Notes on the readings

General remarks

With authors who write in an older style you have to work a lot harder at finding out exactly what they’re trying to do.

In these cases, a shallow outline can help more than a very detailed one. A shallow outline lays out the main points in the text where argumentative transitions occur. You can then see how the whole thing is set up and go back to look more carefully at specific points that most interest you.

Shallow outline of chapters 1-4

  1. Of the Principle of Utility
    • I. Motivational theory
    • II-X. What “utility” means, the utilitarian principle
    • XI. Foundations: strict proof of ultimate ends impossible.
      The kind of argument for the utilitarian principle that he will offer: the moral views people do hold are either utilitarian or indefensible. Consistency requires that those who care about morality adopt the utiltarian view.
  2. Of Principles adverse to that of Utility
    • III-X. Opponent 1: principle of Asceticism. There are two versions of this: religious and philosophical.
      Note: “stripes” in VIII. refer to wounds or lashes; presumably from self-flaggelation.
    • XI-XVII. Opponent 2: principle of sympathy and antipathy. There are many versions of this view (see the enormous footnote 1 that begins in XI and runs below pp. 13 - 16).
      Note: “approbation” and “disapprobation” are defined in § XIII, p. 16.
      Note: Bentham’s main argument against the principle of sympathy and antipathy comes out best, in my opinion, in the long footnote that begins in §XIV (p. 17).
    • XVIII. Opponent 3: theological systems. Too vague to be a genuine alternative to utilitarianism.
  3. Of the Four Sanctions or Sources of Pain and Pleasure
    • I. Why a discussion of sanctions is important for Bentham
    • II-XII. What the various sanctions are, how physical pain is the basic kind of sanction.
  4. Value of a Lot of Pleasure or Pain, How to be Measured
    • II-III. For an individual
    • IV-V. For a group
    • VI-VIII. Clarifying remarks: e.g. should one consciously use this procedure for every decision?

Additional information

University College London has some pictures, a brief biography, and an explanation of the infamous auto-icon.