In 1861, JS Mill wrote in his book Utilitarianism:

it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.

I'm curious what he meant by "fool". In contemporary language it would mean someone with a slightly below average intelligence (or maybe even someone with normal intelligence but who acts in a silly manner), but looking at some dictionaries it seems that the word used to be applied to people with more severe cognitive deficits.

1 Answer 1


Even biblically (so thousands of year ago), fool was often used to mean someone who lacks judgment or moral character or the willingness to be taught, rather than a person who lacks intelligence. A fool is the opposite of a wise person.

So, to me, your quote "it is ...better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied" means, "it is better to be a wise, thinking person who is dissatisfied (or who wants more out of life), than an unwise, dull person who is satisfied (or who is fine being unwise and dull)." JS Mills apparently valued the thoughtful, philosophical life.

  • The point of the comparison is that Socrates said 'The unexamined life is not worth living', and Mill was rephrasing it, to imply that it is better to ask unanswered questions than to think you have all the answers. Jun 26, 2012 at 12:16

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