What is the difference between Mill’s qualitative hedonism and Bentham’s quantitative hedonism? Which is more plausible as a theory of well-being? Hedonism is the idea that well-being of people comes about through pleasure. Pure hedonism is the thought that it arises through and only through pleasure and both Bentham and Mill advocate different approaches for which hedonism may be the basis of human well-being.
Both Philosophers then go on to construct theories of morality on the basis of this idea such that what should be maximised in a moral dilemma is the cumulative welfare of all individuals as measured by their particular approach for deciphering which course of action will yield the most well-being for all.
However, the focus of this essay is towards the distinctions between how the philosophers determine well-being and to what extent their theories are plausible thus their argument for morality will not be focussed on in this essay.
Firstly, I must address the differences between Mill’s and Bentham’s ideas on hedonism.
Both philosophers advocate the idea that pleasure, coupled with the avoidance of pain is the sole means by which people can increase their well-being. Their views on how to do as much differ significantly in theory although, as pointed out by Smart, not necessarily in practice. Jeremy Bentham believed that all pleasures were of equal quality and thus it was purely the quantity of the pleasure, as measured predominantly by intensity and duration, which determined which action would yield the most well-being.
In Bentham’s view, well-being is purely experiential: our pleasurable experiences increase our well-being in proportion to how pleasurable the experience was. In this view, poetry is just as good as push-pin if the pleasure produced from each was of the same duration and intensity. Thus, Bentham advocated a cardinal view of measuring well-being where the pleasure and pain of particular actions were measured in standard units of pleasure and pain and the action which would yield the highest overall measurement would be the action that would most increase well-being.
Mill, on the other hand, suggested that different types of pleasure did not tend to increase well-being in the same proportion as to how pleasurable the experience was. Mill argued that one must consider the range of qualities of pleasure and distinguished between ‘higher’ pleasure and ‘lower’ pleasures where higher pleasures are more associated with pleasures of the mind and enhancing the distinctly human faculties of reason and enjoyment such as reading Shakespeare and considering fine art. Lower pleasures, on the other hand, are more base pleasures of the body which are more animalistic, such as sex and food.
Mill argued that a base pleasure could not be considered more valuable to well-being than a higher pleasure even if there was more of it as measured by Bentham’s criteria of intensity and duration. According to Mill, people will always prefer a higher pleasure to a lower pleasure when having experience of the two. This can be seen as a dissatisfied human would not wish to relinquish their higher mental faculties to become a satisfied pig! Mill’s distinction highlights a difference in the understanding of the term ‘well-being’ by the two philosophers which many commentators on the two conflicting concepts of hedonism have highlighted.
Bentham views well-being as simply the sum total of pleasure of an individual: in Bentham’s view an esteemed but dissatisfied scientist and philosopher who has a mental breakdown only to indulge greatly in pleasures of the body has a high level of well-being – higher than when dissatisfied earlier in life. Mill would disagree as his view of well-being does not give the kind of base pleasures that the scientist now indulges in the same weighting as the higher pleasures which the scientist used to enjoy.
Smart argues that Mill’s semantic use of the word ‘happiness’ often instead of ‘pleasure’ is telling in this respect as happiness has connotations which does not render it conceptually equivalent to pleasure even if one is to argue that happiness depends upon pleasure. Smart argues that ‘happiness’ suggests a level of approval for the person that is ‘happy’. In the example I gave above, though the old colleagues of the scientist can see that the scientist is leading a pleasurable life, they would be unlikely to describe him as ‘happy’ due to their disdain and regret for this life he has chosen.
Moreover, ‘happiness’ tends to draw focus to the idea of the pleasure being over time for example reading poetry over playing pushpin is more likely to lead to long term contentment and happiness in one’s life. This semantic peculiarity does not add much to the theory of Mill in contrast to Bentham but rather seems to intuitively highlight the significant differences between them. There also seems to be a distinction between Bentham and Mill as to what constitutes well-being in relation to pleasure. Both philosophers are hedonists and advocate the idea that without pleasure, well-being is not achieved.
However, Bentham’s approach is directly experiential: a person’s well-being correlates exactly to the pleasure that that person experiences. Mill clearly disagrees with such a view as he argues that in some cases – those of higher pleasures – an experience with less pleasure than another can still bring about more well-being. This phenomenon would be impossible in Bentham’s theory and has led many to conclude that Mill clearly values something for wellbeing other than simply pleasure but that these other values are worthless without pleasure.
