A Table of the Springs of Action

Jeremy Bentham

Observations on the Table

§4. Good and Bad---Attributives, applied to Species of Motives: Impropriety of the application---its Causes and Effects.

As there is not any sort of pleasure, the enjoyment of which, if taken by itself, is not a good---(taken by itself, that is, on the supposition that it is not preventive of a more than equivalent pleasure, or productive of more than equivalent pain)---nor any sort of pain, from which taken in like manner, by itself, the exemption is not a good;---in a word, as there is not any sort of pleasure that is not itself a good, nor any sort of pain the exemption from which is not a good,---and as nothing but the expectation of the eventual enjoyment of pleasure in some shape, or of exemption from pain in some shape, can operate in the character of a motive,---a necessary consequence is, that if by motive be meant sort of motive, there is not any such thing as a bad motive: no, nor any such thing as a motive which, to the exclusion of any other, can with propriety be termed a good motive. Incontestable as the correctness of these positions will be found to be, perpetual are the occasions on which, in discourses on moral, political, and even legal subjects, motives are distinguished from, and contrasted with, one another, under the respective names of good motives, and bad motives.

From this speculative error, practical errors of the very first importance may be seen to have taken their rise. In the instance of any person, to assign, as the cause by which any act of his has been produced, any motive to which the adjunct bad is wont to be prefixed, is among the number of acts, for which, under the description of criminal offences, men are held punishable.---Punishable?---Yes: and actually and habitually punished:---when perhaps, in the very nature of the case, one of the sort of motives thus denominated, is the only one by which the act in question, the existence of which is unquestionable, could have been produced.

In the composition of this error, what there is of truth seems to be this: viz. that, as there are some motives, the force of which, they being either of the self-regarding, or of the dissocial class, is more liable than the force of those of the remaining class, viz. the social class, to operate in the breast of each particular individual, to the prejudice of the general good---of the interest of mankind at large; so, on the other hand, there are others,---and more particularly among those which belong to the social class,---which, in a particular degree, are capable of being employed, and with success, in checking the operative force of the above comparatively dangerous motives, and restraining it from applying itself with effect to the production of acts of the tendency just mentioned.

But, if in any such observations a sufficient warrant were supposed to be found, for attaching to a motive of the former description the appellative of a bad motive, or to a motive of the other description any such appellative as that of a good motive,---and for acting accordingly; viz. by punishing a man as often as his conduct was deemed to have for its cause one of these bad motives, or rewarding him as often as it was found to have for its cause any one of those good motives, of any such error, supposing it universally embraced and permanently acted upon, the destruction of the whole human race would be the certain consequence.---``Regulators are good things; mainsprings are bad things; therefore, to make a good watch, put into it regulators, two, or as many more as you please, but not one mainspring.'' Exactly as conducive as such notions would be to good watchmaking, would be to good government the notion that men's conduct ought not to be influenced by any motives but those of the sort commonly called good motives;---that it ought not ever to be influenced by any motives of the sort commonly called bad motives.

A measure of government is brought to view:---by certain persons it is opposed---the motives by which they are engaged in the opposition to it are, it is said, bad motives: conclusion, it ought to be adopted.

A measure of government is brought to view:---by certain persons it is supported:---the motives by which they are engaged in the support of it are, it is said, bad motives:---conclusion, it ought to be rejected.---By the influence of arguments such as these, how frequently has a bad measure been adopted, a good measure thrown out!

For an alleged wrong, a person is under prosecution: the motives by which the prosecutor is engaged in the prosecution are, it is said, bad motives: lucre, for example, or selfish ambition, or vengeance: therefore the defendant ought to be acquitted, or the prosecution quashed.---By the influence of arguments such as these, how frequently has a wrongdoer been exempted from the infliction due to his transgression!---exempted, more or less, either from punishment, or from the burthen of satisfaction, in a pecuniary, or in whatever other shape it has been due! And note, that for the sort of imputation of which this argument is composed, seldom can there be any difficulty in finding a plausible ground, or even a true one.

