I was wondering what is the meaning of "Philistine utilitarianism"? I saw this in a couple of articles and I wanna know that Is it a term or Should I read it literally; that is, anti-intellectual utilitarianism?


'Philistine utilitarianism' is not a widely used or an official term in the academic discussion of utilitarianism.

Bentham (1748-1832)

But Bentham's dictum, 'quantity of pleasure being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry', might well be instanced pejoratively as 'philistine utilitarianism'. (Push-pin is a defunct children's game in which one player tries to cross another player's pin (needle) with their own. It is not very intellectual.) A view which holds that if push-pin produces as much pleasure as reading Milton's 'Paradise Lost' then the one is as good as the other, readily attracts the description of 'philistine'.

It is worth pointing out that while John Stuart Mill attributes this dictum to Bentham (Essay on Bentham, 1838) he does so inaccurately. Mill says:

He [Bentham] says, somewhere in his works, that, “quantity of pleasure being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry:”(https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/mill-the-collected-works-of-john-stuart-mill-volume-x-essays-on-ethics-religion-and-society).

Bentham actually says in 'The Rationale of Reward' (1825) :

Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry' (https://archive.org/details/rationaleofrewar00bent/page/206).

John Stuart Mill (1806-73)

In Utilitarianism (1863), ch. 2, Mill notes a certain line of attack on utilitarianism, which (we need to remember) in its early, Benthamite was hedonistic and used pleasure as its sole moral metric:

To suppose that life has (as they [certain critics] express it) no higher end than pleasure — no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit—they designate as utterly mean and grovelling; as a doctrine worthy only of swine, to whom the followers of Epicurus were, at a very early period, contemptuously likened; and modern holders of the doctrine are occasionally made the subject of equally polite comparisons by its German, French, and English assailants.

When thus attacked, the Epicureans have always answered, that it is not they, but their accusers, who represent human nature in a degrading light; since the accusation supposes human beings to be capable of no pleasures except those of which swine are capable. If this supposition were true, the charge could not be gainsaid, but would then be no longer an imputation; for if the sources of pleasure were precisely the same to human beings and to swine, the rule of life which is good enough for the one would be good enough for the other. The comparison of the Epicurean life to that of beasts is felt as degrading, precisely because a beast's pleasures do not satisfy a human being's conceptions of happiness. Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do not regard anything as happiness which does not include their gratification. I do not, indeed, consider the Epicureans to have been by any means faultless in drawing out their scheme of consequences from the utilitarian principle. To do this in any sufficient manner, many Stoic, as well as Christian elements require to be included. But there is no known Epicurean theory of life which does not assign to the pleasures of the intellect; of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a much higher value as pleasures than to those of mere sensation. It must be admitted, however, that utilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, &c., of the former—that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature. And on all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case; but they might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, higher ground, with entire consistency. It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone. (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11224/11224-h/11224-h.htm.)

'[U]tterly mean and grovelling; as a doctrine worthy only of swine'. This language is strongly suggestive of a view of utilitarianism as 'philistine'.

G.E. Moore (1873-1958)

Mill's distinction between higher and lower pleasures was complemented by the Cambridge philosopher, G.E. Moore. In Principia Ethica, 1903, ch.6, the decidedly unphilistine Moore defined a form of 'ideal utilitarianism' in which the appreciation of beauty and aesthetic experience generally along with friendship count among the ultimate goods. The term 'ideal utiltarianism' was coined by Hastings Rashdall (1858-1924) in 1907 in The Theory of Good and Evil.

Over the edge of philosophy

'Utilitarian' is often used outside philosophy by critics who use the term to denote what they regard as a crude and narrow view of things. So, for instance, the recommendation to build a motorway through beautiful, ancient countryside for the sake of increased speed of travel might be characterised as 'utilitarian' and 'philistine' because it fixes on just one consideration - increased speed of travel - and omits all regard for more refined considerations such as the preservation of fine, centuries-old scenery and the destruction of inhabitants' favourite view. Results for increased speed are all that count. Equally, and the examples are legion, if all we concern ourselves with in domestic or office buildings is their functionality, their efficiency in accommodating people to live or work, and pass over entirely their design and congruity of style and decoration with neighbouring buildings, this might readily be criticised as a utilitarian approach - focused on too narrow a set of criteria and a 'philistine' approach at that. Hence 'philistine utilitarianism'.

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