Sanders claims that that there are two serious objections to the philosophy of utilitarianism. The first is that application of utilitarian approach fails the respect of rights of a certain individual. Utilitarian logic takes into account only the interests of the majority, ignoring the struggles of the person sacrificed. The suffering, humiliation and death of a random innocent human is a weak excuse to the emotional benefit and well-being of the society.
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The example is torturing deliberately guiltless relative as a blackmail to get a vitally important information from the criminal. The second objection is that it is almost impossible to find the global currency that can measure and thus unify the pleasure and benefit, acceptable all over the world. The utilitarianism “weights preferences without judging them” (Sandel 41). However, it is impossible to transfer moral benefits into a single currency and not to lose something important on the way.
It is a big dilemma considering what is more valuable: grieve and suffering of the family upon smoker’s early death or the monetary benefits the government gains on the amount of the smoked cigarettes, lifetime healthcare, and the cost saved on smoker’s not-gained pension and non-staying in the house for elderly people.
Which criticism of utilitarianism does John Stuart Mill’s notion of “higher pleasures” address? How successful is Mill’s notion in improving Bentham’s utilitarianism?
A British philosopher John Stewart Mill, a proponent of the theory of utilitarianism, proposed a gradation of pleasures, stating that some of them are better than others. Unlike Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, who stated all kinds of pleasure as equivalent, Mill proposed to divide pleasures qualitatively. The moral and intellectual pleasures were considered to be “highest pleasures”, and the experiences, that caused satisfaction of flesh were considered to be “lower pleasures”.
Comparing contentment and happiness, Mill argued that happiness is better, and thus, should value higher, as more preferable. Applying this approach, he argued that being an unsatisfied human, is preferable than being a satisfied animal, and being an unsatisfied wise man is better than being a satisfied fool. Mill provided the definition between higher and lower pleasures, as people who experienced both of them prefer the former one.
In contrast, the Bentham’s point is that experiencing all kinds of pleasure is good, disregarding what aspect of individual’s personality they affect. Mill also separates the judgment and identification of pleasures, depending on the social and intellectual class of people, preferring the certain kind of pleasure. According to him, people who have never experienced higher pleasures tend to choose lower, “simple” pleasures.
For instance, an unskilled worker or peasant, who have never visited an opera house, doubts the very idea of pleasure, an opera can bring. Mill’s idea is also that educated and noble individuals bring more use and benefit to the society through fulfilling their pleasures as these pleasures tend to be “higher”, in spite people who tend to “lower”, individual pleasures, thus providing the society with minor benefits through their activity.
Mills assumption on “higher” and “lower” pleasures deepens and improves Bentham’s theory as it provides selectivity to the socially approved pleasures. Considering this statement makes possible choosing what kinds of pleasures might be worth some individual sacrifices.
From this point of view, the example of throwing Christians to lions, provided in Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? is highly immoral as death and suffering of a few innocent does not bring any vital or intellectual pleasures to the majority of people. The pleasures of the majority, in that case, are considered as lower.
Sandel, Michael. Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? New York, NY: Macmillan, 2009. Print.