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An Alternative View of the European Idea of the Common Good: Bentham’s Mathematical Model of Utility

Utilité et modélisation mathématique selon Bentham : Une approche alternative à la notion européenne de bien commun
Piero Tarantino

Résumés

L’article vise à explorer la contribution que Jeremy Bentham a apportée à la formation de l'idée de bien commun, en contextualisant son point de vue dans les débats politiques, sociaux et philosophiques européens sur cette question. L’idée du bien commun se situe au cœur de l’identité et de la pensée européennes et esquisse un modèle précis de coexistence sociale. Une enquête sur la contribution de Bentham à cet égard nécessite donc la clarification des racines philosophiques du bien commun considéré comme une idée européenne. Le modèle du bien commun, proposé par Bentham en fonction de son concept d’utilité, semble s’inspirer des sciences mathématiques car il implique la « pesée » de différentes raisons d’agir et de calculer leur utilité, c'est-à-dire leur capacité à augmenter le plaisir et réduire la douleur. Malgré les apparences de cette approche mathématique, l’idée de Bentham du bien commun n’est pas exclusive en ce sens qu’elle impliquerait l’accomplissement du bien uniquement pour la majorité ; au contraire, le bien commun que vise Bentham est un idéal inclusif qui implique progressivement tous les membres de la communauté.

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I would like to thank reviewers for carefully reading an early version of my article and for providing me with valuable suggestions to improve my work.

Introduction: European ideas

1When dealing with the European idea of the common good, the first questions we are faced with is what one means by the expression “the common good” and why it is a “European idea” or, more generally, what a “European idea” is. First of all, it is important a terminological clarification, which, starting from the meaning of the notion of an idea, explains the idea of the common good as part of the identity of Europe. This paragraph will therefore have the purpose of offering a methodological introduction to the topic of the paper, whose main objective is to assess Bentham’s principle of utility as a calculative approach, inspired by mathematics, for the achievement of the common good as an idea at the core of European thought.

  • 1 See, for example, thefreedictionary.com

2The word idea is quite common; it is used in different contexts and has special importance in philosophy. Thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant and Hegel – just to name a few – built their theories on the word “idea”, which they understood in different ways. In the context of this paper, however, we will refer to the most general meanings and uses of the word idea. By the word “idea” one means different things, among which the fact that it is “the product of mental activity”,1 that is, a sort of belief created by the human mind. In other words, ideas are intellectual creations, namely conceptual objects or, in more detail, entities having a rational character.

3In this regard, we can mention the notions of truth and justice as examples of ideas. These ideas do not have an empirical origin, although they are part of our daily experience. When a scientist is demonstrating a new theorem, he/she refers to an idea of truth (consisting, for example, in the fact that a theorem is true when it is demonstrable through Euclidean axioms). When a professor has to evaluate a student, he/she refers to an idea of just (consisting, for example, in testing fairly the student’s preparation for the exam).

4In the above-mentioned cases, the notions of truth and justice provide two models through which human beings can understand reality and plan their behaviour in the world. In other words, ideas are conceived of as models for knowledge and action. Ideas are therefore paradigms or principles that have a theoretical and practical value: they shape our knowledge and guide our action. Without ideas we could neither think nor act.

  • 2 For more information on the notion of idea from a philosophical point of view, see Audi Robert (ed. (...)

5Interesting questions to ask now would be how many ideas of the same object, for example truth or justice, we have and to what extent these ideas are different. Two scientists could demonstrate the same theorem by taking two different ideas of truth as a model. Similarly, two professors could evaluate their students according to two different ideas of justice. However, scientists and professors cannot ignore the model of truth and justice shared by the community to which they belong. In other words, the scientific community and the academic community provide their members with shared models to which they may refer in their reflection and action. Ideas are, thus, shared models. In our world, we have different communities to which humans belong and each community has its own models of thought and behaviour, that is, its ideas.2

6As we said at the beginning, we are dealing with the common good as a “European idea”. But what does “European” mean? Or rather, in what sense an idea can be defined as “European”. This definition involves another question: what is Europe? It is obvious that the adjective “European” is connected to the noun “Europe”, but it is less obvious what we are referring to when we speak of “Europe”. Is Europe, in this context, a simple geographic entity, corresponding to the European Continent? Or is Europe a political entity, such as the European Union? Connected to this, we also have another type of question, namely to what extent does a “European idea” differ, for example, from an “American idea” or an “Asian idea”?

7I think that all these issues are connected to each other and refer to an even more fundamental question, namely if there is a sort of European identity and if this European identity is somehow productive of a specific type of idea. Let us briefly reflect on the issue of European identity and try to see if there are features, events or phenomena that could characterise this identity in an essential way.

  • 3 On the widely debated question of European identity see, for example, Drace-Francis, Alex, European (...)

8I am thinking of some events which have distinguished European history and identity. I list some of these as follows: the birth and development of philosophy in ancient Greece, the religious phenomenon characterised by the dissemination of Christianity and the influence of Judaism and Islam, Humanism, the Age of Enlightenment, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), and so on. All of these features, events or phenomena can be regarded as “European” to the extent that they have contributed - to varying degrees - to the shaping of a sort of “European identity” and then they have influenced Western identity.3

9By “European ideas” we may mean certain ideas which identify and characterise Europe as a cultural subject. It is clear that this sort of European culture is a heritage shared by the States that geographically make up the Continent of Europe and politically find a connection point in the European Union, whose borders have continuously expanded and sometimes narrowed, if we think of the recent case of Brexit. In short, we can say that European ideas underpin and inform the European political, legal, social, economic and, more generally, cultural heritage and that these ideas, although they are globally influential, contribute to defining European identity.

10The objective of this paper, however, is not only to examine the European idea of the common good, but rather to investigate its philosophical roots. Let us summarise the fundamental points we have dealt with so far, in order to throw light on our research field and on the purpose of this paper devoted to the philosophical (or, more specifically, Benthamite) roots of the European idea of the common good. First, the notion of an idea. We have seen that an idea corresponds to a thought or a conception; it is the result of a process of construction of the human mind. An idea has a normative function: it provides a paradigm, that is, a model for our knowledge and our behaviour. These models are not simply subjective, but they are shared by members of the same community.

11Second, the notion of European ideas. Among the many communities which can exist in our world, we will take into consideration an alleged “European community”, distinguished by a specific identity. This identity is not reducible to a geographical entity and it does not simply correspond to a political entity, i.e. the EU. We will thus try to investigate certain ideas which properly identify European thought inasmuch as they provide its foundations.