Note, however, that, from the nature of the motive, the mischief, produced by an action of a mischievous species, is really liable to receive very considerable increase. But it is not from the sort of motive which is most apt to be spoken of as a bad motive, that in this case the mischief will always receive the greatest increase. The desire of acquiring the matter of wealth---let this, as it so commonly is, be set down in the catalogue of bad motives; yet, by those who bear hardest upon it, it will hardly be deemed so bad a motive as revenge. But there are offences, of which, when produced by the desire of the matter of wealth, the mischief is by far greater than that of ail offence of the same denomination produced by revenge. Take for example murder committed in prosecution of a plan of highway robbery, and murder produced by a private quarrel, In the first case, in the alarm and danger,---in which consists by far the greater part of the mischief,---all are sharers, whose occasions happen to call them that way:---in the second case, none but those, to whom it might happen to offer to the murderer a provocation equally irritating with that which gave occasion to his crime.

Of all motives, actual or imaginable, the very best, if goodness were to be measure by necessity to human existence, would be the motives that correspond respectively to the desires of food and drink (No. 1.) and to sexual desire (No. 2.) Yet, to any such desire as that of eating or drinking, by those by whom so much is said of good motives, and so much stress is laid upon the degree of goodness of a man's motives, admittance would scarcely have been given into their list of good motives: and as to sexual desire taken by itself, so bad a thing is it commonly deemed in the character of a motive, or even in the character of a desire, that all the force which it is in the power of human exertion to muster has, to a great extent, been employed in the endeavour to extinguish it altogether.

Under the general name of self-regarding interest (No. 14.) are comprisable the several particular interests corresponding to all the several motives, that do not belong either to the social class (No. 10.) or the dissocial class (No. 11.) Weed out of the heart of man this species of interest, with the corresponding desires and motives, the thread of life is cut, and the whole race perishes.---Self-regarding interest---has it any where a place in the catalogue of good motives? Oh no: scarce any where as yet is it known by any such unimpassioned, any such neutral name. Self-interest, selfishness, interestedness, these are the only names it is known by: and, to any of these to attach good---any such epithet as good---would be a contradiction in terms.

Fear of God (No. 9.)---Sympathy (No. 10.)---Love of reputation (No. 8) to these if to any, would be assigned a place, if not the only place, the highest place---in the catalogue of good motives. Yet, in a savage state (to look no higher), men have existed, from the very first, in countless multitudes, with scarce any perceptible traces in their conduct, of the influence or existence of any such motives: at any rate, in the character of motives capable of operating with efficiency, as a check to excess, in the action of the self-regarding and dissocial motives.

Moreover, of all those good motives, the goodness or badness of the effect depends altogether upon the direction in which, on each occasion, they act,---upon the nature of the effects,---the consequences, pleasurable or painful, of which they become efficient causes or preventives. 1. Fear of God. The mischiefs of which this motive has been productive are altogether as incontestable as, and still more distinctly visible than, the good effects: witness the word persecution, with the miseries which it serves to bring to view. 2. Sympathy. Of the operation of sympathy, in so far as the object of it is but a single individual, the effects, supposing it to operate alone and unchecked, may be neither better nor worse than those of selfishness: of these effects, the degree of its efficiency being given, the goodness depends upon the extent to which they reach: and that extent---such is its amplitude---has at one end unity, at the other, the number of the whole of the human race,---or rather of the whole sensitive race, all species included,---present and future. 3. Love of reputation. Infanticide when committed by the mother of an illegitimate offspring, has no other motive for its cause. Murder committed upon the body of any other individual in whose agency, in the way of testimony or any other, a man beholds a cause of life in respect of reputation, is equally capable of being produced by the same cause. Conquest---a short word for the aggregate of all the crimes and all the mischiefs that man is capable of committing or suffering by,---in particular, for murder, robbery, and violence in every other imaginable shape, committed all of them upon the very largest scale,---is, even without any such aid as that of love of power, love of the matter of wealth, or antipathy, capable of being produced by this same motive. See more on this head in Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, ch. Motives.

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