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Prompt 1: Is Mill right in thinking that the higher pleasures should be accorded greater weight in

the utilitarian calculus? Explain what the distinction between higher and lower pleasures is.
Imagine an individual. He wakes up in the morning after a full nights rest. He gets
pleasure from the fact that he can open his eyes fully and not be tired through the day while at
work. He gets up, showers using hot water, though this will cost him in his water and heating bill
at the end of the month, but it's a simple pleasure he enjoys in the morning. He grabs a cup of
coffee with an extra espresso shot, even though he got a full nights rest, just in case, adding to a
slight dependence on caffeine. He finishes his 400-page book on the crisis in Iran, closes it, and
looks at the world with an educated perspective. An example such as this reflects the hierarchy
of certain pains and pleasures in everyday life. The measurement of pains and pleasures is the
basis of utilitarianism. As defined by John Stuart Mill in his essay Utilitarianism, "actions are
right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse
of happiness. Within utilitarianism, actions are also considered good as they add to the net total
pleasure of everyone, this being termed the utilitarian calculus. Mill defines pleasures to either
be higher or lower pleasures, where higher pleasures are ones that an individual would choose
over others because it is of higher quality. These higher and lower pleasures could be narrowed
down to intellectual, mindful pleasures and sensual, physical pleasures, respectively. However,
this distinction between higher and lower pleasures could be contested if the definition of the
quality of a pleasure is looked at differently. When Mill says, actions are right in proportion as
they tend to promote happiness, does this this mean the immediate satisfaction of the action or
the measurement of the results of the action over time? The quality of a pleasure seems to be of
one that would stand the test of time and is of an intensity that carries itself for longer than a
second of satisfaction. Defining the quality of a pleasure as such maintains the distinction
between higher and lower pleasures, but changes which pleasures should be defined as such.

Dividing pleasures into two categories is difficult because one must consider all of the
different types of pleasures that can be experienced. In order to calculate the net pleasure, one
must first decided if some pleasures carry more weight than others and if so which ones do so.
The method of measurement suggested by Mill is the quality of the pleasure. The higher the
quality, the more weight that that pleasure carries. This method seems quite reasonable, as some
pleasures are more pleasurable than others as determined from experiences. For example, much
pleasure is gained from eating a meal and satisfying hunger. However, if that meal is being eaten
by someone who is fed three meals a day and has never known the sharp pangs of hunger on a
daily basis, that pleasure for that person carries less weight than if the same meal was eaten by
someone who hasnt known a full belly for their whole life. Certain pleasures can be the same,
but when viewed in context, their value to that individual experience is different. Therefore,
adding or subtracting weight to this pleasure reflects how that pleasure contributes to society as a
whole. In this sense, Mills system of dividing pleasures into different categories in order to
make some pleasures worth more than others is valid. However, determining how certain
pleasures should be measured and viewed is a different matter. Several factors must come into
consideration when measuring the quality of a pleasure. These include how quality is defined,
the context of the pleasure, and how this pleasure may relate to others to create a greater net
worth. These factors add complexity to the higher and lower pleasures approach but imply a
deeper look at the pleasures that people experience.
Subjective perspective seems to dominate the attribution of higher or lower amounts of
quality to a pleasure. Experience as well as opinion should determine the quality of the pleasure.
This being Mills definition, is a valid way of ascertaining quality. However, experience and
opinion are very subjective. What one person may have experienced from a pleasure could be

