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Hedonism, False Pleasures and the Role of Intuitions in Assessing Theories of Well-Being Dan Turton Victoria University of Wellington

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Presentation on theme: "Hedonism, False Pleasures and the Role of Intuitions in Assessing Theories of Well-Being Dan Turton Victoria University of Wellington"— Presentation transcript:

1 Hedonism, False Pleasures and the Role of Intuitions in Assessing Theories of Well-Being Dan Turton Victoria University of Wellington

2 Plan Hand-waving & definitions My overall project The problem: the objection from false pleasures The solution: a better understanding of moral intuitions and what they are useful for The result: hedonism about well-being is plausible

3 Scope (hand-waving) Hedonism, not: –Psychological hedonism –Folk hedonism –Rather: pleasure (enjoyment) is the only thing of intrinsic value for an individual Well-being, not: –The aesthetically, exemplary, or morally good life –Rather: the life that is good for the subject of that life –intrinsic value for an individual Hedonism about well-being claims that the good life for the one living it contains lots of enjoyment and very little suffering

4 Reviving Hedonism History of unpopularity (philosophical death) –Profligate image, Moore, Nozick & Nagel/Kagan –Current teaching of moral philosophy Aim is for plausibility (equal with p-s & list) General strategy –Assume plausibility –Refute objections –(Re-) assume plausibility

5 False Pleasures False pleasure = pleasure based on something that isnt true 1) Hedonism states that pleasure is the only thing of intrinsic value 2) Pleasure based on truth is more valuable than pleasure based on falsity 3) Therefore, something other than pleasure is intrinsically valuable 4) Therefore, hedonism is false Evidence for 2 comes via thought experiments

6 Deceived Businessman Nagel, Kagan, Rachels etc. Fred and Ted experience their lives as equally full of enjoyment and free of suffering But Fred is deceived! Try to imagine that Fred never finds out about it Who has the better life? Even some hedonists give up the fight here Why? Truth must have value

7 Intuition vs Reason Reason says that their lives are of equal value (if hedonism is believed apriori) Intuition says Teds life is more valuable And intuition challenges hedonistic reasoning: –If hedonism leads to that conclusion, then its a ridiculous theory of well-being! But reason also challenges intuition: –How can something that Fred never experiences affect his well-being?

8 Assessing Theories of Well-Being The old way (Griffin, Kagan etc) –i) Produce intuitively pleasing results in most cases –ii) Have a compelling rationale –iii) Be meta-ethically and -physically consistent –iv) Be functional Certainly most of discussion around i and ii Because i trumps ii, hedonism is seen as implausible

9 Stalemate? Some will say the intuition arises because truth is valuable –(since thats the only difference) –And insist that truth is, therefore, valuable regardless of if we experience it I think the intuition is probably about: –The risk of finding out, –An ingrained dislike of deception and –The worry that Fred will get less love –None of which should be relevant! Can hedonists give good reason to believe that the intuition is not about the intrinsic value of truth? Yes, but…

10 Intuitions (W&A 2007) But should intuitions be allowed to trump reason anyway? An intuition is a valenced feeling about something Formed by fast unconscious assimilation of large amounts of data Similarities are processed and potential outcomes are simulated Intuitions are not introspectible

11 Intuitions about Moral Theories Woodward & Allman (2007) say they are often misused but can be useful Dont use intuitions –For unrealistic thought experiments Do use intuitions –When you have a lot of relevant experience –In complex cases

12 A Limited Role for Intuitions in Moral Theory Based on Woodward and Allmans work: The Adjusted old method for assessing theories of well-being: –i) Produce intuitively pleasing results in realistic cases –ii) Have a compelling rationale –iii) Be meta-ethically and -physically consistent –iv) Be functional

13 More Implications from W&As Work: 1) Intuitions do not always track features that are relevant to a situation 2) There is no way to be sure what specific features an intuition is tracking –No introspection –No reconstruction 3) Therefore, it is not possible to know if an intuition is tracking features that are relevant to the situation

14 Intuitions in Theories of Well-Being Extra reasons that intuitions about well- being might not track relevant features: –Self-serving/endowment/familiarity bias (Bentham, Singer, Unger, Gilbert) We perceive the world and our position in it with bias Our perceptions shape our memories Therefore, our memories and perceptions are biased Our intuitions are based on our perceptions and memories Therefore, our intuitions are biased towards more familiar types of well-being

15 A Very Limited Role for Intuitions in Theories of Well-Being 1) Its not possible to know if intuitions about well-being are tracking relevant features 2) Our intuitions about well-being are likely to be biased 3) Therefore, if we have another (more trust- worthy) method of assessing theories of well-being, then we should use it Especially in unrealistic thought experiments

16 A New Method for Assessing Theories of Well-Being A good theory of well-being should: –i) Have a compelling rationale Internal consistency Rationally compelling Intuitive* –ii) Be meta-ethically and -physically consistent –iii) Be functional Be useful for policy-making Agree with widespread intuition*

17 Applying the New Assessment Scheme The deceived businessman asks us to imagine the impossible –So, we should be very skeptical about any intuitions it raises It is impossible for anti-hedonists to introspect that their intuition is caused by the value of truth –Indeed, it is impossible to know whether the intuition in this case has anything to do with the value of truth Furthermore, there is reason to believe that the intuition is not based on the intrinsic value of truth There is also a compelling reason to believe that Ted and Fred have equally valuable lives

18 The Verdict on the Deceived Businessman Hedonists can stand firm on their compelling reason (how can something that you dont experience affect your life?) and… The anti-hedonists reason (truth) is only supported by a flimsy intuition that cannot prove its relevance Therefore, the deceived businessman objection fails to provide good evidence for thinking that something other than pleasure intrinsically increases well-being

19 Implications for Hedonism If the current method of assessing theories of well-being is revised either moderately or radically, then: –The deceived businessman objection fails –The objection from false pleasures fails –Hedonism about well-being will be seen as plausible (revived!) And, because hedonism may soon prove to have a sound scientific basis: –Hedonism might even be seen as more plausible than other theories about well-being (very revived!!)


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