Book III: The Moral Ideal and Moral Progress.

Chapter I: Good and Moral Good.


But with what plausibility can the motive described as a sense of dignity be reckoned a desire for pleasure at all? Mill indeed calls it an essential part of the happiness of those in whom it is strong; but no desire as such, since it must rather be painful than pleasant, can properly be called a part of happiness. It may be suggested therefore that by the sense of dignity spoken of Mill understands an emotion, as distinct from desire, which he would no doubt be justified in calling a part of happiness, an ingredient in the sum of a man’s pleasures. In that case we must suppose that it is desire for the pleasure of this emotion which makes the man, who is capable of the pleasure attending the exercise of the higher faculties, prefer this to the pleasure which he might share with the dunce. If this indeed were the true account of the matter, the strict Benthamite who will recognise no distinction in quality as distinct from quantity of pleasure, might say that it was simply a case of the pleasure preferred being more productive. The intellectual pleasure brings the additional pleasure, consisting in the emotion called sense of dignity, which the animal pleasure does not. It is scarcely however a plausible account of the motive which makes an intelligent person unwilling to be a fool, a person of feeling and conscience unwilling to be selfish or base, though persuaded that the change would save him much discontent, to say that it is desire for the preponderating pleasure involved in the sense of being a superior person. Nor, if it were, would there be any ground for holding the man so actuated to be really happier than the fool or the selfish man, who, according to his standard of measurement, has as good a chance of feeling the pleasure of superiority without corresponding discontent. The truth is that Mill does not really regard this sense of dignity as an emotion in distinction from desire. He regards it as a counter motive to desires for animal pleasure, which mere emotion could not be. Nor does he mean that the preference determined by it is preference for the pleasure of feeling superior to the pleasures shared with average men. The motive which he has in view is a desire to be worthy, not a desire to feel the pleasure of being worth more than others; and he only regards it as desire for pleasure at all, because he fancies that a desire, of which the disappointment makes me unhappy, is therefore a desire for happiness—that a desire is for the pleasure which ensues upon its satisfaction. (§166 ¶1)