very different from what another person experienced. In addition to this, pleasure could not be
categorized as single acts that stand alone, but rather the context of the pleasure must be explored.
For example, looking at the idea that physical pleasures of the body that may be considered
lower pleasures, the argument could be made, however, that if higher pleasures, which have a
greater weight in the utilitarian calculus, are to be of higher quality or have a long lasting effect,
are there physical pleasures that could be considered as higher pleasures? Physical pleasure
could fall in a range of examples including sexual acts, drug use or physical exertion. Is it
possible that such acts dont induce pleasure of the mind or intellect and then are themselves a
higher pleasure? For example, if a person chooses to go work out, they may experience a net
balance of physical pleasure from the increased endurance, muscle, and strength. However, there
are other ways that this act could be viewed. In the act of working out, this individual might be
helping a team achieve a higher goal, or they may be working towards a long-term goal of losing
weight. They might be inspiring someone else to workout as well or improve their health. All of
these examples could be considered as pleasures of the mind or intellect, in that they are
promoting a higher goal or a long-term goal or bringing pleasure to someone else. In this sense,
one act can have different outcomes and therefore varying resulting pleasures of different quality.
In one context, then, this pleasure could get more weight in utilitarian calculus than in another
There are situations where physical actions are purely for a single moment of pleasure.
For example, drug usage and the abuse of drugs can be considered apart of this category. The
urge to get high, the need for the few moments of bliss, happiness, security, or warmth that
feeds the pleasure from this action are not usually to serve a higher purpose or goal, other than to
satisfy the urge or need to do so. It is only in that moment that that pleasure serves. However, it

could be argued that certain drugs that induce psychedelic effects have certain mind or
intellectual pleasures. For example, the use of peyote in Native American religious rituals is one
that is used to serve a higher purpose. This opens up another discussion on whether these types
of pleasures should be allowed in the calculation of utilitarian calculus, but this is not the focus.
Again it is seen that the context of a pleasure is needed in order to determine the quality of the
pleasure. Sexual acts could be looked at as a purely physical pleasure but also as a higher
pleasure. Sexual acts for the purpose of procreation or as an act of love could be considered acts
to further a long-term goal, whether that be to raise a family or to build a relationship between
two people. It seems that the purpose of an action reads more into whether it should be defined
as a higher or lower pleasure. Other types of physical pleasures such as sensations, tastes, smells,
sights, are somewhat difficult to ascertain whether there is a higher pleasure gained from them.
However, it cannot be fully certain whether they are completely exempt from consideration of
higher pleasures.
Mill says that higher pleasures are those that are chosen over other pleasures because of
their higher quality. Often, people choose certain pleasures over others because they are either
more satisfying in that moment, are the most accessible, or have no other options in the situation.
Therefore, does this still make them of higher quality? For example, if a family of four of lowincome has to choose between a cheap meal at a fast food restaurant and a more expensive but
healthier meal made at home, if the fast food restaurant is chosen, does this make it of higher
quality? The long-term consequences of a pleasure chosen over another should be part of the
equation in terms of applying a certain amount of quality. When applying the long-term
consequences, pleasures or pains that result because of a certain pleasure add or subtract from the
quality of the pleasure. The higher the net pleasures as a result, the higher the quality of the

With this perspective, it may seem impossible then to track the paths of pleasures and to
use this method of higher and lower pleasures as a way to apply greater weight to certain
pleasures in the utilitarian calculus. With each pleasure connected to other pleasures and pains, it
would seem futile to attempt to understand them all. Pleasures and pains build upon each other,
but are separate entities, separate decisions, and separate acts. They influence each other and
may be the cause of another but are in themselves, individual. In calculating the net pleasure and
pains of society, one must also calculate the net pains and pleasures of these relationships and in
doing so could tackle the network of pains and pleasures for the ultimate goal of finding the net
pain and pleasure. By realizing that many pleasures and pains are interconnected, it may in fact
be easier to calculate net pleasure.
Pleasure and pain are the foundation of the utilitarian theory. The utility of an action is
based on whether it increases the net pleasure of society. The higher the net pleasure, the better
the action. Defining what pleasures and pains may be can be complex. By adding a weight to
pleasure, it is acknowledged that certain actions and certain pleasures may have greater intensity
or greater quality and therefore should increase the amount of pleasure more in the utilitarian
calculus than something of lesser intensity or lesser quality. Defining what the quality of a
pleasure may be is also complex. Pleasures are experienced individually and therefore the quality
as well, which is a subjective experience. Understanding how pleasures relate and the context
that they are found in helps with determining what the quality may be. Context is extremely
important in terms of defining quality. Any pleasure could be named the same but if the context
of that pleasure is also analyzed, the intensity of that pleasure may change from situation to
situation. Overall, the system by Mill of according different weights to different pleasures in

order to perform the utilitarian calculus is valid. However, looking at the context and quality of
the pleasure results in a more accurate dividing up higher and lower pleasures.

Rachel Johnson
SUNed ID: rachelj