Some Facts of Mill’s Life • Mill’s early biography mirrors Bentham’s in several ways. • Both were very precocious. • Both pushed to study Greek and Latin. • Mill’s dad was a Benthamite who home-schooled Mill. • At 20, Mill had a nervous breakdown. • It caused Mill to re-examine Bentham’s utilitarianism.
Rawls’ Comparison of Christians’ Response to Hobbes and Utilitarians’ • In section on Sidgwick, pp. 394-395 • “For the most part, what bothered them (the utilitarians) about Hobbes was not his atheism, if atheist he was, or his materialism, determinism and individualism.”
Mill and Bentham on Religion • Bentham was an atheist • Mill in “Utility and Religion,” argued that there were no good arguments for supernaturalist accounts of the world, except perhaps the Argument from Design • But due to Darwinism, the jury is out • Still, he argued (as with Hume) for a “problem of evil” -- that the existence of evil was evidence against an omnipotent God • Mill endorsed a “Religion of Humanity,” in which history is seen as “an unremitting conflict between good and evil powers, of which every act done by any of us, insignificant as we are, forms one of the incidents” (“Inaugural Address to St. Andrews 1867”) • Utilitarianism is seen as an alternative to the morality of religion but not a threat to religion and in some cases, by Mill, as consistent with religious morality
Mill on Materialism • Mill is a scientific humanist & thus a materialist • On reports of miracles: “The facts … even if faithfully reported, are never incompatible with the supposition that they were either mere coincidences, or were produced by natural means” • On belief in souls: “Nothing could be more natural than such a fancy; it is, in appearance, completely realized in dreams” • On deism: Due to Darwinism, the jury is out on the Argument from Design • Along with Hume, argues that Nature does not dictate ethics – thus, no ought from is
Utilitarianism & Determinism • The utilitarians made the debate over free will and determinism irrelevant to ethics • Determinism was no threat to ethics, they would have argued – all that’s important in determining right or wrong are the consequences • Bentham’s theory of punishment paid attention to motive, but only because it was groundless, inefficacious, unprofitable or needless when there was no moral responsibility • What was important was the motive and the moral responsibility, not the metaphysics
Psychological Egoism • Here there was a difference between Bentham and Mill • Bentham followed Hobbes in being a psychological egoist • Whether or not this was connected to Bentham’s atheism is not clear • Mill rejected psychological egoism and regarded it as irrelevant to ethics • Mill admires the altruistic pronouncements of Jesus
Utlitarianism & Relativism • What all utilitarians had in common was a rejection of ethical relativism • Objectivity in ethics: the principle of utility and its mathematical implications • There is variation of a sort – something might be ethical for you but not for me – but it depends on different circumstances • Mill got rid of the variation by adopting rule utilitarianism (against Bentham’s act utilitarianism) & the standpoint of the permanent interests of humankind
Mill’s “Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy” In “Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy” Mill criticizes Bentham’s positions we looked at last week: • The Principle of Utility • Bentham’s psychological egoism and hedonism • Bentham’s attempt to argue for the Principle of Utility.
Mill’s Summary of Bentham’s Main Principles • “The first principles of Mr. Bentham’s philosophy are these;—that happiness, meaning by that term pleasure and exemption from pain, is the only thing desirable in itself; that all other things are desirable solely as means to that end: that the production, therefore, of the greatest possible happiness, is the only fit purpose of all human thought and action, and consequently of all morality and government; and moreover, that pleasure and pain are the sole agencies by which the conduct of mankind is in fact governed, whatever circumstances the individual may be placed in, and whether he is aware of it or not” (Mill’s summary in par. 2 of RBP).
Bentham’s Principle of Utility “By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness” (Principles, I: II).
Three Interpretations of Bentham’s Principle of Utility • Interpretation 1: A type of act a is morally right to degree n if and only if a tends to produce happiness to degree n. • Interpretation 2: A token-action a is morally right if and only if a produces more pleasure than pain. • Interpretation 3:A token-action a is morally right if and only if a produces at least as great a balance of pleasure over pain as any alternative (where an alternative to an action a =df. another act that the person who would do a if it were to be done – the “agent” – could do instead at that time) – i.e.,a, we might say, “maximizes” pleasure.
Mill’s Criticism of Bentham’s “Principle of Specific Consequences” • “ Now, the great fault I have to find with Mr. Bentham as a moral philosopher … is this: that he has practically, to a very great extent, confounded the principle of Utility with the principle of specific consequences, and has habitually made up his estimate of the approbation or blame due to a particular kind of action, from a calculation solely of the consequences to which that very action, if practised generally, would itself lead. He has largely exemplified, and contributed very widely to diffuse, a tone of thinking, according to which any kind of action or any habit, which in its own specific consequences cannot be proved to be necessarily or probably productive of unhappiness to the agent himself or to others, is supposed to be fully justified; and any disapprobation or aversion entertained towards the individual by reason of it, is set down from that time forward as prejudice and superstition. It is not considered (at least, not habitually considered,) whether the act or habit in question, though not in itself necessarily pernicious, may not form part of a character essentially pernicious, or at least essentially deficient in some quality eminently conducive to the “greatest happiness.” To apply such a standard as this, would indeed often require a much deeper insight into the formation of character, and knowledge of the internal workings of human nature, than Bentham possessed.” (¶9 of “Remarks on Bentham’s Philosophy”)
Mill’s Inference • Mill accuses Bentham of • focusing entirely on consequences • not caring about human psychology or character • So the principle of utility is said to be confused with “the principle of specific consequences.” • In light of that criticism, Mill comes up with 4 kinds of responses in chapter 2 of Utilitarianism.
