Bentham and Mill on the "Quality" of Pleasures

Revue d'Etudes Benthamiennes 9 (2011):web (2011)
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John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham are often said to have held opposed views concerning the way “the value” of different pleasures should be estimated. Mill is accused of being an inconsistent utilitarian because he thought that, when comparing the value of two pleasures, we should not forget to take their “quality” into account. Bentham, on the other hand, is said to have believed that we should take “only quantity” into consideration. By verifying what they actually wrote, and reflecting on what they meant by words like “value”, “quantity”, and “quality”, we find that these allegations are largely imaginary and that the difference between Mill and Bentham on this question has (at least) been exaggerated. Bentham, for example, did not write that "quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry", as is so often reported. In his Principles of Morals and Legislation he clearly tells us why he rejects the inaccurate word “quantity”, when speaking of “the value of (a lot of) pain or pleasure”, and he explicitly introduces “quality” – both the word and the concept – in his analysis of rewards and punishments. These clarifications allow us to sort-out a few other confusions concerning utilitarianism. We explain, for example, why authors like Amartya Sen and Michael Sandel are mistaken in believing that rights and freedoms have “no intrinsic value” (only instrumental value) in utilitarian ethics.
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