Qualitative Hedonism and Happiness

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In determining what is the foundation of happiness, hedonism claims that it is pleasure with the absence of pain that is the only intrinsic good. An intrinsic good can be described as something that is good in and of itself. It is good not because it leads to something else, it is good for its own sake; as compared to an instrumental good, which is a means to an end. Pleasure describes the broad class of mental states that humans experience as positive, enjoyable, or worth seeking. Qualitative hedonists believe that there can be different levels of pleasure, meaning that some will be better than others. John Stuart Mill would be considered as a qualitative hedonist, which makes up part of his theory of Utilitarianism. In order to determine what is happiness, Mill establishes his Greatest Happiness Principle, which introduces the adoption of Hedonism. Mill’s argument for qualitative distinction of pleasures is inconsistent and problematic for hedonism, which brings about more problems than it solves for Utilitarianism.
Mill begins his essay on Utilitarianism by explaining his Greatest Happiness Principle, stating actions are right in that they promote happiness and actions are wrong if they take happiness away (Mill, “What Utilitarianism Is,” para 2). Following from this idea, happiness is pleasure, and unhappiness is pain and the privation of pleasure (Mill, “What Utilitarianism Is,” para 2). In defending the equivalence between happiness and pleasure from his critics, Mill makes the claim that there is “the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, etc., of the former” (Mill, “What Utilitarianism Is,” para 4). He claims that pleasures can differ both in quality and qua...

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...hard to maintain his hedonist view, that pleasure is the only happiness. His insertion of quality into the evaluation of value seems to be introducing a criterion of evaluation other than pleasure. That is, higher pleasures are more desirable and valuable because of something besides pleasure, not solely because of pleasure. As a result, it appears that Mill is not revising hedonism, but is rather abandoning it.
Mill’s qualitative hedonism of pleasures faces problems because of its lack of clarity in its description of pleasures, mainly because it seems that his idea of pleasure seems to encompass such a wide range of mental states. He also loses credibility with his controversial competent judges, and especially the inconsistency with a more textbook view of hedonism.

Works Cited

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. “What Utilitarianism Is”: Chapter 2
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