3

HEDONISM

In Chapter 2 we saw that egoism, defined as getting what you want, is not an adequate conception of the best sort of life for a human being. Its strength is supposed to be that it locates the motive for the good life in subjective desire and not in any abstract conception of 'the good'; but try as we might, we cannot avoid questions about the relative value of the various desires that human beings have. In other words, we cannot avoid asking what we ought to want, and it is this question that a desire based egoism fails to answer.

In order to overcome this and other difficulties we considered a redefinition of egoism in terms of interests ­- the good life is one in which you successfully promote your own interests. This version does tell us what we ought to want ­- we ought to want what is in our own best interests, but it is not difficult to see that this answer does not take us much further forward. We now need to know what is in our best interests. What are the best things to want? In the history of philosophy an answer to this question is provided by a doctrine closely associated with the egoism we have just discussed. This is hedonism ­- the belief that the point of living is to enjoy life and that accordingly the best life is the most pleasurable one. So close is the association between egoism and hedonism that it is not always easy to distinguish the two views. In the Gorgias, for instance, the dialogue discussed in the previous chapter, the views Callicles espouses are both egoistic and hedonistic.

-39-

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Eight Theories of Ethics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface viii
  • A Note on Further Reading x
  • 1 - Ethics, Truth and Reason 1
  • 2 - Egoism 17
  • 3 - Hedonism 39
  • 4 - Naturalism and Virtue Theory 53
  • 5 - Existentialism 71
  • 6 - Kantianism 98
  • 7 - Utilitarianism 128
  • 8 - Contractualism 162
  • 9 - Ethics, Religion and the Meaning of Life 176
  • Bibliography 207
  • Index 211
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