Book III: The Moral Ideal and Moral Progress.

Chapter I: Good and Moral Good.


The reason for this doubt as regards Mill himself is that he insists upon the reality of desires which, as he describes them, are only desires for pleasure in the improper and illogical sense; which are not determined by an antecedent imagination of pleasure; but from which there results pleasure in the attainment of the desired object, pain in its absence. Thus, having pointed out that the Utilitarian doctrine requires us to consider happiness, or pleasure, the only thing desirable as an end, he goes on to say that it maintains not only that virtue is to be desired, but that it is to be desired disinterestedly,[Ch. 4 ¶5] i.e., as he explains, not as a means to any end beyond it.[Ch. 4 ¶5] The mind, he tells us, is not in a right state, not in a state conformable to Utility,[Ch. 4 ¶5] unless it so desires virtue But such desire for virtue is clearly not determined by any antecedent imagination of pleasure. It is of course open to any one to argue that what is called desire for virtue is really desire for pleasures that are to be obtained in a certain way; but in that case virtue is not an ultimate object of desire, the desire for it is not disinterested. That presentation of virtue which determines any disinterested desire for it, can only be a presentation of a possible state of character or mode of action as an ideal object which we seek to realise; and the object thus presented cannot be identified with any pleasant feeling or series of feelings, which, having experienced it, we imagine and desire to experience again. If, then, the presentation of virtue as an ultimate object, and not merely as a means, does determine desire, there are desires which are not excited by the anticipation of pleasure, though in such cases as much as in any other the desired object, just so far as desired, is part of the happiness[Ch. 4 ¶5] of the person desiring it, in the sense that, having desired it, he cannot be happy without it. (§169 ¶1)

There are other objects of desire recognised by Mill—money, power, fame—which he admits are not pleasures (though to power and fame, he thinks, there is a certain amount of immediate pleasure annexed[Ch. 4 ¶6]), but which have yet come to be desired for their own sake. In regard to them, as in regard to virtue, he suggests that they were originally desired as means, as conducive to pleasure or protection from pain, but he does not pretend that, by those who desire them most strongly, they are so desired any longer. What was once desired as an instrument for the attainment of happiness has come to be desired for its own sake.[Ch. 4 ¶6] That the desire for them originated in a desire for pleasure is, indeed, a view founded on the assumption that pleasures alone are wished for. To aid in the attainment of our wishes, as these things do, is with Mill the same thing as to aid in the attainment of pleasure. But we may waive this point, for questions as to the history of any desire do not affect its present relation to its object. If money, fame, and power are desired not as a means to pleasure but for their own sake—and this Mill admits—then there are desires, whatever their history, which are not desires for pleasure, however essential their gratification may be to the happiness of those who so desire. (§169 ¶2)