27 January 2004
Utilitarianism as expounded by Mill departs from unmixed hedonism in two respects. First of all, Mill’s Utilitarianism admits the importance of the relationship between the individual and the collectivity introduces altruism, and prescribes value in such a manner that maximum number of people can share maximum pleasure. This concern for collectivity may, in practice, collide with individual pleasure and may oblige the individual to sacrifice his own personal pleasure. Secondly, Mill recognises different kinds of pleasures and that one ought to cultivate higher pleasures. This admission on the part of Mill dilutes the hedonistic position that the only thing that is desirable is pleasure. For if pleasures constitute a hierarchy, the difference between the lower and the higher pleasures implies that there is something else than pleasure which makes a superior quality superior. In other words, it would appear impossible to hold that pleasure is the only thing which is desirable, and yet to maintain that pleasures can differ in quality.
The formulation of Rashdall, who has called his ethical theory “Ideal Utilitarianism”, combines the utilitarian principle that ethics must be teleological with a non-hedonistic view of the ethical end. According to this view, “actions are right or wrong according to whether they tend to produce for all mankind an ideal end or good, which includes, but is not limited to pleasure.”
In fact, Rashdall speaks of three axioms of Prudence, Benevolence, and Equity, which are assumed in moral judgments. According to him, it is self-evident that that one ought to promote one’s own greatest good when it does not collide with the greater good of another, that one ought to prefer a greater good on the whole to a lesser, and that one ought to regard the good of one man as of equal intrinsic value with the like good of another one else. It will be seen that although in this theory pleasure is a value, it is explicitly recognised that it is not the only value and that there are other values where the relationship between the individual and the collectivity come to play a decisive role, and the resultant value system recognises the principle of justice.
 Rashdall, Theory of Good and Evil, p.184.
Rashdall also recognises that a great value should be attached to what he calls Rational Benevolence or Love. He maintains that all virtues could be explained as ultimately resolvable into the virtue of Benevolence. He even goes farther to point out that it is rational to encourage the cultivation of an exercise of such values as loyalty, courage and others even in the ways which cannot always be shown to produce a net gain in pleasures on the whole. In a farther development of his theory, Rashdall acknowledges a general principle that a higher value should be attributed to the exercise and cultivation of the higher faculties than to the indulgence of the merely animal and sensual part of our nature. He points out that knowledge, culture, enjoyment of beauty, intellectual activity of all kinds, and the emotions connected with these things have a higher value than the pleasures arising from the gratifications of the mere animal propensities.
Perhaps the most reputed work in a relatively recent period in hedonism is that of Bertrand Russell entitled “The Conquest of Happiness”. Russell does not speak merely of pleasure as a value; he prefers the word happiness, and he includes in his analysis of happiness most of what professional moralists declare to be ethical virtues.
Russell has analysed in detail the causes of unhappiness, which include not only pessimistic view of life but also such factors as excessive emphasis upon competitive success, boredom and excitement, fatigue, envy, sense of sin, persecution mania, and fear of public opinion. On the positive side, he acknowledges that the pleasure that does no harm to other people is to be valued, but he adds, however, that fundamental happiness depends upon what may be called a friendly interest in persons and things. Among other factors that lead to happiness, he includes zest, health, super-abundant energy, and work that one finds interesting on its own account. In regard to the happiness that comes form the Family, he counsels parents to have respect for the personality of the child that arises from a kind of mystical conviction to such a degree that possessiveness and oppression become utterly impossible. To quote his own words:
“The love that has been purged by gentleness of all tendency towards tyranny can give a joy more exquisite, more tender, more capable of transmuting the base metal of daily life into the pure gold of mystic ecstasy,
than in emotion that is possible to man still fighting and struggling to maintain his ascendancy in this slippery world.”
One of the most important elements in the conquest of happiness, according to Bertrand Russell, is the habit of viewing life as a whole, as an essential part of both wisdom and true morality, and he recommends that it is one of the things which ought to be encouraged in education.
One of his best counsels is that one should realise that one is not an isolated individual but one of the great army of those who have led the mankind towards a civilised existence. He points out that if one happens to attain to this outlook, a certain deep happiness will never leave him or her, whatever his or her personal fate may be.
