Are you convinced by Mill's attempt to draw a qualitative distinction between pleasures?

Essay by ruthlpUniversity, Bachelor's January 2006

download word file, 4 pages 3.0

Downloaded 24 times

In Mill's Utilitarianism, he moves away from the traditional Benthamite argument which measures all types of pleasure in the same way, to stating that some pleasures are of higher value and therefore should be preferred over the so-called 'lower' pleasures when making ethical decisions. The main criticism to this idea is the question of whether can still remain a true hedonist and utilitarian, and if his ideas actually hold any weight.

One of the obvious strengths of Mill's argument is that it addresses Bentham's problem in being able to compare certain experiences. If all pleasures are of equal quality it could be hard to decide the right course of action if they had a similar effect on similar amounts of people. Mill answers this incomparability problem by arguing that some pleasures, i.e. intellect over animal pleasures, or mental over bodily pleasures, are higher in value, and should be preferred in moral choices, as the amount of enjoyment from those who experience these pleasures will far outweigh any number of people enjoying the lower pleasures.

However, from this a new problem arises of how to decide and distinguish between types of pleasure.

Mill states that to know what the different kinds of pleasure are you need to have experienced both (known as the informed preference test). However, how can someone who has experienced both know whether it is more pleasurable to just have experienced the pleasures of the senses, and vice versa? This brings great difficulty in the principle of higher/lower pleasures and also in choosing the right course of action. Not only this, but there is no clear standard to which something could be considered either a higher or a lower pleasure. Mill is vague in the use of these terms, and they here are not mutually exclusive. One...