Examining My World View Using John Stuart Mill

George Frederic Watts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been having lots of conversations, video viewings and book readings about philosophy lately, and one of the figures that have captured my fascination has been John Stuart Mill.

John Stuart Mill captured my fascination because the girl I’ve been seeing has kept telling me that my thinking is very Utilitarian, and of the two figures that epitomize Classical Utilitarianism, I prefer John Stuart Mill over Jeremy Bentham.

And the reason why I prefer John Stuart Mill over Jeremy Bentham is because even though on principle I strongly believe in maximizing pleasure for the maximum amount of people, I do believe that there is a distinction of Higher and Lower pleasure since I find sacrificing the minority’s aggregate pleasure for sake of the majority’s aggregate pleasure just to pursue pleasure itself is abhorrent.

Although for me my definition of Higher and Lower pleasure is different to John Stuart Mill, which is that I believe pleasure is split into pleasure that is necessary for survival of the majority (killing the least amount of people in the Trolley problem) and pleasure that isn’t necessary for survival (feeding Christians to lions purely for entertainment).

This idea does resonate with John Stuart Mill’s idea that “we should maximize utility, not case by case, but in the long run.” [1]. To focus on maximizing pleasures necessary for survival of the majority just makes sense since it applies long term orientation in our decision making and enables us as individuals or humanity overall to be able to live to reap out benefits.

Some may argue that as long as we maximize pleasure that one can possibly experience in a lifetime, it doesn’t matter if we’re going to survive as individuals or humanity overall due to a short term orientation. The flaw however lies in the assumption that the human’s dopamine system has no cap for pleasure.

The human’s dopamine system must have a cap for pleasure since most pleasures in life see marginal utility take place (eg. If you’re hungry, the 1st doughnut would give you immense pleasure, but the 20th doughnut would probably make you want to puke).

Hedonism is simply not the path to sustainable pleasure, and it’s an extremely inefficient way to maximize pleasure since most pleasure that could theoretically be gained over a long period of time is wasted due to the excess amount of pleasure our dopamine system isn’t designed to handle.

Which is why I strongly believe that there’s a huge distinction between pleasures.

And I also strongly agree with John Stuart Miller’s idea that “respecting individual liberty will lead to the greatest human happiness” [2], but only to the extent that that would be the most ideal long term game plan, since if humanity’s survival is at peril, it would be prudent for you / leaders to focus on maximizing your / humanity’s chances of survival by sacrificing certain individual liberties in the short term.

The keyword being “short term”.

But if there comes a point where any decision you make is definitely or very likely to still lead you / humanity to eventual doom (eg. Telltale Game’s Game of Thrones Episode 1) or where the situation will never improve to the point that you / humanity can emerge from pure survival mode, then the focus should be on maximizing pleasures related to respecting individual liberty.

There simply is no point in being an asshole and killing off people’s individual liberty permanently just to continuously delay the inevitable or just to purely survive. To me, the point of life is to enjoy life while you’re alive, so what would be the point of living if you no longer are able to enjoy individual liberty anymore? To be able to enjoy your individual liberty is what defines us as humans.

If this distinction is not made, then it can easily give excuses for governments or organizations to constantly oppress its people in the name of survival, which unfortunately is what’s happening to many places in the world today.

[Reference]

[1] Justice (Michael Sandel) Page 47

[2] Justice (Michael Sandel) Page 48

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