Essay on Qualitative Altruistic Hedonism

J.S. Mill is a Hedonist. He says, ‘The creed which accepts as the foundation of moral utility or the greatest happiness principle, I holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By ‘happiness’ is intended pleasure and the absence of pain, by ‘unhappiness’ is intended pleasure and the absence of pain, by ‘unhappiness’, pain and the privation of pleasure.

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Pleasure and freedom from pain are the only things desirable as ends and all desirable things are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain. Mill uses pleasure and happiness as synonymous. He does not distinguish them from each other. He regards virtue, health, love of honour and the like as means to happiness. He does not regard them as intrinsic values.


Mill gives in hedonistic criterion of right and wrong. An action is right if it yields pleasure or excess of pleasure over pain. An action is wrong if it gives pain or excess of pain over pleasure. This is hedonism pure and simple. Rightness consists in conduciveness to pleasure. Wrongness consists in conduciveness to pain. Bentham also gives a purely hedonistic criterious or right and wrong.

Psychological Hedonism:

Mill bases his Hedonism on psychological Hedonism. He offers the following proof of psychological Hedonism. Desiring a thing and finding it pleasant are, in strictness of language two modes of naming the same psychological fact; to think of an object as desirable and to think of it a pleasant are one and something; and to desire anything, except in proportion as the idea of it is pleasant, is physical and metaphysical impossibility. In plain language, it means that we always desire what is pleasant and that therefore we desire pleasure.

J.S. Mill is an advocate of Ethical Hedonism. He says, the utilitarian doctrine is that happiness is desirable and the only thing desirable as an end; all other things being only desirable as means to the end. His Ethical Hedonism is based upon psychological Hedonism. He offers the following proof Ethical Hedonism. We always desire pleasure, therefore pleasure is desirable. He says, ‘The only proof capable of being given that an object is visible is that people actually see it. The only proof that anything is desirable is that people do actually desire it. All persons desire pleasure; so pleasure is desirable.


Kinds of Pleasure:

J.S. Mill recognizes the kinds of pleasure or the qualitative difference of pleasures. Mill, for the first time, introduces the distinction of quality. Epicurus emphasized the distinction between the pleasures of our body and those of the mind and gave superiority to the latter on account of their greater durability and their comparative freedom from painful consequences. But he did not recognize the qualitative superiority of the mental pleasures.

To Bentham also all pleasures are in kind the same. Though Bentham recognizes purity of pleasure he does not mean by it qualitative superiority but freedom from pain. J.S. Mill for the first time holds that the distinction of quality is independent of quality and that the qualitative distinction is as real as the quantitative. He says, It is quite compatible with the principle (futility to recognize the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone.

Hence, J.S. Mills doctrine is called Refined Utilitarianism as contrasted with Bentham’s is Gross Utilitarianism as contrasted with Bentham’s Gross Utilitarianism. Sometimes Mill’s doctrine is called qualitative utilitarianism as distinguished from Bentham is quantitative utilitarianism.

Altruistic hedonism:

J.S. Mill’s Hedonism is altruistic. Bentham also advocated Altruistic Hedonism, but did not offer any argument for his altruism. J.S Mill advocates refined utilitarianism and offers a few arguments. He says, the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent’s happiness but that of all concerned.

As between his own happiness and that of others Utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as, one would be done by and to love one’s neighbour as yourself constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.

Proof of altruistic hedonism:

J.S. Mill offers the following logical argument for altruism, lie says, ‘No reason can be given why the general happiness is desirable except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his own happiness. Each person’s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons. As happiness is a good to A. B’s happiness is good to B. C’s happiness is a good to C’s aggregate of all persons. Therefore general happiness is a good to all.


J.S. Mill offers a psychological explanation of the transition from egoism to altruism. Altruism grows out of egoism – Sympathy or fellow-feeling, out of self- love in the life time of an individual according to the laws of association and transference of interest from the end to the means.

At first we were egoists and relieved the miseries of others in order to relieve our own pain. Then by repetition our own interest was transferred from the end to the means; we forgot our own pleasure and came to take delight in relieving the miseries of others and acquired sympathy. Thus sympathy is acquired by the individual in his own life time.

Moral Sanctions:

J.S. Mill accounts for-moral obligation to pursue general happiness by the external sanctions and the internal sanction of conscience. Mill assumes that there are two kinds of sanctions for altruistic conduct, external and internal. Bentham recognizes four external sanctions: Viz., Physical, social, religious and political.

But an appeal to these external sanctions means ultimately an appeal to the self-interest of the individual. Therefore Mill adds to these external sanctions the internal sanction of conscience. It is sympathy, fellow-feeling, social feeling or mankind, a feeling for the happiness of mankind, a desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures. J.S. Mill says, ‘The internal sanction of duty is a feeling in our own mind, a pain, more or less intense, attendant on violation of duty. This feeling when disinterested and connecting itself with the pure idea of duty is the essence of conscience.

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