Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties and Plausibility of Hedonism

Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties and Plausibility of Hedonism

Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties and Plausibility of Hedonism

Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties and Plausibility of Hedonism

Synopsis

Fred Feldman's fascinating new book sets out to defend hedonism as a theory about the Good Life. He tries to show that, when carefully and charitably interpreted, certain forms of hedonism yield plausible evaluations of human lives. Feldman begins by explaining what we mean when we ask what the Good Life is. He argues that this should not be taken to be a question about the morally good life or about the beneficial life. Rather, the question concerns the general features of the life that is good in itself for the one who livesit. Hedonism says (roughly) that the Good Life is the pleasant life. After showing that the usual formulations of hedonism are often confused or incoherent, Feldman presents a simple, clear, coherent form of sensory hedonism that provides a starting point for discussion. He then considers awebalogue of classic objections to hedonism, coming from sources as diverse as Plato, Aristotle, Brentano, Ross, Moore, Rawls, Kagan, Nozick, Brandt, and others. One of Feldman's central themes is that there is an important distinction between the forms of hedonism that emphasize sensory pleasure and those that emphasize attitudinal pleasure. Feldman formulates several kinds of hedonism based on the idea that attitudinal pleasure is the Good. He claimsthat attitudinal forms of hedonism - which have often been ignored in the literature -- are worthy of more careful attention. Another main theme of the book is the plasticity of hedonism. Hedonism comes in many forms. Attitudinal hedonism is especially receptive to variations and modifications. Feldman illustrates this plasticity by formulating several variants of attitudinal hedonism and showing how they evade some ofthe objections. He also shows how it is possible to develop forms of hedonism that are equivalent to the allegedly anti-hedonistic theory of G. E. Moore, and the Aristotelian theory according to which the Good Life is the life of virtue, or flourishing. He also formulates hedonisms relevantly likethe ones defended by Aristippus and Mill. Feldman argues that a carefully developed form of attitudinal hedonism is not refuted by objections concerning 'the shape of a life'. He also defends the claim that all of the alleged forms of hedonism discussed in the book genuinely deserve to be called 'hedonism'. Finally, after dealing with thelast of the objections, he gives a sketch of his hedonistic vision of the Good Life.

Excerpt

The central aim of this book is to defend hedonism as a substantive theory about the Good Life. I try to show that, when carefully and charitably interpreted, certain forms of hedonism are plausible and defensible. They give an account of the amount of welfare, or well-being, that an individual enjoys, and they do this by appeal to the notion that pleasure is the Good. On this view the Good Life is the pleasant life.

Before I can attempt to defend my thesis, I have to explain more precisely how I understand it. This involves first explaining more exactly how I understand talk of “the Good Life”. As I interpret this, it means something like 'the life that is good in itself for the one who lives it', or 'the life high in individual welfare'. Clarification of this concept is the topic of Chapter 1 . I turn next to a discussion of the nature of hedonism. This is complicated by the fact that many of the received formulations of the doctrine are confused and incoherent. I am inclined to think that quite a lot of the controversy about hedonism arises in part because of this confusion. In Chapter 2 and Appendix A I discuss some typical formulations of hedonism and explain why they are unacceptable. I present a simple form of sensory hedonism—I call it 'Default Hedonism'—that provides a kind of starting point for all the other forms of hedonism to be discussed in the book.

Another of my aims in the book is to provide critical accounts of some historically important forms of hedonism. I begin this project in Chapter 2 with a discussion of the hedonism of Aristippus. I acknowledge that my account of Aristippean hedonism is somewhat speculative.

In Chapter 3 I present a catalogue of classic objections to hedonism. The objections come from a variety of sources, ancient and modern. The first of these concerns the idea that some pleasures are base or disgusting or unworthy. Hedonism, it is alleged, goes wrong because it says that a life full of such pleasures would be a good one, when in fact it would be a bad life. I focus on versions of the argument due to Aristotle, Broad, Moore, Brentano, and Brandt. In section 3.2 I discuss an objection based on the notion of “false pleasure”. This is also

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