Theassertions of John Stuart Mills that higher pleasures are better thanlower pleasures are agreeable and rational. Higher pleasures andlower pleasures, in this case, are defined in the context of whatMill philosophically views as either a higher or a lower pleasure.Thus, higher pleasures are those emotional, intellectual, and/orimagined pleasures that a person pursues not based on theiradvantageous value to them, but also the intrinsic value they derivefrom them(Gibbs, 1986). If one decides to do something only because of its thecircumstantial advantages without necessarily considering theintrinsic value of doing it, it becomes a lower pleasure because theycan as well give it up for another one with greater intrinsic value.Examples of higher pleasures are: someone pursuing a career andbecoming a professional in what they enjoy doing and eating one’sbest meal irrespective of the effects it is likely to have on one’shealth. An Example of a lower pleasure is: engaging in acts such asprostitution. Furthermore, for something to be considered a higherpleasure or a lower pleasure, one must have knowledge and experienceof the two before they can make the decision of preference.
Toassert the superiority of higher pleasures over lower pleasures, thechoice of either of them constitutes knowledge of both and when thelatter is chosen, it does not, in many cases, imply that they aresuperior. Perhaps the chooser is incapacitated to the extent thatthey cannot choose the higher pleasure. As Mills states, “Men arelikely to choose the nearer good, even if they know that it is lessvaluable,” higher pleasures are the best because they reflect theactions of a rational mind and utilitarianism(Long, 1992).
Ina general sense, Mills considers higher pleasures superior to lowerpleasures in the scope of utilitarianism. The characteristics ofhigher pleasures that Mills articulates project them as dependent onthe independence of the mind, freedom of choice, and the knowledge ofthe choices that one has to make. Therefore, through Mill’sperspective a choice qualifies as a higher pleasure is it embodiesthe following (Mill, 2010): (1) a higher pleasure is chosen afterexperience, knowledge, and comparison with a lower pleasure. (2) Ahigher pleasure has the greatest intrinsic value. Thus, a personwould choose it even in discomfort. (3) A higher pleasure is aproduct of a chooser from the higher faculty. A higher faculty, inthis case, is a rational human being.
Millconsiders a dissatisfied human being better than a satisfied pig or adissatisfied Socrates better than a satisfied fool (Mill &Bentham, 1987). If a choice is made without prior experience to bothpleasures or by an irrational being, it will be assumed that thechooser does not have the capacity to compare the intrinsic value ofboth. Therefore, the choice is a lower pleasure in Mill’s terms.Utilitarianism does not actually replace pleasure, but it reiteratesthe fact that choices between utilities is done with the intention toderive the highest possible intrinsic satisfaction. Greatersatisfaction should be defined in terms the quality of a product orservices rather than just quantity.
Millsarguments of utilitarianism in terms of higher and lower pleasuresare intelligent and agreeable. It was vital to distinguish betweenquantitative and qualitative aspects of the choices people make goodsand services. By giving satisfactory features of both a higherpleasure and lower pleasure, Mill was able to debunk the notion thatutilitarianism deprived consumers of pleasure. Utilitarianism hasnever been clearer than the way Mill portrayed it since it evenshaped the way economists began to theorize microeconomic concepts ofutility.
Gibbs,B. (1986). Higher and lower pleasures. Philosophy,61(235),31-59.
Long,R. T. (1992). Mill`s higher pleasures and the choice of character.Utilitas,4(02),279-297.
Mill,J. S., & Bentham, J. (1987). Utilitarianismand other essays(p. 275). A. Ryan (Ed.). London: Penguin books.
Mill,J. S. (2010). Utilitarianism.Broadview Press.