In a statement, which could have been written by any stoic or non-hedonist philosopher, Russell declares:
“The happy man is the man whose personality is neither divided against itself nor pitted against the world. Such a man feels himself as the citizen of the universe enjoying freely the spectacle that it offers and the joy that it affords, untroubled by the thought of death because he feels himself not really separate from those who will come after him. It is in such a profound instinctive union with the stream of life that the greatest joy is to be found.”
It will be seen that Russell’s account of the conquest of happiness advises actions and attitudes that we find advocated by stoicism and ethical systems that prescribe duty for duty’s sake and other ethical and spiritual values. Hedonism, utilitarianism and disinterested ethicism join here together in his thought which, consequently leads us nearer to the clearer perception of the meaning and practice of value.
But in spite of such noble and disinterested view of happiness that is prescribed by Russell, the moralists like Immanuel Kant may still feel dissatisfied, for there is, as we see in the moral philosophy of Kant, a discovery of a dimension that is felt to be missing in the hedonist or
Utilitarian philosophy. It true that utilitarianism makes a distinction between the lower and higher pleasures, and that it also prescribes the control of animal passions or impulses in an effort to enter into a higher dimension of life. But Kant, in his analysis of the epistemological apparatus of human consciousness, points out that our entire experience, which remains confined to Space and Time and to other categories of consciousness, is circumscribed within the limits of empirical laws. A man’s everyday personality is, therefore, a member of the world of things as they appear and is, therefore, to that extent not entirely real. There is, Kant held, another self, which can be called the “Transcendent Self” by virtue of which man participates in the world of things as they are. And it is the transcendental self which is the source of moral experience. According to Kant, there in us an imperative, which is distinguishable from wishes and desires, and that imperative is not hypothetical but categorical. The true moral will enables us to escape from the world of appearances and establish contact with the reality. Kant also points out that the moral will is a source of the conception of “ought”.
According to Kant, the consciousness of “ought” is a unique fact, a fact of a kind which is not to be found anywhere in the world of things as they appear. This sense of “ought” is indifferent to circumstances and takes no account of likes and dislikes, and the perception of the dimension of “ought” is the perception of value, which is an end in itself. Value, according to Kant, is a categorical imperative which gives us the possibility of liberating ourselves from what we are empirically and we feel ourselves free to belong to the real world, which is the world of ends in themselves. The Will that is involved in the categorical imperative is free will.
We are, according to Kant, free to follow the categorical imperative, not desiring any consequences, not desiring pleasures or happiness, but the experience of freedom to rise to the real reality of our true self.
Kant has given three formulations by applying which one can recognise the categorical imperative: First, is a famous precept “Act only according to the maxim which you can at the same time will to be universal law”; the second formulation declares, “Act so that you treat humanity, in your own person and in the person of everyone else, always as an end as well a means, never merely as a means”; and the third maxim is: “Act as a member of the world of ends”. It is, however, pointed out these formulations give us only the form and no content, and that that the application of these formulations of the
categorical imperative oblige us to judge an action not as an end itself but in terms of its consequences. For, it is asked, how does on know if an act is universalisable? Can it be known directly or intuitively, without the consideration of the consequences? Thus it is argued that although Kant is anti-utilitarian, his criterion as to whether an action is an end itself imposes upon us the necessity to employ the method of utilitarianism. In any case, it is urged that Kant fails to provide real guide to the determination of the right action or of duty. Moreover, it is argued that in actual practice, categorical imperatives regarding duty, love, justice and others often collide among themselves, leaving us in a state of disequilibrium, − a sign that the categorical imperative presented by Kant needs to be transcended to a still higher level of consciousness where conflicts of love and duty, of duty and justice, of justice and love can be resolved.
Nevertheless, what is most valuable in Kant is the recognition of deeper dimensions in human personality and the perception of a categorical imperative that is not motivated by impulses and desires. In our search for the meaning of value, this discovery of Kant is of crucial importance. In fact, it explains why stoicism emphasises the virtue of endurance, which transcends the seeking of pleasure. It explains why heroism lies in self-sacrifice, which brings no pleasure or happiness in ordinary terms, although, by stretching the meaning of happiness, one would say that self-sacrifice provides a ground for inner fulfilment and therefore of a higher kind of happiness. But admittedly, that kind of fulfilment cannot be judged entirely in terms of hedonism or utilitarianism.
