Published: 01-12-2019

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Is The Utilitarianism’s Distinction Of Lower And Higher Pleasures Warranted?

In an attempt to amend the standard Benthamite hedonic calculus in which simply the quantity of pain or pleasure is regarded, Mill, inside his Utilitarianism, postulates an extra qualitative distinction resulting in the notion of a ‘higher’ or a ‘lower’ pleasure. Scholars have since questioned whether or not such a distinction is actually justified as Martin observes: ‘Mill’s contention has been subjected to a widespread , and withering, philosophical criticism.’ (Rex Martin (1972). A defense of Mill’s Qualitative Hedonism. Philosophy, 47, p.140) In this essay, I will seek to sustain the line of argument that, if Mill is to sustain the label of a correct hedonist, his distinction amongst higher and decrease pleasures is unjustified. Hedonistic title aside, it seems that the higher/reduced pleasure distinction presents quite a few other difficulties, each theoretically and virtually. Although several may view the distinction as a needed a single, Mill’s justification of it is not robust adequate to keep away from additional problems for the Utilitarian.

Ahead of engaging in evaluation of Mill’s qualitative hedonism, it is possibly worth clarifying the distinction between, and motives for the distinction amongst, larger and reduce pleasures. Mill, amongst others, recognized the limits of Bentham’s utilitarian strategy Bentham argued that pleasure could be measured solely on quantity famously asserting that, ‘quantity of pleasure getting equal, pushpin is as good as poetry.’ (Bentham, quoted in G E Moore. Principia Ethica ) All pleasures had been, by nature, equal in value. Adopting this view could arguably open the Utilitarian up to issues like these presented in the ‘Haydn and the Oyster’ believed experiment a lot of would be unwilling to assert that the oyster life would be the more pleasurable, comparatively, than the life of Haydn although this is what Bentham’s quantitative strategy would appear to imply. Martin highlights the crucial features of the qualitative distinction: firstly, mental pleasures are intrinsically greater in quality than bodily pleasures. In addition, ‘the ‘superiority in quality’ may possibly be ‘so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of modest account’ (Rex Martin (1972). A defense of Mill’s Qualitative Hedonism. Philosophy, 47, p.140)no amount of decrease pleasure could outweigh 1 intrinsically greater. Finally, the selection as to whether a pleasure should be deemed desirable need to be that of ”the preference’ of experienced judges’, (ibid.) someone who has understanding of both and as a result the authority to assess.

It is extensively recognized that Mill, in adding a qualitative aspect to pleasures, presents himself with a dilemma. It appears logically not possible for Mill to maintain his hedonistic ideals (evident, as Crisp demonstrates, from his affirming the greatest happiness principle: ‘pleasure and freedom from pain are the only issues desirable as ends’), and still hold that pleasures differ qualitatively, considering that if he have been to assert that a greater pleasure is greater due to the fact of its intrinsically becoming more pleasurable, he would be admitting that quantity of pleasure is of sole significance. However, if pleasantness is not what tends to make some thing preferable then he would have to relinquish the notion that pleasure is the only issue desirable as an finish (M. Smith and E. Sosa, quoted in: Rex Martin (1972). A defense of Mill’s Qualitative Hedonism. Philosophy, 47.), as a result, his hedonism. ‘Either good quality collapses into quantity and Mill has produced no advance on Bentham, or Mill can no longer count himself a (complete) hedonist.’ (Crisp, Roger, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism. London, 1997.) Maintaining that a pleasure is intrinsically greater in good quality without having becoming larger in quantity implies that there must be an additional issue at play more desirable than pleasure itself. Crisp suggests this quality may be one particular of a ‘self- realizing’ (ibid.)nature this would arguably not present a dilemma were it not to compromise the notion of pleasure as the highest great. Even if the defense of Mill’s hedonism was not of concern, the inconsistency among the greatest happiness principle and the greater/lower pleasure distinction nevertheless seem to be inconsistent as a matter of the internal logic of Mill’s argument.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting, as Martin does, that the coherency of the above criticism rests on a particular interpretation of the text itself. It appears that Moore, for instance, understood the text below the interpretation that ‘Mill was not attempting to hold with respect to pleasures that the preferred kind is far more pleasant than the other.’ (Rex Martin (1972). A defense of Mill’s Qualitative Hedonism. Philosophy, 47, p.142) Upon this basis, he could construct the criticism that if a preferable factor is not a lot more pleasant, ‘preference is just a judgement of that intuitional kind… excellent is excellent and indefinable.’ (G E Moore. Principia Ethica ) Nevertheless, the predicament is totally transformed by an option textual reading such as that put forward by Martin: if ‘Mill believed that sorts of pleasure do differ in their degree of being pleasant and that the larger or preferred type is the more pleasant one, then the critics would have no basis for saying that hedonism and Mill’s qualitative distinction are in principle incompatible.’ (Rex Martin (1972). A defense of Mill’s Qualitative Hedonism. Philosophy, 47, p.143) It is feasible, then, to uncover consistency within Mill’s account if study under a certain interpretation nevertheless, an opinion which calls for re-interpretation and clarification by its readers is arguably ambiguous and as a result not completely justified in the 1st spot. Mill does not justify his qualitative distinction in sufficient detail to keep away from these criticisms and his ideas being justified on his behalf does not mean that he, himself, justified them properly. In addition, I believe the second potential reading put forth by Martin is, in itself, inconsistent with what Mill says if he was saying that higher pleasures have been, in truth a lot more pleasant then Mill perhaps would not need to focus so much attention on the notion that humans would not want to relinquish these larger faculties/pleasures due to a sense of dignity.

