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  • It is the theory that pleasure is the natural end and motive of human action, we always seek pleasure and avoid pain. Things are desired not for their own sake but only for the sake of pleasure they generate.
  • The Cyrenaics, Jeremy Bentham and J. S. Mill are the prominent advocates of this theory. Bentham says, Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure.
  • It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as what we shall do.” Thus, according to Bentham, pleasure and pain are the only possible motives of action, the only ends at which we can aim.
  • Similarly, J. S. Mill says, “Desiring a thing and finding it pleasant, aversion to it and thinking of it as painful are phenomena entirely inseparable; to think of an object as desirable, and to think of it as pleasant, are one and the same thing.” Thus, Mill holds that we always desire pleasure and pleasure is the only object of desire.

Objections to Psychological Hedonism: 

  • Critics argue that to desire and enjoy something is not to desire pleasure. We paint or read a book not for the sake of pleasure but for its own sake. It is absurd to hold that doing something for its own sake is ‘doing it for the sake of pleasure’. We may desire to help a man in distress by an act of self-sacrifice, not for the sake of pleasure.
  • Rashdall observes that psychological hedonism puts the cart before the horse. The attainment of an object of desire brings pleasure because the object was desired. Butler points out that many kinds of pleasures would not exist if they were not preceded by certain desires for objects.
  • There are some desires which are not desires for pleasure. One could not feel the pleasure of benevolence unless one first had a desire for the welfare of others. Thus, the desire is directed towards something other than pleasure, namely, the welfare of others.
  • According to Sidgwick, psychological hedonism is vitiated by a serious defect, which he terms as Paradox of Hedonism. He points out that the impulse towards pleasure defeats its own aim.
  • The more we seek pleasure, the less we get it. So, the best way to get pleasure is to forget it for the time being. We require a certain degree of disinterestedness in order to obtain pleasure. For example, when we witness a drama, we should fix our mind on the drama, and not on the pleasure that we derive. If we consciously aim at pleasure, we are sure to miss it.