“The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation” is a quote from the English philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). This statement summarizes the central idea of his ethical theory, known as utilitarianism, which holds that the moral value of an action is determined by its ability to maximize overall happiness or pleasure for the greatest number of people.
Bentham’s principle, often called the “greatest happiness principle” or the “principle of utility,” posits that an action is morally right if it results in more happiness or pleasure for a larger number of people than any alternative action. Conversely, an action is morally wrong if it leads to more pain or unhappiness for a greater number of people compared to other available options.
In addition to its application to moral philosophy, Bentham’s principle also informs his ideas about law and public policy. He argued that legislation should be designed to promote the general welfare of society by maximizing happiness for the largest number of people. This approach to law and policy is known as “legal utilitarianism” and has had a significant impact on legal theory, economics, and public policy development in the modern era.
In summary, the quote “The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation” represents Bentham’s belief that both ethics and law should be grounded in the pursuit of maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering for the largest number of people.