12Third, the notion of philosophical roots. We will try to trace an idea, which lies at the heart of our society, back to its philosophical roots, that is, to its theoretical foundations from which this idea gives rise and on which it still depends. This work will therefore be both historical and philosophical and will have a linguistic and interdisciplinary character. Exploring their philosophical roots will help us to understand the meaning of certain crucial ideas which guide our knowledge and our action. In this way, we will gain a greater awareness of what we are, that is, of our identity, and how we act, that is, of the values which inspire our choices.

The common good in the European public debate

13One of the main sources for understanding what a word, corresponding to an idea, refers to, is the mass media. Therefore, we could assess the meaning of the expression “common good” in everyday language, by taking into consideration mass media, which contribute to fueling public debate. First of all, we can identify some key points which characterise the notion of common good in public nowadays: the common good as an idea at the heart of Europe or, more specifically, of the European Union (although this sometimes takes rhetorical forms); the Greek roots of the idea of the common good and the importance of the Christian tradition in the shaping of this idea; the application of the idea of the common good to the economy as an alternative model to capitalism; the contrast between an ancient ideal of freedom and a modern ideal of freedom with reference to the common good.

14Let us try to examine this last point more in depth by quoting an interesting passage from the well-known British newspaper The Guardian in which reference is made to the common good.

The EU praises ‘the common good’, but its words ring hollow.

  • 4 Ypi, Lea, “The EU praises ‘the common good’, but its words ring hollow”, The Guardian, Wed 16 Oct 2 (...)

“The greatest challenge of our times,” Donald Tusk declared in a speech a few days ago in Athens, “is how to make out of politics what it once was: acting and thinking for the common good.” […] Tusk’s speech in Athens, ahead of a decisive meeting of the European council this week, deserved much more critical scrutiny. Tusk cited Thucydides and Cicero and referred to an ancient ideal of freedom that philosophers in the past have contrasted with “the freedom of the moderns”. The freedom of the ancients, it is often said, is characterised by shared commitment to the public good, equal laws and equal participation in public debate. The freedom of the moderns, on the other hand, is that of individuals pursuing their private interests, with the role of the state limited to guaranteeing their orderly interactions.4

  • 5 A classic work on this subject is Benjamin Constant, The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of (...)

15In Tusks’s speech reference is made to two views on the common good: “the freedom of the ancients”, which is characterised by “shared commitment to the public good, equal laws and equal participation in public debate”; and “the freedom of the moderns”, which is the freedom of “individuals pursuing their private interests, with the role of the state limited to guaranteeing their orderly interactions”.5

16This contrast between an ancient and a modern view of the common good concerns the relationship between the individual and the community to which he/she belongs: in the ancient view the interest of the community is the final end or goal of the common good; in the modern view the interest of the individual is the final end or goal of the common good. It is worth noting the modern shift from the community to the individual, that is, the modern shift from the primacy of the interest of the community towards the primacy of the individual interest.

17From reading the previous article, the idea of the common good seems to be currently at the heart of European identity. However, to what extent may we say that the idea of the common good is a European idea? In recent years the word “common good” has undoubtedly been at the heart of international and, more specifically, European debates. The common good is a crucial idea in the political, economic, social and cultural debates in the European Union, as it appears clear in its constitutional foundations.

3. The Union shall establish an internal market. It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance.

It shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child.

It shall promote economic, social and territorial cohesion, and solidarity among Member States.

  • 6 Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union, Article 3 (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/resource (...)

It shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and shall ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.6

18Although the expression “common good” never appears in these lines, they articulate the principle of the common good which underpins and informs the “Treaty on European Union” and, more fundamentally, the European Union itself.

  • 7 Cf. Marhold, Hartmut, “A European Common Good?”, Centre international de formation européenne - « L (...)

19Why has talking about the common good become so important today, not only in political and philosophical debates but in public debate more generally? The recent economic crisis has had a strong impact on the European Union and, consequently, negative effects on the life of European citizens. The European economic and social system has proved fragile in managing and overcoming this crisis, which still troubles the various member states. Rethinking the European economic model has therefore become one of the most debated topics. The economy of the common good seems to offer a promising model, which is alternative to the current unsuccessful model.7

The philosophical roots of the common good

20We can go back to the question of the definition of the common good, identifying the constitutive, i.e. essential, aspects of this notion and tracing them back to their philosophical origins in the history of thought. The notion of the common good belongs to the practical area, insofar as it concerns politics, economics, morality and law. The definition of this idea therefore has not only a descriptive value but also a normative value: it outlines a model of behaviour which is adopted and/or should be adopted by human society.

21What do we mean by the expression “the common good”? Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an unambiguous definition, not in the sense that those provided so far are not sufficiently clear. The definitions of the common good do not seem to comprehensively capture the different meanings to which this expression seems to refer. Our first task therefore is to try to define what is the common good, by starting from a general formulation provided by Hussain in the following lines.

  • 8 Hussain, Waheed, “The Common Good”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition), (...)

In ordinary political discourse, the “common good” refers to those facilities - whether material, cultural or institutional - that the members of a community provide to all members in order to fulfill a relational obligation they all have to care for certain interests that they have in common.8

  • 9 For this definition and the examples see Hussain, W., “The Common Good”.

22According to Hussain, the common good refers both to the set of facilities shared by the members of a community, and to the interests that the members of a community have in common, including the facilities which contribute to the pursuit of these interests. Examples of facilities are the road system, schools, hospitals and social institutions, museums, libraries, theatres and cultural institutions, public transportation, air and water; examples of interests are protection, public safety, justice, education, civil liberties (i.e. freedom of speech, freedom of association, etc.), and national defence.9 However, Hussain distinguishes a more strictly philosophical definition from the political definition of the common good which he provided.

  • 10 Hussain, W., “The Common Good”.

As a philosophical concept, the common good is best understood as part of an encompassing model for practical reasoning among the members of a political community. The model takes for granted that citizens stand in a “political” or “civic” relationship with one another and that this relationship requires them to create and maintain certain facilities on the grounds that these facilities serve certain common interests. The relevant facilities and interests together constitute the common good and serve as a shared standpoint for political deliberation.10

  • 11 Cfr. Hussain, W., “The Common Good”.

23Hussain assesses the philosophical idea of the common good within the framework of communitarian practical reasoning. The idea of the common good is based on the fact that members of any community, such as a group of friends or the State, have shared facilities and interests. The idea of common good, which can be more or less broad, binds the members of a community to mutual obligations in the creation and maintenance of these and further facilities and in the pursuit of common interests. The common good entails a relational obligation for the people sharing it. They have the duty to design and preserve the common good.11

24Hussain’s philosophical definition of the common good makes reference to important contemporary thinkers’ views on this subject and try to capture some shared essential elements. For example, according to Rawls “Government is assumed to aim at the common good, that is, at maintaining conditions and achieving objectives that are similarly to everyone’s advantage.” In this case the idea of the common good is understood as a collective advantage and it is related to the maintenance of conditions and the achievement of objectives for this advantage.

