Desktop version

Home arrow Philosophy arrow The handy philosophy answer book

How did John Stuart Mill define the difference between higher and lower pleasures?

Mill did not think that a simple quantitative calculus could be used to make moral decisions. He argued that there were "lower pleasures" that were mainly connected with immediate physical gratification and delight, and "higher pleasures" that involved delayed gratification or prior diligence. The higher pleasures, such as those found in the cultivation and enjoyment of art, literature, poetry, and friendship, were better than the lower pleasures. Mill's proof that they were better was the testimony of those who had experienced both the lower and higher pleasures.

Was John Stuart Mill a socialist or a capitalist?

In applying the principles of utility to government and social institutions, Mill recognized the productive consequences of free markets. But he thought that public ownership of production might benefit a greater number by eliminating the extremes of

Did John Stuart Mill have much chance to indulge in the pleasure principle as he grew up?

The pleasure principle was certainly not applied to Mill's young life in the same sense as Jeremy Bentham's (1748-1832) formulation, although it possibly was in Mill's more nuanced version of utilitarianism, which distinguished between higher and lower pleasures. Mill's father, James, with help from his friend Bentham, educated the young Mill at home. Young John knew Greek at three, Latin at five, logic by 12, and economics by 16. He was also deeply schooled in a social mission to increase the good for the greatest number through progressive political programs. Mill had a nervous breakdown at 20. Biographers believe that his highly structured and rigorous childhood education was the cause of an emotional imbalance. The humanities had been neglected in his education, and his social interactions with peers were limited by the demands of his studies.

Mill then began a course of study in literature to develop his more humanistic sensibilities. He read romantic poetry and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and he began to rethink Bentham's simple hedonic calculus. The result was Mill's famous distinction between higher and lower pleasures and a scathing assessment of Bentham's character as oblivious and uncultured: "Bentham," an essay first published in the London and Westminster Review in 1838, and revised in 1859 for his own Dissertations and Discussion, Volume 1.

poverty. He believed in democratic government, provided that citizens were well-informed and it was not a simple majority rule based on emotions.

Why did John Stuart Mill distrust majority rule?

Mill argued in On Liberty (1859) that the whole of society could be swayed by the mere opinions and passions of a majority. For this reason, free speech was essential. Even if those who seek to suppress free speech are correct, if they are not willing to present their arguments afresh they might come to hold their correct conclusions as mere superstitions. Mill thus believed in freedom of opinion for its utility in promoting a generally rational pubic epistemology or shared theory of what constitutes knowledge.

He thought it was important that people have standards based on what is known as opposed to mere opinion. If there is free speech and public disagreement, then the parties that prevail have to give reasons for their views, according to Mill. In other words, Mill thought that free speech would encourage good arguments, and that good arguments would result in an informed public. Knowledge, according to Mill, required both reasoning and a justification of beliefs.

 
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics