A Table of the Springs of Action

Jeremy Bentham

Observations on the Table

§ 2. No Act, properly speaking, disinterested.

If so it be, that, of the view here given of the causes of human action, the general tenor is conformable to the truth of things, then so it is, that, by means of it, divers psychological phænomena---divers phænomena of the human mind---which till now have been either not at all or but indistinctly perceived---phænomena of the most unquestionable importance with reference to practice---will, now for the first time, have become distinctly visible.

1. In regard to interest, in the most extended,---which is the original and only strictly proper sense,---of the word disinterested, no human act ever has been, or ever can be, disinterested. (For there exists not ever any voluntary action, which is not the result of the operation of some motive or motives: nor any motive, which has not for its accompaniment a corresponding interest, real or imagined.)

2. In the only sense in which disinterestedness can with truth be predicated of human action, it is employed in a sense more confined than the only one which the etymology of the word suggests, and can with propriety admit of:---what, in this sense, it must be understood to denote, being---not the absence of all interest,---a state of things which, consistently with voluntary action, is not possible,---but only the absence of all interest of the self-regarding class. Not but that it is very frequently predicated of human action, in cases, in which divers interests, to no one of which the appellation of self-regarding can with propriety be denied, have been exercising their influence: and in particular (No. 9.) fear of God or hope from God, and (No. 8.) fear of ill-repute or hope of good repute.

3. If what is above be correct, the most disinterested of men is not less under the dominion of interest than the most interested. The only cause of his being styled disinterested is---its not having been observed that the sort of motive (suppose it sympathy for an individual, or a class of individuals) has as truly a corresponding interest belonging to it, as any other species of motive has. Of this contradiction, between the truth of the case, and the language employed in speaking of it, the cause is---that, in the one case, men have not been in the habit of making,---as in point of consistency they ought to have made,---of the word interest, that use which, in the other case, they have been in the habit of making of it.

4. At the same time, by its having been as properly, and completely, and indisputably, the product of interest, as any other action ever is or can be, whatsoever merit may happen to belong to any action, to which, in the loose and ordinary way of speaking, the epithet disinterested would be applied, is not in any the slightest degree lessened.

Not that, in the case where sympathy is the motive, there is less need of---nor even less actual demand for---such a word as interest, than in the case where the motive and interest are of the self-regarding class. Not but that, even in the case of sympathy, conjugates of the word interest are employed, and even the word itself. Witness these expressions among so many---There stands a man, in whose behalf I feel myself strongly interested: a man, in whose fate---in whose sorrows---I take a lively interest, &c. &c.

Back to: Pleasures and Pains the Basis of all the other Entities: these the only real ones; those, ficticious. [Section 1, A Table of the Springs of Action]
Forward to: Appellatives Eulogistic, Dyslogistic, and Neutral---Cause of their comparative penury and abundance, as applied to Springs of Action [Section 3, A Table of the Springs of Action]
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