a man's notice, could produce no effect on him, with respect to the preventing him from engaging in any act of the sort in question. Such is the case, 1. In extreme infancy; where a man has not yet attained that state or disposition of mind in which the prospect of evils so distant as those which are held forth by the law, has the effect of influencing his conduct. 2. In insanity; where the person, if he has attained to that disposition, has since been deprived of it through the influence of some permanent though unseen cause. 3. In intoxication; where he has been a deprived of it by the transient influence of a visible cause: such as the use of wine, or opium, or other drugs, that act in this manner on the nervous system: which condition is indeed neither more nor less than a temporary insanity produced by an assignable cause.[*]
X. 4. Where the penal provision (although, being conveyed to the party's notice, it might very well prevent his engaging in acts of the sort in question, provided he knew that it related to those acts) could not have this effect, with regard to the individual act he is about to engage in: to wit, because he knows not that it is of the number of those to which the penal provision relates. This may happen, 1. In the case of unintentionality; where he intends not to engage, and thereby knows not that he is about to engage, in the act in which eventually he is about to engage> 2. In the case of unconsciousness; where, although he may know that he is about to engage in the act itself, yet, from not knowing all the material circumstances attending it, he knows not of the tendency it has to produce that mischief, in contemplation of which it has been made penal in most instances 3. In the case of missupposal; where, although he may know of the tendency the act has to produce that degree of mischief, he supposes it, though mistakenly, to be attended with some circumstance, or set of circumstances, which, if it had been attended with, it would either not have been productive of that mischief, or have been productive of such a greater degree of good, as has determined the legislator in such a case not to make it penal[*].
XI. 5. Where, though the penal clause might exercise a full and prevailing influence, were it to act alone, yet by the predominant influence of some opposite cause upon the will, it must necessarily be ineffectual; because the evil which he sets himself about to undergo, in the case of his not engaging in the act, is so great, that the evil denounced by the penal clause, in case of his engaging in it, cannot appear greater. This may happen, 1. In the case of physical danger; where the evil is such as appears likely to be brought about by the unassisted powers of nature. 2. In the case of a threatened mischief; where it is such as appears likely to be brought about through the intentional and conscious agency of man.[*]
XII. 6. Where (though the penal clause may exert a full and prevailing influence over the will of the party) yet his physical faculties (owing to the predominant influence of some physical cause) are not in a condition to follow the determination of the will: insomuch that the act is absolutely involuntary. Such is the case of physical compulsion or restraint, by whatever means brought about; where the man's hand, for instance, is pushed against some object which his will disposes him not to touch; or tied down from touching some object which his will disposes him to touch.
XIII. 1. Where, on the one hand, the nature of the offense, on the other hand, that of the punishment, are, in the ordinary state of things, such, that when compared together, the evil of the latter will turn out to be greater than that of the former.
XIV. Now the evil of the punishment divides itself into four branches, by which so many different sets of persons are affected. 1. The evil of coercion or restraint: or the pain which it gives a man not to be able to do the act, whatever it be, which by the apprehension of the punishment he is deterred from doing. This is felt by those by whom the law is observed. 2. The evil of apprehension: or the pain which a man, who has exposed himself to punishment, feels at the thoughts of undergoing it. This is felt by those by whom the law has been broken, and who feel themselves in danger of its being executed upon them. 3. The evil of sufferance: or the pain which a man feels, in virtue of the punishment itself, from the time when he begins to undergo it. This is felt by those by whom the law is broken, and upon whom it comes actually to be executed. 4. The pain of sympathy, and the other derivative evils resulting to the persons who are in connection with the several classes of original sufferers just mentioned. Now of these four lots of evil, the first will be greater or less, according to the nature of the act from which the party is restrained: the second and third according to the nature of the punishment which stands annexed to that offence.
XV. On the other hand, as to the evil of the offense, this will also, of course, be greater or less, according to the nature of each offense. The proportion between the one evil and the other will therefore be different in the case of each particular offence. The cases, therefore, where punishment is unprofitable on this ground, can by no other means be discovered, than by an examination of each particular offense; which is what will be the business of the body of the work.
