Pleasures and Morality

“Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties. Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast’s pleasures; no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base, even though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs. They would not resign what they possess more than he for the most complete satisfaction of all the desires which they have in common with him. If they ever fancy they would, it is only in cases of unhappiness so extreme, that to escape from it they would exchange their lot for almost any other, however undesirable in their own eyes. A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering, and certainly accessible to it at more points, than one of an inferior type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of existence. We may give what explanation we please of this unwillingness; we may attribute it to pride, a name which is given indiscriminately to some of the most and to some of the least estimable feelings of which mankind are capable: we may refer it to the love of liberty and personal independence, an appeal to which was with the Stoics one of the most effective means for the inculcation of it; to the love of power, or to the love of excitement, both of which do really enter into and contribute to it: but its most appropriate appellation is a sense of dignity, which all human beings possess in one form or other, and in some, though by no means in exact, proportion to their higher faculties, and which is so essential a part of the happiness of those in whom it is strong, that nothing which conflicts with it could be, otherwise than momentarily, an object of desire to them.”

J.S. Mill, The Greatest Happiness Principle

The above paragraph states that individuals are too proud in their own form to switch to another form or status, regardless of whether or not it may bring you more pleasure or less pain. Pleasure and pain are subjective to the individual and the status. A person of high status will need more things or a better quality of things to bring him pleasure than a man of a lower status- it is proportionate. People are too absorbed in what it means to have a certain status and would rather be miserable in their situation than happy in a lower status.

I agree with Mill’s argument in that people would rather be miserable in their situation than toy with the idea of being happier in a situation that holds a lower status. Pride is one of the main issues at hand here, and people are reluctant to give up their position in society. The demand for and spectrum of pleasure and happiness is greater based on what you have. For example, a homeless man will be happy with a piece of bread, while a rich man will only use bread as a side to his actual meal, in which case, the meal may not even make him happy, because it would be the norm and he would be used to it. It would probably take much more to make the rich man happy, materialistic goods, for example.  It must be a very humbling experience to give up status for a life of greater pleasure in a different proportion. For example, a couple I knew lived in a large house with four children. The house was soon to be foreclosed on as the economy tanked, and the four children moved out of the house one by one for one reason or another. The couple soon came to the conclusion that it would be easier if they moved to a smaller living space even though it would mean leaving the gated community and giving up their social status. Looking back, the couple realizes that this is the best decision to have made at the time, for now they appreciate each other more and what they have more- rather than just appreciating the status which wasn’t entirely all that fulfilling.

The quality of pleasure is discussed in terms of, what I think, is a spectrum of pleasure. As in the given example, does reading a book by a well-known poet bring more pleasure than reading a book with nursery rhymes? Is it reasonable to say that things which society holds at a higher value are known to give more pleasure. Mill states that it is moral to do what makes society feel pleasure as a whole, or rather the larger proportion of society. Utilitarianism is doing what makes the majority of individuals feel pleasure. It would discriminate against the minority- especially if what brings the majority pleasure is truly against the minority’s beliefs and morals.

I don’t agree with Mill that higher pleasures have greater value that lower pleasures- but I do believe that society does agree with Mill. I think pleasure is judged by everyone on an individual basis, and pleasure is pleasure based on my own scale. I am a firm believer in, ‘it’s the little things that count’. For example, I find pleasure in getting my coffee every morning and driving to school or work listening to my country music station. It’s a habit I have and it makes me happy. This is one of the ‘little things’ in life that for one reason or another, I enjoy. Some people may not find pleasure in any part of their morning, but that is because they judge pleasure differently, and that’s okay- because in my opinion, pleasure is subjective and is not the position of society to judge.

I do think that utilitarianism does demand too much from people because it makes everyone focus on the pleasure of the majority- pleasure should be an individual thing. While we should be concerned with not doing harm to others, we should not concern ourselves simply with making other people happy or feeling pleasure.

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I chose the above picture because society isn’t usually in tune with what many people value based on their religion. With that being said, it is very important to recognize that many individuals do hold their religion and belief system very close to their heart and it greatly influences their life style. Many people find pleasure in fulfilling obligations set forth by their religions.

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One thought on “Pleasures and Morality

  1. I agree that there we find pleasure in little things. But how about if you had a choice to help your neighbor to go to the hospital in the morning, or take your routine drive to school with the music and coffee? Would you give it up for helping? I think you would. That’s what he means, I think.

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