Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most marked preference to the manner of existence which employs their higher faculties. Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast's pleasures; no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base, even though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs. They would not resign what they possess more than he for the most complete satisfaction of all the desires which they have in common with him. If they ever fancy they would, it is only in cases of unhappiness so extreme, that to escape from it they would exchange their lot for almost any other, however undesirable in their own eyes. A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering, and certainly accessible to it at more points, than one of an inferior type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of existence. We may give what explanation we please of this unwillingness; we may attribute it to pride, a name which is given indiscriminately to some of the most and to some of the least estimable feelings of which mankind are capable: we may refer it to the love of liberty and personal independence, an appeal to which was with the Stoics one of the most effective means for the inculcation of it; to the love of power, or to the love of excitement, both of which do really enter into and contribute to it: but its most appropriate appellation is a sense of dignity, which all human beings possess in one form or other, and in some, though by no means in exact, proportion to their higher faculties, and which is so essential a part of the happiness of those in whom it is strong, that nothing which conflicts with it could be, otherwise than momentarily, an object of desire to them.--J.S. Mill (1863) Utilitarianism, Chapter 2.
ln context, Mill is defending (at least) two claims: first, the thought that utilitarianism is at least compatible with the idea that "some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and valuable than others." But as many others have noted, in the quoted paragraph, Mill has moved from focusing on pleasures to focusing on something more diffused, a "manner of existence," which can come on a scale from "lower grades" to higher grades. Second, he is defending a kind of test -- with an appeal to stipulated, "competent" judges -- to help us figure out what are the more desirable and valuable pleasures. The test, which is both epistemic and constitutive, involves a kind of negative, revealed preference of purportedly competent judges: it involves such a judge's unwillingness to give up higher grades of existence to lower ones (with the exceptions explained away as involving cases of severe depression ["unhappiness so extreme"] and a weakness of will ["however undesirable in their own eyes."] Later in the chapter Mill, allows a few more exceptions.) Here I am not very interested in evaluating these two claims. Rather, I want to focus on the significance of the posited moral psychology of the competent judge.
For, even though Mill says the explanation does not matter much to the argument ("we may give what explanation we please of this unwillingness"), it is very striking that Mill goes on to offer five motives that will help explain the competent judge's unwillingness to forego higher grades of existence: (i) pride; (ii) love of liberty and personal independence; (iii) love of power; (iv) love of excitement; (v) sense of dignity. Mill is explicit that the last three of these (iii-v) are, in fact, present as motives in the competent judge.
As a speculative aside, it does not follow Mill thinks (i-ii) are always absent in competent judges when they are unwilling to forego a higher grade of existence; he seems reluctant to endorse the presence of pride because its referent is too diffuse (and sometimes used to refer to the wrong sort of feelings). He seems to be suggesting that if (proper) pride were reserved to refer only to estimable feelings, then Mill would readily grant pride's presence in a competent judge's unwillingness to give up higher pleasures. (That is, he comes close to suggesting that Christianity has ruined the uptake of the word 'pride.') The other possible motive (ii), the love of liberty and personal independence, was present as a proper motive in competent judges in Stoic days, but he seems to imply that Stoic thought has exhausted its capacity to motivate competent judges. (This is striking because love of liberty and personal independence are the kind of motives one may associate with Republican thought of the sort propagated by Rousseau which seems to have been influential in the century prior to Mill's Utilitarianism.)
Mill's mention of the self-fulling nature of "an appeal to" the love of liberty and personal independence, "which was with the Stoics one of the most effective means for the inculcation of it" is important because it shows that Mill is aware of the fact that the language of moral philosophy may reinforce the ends to which it is put. (It need not do so, of course, and there may be self-undermining appeals, too.) That is, in the context of moral inquiry, in addition to explaining a particular motive, we may also wish to ensure the presence of some such motive in our readers. To put this in Mill's terms (from the same chapter) the "capacity for the nobler feelings is in most natures a very tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile influences, but by mere want of sustenance;" as the example of the Stoics shows, moral philosophy may well be part of the sustenance for the presence of some noble feelings.
To return to the main argument, Mill's willingness to grant the presence of these three motives in competent judges when they behave properly -- (iii) love of power; (iv) love of excitement; and (v) sense of dignity -- is notable not just because of his resistance to mono-causal explanations. Of these three, love of power and love of excitement are not exactly moral motives. While Mill clearly thinks the sense of dignity is the better sort of motive here (and I was inclined to re-read Mill on dignity because of my recent invocation of dignity),* he does not suggest, in fact, that the competent judge must purify herself from all other motives except the sense of dignity in order to count as competent. If anything, competent judges remain competent even if their unwillingness to forego certain pleasures/grades of existence follow from entirely a-moral motives (that is, any one of i-iv).
In context, Mill does not say much about any of these motives, despite the dissimilarity among (iii) love of power; (iv) love of excitement; and (v) sense of dignity. But in the rest of the chapter he is clear that the in practice the nobler sort of feelings of a would-be-competent-judge can be corrupted in quite a few ways. This suggest that Mill's strategy here is to rely on the fact that the feelings of the posited, competent judge are robust because they are propped up by heterogeneous and commonly a multiplicity of strong desires.
This matters because, thereby, Mill can try to evade at least two obvious, connected charges: (i) that in the way he sets up the competent judge he is relying on rather delicate/fragile feelings, and (ii) that in articulating the judgments of the competent judge, he is relying on elitist sentiments shared by his readership educated on Plato and Aristotle (as he clearly flirts with doing in the next few passages).
For, by allowing the love of power and love of excitement to play a real motivational role here, Mill is granting quite a bit to, say, a Hobbesian moral psychologist, who is eager to unmask any elitist talk of nobility or dignity and who insists that there is a "general inclination of all mankind for a perpetual and restless desire of power after power." We can, then, understand Mill as saying that even a Hobbes or Thrasymachus will have to agree that the competent judge's judgments are likely because they spring from powerful and, if not actively repressed, enduring motives in us. That is, Mill will not be shamed by any genealogical exposure of the competent judge's motives.
As Mill recognizes, the moral psychology he attributes to the competent judge is not sufficient to defend either of the two claims I have noted at the start of this post. But reflection on this moral psychology helps us grasp, I think, why Mill thought an appeal to a competent judge would not be thought merely special pleading by the elitist.