XVI. 2. Where, although in the ordinary state of things, the evil resulting from the punishment is not greater than the benefit which is likely to result from the force with which it operates, during the same space of time, towards the excluding the evil of the offenses, yet it may have been rendered so by the influence of some occasional circumstances. In the number of these circumstances may be, 1. The multitude of delinquents at a particular juncture; being such as would increase, beyond the ordinary measure, the quantum of the second and third lots, and thereby also of a part of the fourth lot, in the evil of the punishment. 2. The extraordinary value of the services of some one delinquent; in the case where the effect of the punishment would be to deprive the community of the benefit of those services. 3. The displeasure of the people; that is, of an indefinite number of the members of the same community, in cases where (owing to of the influence of some occasional incident) they happen to conceive, that the offense or the offender ought not to be punished at all, or at least ought not to be punished in the way in question. 4. The displeasure of foreign powers; that is, of the governing body, or a considerable number of the members of some foreign community or communities, with which the community in question is connected.
XVII. 1. Where the purpose of putting an end to the practice may be attained as effectually at a cheaper rate: by instruction, is for instance, as well as by terror: by informing the understanding, as well as by exercising an immediate influence on the will. This seems to be the case with respect to all those offenses which consist in the disseminating pernicious principles in matters of duty; of whatever kind the duty be; whether political, or moral, or religious. And this, whether such principles be disseminated under, or even without; a sincere persuasion of their being beneficial. I say, even without: for though in such a case it is not instruction that can prevent the writer from endeavouring to inculcate his principles, yet it may the readers from adopting them: without which, his endeavouring to inculcate them will do no harm. In such a case, the sovereign will commonly have little need to take an active part: if it be the interest of one individual to inculcate principles that are pernicious, it will as surely be the interest of other individuals to expose them. But if the sovereign must needs take a part in the controversy, the pen is the proper weapon to combat error with, not the sword.
I. We have seen that the general object of all laws is to prevent mischief; that is to say, when it is worth while; but that, where there are no other means of doing this than punishment, there are four cases in which it is not worth while.
II. When it is worth while, there are four subordinate designs or objects, which, in the course of his endeavours to compass, as far as may be, that one general object, a legislator, whose views are governed by the principle of utility, comes naturally to propose to himself.
III. 1. His first, most extensive, and most eligible object, is to prevent, in as far as it is possible, and worth while, all sorts of offenses whatsoever: in other words, so to manage, that no offense whatsoever may be committed.
IV. 2. But if a man must needs commit an offense of some kind or other, the next object is to induce him to commit an offense less mischievous, rather than one more mischievous: in other words, to choose always the least mischievous, of two offenses that will either of them suit his purpose.
V. 3. When a man has resolved upon a particular offense, the next object is to dispose him to do no more mischief than is necessary to his purpose: in other words, to do as little mischief as is consistent with the benefit he has in view.
VI. 4. The last object is, whatever the mischief be, which it is proposed to prevent, to prevent it at as cheap a rate as possible.
VII. Subservient to these four objects, or purposes, must be the rules or canons by which the proportion of punishments to offenses is to be governed.
VIII. Rule 1. The first object, it has been seen, is to prevent, in as far as it is worth while, all sorts of offenses; therefore,
The value of the punishment must not less in any case than what is sufficient to outweigh that of the profit of the offense.
If it be, the offence (unless some other considerations, independent of the punishment should intervene and operate efficaciously in the character of tutelary motives) will be sure to be to committed notwithstanding: the whole lot of punishment will be thrown away: it will be altogether inefficacious.
IX. The above rule has been often objected to, on account of its seeming harshness: but this can only have happened for want of its being properly understood. The strength of the temptation, cæteris paribas, is as the profit of the offense: the quantum of the punishment must rise with the profit of the offense: cæteris paribas, it must therefore rise with the strength of the temptation. This there is no disputing. True it is, that the stronger the temptation, the less conclusive is the indication which the act of delinquency affords of the depravity of the offender's disposition. So far then as the absence of any aggravation, arising from extraordinary depravity of disposition, may operate, or at the utmost, so far as the presence of a ground of extenuation, resulting from the innocence or beneficence of the offender's disposition, can operate, the strength of the temptation may operate in abatement of the demand for punishment. But it can never operate so far as to indicate the propriety of making the punishment ineffectual, which it is sure to be when brought below the level of the apparent profit of the offense.