  • 12 Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971 (...)

To the extent that this presumption holds, and some men can be identified as having superior wisdom and judgment, others are willing to trust them and to concede to their opinion a greater weight. The passengers of a ship are willing to let the captain steer the course, since they believe that he is more knowledgeable and wishes to arrive safely as much as they do. There is both an identity of interests and a noticeably greater skill and judgment in realizing it. Now the ship of state is in some ways analogous to a ship at sea; and to the extent that this is so, the political liberties are indeed subordinate to the other freedoms that, so to say, define the intrinsic good of the passengers.12

25Rawls’s definition of the common good emphasises the community of interests and superior judgment for the achievement of collective advantage. This entails the subordination of individual interest to the communal interest. A slightly different clarification of the common good is provided by Finnis; it, however, always identifies the common good through the relation between individual and collective interests.

  • 13 Finnis, John, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford, Clarendon, 1980), pp.154-55.

This third sense of ‘common good’ is the one commonly intended throughout this book, and it is: a set of conditions which enables the members of a community to attain for themselves reasonable objectives, or to realize reasonably for themselves the value(s), for the sake of which they have reason to collaborate with each other (positively and/or negatively) in a community.13

26The collective interest therefore consists in guaranteeing the fulfilment of the individual interest through the implementation of certain conditions. The common good is made up of both interests and facilities. Interests and facilities are closely related inasmuch as the latter serve the former. The idea of common good entails obligations which provide members of the community with specific reasons for action. These reasons for actions consist in creating and maintaining the shared common good.

  • 14 Hussain, W., “The Common Good”.

27The members of a community should care about certain interests, by taking them into account in their collective practical reasoning, that is, in their reflection about what to do for the community as a whole. As Hussain plainly states, “The point of a conception of the common good is to define a pattern of practical reasoning, a way of thinking and acting that constitutes the appropriate form of mutual concern among members.”14 We can say that the members of a community have a relational obligation. In other words, the members of a community are in a social relationship by means of the idea of the common good, about which they are concerned in their reflection about what to do.

28However, a society based on the common good does not require its members to give up their personal or private interests. On the contrary, the creation and maintenance of the common good can enable people or groups of people to pursue their individual interests insofar as the common good provides the conditions for doing it. For example, living in a country which protects freedom of speech as a common good can give some individuals the opportunity to freely support their political ideas.

  • 15 The relational aspect (“‘political’ or ‘civic’ relationship”), including the obligations (“relation (...)

29The model of the above outlined collective practical reasoning can be based on solidarity, that is, on the view that my fellows’ interests are as important as mine. Solidarity underpins the view of the common good. Common good is thus different from private good but common good is not opposite to private good. The good of the community corresponds to the good for each of its members.15

  • 16 More generally, on the notion of the common good and its history see Etzioni, Amitai, The Common Go (...)
  • 17 Cf. Marhold, Hartmut, “A European Common Good?”, Centre international de formation européenne - « L (...)

30As we have seen, when thinking of the common good, philosophers identify two distinct approaches which, approximately, seem to correspond to the distinction outlined by Tusk in his speech in Athens. The crucial point is the relationship between the individual and the community. In connection with this, scholars such as Hartmut and Jaede claim that there is a shift in the meaning of the common good in the modern age.16 According to the ancient conception of the common good, which is upheld by philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, the community interest subordinates individual interest. According to the modern conception of the common good, which is supported by thinkers of the likes of Hobbes, Locke and Bentham, individual interests are fundamental in thinking of the common good.17

  • 18 See Hussain, W., “The Common Good”.

31Other scholars, however, such as Hussain, while sharing this fundamental distinction between two conceptions of the common good, do not understand them as two views which simply follow each other chronologically, but as two competitive views that still coexist. In this sense, he distinguishes between “joint activity conceptions” and “private individuality conceptions”, by referring the former to thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle and secular natural law theorists (in particular John Finnis), and the latter to philosophers such as Locke, Rousseau, Smith, Hegel, Rawls and Walzer. Although Hussain does not mention Bentham, it is clear that the philosopher can be regarded as an upholder of the private individuality conception.18

32In sum, we can identify evolution in the conception of the common good. On the one hand, an ancient view of the common good, according to which the interests of the community are prior to and overcome individual interests; the community is the main reference of this conception of the common good. On the other, a modern view of the common good, according to which the members of a community, for example the citizens, have their own interests which they can pursue thanks to common interests, that is, the common good; put differently, the common good offers the conditions for personal aims and thus the individual is the main reference of this view of the common good.

The principle of utility

33Generally speaking, one might identify the contribution that Jeremy Bentham gave to the shaping of the idea of the common good in the formulation of the principle of utility. In connection with this, Jaede claims that

  • 19 Jaede, M., The Concept of the Common Good, p.4. Jaede concludes by saying that “Later in his life, (...)

Other characteristically modern conceptions put less emphasis on individual rights and rather viewed the common good as the sum of all individual goods, that is, as the “greatest happiness of the greatest number”. This notion is most closely associated with the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham […]. Bentham had originally meant that government ought to maximise the utility, or happiness, of all members of a political community.19

  • 20 Cf. Jaede, M., The Concept of the Common Good, p.4. On the notion of “Greatest Happiness Principle” (...)

34Jaede traces back the principle of utility to an “individualistic conception of the common good”, which characterises the modern era; more specifically, the common good is understood as the sum of individual goods, as it is plainly stated in the expression “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”. The maximisation of good, i.e. utility, of each member of the community is therefore the main task of the legislator.20

  • 21 I am grateful to Anne Brunon-Ernst for this important suggestion and also for pointing out that Ben (...)

35Rightly speaking, Bentham considers utility as synonymous with happiness, rather than the common good. Although all three notions are of course related, the relation between utility and common good is not direct, because this relationship is mediated by the concept of happiness. In other words, in Bentham’s view the common good consists not directly in the principle of utility but in the implementation of the ideal of the greatest happiness of the greatest number; then, this happiness can be understood in terms of utility, that is, of pleasure and pain, which lies at the foundations of the principle of utility.21

  • 22 See Dimova-Cookson, Maria, “Bentham, Mill and Green on the nature of the good”, Journal of Bentham (...)
  • 23 In addition to the texts already mentioned, see also Gunn, J.A.W., “Jeremy Bentham and the Public I (...)
  • 24 For my detailed examination of Bentham’s principle of utility, which I outline in a more concise fo (...)

