II. Classical Hedonism (CH)

In a passage from his An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Jeremy Bentham says:

"Now, pleasure is in itself a good; nay, even setting aside immunity from pain, the only good: pain is in itself an evil; and, indeed, without exception, the only evil; or else the words good and evil have no meaning. And this is alike true of every sort of pain, and of every sort of pleasure."

Bentham here seems to be offering an answer to the fundamental project of axiology.

      A. CH

Classical Hedonism

I. Every episode of pleasure is intrinsically good.  Every episode of pain is intrinsically bad.

II. The intrinsic value of an episode of pleasure is equal to the number of hedons of pleasure contained in it. The intrinsic value of an episode of pain is equal to -(the number of dolors of pain contained in it).

III. The intrinsic value of a complex thing such as a life, a consequence, or a possible world = the sum of the intrinsic values of all the episodes of pleasure and pain contained within that life, consequence, or world.

      B. A Misconception About Hedonism

      C. An Argument for Hedonism: The Argument from Psychological Hedonism

      D. Arguments against Classical Hedonism

            1. The Argument from Base Pleasures: Moore's Bestiality Argument

"... there can be no doubt that Common Sense holds many much less pleasant states to be better than many far more pleasant: that it holds, with Mill, that there are higher pleasures, which are more valuable, though less pleasant, than those which are lower. ... It is commonly held that certain of what would be called the lowest forms of sexual enjoyment, for instance, are positively bad, although it is by no means clear that they are not the most pleasant states we experience. ... [It might be that] the greatest possible pleasure could be obtained by a perpetual indulgence in bestiality. [Classical Hedonists] would be bound to hold that, if the greatest possible pleasure could be obtained in this way, ... such a state of things would be heaven indeed, and that all human endeavors should be devoted to its realisation. I venture to say that this view is as false as it is paradoxical."

(from G.E. Moore, Principia Ethica (1903), §56).

Imagine a person -- we can call him 'Porky' -- who spends all his time in the pigsty, engaging in the most obscene sexual activities imaginable. I stipulate that Porky derives great pleasure from these activities and the feelings they stimulate. Let's imagine that Porky happily carries on like this for many years. Imagine also that Porky has no human friends; has no other sources of pleasure; has no interesting knowledge; achieves nothing in his life. Let's also imagine that Porky somehow avoids pains - he is never injured by the pigs, he does not come down with any barnyard diseases, he does not suffer from loneliness or boredom.

Moore's Bestiality Argument
1. If CH is true, then Porky's life is outstandingly good.
2. It is not the case that Porky's life is outstanding good.
3. Therefore, CH is not true.

Rationale for P1:
Well, Clause III is CH tells us that the value of a life is equal to the hedons minus dolors contained that life. Porky's life contains many, many hedons of pleasure, and hardly any pain. He loves the sex; he never gets injured, or lonely, or bored. CH doesn't care what causes the pleasure-it just considers that amount of pleasure in the life, not how it is gotten. Thus, CH implies that Porky's life, because it contains lots of pleasure and hardly any pain, is great.

Rationale for P2:
Porky's life is simply not outstandingly good.  Sure, he has lots of pleasure, but his pleasures are worthless.  This is because the object of Porky's pleasure -- sex with farm animals -- is not a worthy object.  Bestiality is not worth taking pleasure in.  Porky would have a much better life if he were taking pleasure in relations with human beings, in intellectual activities, and in some worthwhile projects.

            2. The Argument from False Pleasures: Nozick's Experience Machine Argument

Consider a life -- call it L1. It consists of a guy who has lots of great things in his life -- e.g., friendship, love, knowledge, achievement, certain admirable traits of character. Moreover, he enjoys these things a lot. He gets great pleasure out of his friendships, his love, the things he achieves, the fact that he has certain virtues. Like any life, he has some pain and hardship, but not too much. This is supposed to be someone who we would all say led a great life.

Now, consider another life, L2. L2 is led in the experience machine and it is, "from the inside," exactly like L1. They are indiscernible from the inside. The guy who is leading L2 has no idea he is just lying in a machine his whole life, being fed hallucinations by a computer.

L2 is different from L1 in certain significant ways: L2 has no friendship, love, knowledge, achievement, and the man who leads L2 has no interesting traits of character.

But L1 and L2 are exactly similar in their internal mental states, and so they are similar in the amount of pleasure and pain they contain. Each has exactly the same number of hedons and dolors.

Nozick's Experience Machine Argument
1. If CH is true, then L2 is just as good a life as L1.
2. But L1 is better than L2.
3. Therefore, CH is not true.

P1: CH implies that the value of a life is determined exactly by the amount of pleasure and pain it contains. In the case, it is stipulated that L1 and L2 contain exactly the same number of hedons and dolors. Thus, CH implies that L1 and L2 have exactly the same intrinsic value.

P2: But clearly L1 is better. L2 is a pathetic life. It's a sham. The person lacks a lot that's of value -- real friendships, real love, real achievement. I would not wish L2 upon anyone I cared about. I would not want L2 for myself. I think L1 is much better.