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Bentham's 14 Pleasures


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Bentham's 14 Pleasures

Sense | Wealth | Skill | Amity | Good name | Power | Piety | Benevolence | Malevolence | Memory | Imagination | Expectation | Association | Relief


Jeremy Bentham was the founder of Utilitarianism, where the fundamental axiom is that it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people that should be the basis for all decisions.

He defined fourteen pleasures that we all seek and which precipitate happiness.

1. The pleasures of sense

Stimulating the senses in many ways creates arousal, which can often be pleasurable.

Bentham describes these as:

  1. The pleasures of the taste or palate; including whatever pleasures are experienced in satisfying the appetites of hunger and thirst.

  2. The pleasure of intoxication.

  3. The pleasures of the organ of smelling.

  4. The pleasures of the touch.

  5. The simple pleasures of the ear; independent of association.

  6. The simple pleasures of the eye; independent of association.

  7. The pleasure of the sexual sense.

  8. The pleasure of health: or, the internal pleasureable feeling or flow of spirits (as it is called), which accompanies a state of full health and vigour; especially at times of moderate bodily exertion.

  9. The pleasures of novelty: or, the pleasures derived from the gratification of the appetite of curiosity, by the application of new objects to any of the senses.

2. The pleasures of wealth

With money, you have control and status which, as basic needs, can lead to greater happiness.

Bentham describes the pleasures of wealth as those which:

...a man is apt to derive from the consciousness of possessing any article or articles which stand in the list of instruments of enjoyment or security, and more particularly at the time of his first acquiring them; at which time the pleasure may be styled a pleasure of gain or a pleasure of acquisition: at other times a pleasure of possession.

3. The pleasures of skill

There is a joy in simply being able to do something, whether it is an intellectual exercise or physical action. When we meet our goals, we get a sense of achievement and a secure knowledge that we are in control.

On this subject, Bentham said:

The pleasures of skill, as exercised upon particular objects, are those which accompany the application of such particular instruments of enjoyment to their uses, as cannot be so applied without a greater or less share of difficulty or exertion.

4. The pleasures of amity

Friendship is a classic route to happiness and those with good friends (and who are good friends) can expect to have a longer, more fulfilling life. 

Bentham described this as follows:

The pleasures of amity, or self-recommendation, are the pleasures that may accompany the persuasion of a man's being in the acquisition or the possession of the good-will of such or such assignable person or persons in particular: or, as the phrase is, of being upon good terms with him or them: and as a fruit of it, of his being in a way to have the benefit of their spontaneous and gratuitous services.

5. The pleasures of a good name

One's name is one's brand. Who you are socially is, in many ways, who you really are. If you have a good reputation as a person then you effectively are in credit with significant social capital, which in turn allows you to ask things of others and expect people to help you without prompting.

Bentham described the pleasures of a good name as that which:

...accompany the persuasion of a man's being in the acquisition or the possession of the good-will of the world about him; that is, of such members of society as he is likely to have concerns with; and as a means of it, either their love or their esteem, or both: and as a fruit of it, of his being in the way to have the benefit of their spontaneous and gratuitous services. These may likewise be called the pleasures of good repute, the pleasures of honour, or the pleasures of the moral sanction.

6. The pleasures of power

Power gives one the ability to influence others and is a key contributor to one's sense of control.

Bentham noted the pain-pleasure aspect of power, describing the pleasures as those that that accompany:

...the persuasion of a man's being in a condition to dispose people, by means of their hopes and fears, to give him the benefit of their services: that is, by the hope of some service, or by the fear of some disservice, that he may be in the way to render them

7. The pleasures of piety

Almost in contrast to power, piety is about being reverent and dutiful, including to family, state and church. Social values describe what 'good' is and complying to these rules can make you feel good, particularly in contrast to those wicked people who do not follow the rules as well as you.

Bentham said:

The pleasures of piety are the pleasures that accompany the belief of a man's being in the acquisition or in possession of the good-will or favour of the Supreme Being: and as a fruit of it, of his being in a way of enjoying pleasures to be received by God's special appointment, either in this life, or in a life to come. These may also be called the pleasures of religion, the pleasures of a religious disposition, or the pleasures of the religious sanction.