36Despite the acknowledgment of Bentham’s contribution to the shaping of the modern view of the common good, the relationship between the individual good and the collective good in his philosophy remains unexplored and perhaps enigmatical.22 More generally, a few scholars have outlined the connection between the principle of utility and the common good,23 which, generally speaking remains underexplored. In this paragraph I will try to clarify the relationship between the individual and the collective dimension of the good in the light of the principle of utility worked out by Bentham.24

  • 25 An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (IPML), edited by J. Burns and H. Hart (...)

37First of all, the individual and the collective dimension of good appears intimately connected in Bentham’s treatment of the principle of utility. In An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Bentham makes it clear that human action is caused by pain and pleasure.25 He outlines the naturalistic foundations of morality and law: pain and pleasure are identified as the “two sovereign masters,” under the direction of which any human activity takes place.

38Human action is directed by pain and pleasure or, more specifically, by the desire for pleasure and the aversion to pain, which are the pillars of practical reason. When an agent thinks about how to behave, he/she is guided by the consideration of the pleasure or pain a certain action is expected to bring forth as a consequence of its performance. The human mind is naturally oriented to the pursuit of pleasure and to the avoidance of pain.

39Bentham sets out a model of practical reasoning according to which an action is the result of a cause basically referring to pleasure and pain, which work as motives. An object or a way of conduct that is regarded as pleasurable, because it consists of or is conducive to a kind of pleasure, should be adopted or performed. Similarly, an object or a way of conduct that is regarded as painful, because it con­sists of or is conducive to a kind of pain, should be avoided.

40The principle of utility appears to be a regulating principle of the activity of individual practical reason. However, it does not only concern the individual dimension of human action; indeed, the principle of utility provides the legislator with a guide for ruling the community. The individual dimension and the collective dimension of the common good do not appear to be concurrent. Knowledge of the motives of human action, aimed at the achievement of utility, that is, the maximisation of pleasure and the minimisation of pain, allows the legislator to promulgate laws that effectively favour the pursuit of the individual good within the collective dimension of the community.

  • 26 Cf. Bentham, J., IPML, p.11 n.a; Bentham, Jeremy, A Comment on the Commentaries and A Fragment on G (...)

41Bentham clarifies that the principle of utility corresponds to the “greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle”: “the greatest happiness of all those whose interest is in question” is the “only right and proper and universally desirable, end [. . .] of human action in every situation,” both in the case of a single agent reflecting on what to do and in the case of a legislator ruling people. According to Bentham, “The word utility does not so clearly point to the ideas of pleasure and pain as the words happiness and felicity do.”26

42The principle of utility, namely the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle, is a fictitious notion and refers to pleasure and pain as its sources. Utility, happiness and felicity are complex ideas which derive their meaning and truth from the real entities of pleasure and pain. The distinction between real and fictitious entities provides the framework for the foundation of the practical domain and, consequently, of its subdisciplines moral­ity, law and religion.

43The principle of utility or greatest happiness is nothing but a fictitious creation of the human mind; this principle is grounded on the acknowledgment of the normative force of the empirical perceptions of pleasure and pain. A statement about the utility of something can be explained or, more precisely, paraphrased as a statement about the property of that thing to be instrumental in happiness, that is, to be conducive to pleasure or preventive of pain.

  • 27 On Bentham’s theory of real and fictitious entities see Bozzo-Rey, Malik, “Loi, fiction et logique (...)

44Fictitious entities are simply names; however they have not a mere linguistic value. If they were not referable to real entities, that is, to perceptions, they would be “fictions” and as such they could be instruments at the service of the sinister interest of the ruling few. The fictitious entities, on the other hand, are referable to real entities, which correspond to pain and pleasure in the field of ethics.27

  • 28 Bentham, Jeremy, Preparatory Principles, edited by D. Long and P. Schofield (Oxford, Clarendon Pres (...)

45Bentham plainly states the relation between utilitarianism and the distinction between real and fictitious entities when he connects the property of utility to happiness and then to pleasure: “Utility is the property of an action to encrease Happiness. Happiness is no otherwise encreased than by averting pains or increasing pleasures.”28 The property of utility is ascribed to something by the human mind according to the capacity of that thing to promote happiness, by leading to pleasure and averting pain.

46Bentham’s theory of meaning is at the service of his utilitarian view of the practical domain, including the common good. The principle of utility, which underlies Bentham’s philosophical system, is justifiable by means of the elemental terms of pain and pleasure. The explana­tory ability of these perceptions depends on their being the empirical grounds from which the human mind creates the practical world and then coordinates actions. Pleasure and pain, corresponding to real entities, are the ultimate foundations of practical reality.

47Similarly, the notion of good is understandable in the light of the distinction between real and fictitious entities. The idea of good is a fictitious entity, that is, a linguistic creation of the human mind based on pleasure or pain. In other words, the meaning of good both for an individual and a community depends on the real entity to which it refers, namely pleasure or pain. Something can be regarded as good insofar as it leads to pleasure or helps avoid pain. From this point of view, the individual good refers to the pleasure or pain that a single member of a community experiences or is expected to experience. On the other hand, the common good depends on the achievement of pleasure or the avoidance of pain for the whole community.

48Whether this collective dimension of good involves each single member of a community or the majority of members, it is an interpretative question with important philosophical implications. Does the common good entail the good of all members of the community or should the common good be understood in the sense of the good of the many to the detriment of the few? This question requires clarification of the mathematical models which Bentham applied to understanding the common good or, more specifically, the principle of utility.

The calculation of utility

  • 29 Cf. IPML, p.12 n.b.
  • 30 Cf. Bentham, J., Preparatory Principles, p.449.
  • 31 Bentham, J., IPML, p.12.

49The principle of utility has its real source in an agent’s act of the mind, a senti­ment of approbation.29 It is, in other words, the agent himself/herself who assesses the utility of something. According to Bentham, utility is the quality or property ascribed both to that which products benefit, advantage, good, happiness or, more basically, pleasure, and to that which prevents mischief, evil, unhappiness or, more basically, pain.30 This ascription of utility to something is carried out from an individual and collective point of view, that is, from the point of view of the “party whose interest is considered.”31

50The principle of utility has a double function: it describes the subjection of humankind to pain and pleasure and prescribes how to direct the behaviour of humankind in accordance with its orientation to pleasure. One may distinguish two aspects of the principle of utility, which are the expository and the censorial, namely the descriptive and the prescriptive, and two levels of the principle of utility, which are the individual and the collective, concerning the agent’s practical reasoning and a number of people making up a political community.

51In the following lines Bentham frames a comprehensive definition of the principle of utility. This definition has the merit of emphasising the two aspects, i.e. expository and censorial, and the two levels, i.e. individual and collective, of the principle of utility.

  • 32 Bentham, J., IPML, pp.11-2.

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.32

  • 33 On the principle of utility see, for example, Kelly, Paul J., Utilitarianism and Distributive Justi (...)