The partial benevolence which should prevail for the reduction of it below this level, would counteract as well those purposes which such a motive would actually have in view, as those more extensive purposes which benevolence ought to have in view: it would be cruelty not only to the public, but to the very persons in whose behalf it pleads: in its effects, I mean, however opposite in its intention. Cruelty to the public, that is cruelty to the innocent, by suffering them, for want of an adequate protection, to lie exposed to the mischief of the offense: cruelty even to the offender himself, by punishing him to no purpose, and without the chance of compassing that beneficial end, by which alone the introduction of the evil of punishment is to be justified.
X. Rule 2. But whether a given offence shall be prevented in a given degree by a given quantity of punishment, is never any thing better than a chance; for the purchasing of which, whatever punishment is employed, is so much expended into advance. However, for the sake of giving it the better chance of outweighing the profit of the offence,
The greater the mischief of the offense, the greater is the expense which it may be worth while to be at, in the way of punishment.
XI. Rule 3. The next object is, to induce a man to choose always the least mischievous of two offenses; therefore,
Where two offences come in competition, the punishment for the greater offence must be sufficient to induce a man to prefer the less.
XII. Rule 4. When a man has resolved upon a particular offense, the next object is, to induce him to do no more mischief than what is necessary for his purpose: therefore
The punishment should be adjusted in such manner to each particular offence, that for every part of the mischief there may be a motive to restrain the offender frown giving birth to it.
XIII. Rule 5. The last object is, whatever mischief is guarded against, to guard against it at as cheap a rate as possible: therefore
The punishment ought in no case to be more than what is necessary to bring it into conformity with the rules here given.
XIV. Rule 6. It is further to be observed, that owing to the different manners and degrees in which persons under different circumstances are affected by the same exciting cause, a punishment which is the same in name will not always either really produce, or even so much as appear to others to produce, in two different persons the same degree of pain: therefore
That the quantity actually indicted on each individual offender nay correspond to the quantity intended for similar offenders in general, the several circumstances influencing sensibility ought always to be taken into account.
XV. Of the above rules of proportion, the first four, we may perceive serve to mark out limits on the side of diminution; the limits below which a punishment ought not to be diminished: the fifth the limits on the side of increase; the limits above which it ought not to be increased. The five first are calculated to serve as guides to the legislator: the sixth is calculated in some measure, indeed, to the same purpose; but principally for guiding the judge in his endeavors to conform, on both sides, to the intentions of the legislator.
XVI. Let us look back a little. The first rule, in order to render it more conveniently applicable to practice, may need perhaps to be a little more particularly unfolded. It is to be observed, then, that for the sake of accuracy, it was necessary, instead of the word quantity to make use of the less perspicuous term value. For the word quantity will not properly include and the circumstances either of certainty or proximity: circumstances which, in estimating the value of a lot of pain or pleasure, must always be taken into the account. Now, on the one hand, a lot of punishment is a lot of pain; on the other hand, the profit of an offense is a lot of pleasure, or what is equivalent to it. But the profit of the offense is commonly more certain than the punishment, or, what comes to the same thing, appears so at least to the offender. It is at any rate commonly more immediate. It follows, therefore, that, in order to maintain its superiority over the profit of the offense, the punishment must have its value made up in some other way, in proportion to that whereby it falls short in the two points of certainty and proximity. Now there is no other way in which it can receive any addition to its value, but by receiving an addition in point of magnitude. Wherever then the value of the punishment falls short, either in point of certainty, or of proximity, of that of the profit of the offence, it must receive a proportionable addition in point of magnitude.
XVII. Yet farther. To make sure of giving the value of the punishment the superiority over that of the offence, it may be of necessary, in some cases, to take into account the profit not only of the individual offence to which the punishment is to be annexed, but also of such other offences of the same sort as the offender is likely to have already committed without detection. This random mode of calculation, severe as it is, it will be impossible to avoid having recourse to, in certain cases: in such, to wit, in which the profit is pecuniary, the chance of detection very small, and the obnoxious act of such a nature as indicates a habit: for example, in the case of frauds against the coin. If it be not recurred to, the practice of committing the offence will be sure to be, upon the balance of the account, a gainful practice. That being the case, the legislator will be absolutely sure of not being able to suppress it, and the whole punishment that is bestowed upon it will be thrown away. In a word (to keep to the same expressions we set out with) that whole quantity of punishment will be inefficacious .
XVIII. Rule 7. These things being considered, the three following rules may be laid down by way of supplement and explanation to Rule 1.
