Book III: The Moral Ideal and Moral Progress.

Chapter I: Good and Moral Good.


For an explanation and defence of this variation from the doctrine of his master, Mill appeals to the 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, as compared with one involving more sensual pleasures. They do this, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent. We naturally accept such an appeal because we cannot help thinking of the man whose preference Mill describes, as better in himself than one more sensual, and of the higher faculties as intrinsically of more value; in other words, because we regard the attainment of a certain type of character or some realisation of the possibilities of man, not pleasure, as the end by relation to which goodness or value is to be measured. But, on the principle that pleasure is the only thing good ultimately or in its own right, we are not justified in so doing. On this principle one man can be better, one faculty higher than another, only as a more serviceable instrument for the production of pleasure. On this ground it is open to the Utilitarian to argue that a man who devotes himself to the exercise of such higher faculties as Mill is here thinking of, produces a greater amount of pleasure on the whole, all circumstances affecting that amount being taken into account, than does the man who does not trouble himself about his higher faculties. But it is altogether against Utilitarian principles that a pleasure should be of more value because the man who pursues it is better. They only entitle us to argue back from the amount of pleasure to the worth of the man who acts so as to produce it. (§164 ¶1)

If we rid ourselves then of all presuppositions, illegitimate on Utilitarian principles, in regard to the superiority of the man or the faculties exercised in what we call the higher pursuits, and if we admit that all desire is for pleasure, the strongest desire for the greatest pleasure, what is proved by the example of the man who, being competently acquainted with both, prefers the life of moral and intellectual effort to one of healthy animal enjoyment? Simply this, that the life of effort brings more pleasure to the man in question than he would derive from the other sort of life. It outweighs for him any quantity of other pleasure of which his nature is capable. The fact that he is competently acquainted with both sorts of pleasure can give no significance beyond this to his preference of one above the other. He may be competently acquainted with animal enjoyments; but it does not follow that the pleasure they afford him is as intense and unmixed as that which they afford to the man who makes them his principal pursuit. The question of value then between the two sorts will have to be settled by a calculation of amount, the intensity of each kind, as experienced by those to whom it is most intense, being weighed against its duration and its degree of purity, productiveness, and extent. The calculation is certainly very hard to make—whether it can be made at all is a question to be touched on when we come to a more detailed examination of Utilitarianism—but it is the only possible way, if pleasure is the sole and ultimate good, of measuring the comparative worth of pleasures. The example of a certain man’s preference, unless we have some other standard of his excellence than such as is relative to pleasure as the ultimate good, proves nothing as to the superiority of the pleasure which he chooses to another sort of pleasure preferred by some one else. It only proves that it is more of a pleasure to him than is that to which he prefers it; and this it only proves on supposition that the stronger desire is always for the greater pleasure. (§164 ¶2)

§164, n. 1: Cf. Dumont’s version of of the Principles of Morals and Legislation (Hildreth’s translation), p. 31.