52Generally speaking, the principle of utility is an evaluative standard, which conforms to the pleasure-oriented nature of human beings.33 Indeed, it examines and then approves or disapproves of the tendency that an object or an action has to aug­ment or to diminish the happiness of the people involved, namely “whose interest is in question.”

  • 34 Bentham, J., IPML, pp.12-13.

53The principle of utility approves of any action that maximises and disapproves of any that minimises individual and general happiness, i.e. pleasure. With refer­ence to the collective level, “An action [. . .] may be said to be conformable to the principle of utility [. . .] when the tendency it has to augment the happiness of the community is greater than any it has to diminish it.”34

  • 35 Bentham, J., A Fragment on Government, pp.415-6.

54The property of an action, which “is calculated so readily to engage, and so firmly to fix the attention of an observer,” is the tendency to a common end or also its opposite, i.e. divergence. Bentham specifies this end as happiness. The utility of an act consists in the tendency to happiness and its mischievousness consists in the divergence from happiness. This general practical principle, when applied to the arrangement of the field of law, should lead the legisla­tor to point out the utility or the mischievousness of the action he intends to command or forbid.35

  • 36 Bentham, J., A Fragment on Government, p.416.

55The tendency to happiness, namely the utility of a prescribed behaviour is the only property of the legal materials which any individual looks for. By enlight­ening the utility of the law, the legislator can fulfil his/her subjects’ pursuit of happiness. A natural arrangement of law gives reason of its norms, namely it explains their utility, so that obedience to them is regarded by their subjects as a means to achieve happiness.36

56The principle of utility appears to be an evaluative and operative principle of the human mind: it has no specific content and shapes practical judgment. According to Bentham, the activity of rationality consists in a calculation made on the basis of the prediction of the consequences a type of conduct can bring forth in terms of pleasure and pain. In deliberating about how to behave, the individual is guided by the consideration of the utility of the action he/she plans to perform.

  • 37 Bentham, J., IPML, pp.173-4.

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.37

  • 38 Bentham, J., IPML, p.32.

57Pain and pleasure are able to affect the agent’s sensibility and to arouse his/her motivation. They influence practical reasoning, which is committed to choosing the kind of behaviour more suitable to the fulfilment of desires, interests and needs. Humankind in fact pursues the enjoyment of pleasure and the prevention of pain; its reflection about what to do aims to the accomplishment of these ends. As Bentham argues, “The only right ground of action, that can possibly subsist, is, after all, the consideration of utility which, if it is a right principle of action, and of approbation, in any one case, is so in every other.”38 The individual balance of the actions is based on the criterion of utility: the more a course of action is useful, because of its being conducive to pleasure, the more weight it has in the assessment of what to do.

  • 39 Bentham, J., A Fragment on Government, pp.446 and 448.

Now this other principle that still recurs upon us, what other can it be than the principle of utility? The principle which furnishes us with that reason, which alone depends not upon any higher reason, but which is itself the sole and all-sufficient reason for every point of practice whatsoever.39

58The criterion of utility regulates the working of practical reasoning, pointing out what actions, and in what measure, enable an agent to gain pleasure and avoid pain. In such a way it provides a reason, that is, a justification for the agent’s deci­sion to endorse and perform a specific action. This reason essentially consists in the conduciveness to pleasure of the related action. The principle of utility reflects and is consistent with the calculative structure of practical rationality, which is constitutively oriented to the pursuit of happiness, i.e. pleasure, and to the aversion to pain.

A mathematical model of practical reason

59Bentham’s interest in mathematics first appeared in his very early writings, dating back to the early 1770s; they were devoted particularly to Euclidean geometry. These texts offered Bentham the opportunity to outline his view on the linguistic nature of mathematical elements; he tried to explain geometrical properties according to his distinction between real and fictitious entities. Mathematical notions are indeed understood by Bentham as fictitious, namely as intellectual constructions, which need to be rooted in real entities, such as bodies or substances perceived by the senses in order to be made intelligible. This view of mathematics is later put forward again in an educational context, in Appendix viii of his book Chrestomathia.

60Bentham was fascinated by the abstract and unempirical character of mathematical elements; this aspect probably attracted Bentham and allowed him to put to the test his insight into the fictitious character of certain entities which are not susceptible to being experienced by perceptive faculties. However, Bentham’s interest in mathematics appears to be wide and concerns not only pure mathematical sciences but also applied mathematical sciences with reference to the objectives of his research. If pure mathematics, in particular geometry, offers a sound model of abstraction on which to mould his theory real and fictitious entities, applied mathematics, and in particular the notion of calculus, allows Bentham to develop a specific theory of practical reason.

  • 40 I have examined at length Bentham’s theory of practical reasoning, along with its “mathematical” or (...)
  • 41 For the identification between reason and calculation and their dependence on the principle of util (...)
  • 42 Cf. Bentham, J., A Table of the Springs of Action, p.42 and 44. The relation between calculation an (...)

61Bentham’s approach to the nature of practical reason appears to be consistent with a longstanding empirical tradition, which is characterised by a desire-based account.40 However Bentham puts forward an original interpretation of practi­cal reason, which combines a mathematical approach with ethics. Bentham understands practical reason as a calculative activity carried out under the direction of the principle of utility. With reference to action, calculation con­sists in estimating and taking into account the quantities of pleasure and pain as they seem likely to result from the performance of a type of conduct.41 In this respect, practical reasoning is comparable to the technical reasoning employed by a mercantile teacher, a pharmacist or a doctor and an architect involving respec­tively accounts, weights and a foot rule.42

62Bentham imports empirical and technical methods of reasoning, belonging not only to applied mathematical sciences, into practical disciplines, especially ethics and politics. According to these methods, motives, actions and duties are understood and balanced in terms of weight or strength. The weight or the strength of practical elements, such as motives, duties and actions, corresponds to their utility, which is consequently measurable. Hence, the activity of practical reason consists in a calculation based on weighing a number of motives support­ing alternative modes of conduct.

  • 43 Bentham, J., Preparatory Principles, p.421.

63An example of calculation as a form of practical reasoning is provided in Preparatory Principles: “In order to see which reason is strongest, it will be necessary to sum up and divide the quantities of pleasure and pain that are the pathological effects of the two different modes of disposition.”43

64This mathematical form of individual practical reasoning is extensible to the collective level. The common good is therefore identified as the outcome of the reflective activity of the legislator aimed at the achievement of pleasure or the avoidance of pain for the community. Like all mathematical models, the pursuit of good, even though aimed at achieving unanimity, seems to sacrifice the interests of the individual components in favour of the abstract interests of the community. In this sense Bentham seems to be more faithful to the ancient model of the common good, in which the individual good found correspondence and identification in the collective good. However, such an interpretation runs the risk of missing the point and distorting Bentham’s view of the common good, which on the contrary appears fully modern to the extent that it acknowledges the importance of the individual dimension and its priority over the collective one.

