The felicific calculus is an algorithm formulated by utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1747–1832) for calculating the degree or amount of pleasure that a specific action is likely to cause. Bentham, an ethical hedonist, believed the moral rightness or wrongness of an action to be a function of the amount of pleasure or pain that it produced. The felicific calculus could, in principle at least, determine the moral status of any considered act. The algorithm is also known as the utility calculus, the hedonistic calculus and the hedonic calculus.

To be included in this calculation are several variables (or vectors), which Bentham called "circumstances". These are:

  1. Intensity: How strong is the pleasure?
  2. Duration: How long will the pleasure last?
  3. Certainty or uncertainty: How likely or unlikely is it that the pleasure will occur?
  4. Propinquity or remoteness: How soon will the pleasure occur?
  5. Fecundity: The probability that the action will be followed by sensations of the same kind.
  6. Purity: The probability that it will not be followed by sensations of the opposite kind.
  7. Extent: How many people will be affected?

Bentham's instructions

To take an exact account of the general tendency of any act, by which the interests of a community are affected, proceed as follows. Begin with any one person of those whose interests seem most immediately to be affected by it: and take an account,

To make his proposal easier to remember, Bentham devised what he called a "mnemonic doggerel" (also referred to as "memoriter verses"), which synthesized "the whole fabric of morals and legislation":

Intense, long, certain, speedy, fruitful, pure—

Such marks in pleasures and in pains endure.
Such pleasures seek if private be thy end:
If it be public, wide let them extend
Such pains avoid, whichever be thy view:

If pains must come, let them extend to few.

Hedons and dolors

The units of measurements used in the felicific calculus may be termed hedons and dolors.[2] They may be regarded as similar to the utilitarian posends and negends.

See also


  1. ^ * Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, London, 1789
  2. ^ San Diego University – Glossary Archived May 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine by Lawrence M. Hinman