Sunday, September 15, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Mill, Bentham, Maslow, and Epicurus Walk Into a Bar..

Explain John Stuart Mill's theory of higher and lower pleasures: What are the problems inherent in this theory? Overall, does Mill's idea of higher and lower pleasures make sense to you ? Why or why not?

What Mills is saying is that simple pleasure isn't an effective guide to what is moral. He agrees with Bentham that pleasure is important, but he says that there are higher pleasures and lower pleasures, which have high or low value.

Lower pleasures, such as simply having fun or getting drunk with your friends, can be destructive and therefore should be avoided. Higher pleasures such as attending a concert or improving your mind are much more desirable. He likes to differentiate between what he called human pleasures and animalistic pleasures. The real pleasures then, were the pleasures of the mind, not the pleasures of the body.

This makes the calculus of Bentham even harder and more complex. It also makes it more subjective. After all, isn't listening to music or doing things which improve your mind desirable because they give your body pleasure? People don't go to a concert with music that they hate, because that makes them angry and upset. These are bodily reactions. And pleasures of the body may be animalistic, but don't they often lead to a sense of peace and security?

Once again we get the silliness of some philosophers. Make that most philosophers. They make arbitrary and highly subjective differentiations between This and That. Then they say that This must be better than That because they think it's better. They fail to realize that their opinion is not a fundamental factor of reality in the universe.

We might very much disagree on what is or is not a great pleasure and even more so upon what is animalistic and what is human.

Consider Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher. He said that among the greatest goods were living well, eating good meals, having good conversations with your friends within a safe and comfortable home. He also believed that you should do these things in a context of living simply. In other words, yes, enjoy good things but don't go too far. Your home shouldn't be a mansion, you shouldn't be having Roman orgiastic feasts, and so on. Mills might argue that these are animalistic pleasures. After all, what's a good meal but something to please your belly?

Epicurus' point, why do I always mispronounce that name? His point was that you should meet your basic animal needs, and that that should basically be enough for you, as long as you also surround yourself with good friends, good conversation and all the other benefits thereof.

In other words Epicurus was saying, you do need to meet your basic needs. There's nothing wrong with that. But you shouldn't ignore your higher needs in the process, or allow yourself to indulge in excess. Mill, in contrast, curls his nose and says that animal needs are inferior. Of course they aren't. They are needs. All needs should be met. Mill's attitude denigrates the needs of the body, rather than recognizing them as essential. Epicurus holds a much more balanced approach.

This is demonstrated by Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Maslow is a 20th-century philosopher. He designed a pyramid of needs. The most basic needs form the wide bottom of the pyramid and up at the narrow top of the pyramid were what Mill referred to as human needs. Basic needs include food and shelter, while higher needs include a sense of fulfillment. Maslow's point was you can't fill the needs up at the top without filling the needs down at the bottom. A pyramid does not float in thin air, it sits upon its base.

In other words, Mill is being foolish. A person who is starving to death, who is shivering in the cold, who has a terrible disease, and so on; cannot attend to his higher, so-called human needs until his supposedly lower, animalistic needs are met. Epicurus and Maslow both recognize that all our needs are human needs. The needs of the body must be met first. Then we can go ahead and meet our higher needs.

Mill is being foolish. He is being judgmental. He is wrong. All things that humans truly need, are truly human needs. All needs should be met, if possible, and only by meeting " lower" needs, can higher needs be attained. This is true by definition, which should be obvious to anyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment