However, I had a little breakthrough in thinking about who counts as a "competent judge" in questions about which of two pleasures is higher. Mill says, as you will recall:
If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality in pleasures, or what makes one pleasure more valuable than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being greater in amount, there is but one possible answer. Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. If one of the two is, by those who are competently acquainted with both, placed so far above the other that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be attended with a greater amount of discontent, and would not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure which their nature is capable of, we are justified in ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in comparison, of small account.Many students take all this to mean that the higher pleasure of any two is the one that most people prefer, but this way of putting is it misleading, I think. What I've probably not ever stressed enough is that Mill's point is that in order to be a competent judge, you have to have experienced the pleasure of both kinds. So, if you never got pleasure from reading Shakespeare, you're not a competent judge of the pleasure of reading Shakespeare. Ditto for NASCAR, Mozart, heroin, and the rest.
Stressing this seems to make Mill's point more interesting, and makes clearer, I think, why it isn't just elitist posturing. (Because someone who has never taken pleasure in a NASCAR event is not a competent judge of the pleasure of watching NASCAR.)
This is perhaps an obvious point about reading Mill, but it's one that I, at least, have found easy to overlook. I think this is because Mill isn't just saying, "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it"--which is something we've all heard before, and close to what Mill is saying--but something quite different. Roughly: "Don't knock it 'til you've cultivated an ability to take pleasure in it and done so"--which is different from "trying it," since you might try something and just take no pleasure in it. And that could just be an odd fact about you.