J.S. Mill's Test for Higher Pleasure
13 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2007
Date Written: July 2007
The standard reading of Mill's test for higher pleasure is as follows: one pleasure is higher than another if and only if most people who have experienced both always prefer the first to the second regardless of their respective quantities. This standard reading has two problems: (1) it results in a lexical ordering of pleasures, which leads to the counterintuitive result that in no case can a large quantity of lower pleasure morally trump a tiny quantity of higher pleasure, and (2) because it takes Mill to be making a metaphysical distinction between types of pleasures, it appears to commit Mill to recognizing mysterious inherent qualities to pleasures.
The standard reading is mistaken. The standard reading interprets Mill's test as comparing two kinds of pleasure; whereas Mill's test compares (1) the capacity to experience one pleasure with (2) any quantity of a second pleasure that one could experience in virtue of having the capacity to experience the second pleasure. On the correct interpretation, Mill's test for higher pleasures makes an epistemological and normative distinction between pleasures, not a metaphysical one.
Keywords: J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism, Ethics
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