Front Page Titles (by Subject) § 2. How Intentionality, &c. may influence the mischief of an act. - An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
§ 2. How Intentionality, &c. may influence the mischief of an act. - Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation 
An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
§ 2. How Intentionality, &c. may influence the mischief of an act.
XIX. We have seen the nature of the secondary mischief, which is apt to be reflected, as it were, from the primary, in the cases where the individuals who are the objects of the mischief are assignable. It is now time to examine into the circumstances upon which the production of such secondary mischief depends. These circumstances are no others than the four articles which have formed the subjects of the four last preceding chapters: viz. 1. The intentionality, 2. The consciousness. 3. The motive. 4. The disposition. It is to be observed all along, that it is only the danger that is immediately governed by the real state of the mind in respect to those articles: it is by the apparent state of it that the alarm is governed. It is governed by the real only in as far as the apparent happens, as in most cases it may be expected to do, to quadrate with the real. The different influences of the articles of intentionality and consciousness may be represented in the several cases following.
XX. Case 1. Where the act is so completely unintentional, as to be altogether involuntary. In this case it is attended with no secondary mischief at all.
A bricklayer is at work upon a house: a passenger is walking in the street below. A fellow-workman comes and gives the bricklayer a violent push, in consequence of which he falls upon the passenger, and hurts him. It is plain there is nothing in this event that can give other people, who may happen to be in the street, the least reason to apprehend any thing in future on the part of the man who fell, whatever there may be with regard to the man who pushed him.
XXI. Case 2. Where the act, though not unintentional, is unadvised, insomuch that the mischievous part of the consequences is unintentional, but the unadvisedness is attended with heedlessness. In this case the act is attended with some small degree of secondary mischief, in proportion to the degree of heedlessness.
A groom being on horseback, and riding through a frequented street, turns a corner at a full pace, and rides over a passenger, who happens to be going by. It is plain, by this behaviour of the groom, some degree of alarm may be produced, less or greater, according to the degree of heedlessness betrayed by him: according to the quickness of his pace, the fullness of the street, and so forth. He has done mischief, it may be said, by his carelessness, already: who knows but that on other occasions the like cause may produce the like effect?
XXII. Case 3. Where the act is misadvised with respect to a circumstance, which, had it existed, would fully have excluded or (what comes to the same thing) outweighed the primary mischief: and there is no rashness in the case. In this case the act is attended with no secondary mischief at all.
It is needless to multiply examples any farther.
XXIII. Case 4. Where the act is misadvised with respect to a circumstance which would have excluded or counterbalanced the primary mischief in part, but not entirely: and still there is no rashness. In this case the act is attended with some degree of secondary mischief, in proportion to that part of the primary which remains unexcluded or uncounterbalanced.
XXIV. Case 5. Where the act is misadvised with respect to a circumstance, which, had it existed, would have excluded or counterbalanced the primary mischief entirely, or in part: and there is a degree of rashness in the supposal. In this case, the act is also attended with a farther degree of secondary mischief, in proportion to the degree of rashness.
XXV. Case 6. Where the consequences are completely intentional, and there is no missupposal in the case. In this case the secondary mischief is at the highest.
XXVI. Thus much with regard to intentionality and consciousness. We now come to consider in what manner the secondary mischief is affected by the nature of the motive.
Where an act is pernicious in its primary consequences, the secondary mischief is not obliterated by the goodness of the motive; though the motive be of the best kind. For, notwithstanding the goodness of the motive, an act of which the primary consequences are pernicious, is produced by it in the instance in question, by the supposition. It may, therefore, in other instances: although this is not so likely to happen from a good motive as from a bad one.64
XXVII. An act, which, though pernicious in its primary consequences, is rendered in other respects beneficial upon the whole, by virtue of its secondary consequences, is not changed back again, and rendered pernicious upon the whole by the badness of the motive: although the motive be of the worst kind.65
XXVIII. But when not only the primary consequences of an act are pernicious, but, in other respects, the secondary likewise, the secondary mischief may be aggravated by the nature of the motive: so much of that mischief, to wit, as respects the future behaviour of the same person.
XXIX. It is not from the worst kind of motive, however, that the secondary mischief of an act receives its greatest aggravation.
XXX. The aggravation which the secondary mischief of an act, in as far as it respects the future behaviour of the same person, receives from the nature of a motive in an individual case, is as the tendency of the motive to produce, on the part of the same person, acts of the like bad tendency with that of the act in question.
XXXI. The tendency of a motive to produce acts of the like kind, on the part of any given person, is as the strength and constancy of its influence on that person, as applied to the production of such effects.
XXXII. The tendency of a species of motive to give birth to acts of any kind, among persons in general, is as the strength, constancy, and extensiveness66 of its influence, as applied to the production of such effects.
XXXIII. Now the motives, whereof the influence is at once most powerful, most constant, and most extensive, are the motives of physical desire, the love of wealth, the love of ease, the love of life, and the fear of pain: all of them self-regarding motives. The motive of displeasure, whatever it may be in point of strength and extensiveness, is not near so constant in its influence (the case of mere antipathy excepted) as any of the other three. A pernicious act, therefore, when committed through vengeance, or otherwise through displeasure, is not near so mischievous as the same pernicious act, when committed by force of any one of those other motives.67
XXXIV. As to the motive of religion, whatever it may sometimes prove to be in point of strength and constancy, it is not in point of extent so universal, especially in its application to acts of a mischievous nature, as any of the three preceding motives. It may, however, be as universal in a particular state, or in a particular district of a particular state. It is liable indeed to be very irregular in its operations. It is apt, however, to be frequently as powerful as the motive of vengeance, or indeed any other motive whatsoever. It will sometimes even be more powerful than any other motive. It is, at any rate, much more constant.68 A pernicious act, therefore, when committed through the motive of religion, is more mischievous than when committed through the motive of ill-will.
XXXV. Lastly, The secondary mischief, to wit, so much of it as hath respect to the future behaviour of the same person, is aggravated or lessened by the apparent depravity or beneficence of his disposition: and that in the proportion of such apparent depravity or beneficence.
XXXVI. The consequences we have hitherto been speaking of, are the natural consequences, of which the act, and the other articles we have been considering, are the causes: consequences that result from the behaviour of the individual, who is the offending agent, without the interference of political authority. We now come to speak of punishment: which, in the sense in which it is here considered, is an artificial consequence, annexed by political authority to an offensive act, in one instance, in the view of putting a stop to the production of events similar to the obnoxious part of its natural consequences, in other instances.
CASES UNMEET FOR PUNISHMENT