“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.” John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (1863)
In 1863, John Stuart Mill answered the criticism that utilitarianism (the moral theory that morality is creating the most use (or pleasure) for the most people) would lead to everyone just doing what they pleased by splitting the pleasure of clever people and that of idiots and saying obviously the pleasure of clever people is better. The idea being no superior being would subject themselves to being less superior. Or, to put it another way, it’s better to be Socrates and miserable than a happy pig.
The problems with this are manifold. For instance, many very clever people like less deep activities to ease the burden on their minds. That does not make them fools or pigs because they prefer Wrestlemania to reading The Iliad. Or maybe they prefer reading PasturesFresh to The Economist. Everyone needs a break occasionally.
(At least I’ve never pondered a question as dense as why milennials are shunning diamonds)
Furthermore, this demarcation between high and low pleasures has a class element to it. But I’d say, even as a non-football fan, I’d rather watch half an hour of analysis on a match than listen to a 15-minute podcast on epistemology – the wettest, sloppiest, nerd of the philosophy department. Football fans are undoubtedly happier people than philosophy fans, meaning they have worked out more of their own personal meaning of life. If anything, I’d say that makes them better developed than sad utilitarians.
And lastly, pigs are wonderful animals.
They are highly social animals, they dream, they have a rudimentary language, they are a fertility symbol in China, possibly because it has been said male pigs can orgasm for 30 minutes, though in actual fact they merely ejaculate for that long. Still, we don’t know a pig’s brain enough to know how much pleasure they feel but maybe it’s a lot.
If you think about how clever Socrates was, his work being arguably the basis for all modern western philosophy, and you consider how disatisfied he could actually get, pretty sure you’re better off being a pig.
In sum, pigs are awesome and pleasure is cool and utilitarians need better analogies. Even then, there’s other flaws.
The writer of this piece is no philosopher and it shows.
[Fun fact: I called him Socrates like So Crates for the longest time.]