A Table of the Springs of Action

Jeremy Bentham

Observations on the Table

§1. Pleasures and Pains the Basis of all the other Entities: these the only real ones; those, fictitious.

Among all the several species of psychological entities, the names of which are to be found either in the Table of the Springs of Action, or in the Explanations above subjoined to it, the two of which are as it were the roots,---the main pillars or foundations of all the rest,---the matter of which all the rest are composed---or the receptacles of that matter,---which soever may be the physical image, employed to give aid, if not existence to conception,---will be, it is believed, if they have not been already, seen to be, PLEASURES AND PAINS. Of these, the existence is matter of universal and constant experience. Without any of the rest, these are susceptible of,---and as often as they come unlooked for, do actually come into,---existence: without these, no one of all those others ever had, or ever could have had, existence.

True it is, that, when the question is what, in the case in question, are the springs of action, by which, on the occasion in question, the mind in question has been operated upon, or to the operation of which it has been exposed,---the species of psychological entity, to be looked out for in the first place, is the motive. But, of the sort of motive, which has thus been in operation, no clear idea can be entertained, otherwise than by reference to the sort of pleasure or pain, which such motive has for its basis: viz. the pleasure or pain, the idea, and eventual expectation of which, is considered as having been operating in the character of a motive.

This being understood, the corresponding interest is at the same time understood: and, if it be to the pleasurable class that the operating cause in question belongs, then so it is that, in its way to become a motive, the interest has become productive of a desire: if to the painful class, of a correspondent aversion, and thus it is, that, on the occasion in question, the operation of a motive of the kind in question, whatever it be (meaning a motive to the will), having had existence, it cannot but be, that a corresponding desire or aversion,---and the idea, and eventual expectation at least, of a corresponding pleasure or pain,---and the idea and belief of the existence of a corresponding interest,---must also have had existence.

On this basis must also be erected, and to this standard must be referred,---whatsoever clear explanations are capable of being suggested, by the other more anomalous appellatives above spoken of; such as emotion, affection, passion, disposition, inclination, propensity, quality (viz. moral quality), vice, virtue, moral good, moral evil.

Destitute of reference to the ideas of pain and pleasure, whatever ideas are annexed to the words virtue and vice, amount to nothing more than that of groundless approbation or disapprobation. All language in which these appellatives are employed, is no better than empty declamation. A virtuous disposition is the disposition to give birth to good---understand always pathological good,---or to prevent, or abstain from giving birth to evil, understand always pathological evil,---in so far as the production of the effect requires exertion in the way of self-denial: i. e. sacrifice of supposed lesser good to supposed greater good. In so far as the greater good, to which the less is sacrificed, is considered as being the good of others, the virtue belongs to the head of probity or beneficence: in so far as it is considered as being the good of self, to that of self-regarding prudence. (No. 13.) Means selecting is the name by which the other branch of prudence may be designated: viz. that which, being subservient in its nature, and being so with reference to some interest, is equally capable of being understood to be so, whether that interest be of the self-regarding class (No. 14.) or of the extra-regarding, viz. of the social (No. 10.) or of the dissocial class (No. 11.)

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