Mill’s Response to Bentham in Chapter II of Utilitarianism • The Distinction Between Higher and Lower Pleasures • Happiness as “a Manner of Existence” the Ultimate End, and Not as Mere Pleasure • The Principle of “Socrates Dissatisfied”; the Sense of Dignity • The Revision of the Greatest Happiness Principle
The Doctrine of Swine Objection to Bentham’s Utilitarianism • “[S]uch a theory of life [as Bentham’s simple hedonism] excites in many minds, … inveterate dislike. To suppose that life has (as they express it) no higher end than pleasure—no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit—they designate as utterly mean and grovelling; as a doctrine worthy only of swine….” (Utilitarianism, Chapter II, ¶3)
Using Nozick’s Experience Machine to Illustrate the Objection • Nozick’s Example from Anarchy, State and Utopia: Imagine an “experience machine” that can feed people pleasurable experiences, and suppose that there is an intensity button and a duration button. • If everyone were ordered to be hooked up to the machine and everyone’s dials were turned up all the way to maximum so that everyone was at the greatest intensity and the greatest duration (which produces the greatest pleasure), then a dictator would be doing what the principle of utility says to do. • Such a thing is absurd because the life on the machine seems no better than the life of a pig. Given that the experience machine life isn’t a life worth living, there must be something wrong with the principle of utility.
Mill’s Revision: Distinguishing Higher from Lower Pleasures • T]here is no known Epicurean theory of life which does not assign to the pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a much higher value as pleasures than to those of mere sensation. It must be admitted, however, that utilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, &c., of the former—that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature. And on all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case; but they might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, higher ground, with entire consistency. It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone. (Utilitarianism, Chapter II, ¶4)
The Decided Preference Criterion (as Rawls Calls It) • “If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible answer. Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. If one of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account.” (Utilitarianism, Chapter II, ¶5)
The Problem • Mill suggests that we should not simply take into account the quantity of pleasure but also the quality of pleasure. Then the question arises: How are we supposed to take the quality into account? With quantity we can calculate mathematically with the hedonic calculus, but if we introduce the variable of quality, it’s not obvious at all how the calculations are going to go through. • Returning to the hot fudge sundae example: Which should I do -- read a book or eat a sundae? On the face of it, if all that you have to go on is intensity and duration and both are equally intense and both have equal duration than it seems straightforward. The higher pleasure gets preferred over the lower. But, what if the higher has shorter duration and lower intensity than the lower pleasure of eating the sundae? How they compare is not obvious.
Summary of Decided Preference Criterion(Due to Rawls, p. 260) • Acquaintance: Persons making the comparison must be competently acquainted with both • Self-consciousness: These persons must have “settled habits of self-consciousness and self-observation” • Autonomy: The decided preference arrived at not influenced by a sense of moral obligation • Intrinsic pleasure: The decided preference must be formed not on the basis of circumstantial advantages or consequences but in view of intrinsic pleasure
Happiness as a “manner of existence” is the ultimate end, not mere pleasure • “Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties. Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast’s pleasures….” (Utilitarianism II:¶6). • The idea: Higher connected with enduring activities in a way that lower isn’t. • Thus, Mill takes the preference to attach to a “manner of existence” which employs higher faculties – a second-order desire to have desires
The Sense of Dignity and the Principle of “Socrates Dissatisfied” • “We may give what explanation we please of this unwillingness [to sink into a lower grade of existence as] … a sense of dignity, which all human beings possess in one form or other, and in some, though by no means in exact, proportion to their higher faculties, and which is so essential a part of the happiness of those in whom it is strong, that nothing which conflicts with it could be, otherwise than momentarily, an object of desire to them. Whoever supposes that this preference takes place as a sacrifice of happiness—that the superior being, in anything like equal circumstances, is not happier than the inferior—confounds the two very different ideas, of happiness, and content. It is indisputable that the being whose capacities of enjoyment are low, has the greatest chance of having them fully satisfied; and a highly-endowed being will always feel that any happiness which he can look for, as the world is constituted, is imperfect. But he can learn to bear its imperfections, if they are at all bearable; and they will not make him envy the being who is indeed unconscious of the imperfections, but only because he feels not at all the good which those imperfections qualify. It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” (Utilitarianism, II: ¶6)
Analysis of Text • Notice this sense of dignity is connected to the development of higher faculties. There is a kind of behaviorist conception of the development of the faculties here, for it seems that your faculties are not innately developed according to this picture but, rather, are developed on the basis of culture, education, and social circumstances. • The person with these more developed higher faculties will have farther to fall, so to speak. • To be a pig satisfied is to be degraded. To be a fool satisfied would be degraded to being treated as a fool and to treat oneself as a fool would be to degrade oneself. • Rawls doesn’t simply satisfy himself with the last sentence of the quote, but ties it to the sense of dignity, which is crucial in understanding Mill.
… And of What Rawls Calls the “Principle of Dignity” • “We may give what explanation we please of this unwillingness [to sink into a lower grade of existence as] … a sense of dignity, which all human beings possess in one form or other, and in some, though by no means in exact, proportion to their higher faculties, and which is so essential a part of the happiness of those in whom it is strong, that nothing which conflicts with it could be, otherwise than momentarily, an object of desire to them.” (Utilitarianism II:6) • Utilitarianism …could only attain its end by the general cultivation of nobleness of character, even if each … were only benefited by the nobleness of others, and his own, so far as happiness is concerned, were a sheer deduction from the benefit. (Utilitarianism II:9)