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Mill versus Bentham – Hedonism Philosophy Essay

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Updated: May 13th, 2020

Introduction

Hedonism is a philosophical concept that explains why people seek pleasure and avoid pain in life. According to Lemos, people aim at maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain in all the activities that they perform (401). Therefore, individuals tend to engage in activities that increase their levels of pleasure and decrease their levels of pain. Some of the philosophers who defend the argument of hedonism include John Mill and Jeremy Bentham. According to Mill, a qualitative approach is the best measurement of pleasure derived by a person from an activity. Mill explains that pleasure comprises of two levels, high and low-quality pleasure.

On the other hand, Bentham states that the quantitative approach is the best in measuring the level of pleasure. He asserts that the duration of an activity and the intensity of pleasure are very important in measuring the levels of pleasure. This essay compares and contrasts the hedonism arguments presented by Bentham and Mill.

Mill’s Argument on Hedonism

John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher who held the argument that qualitative approach is the best method to determine the pleasure that an individual derives from an activity. In my opinion, Mill believes that pleasure can be of high quality or low quality. In his assertion, Mill presents the argument that high-quality pleasure surpasses low-quality pleasure. My perspective on Mill’s argument is on the fact that humbled human beings, which he referred to as pigs, cannot access high-quality pleasure. They thus involve themselves in activities that give them low-quality pleasure (Gibbs 34). However, the elites and intellectuals in society spend most of their time reflecting and thinking about high valued activities that would give them a higher quality of pleasure as compared to humbled individuals.

From my point of view, Mill asserts that one form of pleasure is worthy than the other form of pleasure. The most decisive argument that he gives is that as individuals look for happiness, they should try to minimize the pain that activity brings in the process of deriving happiness. Therefore, Mill argues that people should undertake those activities that bring maximum happiness and minimum pain so that they can achieve maximum satisfaction of their desired needs. I believe Mill held the idea that one of the main reasons behind his argument is that humbled individuals indulge in activities that bring low-quality pleasure to attain satisfaction.

In my assertions, Mill highlights that “it is better to be an unsatisfied human being than being a satisfied pig” (Gibbs 31). On the contrary, sophisticated individuals do not engage in activities that provide meager pleasure, but they engage in activities that result in high levels of utility, satisfaction, and pleasure. From my point of view, Mill stresses that the desires of individuals determine the nature and level of happiness they seek.

In justifying the importance of different aspects of pleasure, Mill argues that those individuals who have experienced high levels of pleasure are usually reluctant to forego pleasurable activities. My opinion on the argument is that Mill thought that since these people have already experienced the benefits that accrue from pleasurable activities, they are not ready to forego the pleasures. The most decisive argument that he puts forward is that pleasurable activities are aspects of happiness that associate with the mind and philosophers regard the activities as unique aspects of individuals (Gibbs 33).

Learning new things and acting morally is among the aspects. Mill notes that the line of clarity between high and low levels of pleasure is minimal, where; the line relies on thoughts and the mindset of an individual. Hence, from my perception, Mill defines a qualitative approach to define pleasure. From the argument presented by Mill, it is evident that high aspects of pleasure are very important, and individuals should expand their thinking capacities so that they can engage in activities that have a high quality of pleasure.

The most crucial assertion that Mill demonstrates is that in hedonism, the quality of satisfaction is better than the quantity as individuals can distinguish amongst different levels of pleasure. In my analysis, Mill accepts that “the greatest pleasures are those of the highest faculty, and the best and pleasantest of lives are those characterized by greatest pleasures (Gibbs 33). Furthermore, he believes that individuals can only select the type of activity that derives a certain level and a certain type of pleasure, as long as they possess some amount of understanding of pleasure.

This presents the existence of clarity among the different levels of pleasure. Therefore, according to Mill’s assertions, people who have a high intellectual understanding in the society perform acts which present high-quality pleasure, whereas, humbled individuals opt for those activities that generate low-quality pleasure.

Mill notes that activities that generate high-quality pleasure such as learning new things and helping the needy in society are more important than activities that generate low-quality pleasure like drinking or eating. He explains that one should assess the extent and intensity of pleasure gained from an activity before choosing a given type of pleasure deriving activity. Additionally, he believes that since individuals always know what is best for them, there is a high likelihood that they make an informed selection of activities and derive the expected satisfaction. However, this is dependent on an understanding of the existing types of pleasure, such as helping others, eating, learning new things, or drinking.

