The measure of right and wrong


Jeremy Bentham who is born in London during the 18th century often spoke about society from a philosophical perspective. The three basis of Bentham’s moral and political philosophy was the greatest happiness principle, universal egoism and the artificial identification of one’s interests with those of others. One of his quotes states:

“The said truth is that it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.”

This in my opinion isn’t completely wrong but neither is it fully true. Depending on from whose perspective you see from you’ll have several “rights and wrongs”. For example when it comes to private life, does the right always have to be what is better for the majority? And despite the fact that we could follow this as a measurement for what is right and wrong. Is it always right to listen?
In a society today, in a school where bullying is a problem, imagine the idea of that a whole school would bully one single person, since it makes them feel good having someone to bully. Should that, according to this quote mean that it is right to bully someone? Discussing it further there is another quote: “The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation”. If the majority feels pleased with what’s going on, that’s the foundation of morals and legislation.
In The Lottery there is one pupil and one pupil only who has been chosen not to be talked to for a whole year. If you see the school as the “society” and the majority would be everyone who hadn’t been put out with it, or been a close friend to the victim it would be right to ignore and bully the victim and also, according the second quote, would suggest that if the majority is okay with it is not morally wrong and there should not be a law saying it is illegal.

Whereas if you apply his quotes to a democratic society the majority would not want people that killed others to walk around there. You would say that it’s wrong to murder people because the majority says so, probably partly because someone you know might be put out of life. It is a clear example and we wouldn’t question it today since this is something we’ve considered wrong for a very long time. As the second quote says; “The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation” we already consider it wrong and since we do, and since they started to consider it fully wrong, its is morally wrong to kill someone as for when legislation became a part of society it as also been illegal to murder someone. Even though this is a very clear example it is a very good one as well. If we look at Sweden’s laws we can see that only a couple of centuries ago it was against the law to be unfaithful to your husband/wife. You could up until 1779, in Sweden, be doomed to death for cheating on your wife/husband and even though it still is wrong to be unfaithful today we do not consider it a crime as serious as on the 18th century. But why don’t we have a law that says you mustn’t be unfaithful to your wife/husband today?

It happens oftener than it did back then and having it as a law, imagine how many would be punished for it. We should also consider that the rate on how many get married today, is lower than it was in the 18th century. Because of the lower rate of it they might see it unnecessary to have a law for it and see it as your own problem if it happens, rather than the society’s problem where we have to put time on a punishment.

“Every law is an infraction of liberty” is also a quote of Bentham that may explain why we had that law removed. This quote is one that I fully agree with. We have laws to keep a safe society, but for the minority, those who not follow the law will have a decreased amount of liberty. Also laws are changed over time because what we find moral and right changes and that changes the laws.


If you want to read more quotes from Bentham click on this link:


By: Sandra Åkesson

Postat av: Kajsa

Nice article Sandra!

I have to agree with you on the first quote. The statement isn't fully true or false. It depends on the situation,like you said, but in most cases the masses hapiness must be more important than the individual. However you have to see whose happiness is the most important. With bullying the victim of bulling is more damaged by the bulling than what the person bulling is getting happy from it.

2011-04-15 @ 10:41:37

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