Eric Massengill's Ethics Class Blog

The Value of Pleasure | September 21, 2008

I wouldn’t disagree with Mill that intellectual pleasures are better than others, but for a different reason. Think about what the intellectual pleasures are: the introduction of intellect to normal pleasures. Artistic entertainment is when these pleasures are taken and observed and contemplated, then communicated back in a more refined form to the audience. (Art gains more by then adding intellectual intention beyond that, like making a political or philisophical point.) Intellectual pleasures are better, not because they contain more joy, but because they involve the intellect, which allows a very special thing: appreciation. The difference between a pig having sex and a human having sex is true, intellectual appreciation of the experience. A pig eats, but a human cooks, and while most people only desire good food, many set out to make unique and better food (and even those who don’t wish they could, but can’t because they aren’t good at it). “Higher” pleasures are just “lower” pleasures given intellectual appreciation. So in this way two experiences can be equal in pleasure, but uneven in the joy they bring because one is fully appreciated and the other is simply used up and discarded.

What’s ironic is that Mill’s argument actually seems to destroy his own possition. By essentially saying that some people preffer one pleasure to another, regardless of actual ecstasy involved, for no other reason than it is better (he’s sort of nebulous about it), he’s arguing for preference-satisfaction utilitarianism, not happiness utilitarianism. By saying what he says, he basically states that people ultimately judge certain pleasures by another standard. So, wouldn’t it make more sense that this standard be the basis of morality instead of happiness, which he shows through his own example to be subsidiary?

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2 Comments »

  1. Separating the higher and lower has no point. They are both indefinitely fused together. You yourself hold the key to “preference”. It is up to you to say which is better, no one else.Some people prefer the lower without the philosophical meaning to it, just the direct pleasure derived from it. “To each his own”

    Comment by D@vid R. — September 22, 2008 @ 10:54 pm

  2. I like what you write about higher pleasures being lower pleasures with intellectual appreciation. i think that it is a well explained concept. In the case of food and how humans cook and some even try to make extravagant meals, what if someone was striving to make a gourmet meal and ended up setting their house on fire burning everything. is it still just as pleasurable as say going to mcdonalds and getting a quarter pounder with cheese? there is no overall happiness boost by burning your house down striving for a higher pleasure.

    Comment by jeffersson — September 22, 2008 @ 10:57 pm


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I am a person. I am alive. I am capable of mechanical motion. My respiratory system is functional, as is my digestive, and circulatory system. My neurons operate.

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