J. S. Mill’s hedonism: activism, experientialism and eudaimonism

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26 (3):452-474 (2018)
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Abstract

Many contemporary scholars defend the position that J. S. Mill was a ‘eudaimonist’, in a sense implying that he was not an ‘experiential’ hedonist. One ‘activist’ argument for this interpretation rests on the claim that Mill’s core axiological uses of ‘pleasure’ in Utilitarianism should be understood to refer to worthy or pleasurable activities rather than mental states. This paper offers a three-stage rebuttal of the activist interpretation. Firstly, in the Analysis, the Examination and the Logic, Mill explicitly identifies pleasures and pains as mental states. Secondly, if we read Mill’s core axiological uses of ‘pleasure’ in Utilitarianism along activist lines, the text’s overall coherence and intelligibility becomes even more questionable than on the traditional experientialist reading. Finally, in his discussions of Plato, Mill seems to distance himself from the axiological view that non-hedonic features of mind or character have intrinsic value in their own right. In consequence, in the small number of cases in Utilitarianism in which Mill clearly speaks of ‘pleasures’ as activities, this is best construed as a derivative usage.

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Tim Beaumont
Shenzhen University

References found in this work

An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.Jeremy Bentham - 1780 - New York: Dover Publications. Edited by J. H. Burns & H. L. A. Hart.
Cratylus. Plato - 1997 - In J. M. Cooper (ed.), Plato Complete Works. Indianapolis: Hackett. pp. 101--156.
Mill’s Progressive Principles.David O. Brink - 2013 - Oxford: Oxford University Press UK.

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