Pleasure, Desire and Oppositeness

By Klocksiem, Justin | Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, May 2010 | Go to article overview

Pleasure, Desire and Oppositeness


Klocksiem, Justin, Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy


WHY IS PAIN THE OPPOSITE OF PLEASURE? Several theories of pleasure and pain have substantial difficulty explaining this basic feature. Theories according to which pleasure and pain are individual sensations or features of sensations have particular difficulty, since it is difficult to understand how pairs of sensations could be opposites. Heath-wood nicely sums up the problem: "Many pairs of felt qualities (e.g., a sensation of middle C on a piano and a sensation of F# on a banjo) are in no way opposites. But if the felt quality theory is true, then some such pairs are opposites. How could that be? What could make one sensation the opposite of another sensation?" (1)

Some pairs of sensation-types, such as hot and cold, or black and white, genuinely are opposites. Sensations of pleasure and pain, however, are too heterogeneous for their oppositeness to be analogously simple. Although painful sensations are often caused by processes that are harmful to the body, this is not always the case. For example, hay fever can cause a very painful itching in the eyes without any tissue damage or infection. So it seems that the underlying causes of pleasure and pain are ill-suited to explain their oppositeness.

Heathwood attempts to solve the problem by proposing that pleasure and pain are fundamentally related to intrinsic desires. (2) "You have an intrinsic desire for something [at a time] when you just want it--when there is no reason you can give for wanting it, no further thing you want that you think it will bring you, no end for which it is a means." (3) We can introduce some definitions: S's desire for x is intrinsic at t =df S desires x at t, and S's desire for x at t does not depend on any further thing that x leads to or produces; S "just wants" x; S's desire for x has no explanation in terms of further desires, or further things S desires. S's desire for x is extrinsic at t =df; it is not the case that S's desire for x is intrinsic at t.4 S has an intrinsic aversion to p =df; S has an intrinsic desire for not-p.

The desire theory says that a person, S, takes pleasure in p if and only if S has an intrinsic desire for p and S believes that p; S is pained by p if and only if S has an intrinsic aversion to p and S believes that p.5 On a typical version of the theory, a person, S, gets pleasure at t if and only if S has an intrinsic, de re desire that p at t, and p is true at t. A person, S, undergoes pain at t if and only if S has an intrinsic, de re aversion to p at t and not-p is true at t.6

The desire theory provides a clear solution to the oppositeness problem. Heathwood writes:

   On a complete [desire-based] theory ... the oppositeness of
   pleasure and pain is explained. Pleasure and pain are opposites
   because pleasure is explained in terms of desire, pain is explained
   in terms of aversion (or desiring not), and desire and aversion are
   opposites. And if aversion really is just desiring not ... then the
   oppositeness of desire and aversion is, in turn, explained in terms
   of the oppositeness of a proposition and its negation. (7)

Desire and aversion are opposites in a clear and intuitive way--an aversion to p is a desire for not-p--and so it is our attitudes toward the sensations that are opposites, not the sensations themselves. Furthermore, the desire view is well-suited to explaining the heterogeneity of pleasure and pain in general, as well as the fact that some pleasures do not appear to be sensory in nature at all, such as the pleasure of making a philosophical discovery. (8)

1. Pain and Aversion

This analysis of pleasure and pain in terms of desire and aversion does not do justice to the sense in which pleasure is the opposite of pain. Because sentences satisfying the schema are analyzable in terms of "desire" sentences satisfying the schema , to be averse to something is to desire its denial. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Pleasure, Desire and Oppositeness
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.