Monday, December 14, 2009

J.S. Mill

When students ask me who my favorite philosopher is, I’m usually willing to answer, John Stuart Mill, just as surely as I’ll observe that his name is “Mill,” not “Mills,” and if you call him “Mills” in a paper, I will fail you for it, just kidding, of course, but seriously, it’s “Mill,” not “Mills.”

Mill’s command (it’s that we always refer to his work with the possessive, I think, that has people calling “Mill” “Mills”) of the English language makes me sit up and listen to what he is saying; I’m made better by reading his prose, or at least have the opportunity to experience the higher quality pleasures that Mill argues would make any of us prefer to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.

But as I move slowly through the first day of winter break (more or less), I’m questioning Mill’s contention that these higher quality pleasures available to humans will uncontentiously trump the lower quality ones available more widely, including, as Mill points out, to pigs—over whose satisfaction, even a fool would prefer to be dissatisfied.

I suppose the difference is that there’s rarer pleasure to be taken in the recognition that one is experiencing pleasure; pigs, do, I think, smile, but I’d don’t think a thought like, “What a joy to be able to experience such pleasure, better enjoy it while I can!” enters their twirly little heads.

Mine, however, is filled with something like gratitude and awe that fall quarter is all but successfully behind me and that on this first Monday in a while and for a bit that I don’t have to rush off and behave immediately, I can enjoy some simple pleasures like bike-riding while it’s still light outside

Mill says that the foundation of happiness, properly understood, is not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing; I agree.

But it’s an especially high-quality pleasure to appreciate how capable it actually is.


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