After the survey of the main ethical theories, we are in a better position to answer the question: “What is value?
Are value and pleasure interchangeable? Is value purely an individualistic notion? Is it purely a notion connected with collectivity? Is value what the utilitarian thinks it to be? Or is it what intuitionism holds it to be? Is value to be identical with an act, having nothing to do with motive or consequences? Is value merely a matter of motive? Is value to be judged in terms of character? Is value to be judged in terms of knowledge? Is value essentially related to freedom?” As we have seen, there are different answers to these questions, and one might almost feel frustrated and declare that values are
always relative and even subjective, that the question of value should be left to each individual to decide for oneself, and that one cannot feel confident in holding out any theory of education that aims at providing the knowledge of values and in providing conditions in which values can be cultivated.
But if we examine the situation more closely, we shall find that, although it is complex, it does provide us certain incontrovertible insights and clues for a purposive and effective pursuit of values and guidance for value-education.
It will be observed that our brief study did not aim at determining lists or sets of values, but at determining quintessential conditions, features and meaning of value. For the same reason, our approach to various theories of value has been to underline their main contentions, and our critical remarks have been kept to bare minimum.
It seems that there is a general agreement that:
The contention that ethical theories are in sharp conflict with each other is not borne out by a close study of these theories. The distinction made by Mill in his theory of utilitarianism between lower and higher pleasures introduces an element that is so important in theories of intuitionism. In Rashdall and Russell, there is a clear acknowledgement of moral elements in their theories and they come quite close to the stoic attitude and to the theory of conscience and virtue and of the categorical imperative. Bertrand Russell states at the end of his book, “The Conquest of Happiness”:
“I have written in this book as a hedonist, that is to say, as one who regards happiness as the good, but the acts to be recommended from the point of view of the hedonist are on the whole the same as those to be recommended by the sane moralist.”
On the other hand, although intutionist or virtue theories do not prescribe pleasure as a value, the concept of happiness or fulfilment as a value is inherently present in them. Kant’s postulation of God, Freedom and Immortality is a testimony to his acknowledgement that Justice demands that the acts of the categorical imperative should be rewarded with happiness, even when they are not motivated by the desire for happiness.
It may also be suggested that the different theories regarding value can be arranged in an ascending scale or ladder. At the lowest level, values are determined in terms of personal need, preference or desire; in the middle of the ladder, greater importance is given to collective needs and collective imperatives; and at the summit, there is a perception of a higher law of morality arising from the categorical imperative which expresses itself in goodwill. It is, however, found that even at this level of the summit there remains a disequilibrium. It is found that even when the categorical imperative prescribes absolute justice, absolute love, absolute right, and other values in terms of absoluteness, we have not yet reached that state of equilibrium where love and justice can meet together in harmony and where absolute right reason can unalterably indicate in actual situations of life what is conceived to be absolute justice or absolute love.
 Bertrand Russell: The Conquest of Happiness, Urwin Paperbacks, 1975, p.190.
And yet, despite this limitation at the summit level, which still points to a higher level, we can legitimately make a distinction between the human thrust towards the value of right reason, absolute love and absolute justice, on the one hand, and various manifestations of this thrust in the form of certain specific and particular actions, on the other. Based on this distinction, we would be led to suggest that the essentiality of the pursuit of value lies in our thrust, and only subordinately in its manifestations, − although there, too, progressive effort should be made to harmonise the conflicting deliverances of the categorical imperative.
It may be useful to bring out the fact that normative considerations that involve the pursuits of value emerge from two important facts. There is, first, the fact that no individual exists or can exist all by himself independent of the collectivity. And this fact calls upon every individual to relate himself or herself with the collectivity in a way that is not positively natural but normative, requiring efforts that are not experienced to be necessarily spontaneous or pleasant. At the minimum level, the individual is seen to be demanding from the others what they expect and demand from him. The maxim that asks one to do unto others what one demands from others to do unto oneself is an expression of this starting-point of what can properly be called “ethical”. At the highest level of the growing relationship between the individual and the collectivity three interdependent values seem to emerge, namely, liberty, equality and fraternity which have come to be acknowledged in the contemporary world as the ideals of civilisation.
