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March 5, 2017 / Congau

Higher Pleasure

Pleasure is a good, and maybe the only good, for it is what makes us happy and happiness is all we want.

But pleasure is not just pleasure. There are different kinds of pleasure. Many pleasures lead to pain, then, in total it is not pleasure anymore.

There are also different levels of pleasure. The lowest ones are those we have in common with the animals. Physical pleasure, although on occasions quite intense, can only reach a certain limit of satisfaction, but mental pleasures can attain a higher level and therefore be able to produce more actual satisfaction. It is possible to make the argument that a mild mental contentment may in fact be more pleasurable than the most intense physical enjoyment.

In that case the real quality of a pleasure can be assessed based on its intensity and duration and its level.

There is no way to calculate pleasure for it’s impossible to assign objective number values to make the comparison. But we still readily grade the quality all kinds of objects and products, from movies to hotel service, presumably based on the amount of satisfaction it has given us. We know the numbers are arbitrary, but we still do it.

“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied,” says John Stuart Mill, but how can we compare them? Objectively and scientifically we cannot, but we are still quite sure that we prefer to be human beings.

Let’s therefore play with numbers and ask a miserable human being, on a scale from 1 to 10 about the quality of his life. He is very dissatisfied and gives a 1. Then we ask the satisfied pig and it cheerfully gives a 10. So far it looks like the pig has won by a wide margin. But the pig and the human being have graded two different objects, pig life and human life, and there has not yet been made a comparison between the two. We may want to give a paper clip a high quality score and a car a low score without in any way suggesting that the paper clip is worth more than the car. We surely value human life as such much higher than a pig life as such. Let’s say we would give human life the value of 100 points and pig life 1 point. Then the dissatisfied human being receives a total score of 100 x 1 = 100 while the pig gets 1 x 10 = 10. The human being has a higher amount of total pleasure.

If we let higher pleasures count for more, then it makes sense to say the more pleasure the better.

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