A Table of the Springs of Action

Jeremy Bentham

Observations on the Table

§5. Proper Subjects of the Attributives Good and Bad, are Consequences, Intentions, Acts, Habits, Dispositions, Inclinations, and Propensities; so of the Attributives Virtuous and Vitious, except Consequences: how as to Interests and Desires.

Consequences and intentions,---intentions, considered in respect of the consequences, to the production of which they are directed, or at any rate in respect of the consequences which, at the time of the intention, a man actually had, or at least ought (it is supposed) to have had in view,---these, together with the acts, which the intentions in question are considered as having been directed to the production of, or as having a tendency to produce,---will (it is believed) be seen to be the only subjects, to which, in the character of attributives, such adjuncts as good and bad can either with speculative propriety, or without danger of practical error, in so far as acts and springs of action are concerned, be attached.

To motives they cannot, without impropriety, be attached:---viz. for the reasons already exhibited at large.

For the like reasons, neither can bad be attached to pleasures, or to exemptions (viz. from pain); nor good, to pains, or to losses (viz. of pleasure.)

For the like reasons, neither can vitious be attached to pleasures, any more than virtuous to pains.

For the like reasons, neither can bad be attached to any species of interests,---nor therefore good, to any species of interest, to the exclusion of any other.

Of late years, though any such expression as good interest has hardly ever been seen or heard, yet the expression best interests---chiefly in the rhetorical or other impassioned style, is become a common one.

According to analogy, for the same reasons, neither should vitious, any more than bad or good, be attached to desires, aversions, or propensities. But, when the word desire is employed, it is commonly with reference to some act---which, for the gratification of the desire, the person in question is considered as having it in contemplation to exercise: and,---forasmuch as, in respect of consequences and intentions, the adjuncts good and bad are, in strictness of speech, and without any danger of leading to error, properly as well as continually, attached to acts,---thence it is that, in as far as any act---any sort of act, or any individual act---to which those epithets may with propriety be attached, is in view, these same epithets may, without impropriety, as in practice they are continually, be applied to desires.

So likewise the epithets vitious and virtuous; as, accordingly, the epithet vitious frequently is; as, also, sometimes the epithet virtuous, though not with equal frequency.

To dispositions, inclinations, and propensities,---vitious and virtuous, as well as bad and good, are, and with similar propriety, frequently applied in practice.

To aversions the occasion for applying them has not, in the instance of any one of those four attributives, been wont to present itself with any considerable degree of frequency.

In respect of the relation that has place between the import of the word act and the import of the word habit,---we hear of good and bad, virtuous and vitious habits,---as properly, and at least as frequently, as of good and bad, virtuous and vitious acts.

Applied to interests, in the character of a dyslogistic epithet, instead of bad or vitious, we have sinister:---eulogistic, except, as above, best---the superlative of good---we have none: in Ethics, sinister has not, as in Anatomy, and thence in Heraldry, dexter for its accompaniment.

On this occasion, by sinister, if any thing determinate is meant, is meant---operating, or tending to operate, in a sinister direction: i.e. in such a direction as to give birth to a bad, alias a vitious act.

The sorts of bad or vitious acts, of which sinister interest is, in practice, commonly spoken of as the efficient cause, seem to be more frequently if not exclusively, such as come under the denomination of acts of improbity, than such as come under the denomination of acts of imprudence: such as are considered as injurious to the interests of other persons, than such as are considered as injurious to the interest of the agent himself:---but it is in the accidental course of practice, and not in the nature of the case, that the restriction will (it is believed) be seen to have originated.

Back to: Good and Bad---Attributives, applied to species of Motives: impropriety of the application---its causes and effects. [Section 4, A Table of the Springs of Action]
Forward to: Causes of misjudgment and misconduct---intellectual weakness, inborn and adoptive---sinister interest, and interest-begotten prejudice. [Section 6, A Table of the Springs of Action]
Up to: [A Table of the Springs of Action, Intro and Table of Contents]