Inclusive and progressive society

  • 44 For an overview of this criticism see Schofield, Philip, Bentham: A Guide for the Perplexed (London (...)

65In this final paragraph I will examine a general criticism against Bentham’s utilitarianism, according to which it outlines a fundamentally selfish model of society, where there would not be room for an authentic common good.44 This criticism was already taken into consideration by Bentham, who, despite being aware of the selfish nature of the motives of human action, put forward a model of society in which solidarity characterises human interrelations.

  • 45 Bentham, Jeremy, First Principles Preparatory to Constitutional Code, edited by P. Schofield, (Oxfo (...)
  • 46 Bentham, J., First Principles Preparatory to Constitutional Code, p.14. I have taken into considera (...)

66In First Principles Preparatory to Constitutional Code, Bentham conceives of “self-regarding interest,” namely the general human tendency towards the reali­sation of self-interest, as an axiom on which the work of codification should be grounded. Self-regarding interest is one of the “first principles indicative of the foundation of this proposed constitutional code.”45 It may be specified as “the desire in man to feel himself happy,” a desire or propensity that is predominant in human nature when planning and taking a course of action. As Bentham states, this desire should not necessarily be understood in selfish or solipsistic terms, because it also encompasses a social or sympathetic regard, con­sisting in “the desire to see others happy.”46

67This altruistic desire to see others happy is as important as the individual desire to see myself happy, although the latter takes priority. However, this priority of the individual dimension does not have an exclusive value, in the sense that it does not involve the elimination of the collective dimension; rather it has an inclusive value: individual happiness encompasses collective happiness.

  • 47 Bentham, J., Deontology, pp.209-10.

In the present instance, this exclusively true answer will be given without difficulty. The efficient cause, or say ground, for whatever sentiment of approbation stands in any mind associated with the idea of any act, habit, disposition, or propensity, is its tendency to give a net increase to the quantity of happiness in all its shapes taken together, about to have place in the community, whatsoever it be, that is in question. Thence, if it be of the human species, of the whole human species, this effect is produced on the part of any one individual, without the production of an equal quantity of unhappiness in any other.47

  • 48 Bentham, J., Deontology, p.122.

68An agent performs an action inasmuch as it promotes his/her happiness and, for this rea­son, it can be regarded as good. The consideration of an action as good is related to its beneficial or detrimental character with reference to happiness, i.e. to the increase of pleasure and the reduction of pain it brings forth. The notion of happiness or well-being is central in Bentham’s ethical theory: “For that, on this occasion, all that is ultimately and for its own sake worth regard is happiness.”48 The idea of happiness, in connection with its real roots of pleasure and pain, guides the agent’s action: it is his/her ultimate goal.

  • 49 Bentham, J., Deontology, pp.122–3.

69Bentham seems to outline an individual conception of hap­piness; however, it is plainly inclusive of a plural or collective dimension. The idea of happiness is agent-relative as it depends on the agent’s motives, such as his/her desires to fulfil. Yet it takes into account “the happiness of others” inasmuch as the agent’s hap­piness “is promoted by promoting theirs” and his/her “interest coincides with theirs.”49 Certain feelings are sympathetic to the extent that the happiness of others is a motive for my happiness.

  • 50 Bentham, J., Deontology, p.123.
  • 51 Bentham, J., First Principles Preparatory to Constitutional Code, p.14.

70Bentham puts forward a basically selfish notion of happiness, but it does not conflict with an altruistic view. Indeed, “each man’s happiness is ultimately promoted by an intermediate regard shewn in practice for the happiness of others.”50 By encompassing extra-regarding happiness, self-regarding happiness is plural in itself. The promotion of one’s well-being entails to some extent the promotion of the well-being of others: “though self-regard, the desire in man to feel himself happy, is in every situation the predominant desire and propensity in human nature, neither is social regard, sympathetic regard, the desire to see others happy, less extensively inherent in it.”51

  • 52 Rawls John, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971) (...)

71Our exploration of Bentham’s contribution to the shaping of the modern idea of the common good gives us the opportunity to reply to a famous and widespread criticism against utilitarianism, levelled by Rawls,52 who maintained that utilitarianism “does not take seriously the distinction between persons.”

  • 53 Rawls, J., A Theory of Justice, pp.19–30, in part. pp.23-4.

The most natural way, then, of arriving at utilitarianism […] is to adopt for society as a whole the principle of rational choice for one man. […] It is this spectator who is conceived as carrying out the required organization of the desires of all persons into one coherent system of desire; it is by this construction that many persons are fused into one. […] This view of social cooperation is the consequence of extending to society the principle of choice for one man, and then, to make this extension work, conflating all persons into one through the imaginative acts of the impartial sympathetic spectator. Utilitarianism does not take seriously the distinction between persons.53

72This criticism seems to challenge an inclusive interpretation of Bentham’s view of the common good; indeed, according to this interpretation, the common good would correspond to a general good of the community which would sacrifice individual differences. The total amount of well-being of society would be the measure of the common good, regardless of how this amount is distributed among its components.

73In this perspective, the well-being of a few would be sacrificed for the well-being of society as a result of a mere sum. The utilitarian ideal of the common good is then understood as a calculating or, more generally, mathematical model. The result is an exclusive view of society, characterised by inequalities, in which only the final calculation of the good counts. The inequalities would be justified by the summative well-being of the members of society.

74The extension of practical reasoning to the community level seems to entail the consequences outlined by Rawls. On the individual level there is an agent who reflects on how to act and, similarly, on the collective level there is the community, interpreted as a sort of fictitious agent, which balances different reasons for acting and, in order to achieve the good and in the light of the criterion of utility, chooses the course of action which is more conducive to pleasure.

75However, Bentham does not regard the community as an individual reflective agent. In other words, he does not place the individual and the community on the same level. Since, according to Bentham, the individual dimension prevails over the collective one, the good of the community is not simply the arithmetic sum of each individual good, but is the achievement of the good of each of its members. The collective good is not understood by Bentham as a sacrifice of the few for the many, but as the achievement of the good of everyone. This explains why Bentham’s view of the common good can be characterised as inclusive, open and progressive.

Conclusion

76The question of the common good is at the core of contemporary political, social and philosophical reflections. The recent economic crisis has forced us to rethink the models of social coexistence which have shown themselves to be scarcely capable of offering answers to the growing needs for well-being. This has led us to rediscover an alternative model based on the common good, which appears to be constitutive of the idea of society in its origin, as theorised for example by Plato and Aristotle.

77In the path that from ancient times leads to the current debates on the model the common good to be adopted and implemented, a fundamental point is represented by Bentham’s theory of the principle of utility. Bentham’s view of the common good, which is based on his notion of utility, appears to be consistent with the modern conception according to which the individual good should find room and consideration in the collectivity.

78Bentham’s working out of his view of the common good benefitted from mathematics, in particular from the application of calculative models. The focus on the influence of the mathematical idea of calculation on Bentham’s model of common good probably contributed to understanding this model in terms of inequality and selfishness; indeed, in this kind of society, based on a summative idea of the common good, each individual would not receive the consideration they deserve. Is it possible to extend this calculative model, which Bentham thought of individual practical reasoning, to a sort of collective practical reasoning about the common good?

79Appearances aside, Bentham puts forward an inclusive model of society and the idea of the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be understood as encompassing each member, progressive and not definitive, and continuously open to change. If, on the one hand, Bentham’s merit in discovering the importance of the individual good has been acknowledged, paradoxically his commitment to the construction of a society in which each member can find the achievement of his/her own good has been neglected.

80First of all, Bentham considers the idea of the common good as a fictitious entity which needs to be traced back to pleasure and pain as its foundations. A type of society which aims at the greatest happiness for the greatest number cannot be an exclusive type of society which sacrifices the happiness of the few for the happiness of the many. This situation is perhaps provisionally admissible, because the common good outlined by Bentham appears to be open to continuous change in order to include an ever-increasing number of individuals. The ideal of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, as the foundation of the common good, is therefore a perfectible ideal consisting in the fact that each member of society can ideally find his/her own good. This inclusive, open and progressive idea of the common good can therefore be valuable in rethinking the current model of social coexistence.

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Notes

1 See, for example, thefreedictionary.com

2 For more information on the notion of idea from a philosophical point of view, see Audi Robert (ed.), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2015); Blackburn Simon, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015).

3 On the widely debated question of European identity see, for example, Drace-Francis, Alex, European Identity: A Historical Reader, (London, Springer, 2013); Checkel, Jeffrey T. and Katzenstein, Peter J. (eds.), European Identity, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009); Bayley, Paul and Williams, Geoffrey (eds.), European Identity: What the Media Say, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012).

4 Ypi, Lea, “The EU praises ‘the common good’, but its words ring hollow”, The Guardian, Wed 16 Oct 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/16/eu-common-good-brexit-process-european-union.

5 A classic work on this subject is Benjamin Constant, The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns, in Constant B., Constant: Political Writings, edited by Fontana Biancamaria (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1988). For bibliographic references on the subject see this edition.

6 Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union, Article 3 (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/resource.html?uri=cellar:2bf140bf-a3f8-4ab2-b506-fd71826e6da6.0023.02/DOC_1&format=PDF).

7 Cf. Marhold, Hartmut, “A European Common Good?”, Centre international de formation européenne - « L’Europe en Formation », 376 (2015/2), pp.3-5.

8 Hussain, Waheed, “The Common Good”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2018/entries/common-good/>.

9 For this definition and the examples see Hussain, W., “The Common Good”.

10 Hussain, W., “The Common Good”.

11 Cfr. Hussain, W., “The Common Good”.

12 Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), p.205.

13 Finnis, John, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford, Clarendon, 1980), pp.154-55.

14 Hussain, W., “The Common Good”.

15 The relational aspect (“‘political’ or ‘civic’ relationship”), including the obligations (“relational obligation”) deriving from it, and the attention to solidarity (“a solidaristic form of mutual concern”) when defining the common good are emphasized by Hussain, W., “The Common Good”.

16 More generally, on the notion of the common good and its history see Etzioni, Amitai, The Common Good (Cambridge, Polity Press, 2004); Hollenbach, David, The Common Good and Christian Ethics (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002); Keys, Mary M., Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006); Keys, Mary M. and Godfrey Catherine, “Common Good”, in M. Bevir (ed.), Encyclopedia of Political Theory (Los Angeles, Sage, 2010) pp.239-42; MacIntyre, Alasdair, “Politics, Philosophy and the Common Good”, in K. Knight (ed.), The MacIntyre Reader (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1998), pp.235-52; Pettit, Philip, “The Common Good”, in R.E. Goodin, K. Dowding and C. Pateman (eds.), Justice and Democracy: Essays for Brian Barry (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp.150-69; Sulmasy, Brother Daniel P. O.F.M., “Four Basic Notions of the Common Good”, St. John’s Law Review, 75/2 (2001), pp.303-10.

17 Cf. Marhold, Hartmut, “A European Common Good?”, Centre international de formation européenne - « L’Europe en Formation », 376 (2015/2), p.14; Jaede, Maximilian, The Concept of the Common Good, (PSRP Working Paper No. 8), Global Justice Academy, University of Edinburgh, pp.2-5, in part. p.3-4: “It is generally agreed that, at some point in the history of political thought, conceptions of the common good shifted from concerns with moral virtue and an ideal political community towards more pragmatic considerations of the material wellbeing of individuals.”

18 See Hussain, W., “The Common Good”.

19 Jaede, M., The Concept of the Common Good, p.4. Jaede concludes by saying that “Later in his life, [Bentham] also acknowledged the danger that the wellbeing of a minority might be sacrificed to increase the sum total of happiness” and makes reference to Burns, James H., “Happiness and Utility: Jeremy Bentham’s Equation”, Utilitas, 17/1 (2005), pp.46-61.

20 Cf. Jaede, M., The Concept of the Common Good, p.4. On the notion of “Greatest Happiness Principle” see Goldworth, Amnon, “The Meaning of Bentham’s Greatest Happiness Principle”, History of Philosophy, 7 (1969), pp.315-21; Harrison, Ross, Bentham (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), pp. 167-94; Shackleton, Robert, “The Greatest happiness of the Greatest Number: The History of Bentham’s Phrase”, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 90 (1972), pp.1461-82. See also Broome, John, “Utility”, Economics and Philosophy, 7 (1991), pp.1-12; Burns, “Happiness and utility: Jeremy Bentham’s equation”.

21 I am grateful to Anne Brunon-Ernst for this important suggestion and also for pointing out that Bentham could have been inspired by Priestly in conceiving the connection between the common good, happiness and utility, as is clear in this passage: “It must necessarily be understood, therefore, that all people live in society for their mutual advantage; so that the good and happiness of the members, that is the majority of the members of any state, is the great standard by which every thing relating to that state must finally be determined. (J. Priestley, An Essay on the First Principles of Government, and on the Nature of Political, Civil, and Religious Liberty, including remarks on Dr. Brown’s Code of Education, and on Dr. Balguy’s Sermon on Church Authority, 2nd edn, London, J. Johnson, 1771, http://oll.libertyfund.org/section 2, § 2).

