Tag Archives: hedonism

John Stuart Mill

In his views of life he partook of the character of the Stoic, the Epicurean, and the Cynic. In his personal character the Stoic predominated: his standard of morals was Epicurean, in so far as that it was utilitarian, taking as the sole test of right and wrong, the tendency of actions to produce pleasure or pain. But he had (and this was the Cynic element) scarcely any belief in pleasure: at least in his later years, of which alone on this subject I can speak confidently. He deemed very few pleasures worth the price which at all events in the present state of society, must be paid for them. The greatest miscarriages in life he considered attributable to the overvaluing of pleasures. Accordingly, temperance in the large sense intended by the Greek philosophers—stopping short at the point of moderation in all indulgences—was with him as with them, almost the cardinal point of moral precept.

John Stuart Mill, Autobiography, in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Toronto, 1988, vol. 1, p. 48

Nick Bostrom

Consider an AI that has hedonism as its final goal, and which would therefore like to tile the universe with “hedonium” (matter organized in a configuration that is optimal for the generation of pleasurable experience). To this end, the AI might produce computronium (matter organized in a configuration that is optimal for computation) and use it to implement digital minds in states of euphoria. In order to maximize efficiency, the AI omits from the implementation any mental faculties that are not essential for the experience of pleasure, and exploits any computational shortcuts that according to its definition of pleasure do not vitiate the generation of pleasure. For instance, the AI might confine its simulation to reward circuitry, eliding faculties such as a memory, sensory perception, executive function, and language; it might simulate minds at a relatively coarse-grained level of functionality, omitting lower-level neuronal processes; it might replace commonly repeated computations with calls to a lookup table; or it might put in place some arrangement whereby multiple minds would share most parts of their underlying computational machinery (their “supervenience bases” in philosophical parlance). Such tricks could greatly increase the quantity of pleasure producible with a given amount of resources.

Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, Oxford, 2014, p. 140

Daniel Gilbert

Nozick’s “happiness machine” problem is a popular among academics, who generally fail to consider three things. First, who says that no one would want to be hooked up? The world is full of people who want happiness and don’t care one bit about whether it is “well deserved.” Second, those who claim that they would not agree to be hooked up may already be hooked up. After all, the deal is that you forget your previous decision. Third, no one can really answer this question because it requires them to imagine a future state in which they do not know the very thing they are currently contemplating.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, New York, 2005, p. 244, n. 16

John Broome

Epicurus’s hedonism actually implies that death normally harms you. Epicurus thinks it implies the opposite, but he is mistaken. He is right that there is no time when death harms you, but it does not follow that death does not harm you. It may harm you, even though it harms you at no time.

John Broome, ‘What Is Your Life Worth?’, Dædalus, vol. 137, no. 1 (January, 2008), p. 52

Henry Sidgwick

Plato’s reason for claiming that the life of the Philosopher has more pleasure than that of the Sensualist is palpably inadequate. The philosopher, he argues, has tried both kinds of pleasure, sensual as well as intellectual, and prefers the delights of philosophic life; the sensualist ought therefore to trust his decision and follow his example. But who can tell that the philosopher’s constitution is not such as to render the enjoyments of the senses, in his case, comparatively feeble?

Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 7th ed., London, 1907, bk. 2, chap. 3, sect. 7

Fred Feldman

Perhaps the greatest source of confusion about hedonism is this: Some philosophers think that pleasure is a special sort of sensation. Moore and many others have assumed that to get pleasure is to feel a certain something—a special, indefinable, phenomenologically uniform sensation—the feeling of “pleasure itself.” These philosophers quite naturally assume that hedonism is the view that this feeling is the fundamental bearer of positive intrinsic value.

The remarkable fact is that there simply is no such feeling. Feelings of the most disparate sorts may correctly be called “pleasures.” Sidgwick, Broad, Ryle, Brandt, and many others have made this clear. The implication is obvious: If we take hedonism to be the view that this uniform sensation is the sole bearer of positive intrinsic value, then we are driven to the conclusion that nothing intrinsically good has ever happened!

Fred Feldman, Utilitarianism, Hedonism, and Desert: Essays in Moral Philosophy, Cambridge, 1997, p. 8

John Skorupski

There can be an experience-oriented and a person-oriented version of hedonism. On the former view, it is the experience of happiness that is good, wherever it occurs; on the latter view what is good is that people are happy. On the former view people matter, so to speak, only as containers of happiness—it is the total quantity of happiness that really matters. On the latter view the starting point is impartial concern for the happiness of actual people. Real and important ethical differences can flow from this very deep contrast.

John Skorupski, ‘The Philosophy of John Stuart Mill’, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, vol. 15, no. 1 (2007), p. 189

Fred Feldman

In common parlance, ‘hedonism’ suggests something a bit vulgar and risqué. We may think of someone like the former publisher of a slightly scandalous girlie magazine. He apparently enjoyed hanging out with bevies of voluptuous young women, drinking and dining perhaps to excess, travelling to tropical resorts where the young women would reveal extensive amounts of tanned flesh, and revelling till dawn. In an earlier era the motto was ‘wine, women, and song’. Nowadays, we are required to substitute the somewhat more P.C. ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll’. No matter what the motto, the vision is misguided. It reveals a misconception of the views of most serious hedonists[.]

Fred Feldman, Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties, and Plausibility of Hedonism, Oxford, 2004, p. 21