I thought I would try and break my rather extended absence from posting by offering up a few posts that are shorter than normal. This might get me to post my thoughts more often! As always, what I post is continually up for revision and I look forward to getting some input from readers.
Attempting to undermine Strawson’s naturalist turn, Paul Russell saddles him with the “naturalist dilemma” – that if Strawson adopts type-naturalism he has failed to adequately address pessimist concerns, but if he employs token-naturalism he endorses an unreasonable form of naturalism (Russell, 151). I aim to show that Russell is not very charitable in his reading of possible responses on Strawson’s part, given that the token-naturalism Russell allows does little to conform to the shift in the language of excuse and exemption Strawson makes. First I’ll recapitulate the distinction Russell makes between type- and token- versions of both pessimism and naturalism (as far as it goes), with a brief discussion of why he sees this as a dilemma for Strawson’s position. From there I will outline why I think Russell fails to understand how Strawson’s notions of excusing and exemption allow him to provide a more robust response than the one Russell relegates him to. This is because the bifurcation of Strawson’s response to Pessimists into “rationalistic” and “naturalistic” components that are at odds with one another is simply a misunderstanding of Strawson’s project.
In giving an account of utilitarianism, J.S. Mill seeks to identity what type of proof is sufficient to accept the utilitarian principle that happiness is our only desirable end. The proof Mill offers is particular to first principles and suffers from several weaknesses. I shall first outline Mill’s proof, in two parts, of the utilitarian principle. From there I shall introduce G.E. Moore’s criticisms that Mill commits the naturalistic fallacy and conflates means with ends . Following this I will explicate Henry Sidgwick’s attack of the notion that individual pursuits of happiness amount to any exhortation to pursue the general happiness, along with a general argument against psychological hedonism. Though partial defenses exist against each criticism, overall they lack sufficient force to negate Sidgwick and Moore’s concerns.
Proof for First Principles
Describing the first principle upon which utilitarianism stands, Mill writes that “happiness is desirable, and the only thing desirable, as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to that end.”1 According to him such first principles, those that undergird our knowledge, require a particular type of proof and utilitarianism’s is no different. Mill’s proof of utilitarianism, then, is twofold: first, that we can know what is in itself desirable, and second that all that we desire is happiness, with all other seeming ends being but means to achieving the general happiness. It is a quick move, and admits more of analysis than exposition. The first aspect of Mill’s proof centers on an appeal to analogy of apprehending phenomena with our senses.
Beleaguered by criticisms that Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism debases human nature by setting mere pleasure as man’s greatest good, J.S. Mill proposes a qualitative distinction between higher and lower pleasures. However, Mill’s proposed change opens utilitarianism up to criticisms not present in Bentham’s formulation, and on these grounds ought to be rejected in favor of the original formulation (whatever its worth). I’ll begin by introducing the impetus for Mill’s proposed changes to utilitarianism and his panel-based test for higher versus lower pleasures. From there I’ll discuss key objections from Henry Sidgwick and G.E. Moore, who each argue that the nature of pleasure does not allow for nonquantitative distinctions unless they refer to some other property. Following these concerns, I’d like to introduce two additional problems for Mill’s proposal, viz. that his test for competing pleasures is plagued by ‘jury-stacking’ and that his proposed lexical scale for pleasure does not apply equally to pain.
J.S. Mill: Quality over Quantity
In setting pleasure1 as man’s highest aspiration, Bentham’s formulation of utilitarianism has been accused of debasing humans to the level of beasts. Bentham and Mill roundly reject this notion, arguing instead that the pleasures that sate beasts are not capable of sating man due to his higher faculties. Furthermore, such a view is not at all inconsistent with utilitarianism.2 Such anthropocentric pleasures, by Mill’s account, have previously been ascribed greater value due to the ease and safety with which we can promote and maintain them as opposed to physical pleasures.3
Mill argues further that an equally consistent, and more preferable, claim can be made by utilitarians, viz. “some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that, while in estimating all other things quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasure should be supposed to depend on quantity alone.”4 Mill states that the only possible method to test which desires are higher and which lower is a panel-based evaluation by competent judges.
So experience itself, no less clearly than reason, teaches that men believe themselves free because they are conscious of their own actions, and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined.
-Baruch Spinoza, The Ethics
Along with (a) a fundamental moral conviction that I ought to sacrifice my own happiness, if by so doing I can increase the happiness of others to a greater extent than I diminish my own, I find also (b) a conviction – which it would be paradoxical to call ‘moral,’ but which is none the less fundamental – that it would be irrational to sacrifice any portion of my own happiness unless the sacrifice is to be somehow at some time compensated by an equivalent addition to my own happiness. I find these fundamental convictions in my own thought with as much clearness and certainty as the process of introspective reflection can give: I find also a preponderant assent to them – at least implicit – in the common sense of mankind: and I find, on the whole, confirmation of my view in the history of ethical thought in England.
-Henry Sidgwick, “Some Fundamental Ethical Controversies” in Mind, 1889.