“NATURE has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.”

Written by Jeremy Bentham, the 18th Century social reformer and philosopher 200 years ago, the words could have been written for me.

I get the opportunity for a lie in just once a fortnight on a Saturday. This week, I woke early. The sunlight streamed in through the window and Barney the Beagle announced very loudly that he was keen to get out and get on with the day.

Bentham spoke to my dilemma. Should I give in to the pleasure of lying in bed with a cup of tea, listening to the radio and reading the papers? Or endure a painful and possibly life-threatening five kilometre run over the downs?

I try to run at least once a week, in the probably mistaken belief that it will do me and Barney some good. Apart from occasionally cycling to work, it’s pretty much the only exercise I get and is as likely to finish me off as improve my health. But my choice wasn’t simply between pursuing pleasure or enduring pain. Once I’ve recovered from the ordeal and the dog has stopped laughing at my efforts, I always feel better for it. More importantly, it provides the excuse for another indulgence - a full English cooked breakfast with toast, butter and marmalade… It’s strange how we justify things to ourselves; balancing out the good and the bad against each other. If we’ve endured one, surely we deserve the other.

Punishment becomes permission for reward. After a spate of misfortune, surely we’re due a spot of good luck? On the other hand how often do we say; “It was all going too well; something bad was bound to happen.”

“Why him! Of all people! What good has he ever done for others?”

“I feel really sorry for her – she’s just so nice, she doesn’t deserve it.”

It’s as if we think the world should be in equilibrium; a disturbance in one area becoming justification for the balance being tipped elsewhere.

A comforting thought that gives me permission to play off my run against a cooked breakfast. But we delude ourselves.

There is no grand equilibrium. We live in a world where the scales are irrevocably tipped in favour of those who protect their ‘pleasure’ at the expense of others ‘pain’.

Bentham realised that the checks and balances that we instinctively apply to our own lives need to be made explicit in society if it is to flourish.

The better he understood the nature of humanity, the greater his passion for social reform.