Smart offer the analogy of a mathematical equation: for Bentham, well-being = ‘y’ where y = pleasure while for Mill, well-being = yz where y = pleasure and z = some other criteria valuable for well-being. If y is zero then total wellbeing is zero no matter what the value of z is but a small quantity of y can increase total welfare greatly is the z value is high. Crisp gives a slightly different account of this distinction between Bentham and Mill arguing that it is not the case that Mill values anything other than pleasure in order to establish a level of well-being.
Indeed, according to Crisp, if he had done, he could not be considered a full hedonist. Instead, Mill makes a distinction is the nature of different kinds of pleasures some of which have more intrinsic value than others for well-being. A Common criticism to both Bentham and Mill is that any theory which purports that to maximize well-being, a concept usually associated with ideas of a moral and idyllic life, one must maximize pleasure, a concept usually associated with amoral excess and indulgence, is repugnant and a theory only fit for a swine.
However, Mill clearly and convincingly defends both himself and Bentham on this count arguing that to assume that human’s will search for the pleasures of a swine: those base pleasures of the body, is to misrepresent humans who value the higher pleasures of the mind. Moreover, the higher pleasures of the mind are often more likely to yield more pleasure than those purely of the body and thus Bentham’s hedonism is relieved of these accusations. However, Mill further distinguishes his own theory from this criticism by explicitly claiming the low value of such pleasures that the criticisers show such disdain for.
In this respect, Mill seems to offer a slightly more plausible theory of how pleasure and well-being can affect each other that coincides with the intuitive belief that they cannot be one and the same thing. Crisp gives the criticism against Bentham that if we were to use his theory of hedonism whereby overall pleasure is determined by the intensity and duration of the pleasure and the overall pleasure determines the well-being of a person then the thought experiment of ‘Haydn and the Oyster’ would seem to apply such that his theory would seem a less plausible theory of well-being.
This thought experiment is that if there were souls in heaven being assigned bodies and one soul has the choice of their the body of the esteemed composer Haydn or an oyster, he could be pretty certain of more pleasure if he chose the body of Haydn. However, if the angel promised the soul a lifetime as long as desirable in the body of the oyster, then after a certain age, the dull pleasures of the oyster would appear to overtake the intense pleasures of Haydn and so the soul should, according to Bentham chose the body of the oyster to maximize his well-being.
This, however, would not seem consistent with our intuitive understanding of well-being: we would not believe an almost immortal oyster would have better well-being than a spectacular but distinctly mortal human. Mill, however, does not have this issue with his theory of well-being as the higher pleasures of Haydn can never be considered lower than the lower pleasures of the oyster according to his theory, no matter how intense or long the oyster’s pleasure lasts. This fits more in keeping with our intuitive understanding of well-being.
A second criticism that could be applied to Bentham comes from Norzick and involves another thought experiment. If all that mattered to us was pleasure, we could plug ourselves into a computer stimulated pleasure making machine that could give us any life we want complete with any pleasure we want. If the sum total of our pleasures were all that mattered, we should be happy to plug ourselves in. However, this appears repugnant to us: we do not want to live like this no matter how much pleasure we are guaranteed. This seems to undermine the concept that all that is important to human well-being is pleasure as the hedonist would suggest.
Moreover, then, this issue does not just challenge Bentham but also challenges Mill who is also a hedonist and believes that pleasure is a necessary condition for well-being. Norzick himself offers a number of reasons why we would not want to plug into the machine. Firstly, humans want to actually do things, not just have the experience of doing them – no matter how pleasurable this experience may be. This, however, could be interpreted under Mill as simply a higher pleasure: it is a higher pleasure to actually do something than to simply have the experience of doing it.
Secondly, it limits our experiences to simple man-made experiences. This , however, could be used by both Bentham and Mill to argue why their hedonism is valid: we get more pleasure from the real world than a man-made reality so it is consistent to argue that are well-being would be better served in the real world than in this man made reality. In total though, Mill’s theory of hedonism seems to argue back to Norzick more convincingly. To conclude, Mill’s approach seems to be a more plausible theory of hedonism for well-being.
Cite this Difference Between Mill’s and Bentham’s Hedonism
Difference Between Mill’s and Bentham’s Hedonism. (2016, Oct 29). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/difference-between-mills-and-benthams-hedonism/