The second fact is that every human being has an inherent urge to attain greater, and greater freedom from the necessities of impulses and suffocating circumstances, and this implies a journey of normative life that discloses higher and higher values, culminating into the quest of three values, which have been clearly underlined in the ethical and spiritual philosophy of Socrates and Plato, viz., Truth, Beauty and Goodness, a quest of which demands the increasing in synthesis of knowledge, goodwill and harmony. Increasing freedom and self-discipline are found to be the special features of this quest.
It may be suggested that the thrust towards truth, beauty and goodness as also towards liberty, equality and fraternity can be increasingly refined and freed from selfishness by pointing them constantly towards what can progressively be perceived to be free from subjectivity and relativity. The result would be that one can affirm that there is in human consciousness the possibility of the development of goodwill, impartial quest for knowledge, and pursuit of value that demands nothing in return. All these things are possible as we can testify from moral and spiritual experience of humankind, because there is, as Socrates and Plato pointed out, an objective world of the truth, beauty and goodness, harmonised in the supreme Good.
In the light of the above discussion, certain important consequences follow for what may be called value-education. If value-education proposes to prescribe any particular specific action or particular value system by any specific or preferred criteria, then the criticism against such a proposal would stand with considerable force. But if the proposal is to promote thrust and aspiration towards the value or combination of highest values of truth, beauty and goodness, and of liberty, equality and fraternity, then, the case for value-education can be said to be on a sound and strong footing.
This would mean that it is preferable to propose value-oriented education rather than value-education. For value-education is likely to end up with the prescription of do’s and don’ts, and this prescription will have a weak ground. But if our aim is to provide any educational conditions for the promotion of the growth of aspiration towards truth, beauty and goodness, towards cultivation of goodwill, towards liberty, equality and fraternity, and if an attempt is to provide to each individual the inspiration and means to transcend his own limited needs and preferences and egoism, so that his own personality and subjectivity are progressively attempted to be transcended, then such an education can be defended both philosophically and pedagogically.
Value-oriented education may then be defined as a progressive and exploratory process of development, which permits continuous pursuit towards the dimension of value, and towards those specific values which have been identified above in broad general terms. This education leaves each individual free to determine the contents of the good and the right, on the basis of his or her exploration and sustained support received in the educational process directed towards the nourishment of the normative thrust.
Not value-education but value-oriented education, not prescription but exploration – this is the conclusion to which we seem to arrive while considering the domain of value and its study and practice through the process of education.
Our analysis of the concept of value discloses also those sets of values, which if pursued in the context of the contemporary systems of culture, would contribute to the solution of the crisis through which humanity is passing today. For as, we have seen earlier, there are pulls of downward gravitation to the life and system of sensational and vital satisfaction and counter-pulls that strive to lift humanity upward to the goal of higher fulfilment. The result is, on account of enormous development of externalities of life and hugeness of structures of organisation, upward movement has become extremely difficult. The world is drawing towards globality and unity on the planetary level, and yet human consciousness has remained circumscribed within the narrow boundaries of egoism and competitive envy and mistrust. Unprecedented development of science and technology, despite its salutary boons, stands in need of supplementation of pursuit of higher values, values of higher levels of utilitarianism or intuitionism or stoicism or of all of them which can easily be blended and explored.
Against this background, it is rightly recognised that the present crisis is the crisis of the conflict between values and development, and that it can be resolved only if we adopt the path of value-oriented development. Once again, what is true of value-oriented education is also true of development that has to be guided by the thrust towards these perennial values that Socrates and Plato discovered, viz., Truth, Beauty and Goodness, and those equally perennial values that were, however, relatively recently formulated with striking force by the French Revolution, viz., Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
The subject of value is today directly relevant to the imperative needs of the contemporary human civilisation.
Hence, also, the importance of the theme of the discovery of the meaning of value that we have dealt with in the essay, although briefly and in some large and broad terms.