Aside from inconsistency worries, it seems that the notion of a qualitative distinction encompasses quite a few other problems. Firstly, Mill suggests that professional judges who have knowledgeable both larger and decrease pleasures are these in a position to ascertain which pleasures are higher and which decrease. ‘If a single of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even although understanding it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality…’ (Mill, Utilitarianism, chapter 2) Nevertheless, it appears that even the judgement of these supposed experts would modify with context one particular may possibly prefer poetry to drinking water, for example, until a single is severely dehydrated. Arguably, greater faculties can only be employed to generate larger pleasures if the much more primitive wants are happy. Although Mill does not certainly say that our a lot more animalistic desires, for instance, need to have not be gratified, this wants to be the case before anybody would feel of picking so-named greater pleasures of preference. In addition, Mill stipulates that these judges need to have expertise of both types of life- primarily, 1 with the gratification of reduced pleasures and then larger pleasures. Nonetheless, a life evidently consists of the gratification of each has any particular person genuinely had encounter of a single with no the other in order to make a judgement as to which is preferable? Most, I feel, would agree that they would anticipate themselves to choose a life full of larger pleasures but it is not the case necessarily.

Crisp undoubtedly voices my own opinion when he inquiries the dividing line in between bodily and mental pleasures which Mill emphasizes. Numerous do acknowledge that ‘pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a considerably greater value as pleasures than to these of mere sensation’ (ibid.) but at which point does a pleasure become either bodily or mental couldn’t it be both? Crisp expresses the view with an example: ‘…it is tough to uncover a clear criterion for putting a pleasure on one side of the divide or the other. When you savior the Lagavulin, the pleasure you take in it would appear to be fairly diverse from that your whisky-loving dog takes in it. You can reflect on its origins and the way it is developed, comparing its flavor to other whiskies making use of a broad vocabulary referring to properties to which your dog is fairly insensitive. But your pleasure is a bodily one particular, and surely includes certain sensations.’ (Crisp, Roger, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism. London, 1997.) This argument seems to apply to rather a lot of experiences we may well consider pleasurable a mental pleasure would not exist without having a physical one and so the two are inseparable and, in turn, incomparable. In addition, it seems that a pleasure can only ever be deemed larger or lower inside the context of comparison with yet another i.e. such and such a pleasure is greater or lower than some other. Larger and reduce are, by their quite nature, ‘relative terms.’ (ibid.) In addition, when distinguishing one’s preference in terms of pleasures, some form of subjectivity is inevitable and, once more, preference is context based with regards to who is judging. A wine taster, for instance, tastes wine and discusses it in an intellectual sense for him, wine tasting is a higher pleasure as it stimulates his intellect. One more person, a pianist, for instance, might view wine-tasting as a decrease pleasure indulging basically his base need to be drunk. Both characters asked to choose their preference in between the two (wine tasting or piano playing) would differ significantly. Any weakness to the preference test arguably weakens the notion of larger and reduce because this is supposed to be the way of deciding which category a sensation falls in to.

Talk of preference with regard to pleasures also appears to me strangely misplaced if Utilitarianism focuses on the greatest pleasure/ excellent for society or for people surrounding you, then what require is there to distinguish amongst greater and reduce pleasures. Are moral choices not meant to be created on an objective basis?

It suffices to say by way of conclusion, that Mill’s distinction among greater and reduce pleasures is, all round, unjustified. It is probably fair to say that the thought itself is, in a sense, justifiable as most would agree that a simplistic indulgence of base pleasures must be discouraged. Nevertheless, it is evident that numerous find fault with the consistency amongst the qualitative distinction and Mill’s own hedonistic values. In addition, the utilitarian is arguably faced with a number of concerns when attempting to really enforce the distinction.
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