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Reading: Higher and Lower Pleasures and our Moral Psychology


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Higher and Lower Pleasures and our Moral Psychology


Kiran Bhardwaj

Bryn Mawr College, US
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[From the introduction]

John Stuart Mill’s treatise, Utilitarianism, takes the standard concept of utilitarianism, and tries to disentangle itself from the problems that plagued earlier utilitarian theories. One of the essential moves in order to do so is to distinguish between high and low pleasures. This distinction, for example, would not categorize an intellectual pleasure, such as reading poetry, to be similar in pleasure to a sensory pleasure, like eating a really good cupcake. By creating the divide between higher and lower pleasures, Mill assures us that the intellectual pursuit gives to a subject, not a higher quantity of pleasure, but a higher quality. These levels are not reducible to each other: eating a cupcake, no matter how intensely delicious it is, or how many you eat, will never be able to achieve the quality of reading poetry.

In breaking down Mill’s reasons for this move, we may look at two sets of motivations for distinguishing higher and lower pleasures: one negative and one positive. The negative account shows what Mill was trying to resist: both to distinguish his utilitarianism from earlier utilitarian theories and so to avoid categorization in such a way which makes his theory susceptible to the general criticisms of utilitarian theories. The positive account shows what he gains from this distinction: in full, it turns out to be a quite advanced moral psychology, placed from the perspective of the individual. [...]

How to Cite: Bhardwaj, K., 2010. Higher and Lower Pleasures and our Moral Psychology. International Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, 2(2), pp.16 (126–131).
Published on 26 Jul 2010.
Peer Reviewed


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