Thus, one of the arguments that Mill presents is that it is better to gain satisfaction from activities that give high-quality pleasure than activities that bring low-quality pleasure. Hedonistic spirit compels people to seek optimum happiness or the highest quality of pleasure so that they can satisfy their needs.

Bentham’s Argument

Jeremy Bentham was a British philosopher who presented his perception of hedonism using a quantitative approach. In my opinion, Bentham believes that for individuals to understand pleasure, the quantitative approach provides an effective way of assessing it. He explains that people can assess pleasure using the intensity and the duration of the pleasure. Bentham argues that there are several forms of hedonism, such as motivational, ethical, and psychological hedonism. Therefore, individuals engage in those forms of hedonism that give maximum happiness and act in a manner that ensures maximum enjoyment from the activity other than pain.

One of the arguments that he highlights is that pleasure is the core objective behind the individual’s motivation to engage in any given activity. In my opinion, Bentham’s belief in happiness represents the absence of pain and the presence of gratification and satisfaction in an activity. Hence, individuals will take part in activities that give them maximum satisfaction, utility, and pleasure.

The argument that Bentham explains is that there are various types of hedonism. He states that hedonism exists in qualitative and ethical aspects. According to Bentham, both hedonistic and egoistic people have a collective motivation of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain from any activity they undertake. In my observation, Bentham notes that pleasure acts as the driving force to motivate people to perform certain activities. Therefore, people are more likely to engage in activities that cause the greatest satisfaction. In my opinion, Bentham argues that irrespective of the different types of hedonism, people still struggle to maximize pleasure and reduce the pain that activity provides. Essentially, my focus is that Bentham presents a qualitative approach, as it is evident from his argument.

Since Bentham proposed the use of quantitative approach in measuring the level of happiness accrued from an activity, he devised a formula that requires individuals to multiply the intensity of pleasure by its duration. Hedonistic calculus is the popular formula devised by Jeremy Bentham. In my view, Bentham states that by using the method, people can count the amounts of pain and pleasure brought about by an activity. According to Bentham, the method not only requires an understanding of the types of pleasure but also an understanding of the importance of what an activity initiates in the life of an individual. Therefore, the quantitative approach proposed by Bentham requires people to examine an activity critically in line with the magnitude of gratification and pain that the activity is likely to cause before making their choice.

In his approach to hedonism and measurement of pleasure, Bentham employs aspects that determine the worth of pleasure. He shows that these factors included duration, certainty, intensity, propinquity, extent, and purity. Bentham asserts that the duration represents the period that an individual or those around the person experience the derived pleasure or pain. Furthermore, the belief that different levels of pain and pleasures are present in any activity refers to certainty. The most explicit argument that he elaborates is that the strength of pleasure or pain induced by the act is the intensity.

Moreover, the time taken for an activity to bring about pain or pleasure represents propinquity. The extent of pleasure stands for the effect that pleasure or pain has on other people around an active individual. Also, if the sensation caused by the activity is opposite, then it implies that there is some level of purity

In my analysis, by including duration, certainty, intensity, propinquity, extent, and purity in hedonistic calculus, Bentham presents the benefits that accrue from aspects of pleasure. He also creates a clear distinction between folk hedonists and hedonism. One of the major differences between hedonism and folk hedonists relates to their focus. While folk hedonists focus on immediate pleasure and avoidance of immediate pain from an activity, hedonism focus on the long-term pleasure or pain that activity presents.

Therefore, Bentham expounds on the important aspects of hedonism. Bentham further elucidates the importance of satisfaction as possessed by different aspects of pleasure when he employs the formula of hedonistic calculus to determine the level of satisfaction derived from an activity. Using the method of hedonistic calculus, individuals who want to achieve high satisfaction must engage in ethical activities. Therefore, according to Bentham, the important aspect of pleasure possessed is very vital in the study of hedonism.

The most decisive claim, which Bentham makes is that hedonistic calculus employs all factors that contribute to the worth or value of pleasure. The method then uses the formula to determine the level of satisfaction derived from an activity. Using the method of hedonistic calculus, individuals who want to achieve high levels of pleasure or hedonism must engage in moral activities. In my opinion, he elucidates that his approach had its basis on the quantity of pleasure or pain derived from an activity. Furthermore, it implies that the focus of the approach he presented is quantitative because it uses a mathematical formula to determine the quantity of pleasure provided by a given activity.

