However, as Bentham realized, most human beings are capable of different sorts of pleasure and pain from other animals. If we focus on the experience of pain, through language we are able to communicate and anticipate likely outcomes of actions in different ways from other animals. This means that a human being who is, for example, in a prison cell awaiting torture, would probably experience more intense psychological suffering than an animal in a similar posi-tion because the human would be able to anticipate the pain. This would make the overall quantity of pain higher in the case of a human being in this situation than it would an animal similarly placed. This does not mean that animal suffering doesn’t count, only that the suffering may have a different intensity, duration, and effects on others – all consequences that need to be given weight in a calculation of the pleasure or pain that results from a course of action.

[Nigel Warburton, Philosophy: The basics]

I've two questions to ask.

  1. In the context above, does "the suffering" refer to "animal suffering"? or it's just the suffering in general?

  2. What does the word "others" refer to? I am so confused about this word.

  • 1
    Considering that "the suffering" can have "different intensity, duration, and effects" it is talked about generally, and since "others" are followed by "consequences that need to be given weight in a calculation" they could be anybody effects on whom count, which, for Bentham, extended to "any sensitive being". "It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being", Bentham.
    – Conifold
    Aug 26, 2021 at 9:58
  • Side comment: Bentham aimed to construct a 'felicific calculus', if you like a calculus of pleasures and pains, by which we could enumerate and weigh the different pleasures and pains involved in a situation and reach an objective result for what yields the greatest balance of pleasure over pain or vice versa. It strikes me, however, that dimensions such as intensity and duration are incommensurable and that the calculus could never work.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Aug 26, 2021 at 16:58

1 Answer 1


"The suffering" refers to the objective experience.

What Warburton is stating here is that the same objective experience (i.e. what is really happening) can subjectively differ; i.e. two different minds can experience the same situation in dramatically different ways. By "others", the exerpt is referring to "other subjects".

The exerpt then goes down a utilitarian track; it argues that because animals experience suffering differently to us (arguing that this is likely to a lesser degree), we should weigh that suffering differently.

This is pertinent when considering utilitarian ethics; if the same objective experience induces different quantities of utility in different subjects, that has a lot of interesting implications for utilitariansm.


Let's construct a simple example; going to church.

For many, going to church is a source of comfort, strength and community. For myself, I'd be bored out of my mind.

Let's imagine a utilitarian criminal legal system, in which punishment is meted out not in years, but in dolors. In some threads of utilitarianism, a hedon is a measurement of pleasure, and a dolor is a measurement of pain.

So, murder gets you 50 dolors. 50 units of pain; it doesn't matter how this translates, whether it's years, or lashes of a whip, or some other system, as long as it's consistent, right?

Wrong. Because Warburton established that different subjects experience the same objective reality differently, including suffering.

So, two criminals, convicted of the same crime, would need to be punished differently, because their definitions of 50 dolors are different from one another. Let's imagine that a dolor gets you a year in prison; what if Criminal A really likes reading books quietly, and Criminal B is a claustrophobe who's cell drives him to despair?

The punishment becomes inequivalent and we start to drift off into big questions about Justice, but the point is the same; we experience everything differently, and this creates new questions about ethics, morality, justice; virtually everything is shaken by this truth.

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