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J. S. Mill - a contradicting philosopher

  1. May 15, 2009 #1
    J. S. Mill said:

    It is better to be a human being unhappy than a pig happy; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.

    I think the real fool here is Mill. If you're happy, it doesn't matter iif you're Sokrates, Bush or a pig!
    Last edited: May 15, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2009 #2
    Until the farmer comes with his axe. Then it matters quite a bit.
  4. May 15, 2009 #3
    Well, the whole concept of "better" is subjective anyway, so who's to say? To address the comparison, one would have to know how closely each case was able to adhere to its ideal of happiness, which in each case could be different. Mill is correct insofar as one would need to know both sides in order to appropriately address the issue, but incorrect in assuming that the observer's subjective view of "better" is somehow definitive.

  5. May 15, 2009 #4
    Was that Mill's argument? I'll still say "better to be a dead pig than an unhappy human".
  6. May 15, 2009 #5
    As a utilitarian, Mill should say that what is better is what gives more happiness and less suffering.
  7. May 15, 2009 #6
    That's true that it ought to be his viewpoint, but here's the catch-- By the same token that the pig only knows the pig's perspecitve, the human only knows the human's perspective. And Mill only knows Mill's perspective. So by his sense of judgment (which can be demonstrated as subjective), his choice is biased. He is correct by saying that any truly objective preference would have to know both sides, but even knowing each side, the merits upon which to judge are still subjective.

  8. May 15, 2009 #7
    Seems like Mill is glued tighter to his own perspective than most of us. I find it a shame for humanity that this guy is regarded one of the all time greatest philosophers. I hope he did something better than that quote.
  9. May 15, 2009 #8
    I wouldn't dismiss him, he had a great mind and influence.
    For instance:
  10. May 15, 2009 #9
    Why are you guys arguing about happiness?

    He used the word "satisfied". That could apply to any number of things besides happiness.

    There is a subtle difference in meaning from "happy", an emotional state, to "satisfied", a condition where all of your perceived needs have been fulfilled.

    Maybe you should reconsider what this quote actually means before you start feeling ashamed for humanity.
  11. May 19, 2009 #10
    Seems like Mill's perspective is that it is better to consider the validity of another perspective even if it causes personal unhappiness or dissatisfaction rather than to be glued tightly to one's own perspective and be ignorant of any others. There may also be a connotation that any who disagree with him are fools or pigs.

    My question is, what if a dissatisfied Socrates or unhappy human beings disagreed with him? Basically, what if someone who fully considers a question decides that their satisfaction and happiness are more important than being a reasoning being? I could see how this belief would lead to foolish and selfish decisions; trading awareness for self-satisfaction.

  12. May 19, 2009 #11
    Mill did not really acknowledge that ignorance is bliss, and I do not agree with him on this one. Unless one feels a more fufilling sense of happiness, there is no reason to assert that one is inherently better than the other.
  13. May 30, 2009 #12
    As he implies elsewhere in that essay, he considers different kinds of pleasure to be heirarchical, i.e. a being capable of experiencing the 'higher' pleasures (such as the satisfaction drawn from intellectual pursuits) is also capable of experiencing the 'lower' ones (food, sex, etc) and is therefore qualified to judge which of them is better, whereas a pig who only has experience of the lower ones is not.

    Utilitarianism is shaky because it's an ethical system. You can't apply the standards of science to matters of judgement. Otherwise Mill was absoloutely brilliant.
  14. May 30, 2009 #13
    Of course, if you asked Mill why some pleasures are "better" or "higher" than others, I wonder what he would say?

    - Some pleasures produce more pleasure in the long run (so it reduces to a quantitative idea of pleasure, akin to Bentham)
    - Some pleasures are inherently better, or more moral, than others (and now he's a closet deontologist)

    What do you guys think?

    For me, Utilitarianism is a fundamentally flawed doctrine in that it is based on assumptions that sound nice and plausible, but which don't really match experience.

    How do you guys feel about human happiness being the goal of ethics?
  15. May 30, 2009 #14
    He gets round that by saying that people who have experienced both (and are hence qualified to compare) prefer the higher pleasures. As for myself, I enjoy both and tend to gravitate towards whichever one I haven't been indulging in recently. I do take more pride in the 'higher' ones though.

    Utilitarianism is flawed because it's a reductionist stance. I believe different kinds of pleasure are incommensurable.
  16. May 30, 2009 #15

    Well said, happiness(satisfaction) is entirely subjective. A female spider would feel very satisfied to eat the male after sex to satisfy some internal urge or instinct.

    From the point of view of some higher(hypothetical) being, our lives could look pretty miserable and unbearable. Let's just say that the general rule of thumb as to what kind of life is better, is:

    Ignorance is a bliss

    This rule holds for humans too, even for the most intelligent ones. As Einstein once said:

    "In the eyes of God we all look equally stupid"
    Last edited: May 30, 2009
  17. May 30, 2009 #16
    Can't happiness be measured by neurobiologists these days?
  18. May 30, 2009 #17
    "Can't happiness be measured by neurobiologists these days?"

    Yes, I guess so, to some extent. I assume it's fundamentally possible.

    The real question is *why* you should act for the greatest good for the greatest number. The Utilitarian tries to base ethics in how things are, but then try to derive from that what should be done. It's a little self-serving to say that anything that's not Utilitarian is arbitrary, and then state that human happiness is the goal of ethics.

    ... Utilitarians. ;p
  19. May 30, 2009 #18
    "He gets round that by saying that people who have experienced both (and are hence qualified to compare) prefer the higher pleasures."
    Basing any theory on what certain people do or do not feel is flawed to begin with. That's no defense, that's just insisting that the position is plausible and overlooking the fact that there are valid objections.

    "As for myself, I enjoy both and tend to gravitate towards whichever one I haven't been indulging in recently. I do take more pride in the 'higher' ones though."
    Would you say that indulging your pride is the same as making you happy?

    I personally feel like happiness is only one of the things a person seeks in life, and by no means the most important. It's cute that the Utilitarians then say that you want other things because they make you happy, but come on, that's just silly.
  20. May 30, 2009 #19
    I'm just trying to report what I remember of the mans own views. You should actually read the essay if you want a faithful representation. It's from 'utilitarianism' by the way.

    Mill would have done. Meaning I get happiness squared from the higher pleasures.

    Nietschze had something to say about this.

    "Humanity does not seek happiness, only the English do"

    For Nietschze, of course, the will to power was the most fundemental human drive. For Schopenhauer it was the will to live.
  21. May 30, 2009 #20
    Yeah ethics is always going to be about the 'why' and not the 'how'. Utilitarianism was a fine attempt at bringing some rationality to the subject, but was ultimately doomed. Personally I think Mill only supported it because he was indoctrinated into it from a very early age. He actually made a lot of improvements over Benthams conception of the idea.
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