22 See Dimova-Cookson, Maria, “Bentham, Mill and Green on the nature of the good”, Journal of Bentham Studies, 6 (2003), p.8.

23 In addition to the texts already mentioned, see also Gunn, J.A.W., “Jeremy Bentham and the Public Interest”, Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue Canadienne De Science Politique, 1/4 (1968), pp.398-413; Walton, A. S., “Hegel, Utilitarianism, and the Common Good”, Ethics, 93/4 (1983), pp.753-71; Smith, George P. II, “Re-Shaping the Common Good in Times of Public Health Emergencies: Validating Medical Triage”, Annals of Health Law, 18 (2009).

24 For my detailed examination of Bentham’s principle of utility, which I outline in a more concise form here, see Tarantino, Piero, Philosophy, Obligation and the Law: Bentham’s Ontology of Normativity, (Abingdon, Oxon and New York, Routledge, 2018), pp.135-45.

25 An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (IPML), edited by J. Burns and H. Hart (London, The Athlone Press, 1970), p.11.

26 Cf. Bentham, J., IPML, p.11 n.a; Bentham, Jeremy, A Comment on the Commentaries and A Fragment on Government, edited by J. Burns and H. Hart (London, The Athlone Press, 1977), p.446 n.z.

27 On Bentham’s theory of real and fictitious entities see Bozzo-Rey, Malik, “Loi, fiction et logique dans la pensée juridique de Jeremy Bentham”, Annales de Droit, 3 (2009), pp.27-50; Cléro, Jean-Pierre, “La théorie des fictions chez Jeremy Bentham”, Nouvelles de la République des Lettres, 2 (1993), pp.47-71; De Champs, Emmanuelle, “The Place of Jeremy Bentham’s Theory of Fictions in Eighteenth-century Linguistic Thought”, Journal of Bentham Studies, 2 (1999), pp.1-28; Schofield, Philip, Utility and Democracy: The Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006), pp.1-27; Schofield, Philip, “Jeremy Bentham on Utility and Truth”, History of European Ideas, 41 (2015), pp.1125-42; Takashima, Kazuya, “Bentham’s Theory of Language”, Revue d’études benthamiennes, 16 (2019); Tarantino P., Philosophy, Obligation and the Law, pp.11-84; Tusseau, Guillaume, Jeremy Bentham: la guerre des mots, (Paris, Dalloz, 2011).

28 Bentham, Jeremy, Preparatory Principles, edited by D. Long and P. Schofield (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2016), p.130.

29 Cf. IPML, p.12 n.b.

30 Cf. Bentham, J., Preparatory Principles, p.449.

31 Bentham, J., IPML, p.12.

32 Bentham, J., IPML, pp.11-2.

33 On the principle of utility see, for example, Kelly, Paul J., Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice: Jeremy Bentham and the Civil Law (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990), pp.39-70; Mulgan, Tim, Understanding Utilitarianism, (Stocksfield, Acumen, 2007), pp.9-16; Bhikhu, Parekh, Bentham’s Justification of the Principle of Utility, in Bhikhu, Parekh (ed.), Jeremy Bentham: Ten Critical Essays (London, Frank Cass, 1974), pp.96-119; Rosen, Frederick, “Individual Sacrifice and the Greatest Happiness: Bentham on Utility and Rights”, Utilitas, 10, 1998, pp.129-43; Schofield, Utility and Democracy, pp.28-50; Schneewind, Jerome B., “Voluntarism and the Origins of Utilitarianism”, Utilitas, 7 (1995), pp.87-96; Schofield, Philip, “Jeremy Bentham, the Principle of Utility, and Legal Positivism”, Current Legal Problems, 56 (2003), pp.1-39.

34 Bentham, J., IPML, pp.12-13.

35 Bentham, J., A Fragment on Government, pp.415-6.

36 Bentham, J., A Fragment on Government, p.416.

37 Bentham, J., IPML, pp.173-4.

38 Bentham, J., IPML, p.32.

39 Bentham, J., A Fragment on Government, pp.446 and 448.

40 I have examined at length Bentham’s theory of practical reasoning, along with its “mathematical” or “calculative” nature in Tarantino, P., Philosophy, Obligation and the Law, pp.187-99, and in part. pp.187-8 which contains the fundamental elements of the interpretation of this theory outlined here. See also p.5 for a short introduction to Bentham’s view of pure mathematics.

41 For the identification between reason and calculation and their dependence on the principle of utility, see for example Bentham, Jeremy, Deontology together with A Table of the Springs of Action and Article on Utilitarianism, edited by A. Goldworth (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1983), p.35, 43 and 58. On Bentham’s calculation of pleasure and pain, see Brunon-Ernst, Anne, “The Felicific Calculus: Jeremy Bentham’s Definition of Happiness”, in Coron C., Dalingwater L. (eds.), Welfare (Paris, PSN, 2017), pp.21-36; Cléro, Jean-Pierre, “ Le calcul benthamien des plaisirs et des peines,” Archives de Philosophie, 78 (2015), pp.229-58.

42 Cf. Bentham, J., A Table of the Springs of Action, p.42 and 44. The relation between calculation and practical reasoning is deepened by Quinn, Michael, “Bentham on mensuration: Calculation and moral reasoning,” Utilitas, 26 (2014), pp.61-104.

43 Bentham, J., Preparatory Principles, p.421.

44 For an overview of this criticism see Schofield, Philip, Bentham: A Guide for the Perplexed (London, New York, Continuum, 2009), pp.60-7.

45 Bentham, Jeremy, First Principles Preparatory to Constitutional Code, edited by P. Schofield, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989), p.229.

46 Bentham, J., First Principles Preparatory to Constitutional Code, p.14. I have taken into consideration Bentham’s concern with altruism within the context of his ethical, political and legal theory in Tarantino, P., Philosophy, Obligation and the Law, p.166, 119-20.

47 Bentham, J., Deontology, pp.209-10.

48 Bentham, J., Deontology, p.122.

49 Bentham, J., Deontology, pp.122–3.

50 Bentham, J., Deontology, p.123.

51 Bentham, J., First Principles Preparatory to Constitutional Code, p.14.

52 Rawls John, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), p.24.

53 Rawls, J., A Theory of Justice, pp.19–30, in part. pp.23-4.

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Piero Tarantino, « An Alternative View of the European Idea of the Common Good: Bentham’s Mathematical Model of Utility », Revue d’études benthamiennes [En ligne], 18 | 2020, mis en ligne le 30 novembre 2020, consulté le 04 décembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudes-benthamiennes/8227 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/etudes-benthamiennes.8227

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Piero Tarantino

PhD, Università degli Studi di Bari “A. Moro” (Italia) and Centre Bentham, Paris (France)

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