Behind every act of selfless service there is some selfish aim. Man helps another only if he stands to profit by it to quote Bentham, “Dream not that men will move their little finger to serve you, unless their own advantage in doing so is obvious to them. Men never did so and never will do it, while human nature is made of the present materials but they will desire to serve you, when by doing so they can serve themselves.
” Accordingly, Bentham holds that at the base of all human motivations is the principle of self preference. Duty, law and good qualities, etc. have importance in terms of pleasure and pain.
But, though he regards man as a selfish being, Bentham is an advocate of selflessness. With him, the highest ethical ideal is the maximum good of the maximum number. The aim of the individual should be to seek the maximum pleasure of humanity. The aim of life is social pleasure and not individual pleasure.
The standard of morality is group pleasure or happiness. Distinctions of class etc. are false. The pleasure which is good is that which betters the group. But this general pleasure does not eliminate individual pleasure; it is rather kept safe in a similar and unprejudiced form. In this way Bentham accepts the principle of equity and impartiality.
Bentham is a utilitarian and it s on the basis of this theory that he supports selfless hedonism.
The principle of utilitarianism implies that theory which accepts or rejects every action according to that tendency which gives the impression of increasing or decreasing the pleasure or pain of the people whose interests are conjoined with it thus, it is utility which the standard of morality is. It is also the real ultimate motivation of actions. According to Bentham the question of quality is meaningless. Being equal in quantity, all pleasures are similar. In the words of Bentham, “Quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry.”
The question arising here is about the mode of measuring the quantity of pleasures.
It is Bentham’s belief, that the pleasures are capable of being measured. He says, “Weigh pleasures and weigh pains, and as the balance stands will stand the question of right and wrong.” Bentham wanted a standard which was hard and solid, and also away from personal thoughts and feelings in this discussion he was much impressed by the principle of mathematical calculus. It was his understanding, that pleasure can be measured as can be the length and breadth of a room.
Preceding Bentham, Paley and other hedonists had conceived of two qualities for the measurement of quality—duration and intensity. Bentham conceived of five other dimensions. He holds, accordingly, that it is essential to understand these seven dimensions if quantitative measurement is to be understood. These seven dimensions are intensity, duration, nearness, certainty, purity or lack of pain, fruitfulness or that which produces other pleasures, and extent or the number of people to profit by it. These seven dimensions are well known as Bentham’s Hedonistic Calculus or moral arithmetic by weighing the quantity of any pleasure, according to these seven dimensions, we can compare it with that of any other and the one yielding more pleasure can be accepted as superior. Here the dimension of extent is important because by accepting it Bentham passes from selfishness to selflessness.
But how is it possible to pass from selfishness to selflessness, in this way? Why will man want the happiness of a maximum number of people if he is naturally selfish? How can he forego his own pleasure for die pleasure of others? What can be the selfish element in social duty? There is no compromise between individual and social pleasure. Selfishness and selflessness are, mutually contradictory.
According to Bentham’s own assertion man does not do anything without some personal interest then how does Bentham pass from selfishness to selflessness? This exchange of position is explained by Bentham by the conception of moral sanctions. According to him, these sanctions are of four kinds—physical or natural sanctions, political sanctions, social sanctions and religious or supernatural sanctions. Physical sanctions include natural laws Whose disobedience results in pain an example of these sanctions is the laws of health. Maintaining a balance in the diet is a natural law.
If we violate this law, our body harbors many kinds of diseases. Under political sanctions there are laws of the state whose infringement makes man liable to punishment. The fear of the state punishment keeps many people from anti-social activities and they do much social work in order to win state recognition. Social sanctions include social laws whose violation leads to disgrace in society and sometimes even social boycott. Thus people maintain their selflessness for fear of society too. Religious sanctions comprise of laws found in the religious books, the obedience of these laws leading to heaven and their disobedience to hell thus, these social sanctions are another reason for man to engage himself in selfless activities like alms giving, social service etc.
In this way, man becomes selfless due to external pressure. In fact, it is beneficial to individual pleasure. Hence it is why man obeys it in this way; both social and individual interests are fulfilled.