“Men lose their high aspirations as they lose their intellectual tastes, because they have no time or opportunity for indulging them; and they addict themselves to inferior pleasures, not because they deliberately prefer them, but because they are either the only ones to which they have access, or the only ones which they are any longer capable of enjoying.”
This quote is especially important for understanding Mill’s defense of utilitarianism in front of critiques that suggest this doctrine to be one of immediate pleasure; a doctrine that will stop people from accelerating their development and enriching their character through knowledge.
The critique addresses the focus of utilitarianism as a doctrine that emphasizes immediate and animalistic pleasures and turns ...view middle of the document...
Mill’s hypothesis is that a person is always going to choose the elevated, educated pleasure over the inferior one, because once taste is acquired of the first, the latter becomes unsatisfactory. However, he accepts the possibility that a person can and will revert to her “pig” nature if he/she cannot satisfy (for reasons of access or knowledge of) the need for elevated pleasure.
The last part of the quote however, creates a significant deviation from the original assumption that a person prefers the superior pleasures but sometimes will indulge herself into the inferior ones.
It implies that a person, with an acquired taste for superior pleasure, can in fact revert to a state of only enjoying the inferior type because it becomes no longer capable of appreciating them.
This part undermines in a way the assumption made in the beginning where people will always prefer the superior, educated type of happiness over the lower, animalistic pleasure. Saying that a person can achieve the happiness it needs, and lead an utility maximizing life, by renouncing the superior kind of pleasure and indulging into the inferior type, suggests in fact that given the option, people might choose the lower plain of happiness and pleasure; the reason being that it will bring them just as much happiness, it will be easier to achieve and will maximize utility.
Although this quote seems to make a rather contradictory claim, the overall idea presented here is that a person will choose a superior pleasure over a basic animalistic instinct of happiness given the opportunity to do so. In the spirit of utilitarianism, it is preferable to have the utility maximizing pleasure, and in some cases, that might just be the inferior type, simply because of lack of access to the other.