8. The pleasures of benevolence

When you have power in the form of resources you can use to whatever end you choose, you can find happiness in service to others, helping those who are less able to help themselves.

Bentham described these as:

...the pleasures resulting from the view of any pleasures supposed to be possessed by the beings who may be the objects of benevolence; to wit, the sensitive beings we are acquainted with; under which are commonly included, 1. The Supreme Being. 2. Human beings. 3. Other animals. These may also be called the pleasures of good-will, the pleasures of sympathy, or the pleasures of the benevolent or social affections.

9. The pleasures of malevolence

In contrast to  benevolence, power may be used to harm others and it is a sad indictment of the human condition that we can find pleasure in the discomfort of others (what the Germans call 'Schadenfreude'). If we are honest, most of us have wished ill of others and have also done things to hurt them.

Bentham said that the pleasures of malevolence come from:

...the view of any pain supposed to be suffered by the beings who may become the objects of malevolence: to wit, 1. Human beings. 2. Other animals. These may also be styled the pleasures of ill-will, the pleasures of the irascible appetite, the pleasures of antipathy, or the pleasures of the malevolent or dissocial affections

10. The pleasures of memory

Having a good memory can be a blessing for many reasons. At least there is the utility in being able to remember things learned. In addition, past pleasures can be recalled and one is able to indulge in nostalgic enjoyment. 

Bentham described these as:

...the pleasures which, after having enjoyed such and such pleasures, or even in some case after having suffered such and such pains, a man will now and then experience, at recollecting them exactly in the order and in the circumstances in which they were actually enjoyed or suffered. These derivative pleasures may of course be distinguished into as many species as there are of original perceptions, from whence they may be copied. They may also be styled pleasures of simple recollection.

11. The pleasures of imagination

The human imagination is remarkable in its ability to create a virtual reality that, in extreme, is more real than the real world. At the very least imagination lets you indulge in fantasies. It may also help you dream up futures that you can practically implement.

Bentham described the pleasures of the imagination as:

...the pleasures which may be derived from the contemplation of any such pleasures as may happen to be suggested by the memory, but in a different order, and accompanied by different groups of circumstances. These may accordingly be referred to any one of the three cardinal points of time, present, past, or future. It is evident they may admit of as many distinctions as those of the former class.

12. The pleasures of expectation

Imagination helps you to think about the future and create expectations for pleasures to come. This anticipated pleasure can be as good, if not better, than the enjoyment of things happening.

Bentham described these as:

...the pleasures that result from the contemplation of any sort of pleasure, referred to time future, and accompanied with the sentiment of belief. These also may admit of the same distinctions

13. The pleasures dependent on association

The human brain works by linking neurons into thoughts and dreams that can lead to pleasant reveries. In daydreaming, for example, we wonder about what may be and may come up with associated ideas that are further benefit to us.

Bentham explains:

...pleasures of association are the pleasures which certain objects or incidents may happen to afford, not of themselves, but merely in virtue of some association they have contracted in the mind with certain objects or incidents which are in themselves pleasurable. Such is the case, for instance, with the pleasure of skill, when afforded by such a set of incidents as compose a game of chess. This derives its pleasurable quality from its association partly with the pleasures of skill, as exercised in the production of incidents pleasurable of themselves: partly from its association with the pleasures of power. Such is the case also with the pleasure of good luck, when afforded by such incidents as compose the game of hazard, or any other game of chance, when played at for nothing. This derives its pleasurable quality from its association with one of the pleasures of wealth; to wit, with the pleasure of acquiring it

14. The pleasures of relief

Relief is a form of closure where an expected unpleasant event does not happen. In such cases, the lack of unpleasantness is experienced as pleasantness in itself.

Bentham's comment on this is:

To the catalogue of pleasures may accordingly be added the pleasures of relief: or, the pleasures which a man experiences when, after he has been enduring a pain of any kind for a certain time, it comes to cease, or to abate. These may of course be distinguished into as many species as there are of pains: and may give rise to so many pleasures of memory, of imagination, and of expectation.

So what?

Bentham was a very perceptive philosopher who produced an interesting list of pleasures that you can consider when seeking to persuade. If you can offer to increase pleasure (or threaten to reduce it), then this may be sufficient for you to gain agreement.

See also



Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789; 2nd ed., 1823)


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