Ethical fictitious entities
According to Bentham, the relation that a fictitious entity maintains with its empirical source, identified as a real entity, is constitutive of its import and truth. Divorced from reality, a fictitious entity is nothing but falsehood and nonsense. The method of paraphrasis, connecting in a sentence the name of a fictitious entity to the name of its corresponding real entity, reveals the empirical foundations on which human knowledge resides. This chapter focuses on Bentham’s empirical constructivist, fictionalist and internalist view of ethics. Values, duties, virtues and standards of behaviour are particular fictitious entities, endowed with a guidance function which derives from the perceptions of pain and pleasure. An action is right or good and thus worth being performed inasmuch as it leads to pleasure or entails a reduction of pain. In Bentham’s view, normativity has naturalistic foundations which rely on the agent’s psychological structure: the desire to avoid pain and enjoy pleasure guides agents to choose the course of action which brings them to the fulfilment of that desire. Consequently, the rightness or goodness of an action resides in its utility, namely in the fact that it is averse to a certain pain or conducive to a certain pleasure.