On Mill's Conception of Higher and Lower Pleasures
“Of two pleasures. If there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference… that is the more desirable pleasure. Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties… It is better to be a human being satisfied than a pig dissatisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” -John Stuart Mill, “Utilitarianism”, ch. 2 "De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum.” -Latin maxim Introduction In John Stuart Mill’s treatise, Utilitarianism, the basic philosophical premise of his whole system of ethics is that, in a nut-shell, that which is good is determined by what brings the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people, or, as Mill put it, the Greatest Happiness Principle, as the basis for determining utility. Among the immediate problems this raises to any analysis is, of course, the difficulty in pinning down a rational, objective framework for determining happiness, which Mill equates early on with pleasure as “the only thing desirable as ends”.
Both are derived from a rational, higher quality, which Aristotle(whom Mill was very familiar with and appears to have been inspired by in his eudaimonic conception of happiness) defined as being reason, a quality that was an! essentially human property and the distinction between humanity and bestiality - are we, on the basis of difficulty alone, to accord the Kantian epistemologist a faculty of higher quality than that of the footy analyst, even though both of these skills derive from the same rational faculty that is proper to man I believe that, in the multitude of experiences available to human existence, classifying pleasures into higher and lower based on some arbitrary groundwork of appeal to "higher sensibilities" runs into many cases which we are hard-pressed to label as a definitive "higher" or "lower" pleasure. It needs to be said, I think, that there is a distinction that requires making between merely classifying pleasures according to their appeal toexercise of higher rational faculties or those derived purely out of animal appetites, and the actual ascribing to each of these classes a qualitative value of more or less intrinsic quality. It may be questioned whether any one who has remained equally susceptible to both classes of pleasures ever knowingly and calmly preferred the lower; though many, in all ages, have broken down in an ineffectual attempt to combine both"ConclusionIt seems absurd to think that an intelligent, rational person would never choose a lower pleasure, in any conceivable circumstance. The difficulty in actually classifying varieties of pleasure according to higher faculties or animal appetites I have already raised earlier on. Mill"tms utilitarianism, therefore, comes under some considerable consternation if the basis on which we are to determine utility; ie, happiness attained through the acquisition of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, remains subject to such ambiguity. By Mill"tms argument, it would seem, the higher(and hence of greater quality) pleasures are evident as they are those that "competent judges" would select, all else held ceteris paribus, even if faced with a greater quantity or intensity of the lower pleasures, which might even make them more desirable in some sense despite their inherent baseness. What is it about the higher pleasure that makes it intrinsically more worthy than the lower one Is it also really true that the panel of competent judges would always rationally select the higher pleasures Various intellects have advocated lifestyles of relative physical hedonism, and yet no one could call them unacquainted with the pleasures of the higher faculty: voluptuaries like Oscar Wilde, Coleridge, and Byron come to mind, men noted for the quality of their written word who yet voluntarily chose to embrace a lifestyle of physical hedonism, which, some say, enhanced the productive exercise of their higher faculties, such as Coleridge"tms reportedly opium-induced ode, Xanadu. Does it really stand to reason, as Mill seems to assume, rather blithely, that it is immediately apparent that anyone rational would always, in all circumstances, pick the rather austere lifestyle of intellectual contemplation and constant exercise of higher faculties, disdaining totally the lower pleasures And is that really a better choice, and if so, on what grounds Mill tries to tie this i!n with his general philosophical view of greatest happiness on the grounds that if everyone aspired towards such higher pleasures, the world would be a better place. True - the appeal to the intellect may not be as profound or demanding as an evaluation of Kantian epistemology, if we are to judge by the effort and quality of intellect required, even if we only use raw quantity as a benchmark: as seen in a comparison of the absolute number of people who can effectively evaluate a footy game"tms strategy to the absolute number of people who can effectively evaluate Kantian epistemology. Mill does not go into much detail, generally, into any distinction, assuming, it seems, that the difference would be evident to all who read his essay. , but one where:"things of certain kinds, even when they give lower quantities of pleasure, have a much higher value as pleasures" the fact that there are degrees of hedonic values - that pleasures can be more or less desirable, as they can be more and less in duration or intensity - does not suffice to establish that value is a sort of quantity. 61, 1986-Mill, John Stuart, "Utilitarianism"tm. And even then, it !remains far from certain that we can derive a consensual empirical framework of what these higher and lower pleasures are, and whether higher pleasures as Mill appears to define them would be the choice for every conceivable circumstance. In his argument, however, the nature of pleasure is divided into merely "higher" and "lower", and the thrust of his argument is that higher pleasures are those derived as a result of exercising one"tms higher faculties, !compared to the more animal gratifications such as sexual needs or food, and the quality of these higher pleasures is evident as they would be chosen by people with empirical experience of both varieties of pleasure, and the capacity to select between them over the more base ones. All of this is alright, if we permit an appeal to empirical experience(both observational experience as well as direct experience) as the sole authoritative basis as the authority on which we rest an evaluation of higher and lower pleasures.
Some topics in this essay:
Kama Sutra, Coleridge Byron, Benjamin Gibbstm, Happiness Principle, Aristotlewhom Mill, , Stuart Milltms, Mill Utilitarianism,
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