To enable the value of the punishment to outweigh that of the profit of the offense, it must be increased, in point of magnitude, in proportion as it falls short in point of certainty.
XIX. Rule 8. Punishment must be further increased in point of magnitude, in proportion as it falls short in point of proximity.
XX. Rule 9. Where the act is conclusively indicative of a habit, such an increase must be given to the punishment as may enable it to outweigh the profit not only of the individual offence, but of such other like offenses as are likely to have been committed with impunity by the same offender.
XXI. There may be a few other circumstances or considerations which may influence, in some small degree, the demand for punishment: but as the propriety of these is either not so demonstrable, or not so constant, or the application of them not so determinate, as that of the foregoing, it may be doubted whether they be worth putting on a level with the others.
XXII. Rule 10. When a punishment, which in point of quality is particularly well calculated to answer its intention cannot exist in less than a certain quantity, it may sometimes be of use, for the sake of employing it, to stretch a little beyond that quantity which, on other accounts, would be strictly necessary.
XXIII. Rule 11. In particular, this may sometimes be the case, where the punishment proposed is of such a nature as to be particularly well calculated to answer the purpose of a moral lesson.
XXIV. Rule 12. The tendency of the above considerations is to dictate an augmentation in the punishment: the following rule operates in the way of diminution. There are certain cases (it has been seen) in which, by the influence of accidental circumstances, punishment may be rendered unprofitable in the whole: in the same cases it may chance to be rendered unprofitable as to a part only. Accordingly,
In adjusting the quantum of punishment, the circumstances; by which all punishment may be rendered unprofitable, ought to be attended to.
XXV. Rule 13. It is to be observed, that the more various and minute any set of provisions are, the greater the chance is that any given article in them will not be borne in mind: without which, no benefit can ensue from it. Distinctions, which are more complex than what the conceptions of those whose conduct it is designed to influence can take in, will even be worse than useless. The whole system will present a confused appearance: and thus the effect, not only of the proportions established by the articles in question, but of whatever is connected with them, will be destroyed. To draw a precise line of direction in such case seems impossible. However, by way of memento, it may be of some use to subjoin the following rule.
Among provisions designed to perfect the proportion between punishments and offences, if any occur, which, by their own particular good effects, would not make up for the harm they would do by adding to the intricacy of the Code, they should be omitted.
XXVI. It may be remembered, that the political sanction, being that to which the sort of punishment belongs, which in this chapter is all along in view, is but one of four sanctions, which may all of them contribute their share towards producing the same effects. It maybe expected, therefore, that in adjusting the quantity of political punishment, allowance should be made for the assistance it may meet with from those other controlling powers. True it is, that from each of these several sources a very powerful assistance may sometimes be derived. But the case is, that (setting aside the moral sanction, in the case where the force of it is expressly adopted into and modified by the political) the force of those other powers is never determinate enough to be depended upon. It can never be reduced, like political punishment, into exact lots, nor meted out in number, quantity, and value. The legislator is therefore obliged to provide the full complement of punishment, as if he were sure of not receiving any assistance whatever from any of those quarters. If he does, so much the better: but lest he should not, it is necessary he should, at all events, make that provision which depends upon himself.
XXVII. It may be of use, in this place, to recapitulate the several circumstances, which, in establishing the proportion betwixt punishments and offenses, are to be attended to. These seem to be as follows:
I. On the part of the offence:
XXVIII. There are some, perhaps, who, at first sight, may look upon the nicety employed in the adjustment of such rules, as so much labour lost: for gross ignorance, they will say, never, troubles itself about laws, and passion does not calculate. But, the evil of ignorance admits of cure: and as to the proposition that passion does not calculate, this, like most of these very general and oracular propositions, is not true. When matters of such importance as pain and pleasure are at stake, and these in the highest degree (the only matters, in short, that can be of importance) who is there that does not calculate? Men calculate, some with less exactness, indeed, some with more: but all men calculate. I would not say, that even a madman does not calculate. Passion calculates, more or less, in every man: in different men, according to the warmth or coolness of their dispositions: according to the firmness or irritability of their minds: according to the nature of the motives by which they are acted upon. Happily, of all passions, that is the most given to calculation, from the excesses of which, by reason of its strength, constancy, and universality, society has most to apprehend: I mean that which corresponds to the motive of pecuniary interest: so that these niceties, if such they are to be called, have the best chance of being efficacious, where efficacy is of the most importance.