Mill’s Argument Versus Bentham

The Similarities

Mill and Bentham are among the most influential philosophers who defend the concept of hedonism. According to my examination, they present their arguments and perspectives concerning hedonism and its ultimate motive, pleasure, and happiness. The most decisive claim that they make is that the key objective behind activities that individuals undertake is the continuous pursuit for maximum enjoyment. Among the major aspects, which they share, is that pleasure and happiness are important. From my perspective, both philosophers highlight the concept of increasing enjoyment or happiness while minimizing the pain from the activities. Mill states that individuals are likely to choose activities that can provide maximum satisfaction. Similarly, Bentham also notes that individuals engage in those activities that give them maximum happiness. Individuals also act in a manner that enables them to achieve the highest enjoyment of an activity.

Both Mill and Bentham recognize the importance of different aspects of pleasure in their arguments of hedonism. According to Mill, aspects of pleasure are beneficial though at different levels. In my inspection, Mill explains that high-quality pleasure gives high satisfaction and happiness, whereas low-quality pleasure gives relatively reduced satisfaction and happiness. In his assertion, Bentham uses the method of hedonistic calculus to present the important aspects of pleasure. According to me, Bentham, states that when an individual engages in activities that are presentable, and ethical, the individual attains high levels of satisfaction. Bentham uses aspects such as duration, certainty, intensity, propinquity, extent, and purity to underscore the importance of hedonism.

In my judgment, the importance of understanding hedonism is another similarity that both Mill and Bentham possess. Mill believes that people who have a high intellectual understanding in society perform acts that generate high-quality pleasure, whereas humbled individuals opt to perform activities that lead to low-quality pleasure. Bentham asserts that it is important to understand the method of gauging different types of pleasure.

He also presents the need to understand the importance of happiness in the life of individuals. Thus, according to my observation, both Mill and Bentham highlight the importance of understanding pleasure. Both philosophers explain that people must critically examine activity in line with the magnitude of the satisfaction that an activity is likely to cause before making their choice. Therefore, Mill and Bentham want individuals to gain an enhanced understanding of activities so that they can derive optimum satisfaction before engaging in them.

The Differences

In my analysis, the types of approach represent the main difference between Mill and Bentham concerning the concept of hedonism and measurement of pleasure derived from an activity. According to Mill, individuals must use a qualitative approach, which emphasizes on the quality of pleasure or happiness in measuring the level of pleasure that an act brings to a person. In his assertion, Mill states that hedonism is measured using different levels of satisfaction, such as low quality and high-quality levels of pleasure. However, Bentham argues that the best method that people can employ in assessing pleasure is quantitative approach. He notes that individuals can gauge the level of satisfaction that activity gives using the formula of hedonistic calculus. The formula requires people to sum the total pleasure and pain from an activity, and then multiply their intensities by the duration of the derived satisfaction.

Mill states that pleasure exists at different levels, such as high and low levels. According to him, the elites, and elaborate members of the society are the ones who access a high level of happiness and good pleasure, whereas, the simple people enjoy a low level of pleasure. He further states that because the elite has enhanced understanding of hedonism, they enjoy high-quality pleasure, unlike the simple people. However, Bentham argues that aspects of pleasure such as duration, certainty, intensity, propinquity, extent, and purity, determine the worth or value of pleasure. Also, Bentham highlights that activities that are acceptable, morally upright, and presentable give maximum satisfaction and that people have the freedom to engage in these activities. This is different from Mill, who employs the levels of happiness to explain hedonism.

Conclusion

This essay discusses the importance of hedonism and its emphasis on maximizing pleasure while minimizing pain from an activity. It presents the arguments of two philosophers, John Stuart Mill, and Jeremy Bentham. From the arguments of both Mill and Bentham, it is clear that hedonism has its ultimate objective of minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure. Additionally, it is clear that aspects of pleasure are very critical in the study of hedonism, as well as in the livelihoods of human beings. The essay also presents the differences and similarities of arguments that Mill and Bentham make. Therefore, in comparisons and contrasts, the essay reveals that Mill and Bentham share several ideas in their perception of hedonism.

Works Cited

Gibbs, Benjamin. “Higher and Lower Pleasures.” Philosophy 61.235 (1986): 31-59. Print.

Lemos, John. “Sober and Wilson Nozick and the Experience Machine.” Philosophia 29.1 (2002): 401-409. Print.

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