John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism is supposed to be an improvement upon his mentor, Bentham’s, initial version. I guess that, in some sense, it might be. But Mill cheats…
I was going over Mill’s version again yesterday and, along with all of the normal critiques of UT (some of which are devastating), I noticed something that I had not noticed before. Namely, I believe that one could genuinely argue that Mill is smuggling a Natural Law Ethic into his version of UT.
We all know that Mill disagreed with his mentor in that Mill claims that there is a qualitative aspect to pleasures i.e. “better to be a satisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig…” I guess that we could grant that.
But you can’t grant it on UT. UT can’t get you that assertion. And this is where I would argue that Mill smuggles in Natural Law Theory, unwittingly, to try and serve his purpose.
It seems that, if Mill is claiming that it is “better” to pursue certain pleasures over others (namely, intellectual pursuits over and above trivial pleasures), then he must make the claim based upon the *nature* of the thing in question – and that the thing in question is obligated to act in accord with his nature. For instance, if it is better for the human to pursue higher order pleasures, like intellectual endeavors, then it is because this is what contributes to the actual flourishing of humans because it actualizes the full purpose and function of what it means to be *a* human – as opposed to the pig (or whatever else).
In other words, “Humans should pursue higher order pleasures ‘intellectual pursuits” because that is what humans are ‘made to do,’ as opposed to, say, wallowing in mud, for pleasure.”
But, obviously, UT cannot give you that assertion. One must appeal to *another* ethical theory in order to get it – in this case, Natural Law, and the belief that there are “end goals/purposes” to which Humans are obliged to “fulfill” in order to achieve their flourishing.
Once again, I just think Aristotle was onto something that is, in some sense, self-evident.