What Is the Difference Between Mill’s Qualitative Hedonism and Bentham’s Quantitative Hedonism? Which Is More Plausible as a Theory of Well-Being?

Topics: Utilitarianism, Hedonism, Happiness Pages: 5 (1836 words) Published: May 6, 2013
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...
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