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Hedonism, Desire Satisfaction, And A Good Life

1344 words - 6 pages

Hedonism, Desire Satisfaction, and a Good Life

So, would you like to have a good life?

I wouldn't.

Well, actually I would in a sense. After all, for something to be 'good' is to be 'such as to fulfill the desires in question'. The desires in question, in this case, are my desires. To say that I do not desire a good life is to say that I do not desire a life that has those properties that I desire.

However, a good life is not the only thing I want. I want a great many of things. I would like to have a good steak. A good steak is a steak is a steak that has those qualities that I desire in a steak regarding taste and size. However, I want a great many things and often find that i ...view middle of the document...

I am making an aesthetic judgment - evaluating the steak in relation to my own desires regarding the taste, texture, and other qualities of the food itself.

I bring this up because a member of the studio audience sent me a paper, Desire Satisfaction and Hedonism by Chris Heathwood (Philosophical Studies (2006) 128:539–563).

Heathwood's thesis is that:

Hedonism and the desire-satisfaction theory of welfare (‘‘desire satisfactionism’’) are typically seen as archrivals in the contest over identifying what makes one’s life go best. It is surprising, then, that the most plausible form of hedonism just is the most plausible form of desire satisfactionism.

If we were to try to plug the desire utilitarian concept of desire fulfillment into the term "desire satisfaction" in this thesis, there is an immediate problem. Hedonism is an internalist value theory. It holds that what has value is that the brain be in a particular state and draws no relationship between the brain in that state and the external world. This is why hedonist theories fall victim to all sorts of "experience machine" objections. It means that if we get the brain into a particular state and leave it there, we can do whatever we want to the real world and it will have no value.

Desire fulfillment is an externalist value theory. It holds that value can be found in relationships between desires and states of affairs in the real world. A state of affairs S is good (in the generic non-moral sense) insofar as an agent A has a reason to bring about S if and only if A has a desire that P and P is true in S. We can freeze the brain in a particular state of desiring S. However, if we change S we destroy the relationship between S and the desire that P, and thus destroy value.

This is a fundamental difference that makes it impossible for one to be like the other.

Hearthwood gets the externalist nature of desire fulfillment right in his description of desire satisfaction.

Every time a subject S desires that some state of affairs p be the case, and p is the case, S’s desire that p be the case has been satisfied.

Hearthwood adds:

It is no part of Simple Desire Satisfactionism that, for a person's desire to be satisfied, the person must experience feelings of satisfaction.

This is true.


Everyone seems to agree on one restriction to Simple Desire Satisfactionism right off the bat: we should count only intrinsic desires.

By "intrinsic desires" Heathwood seems to be talking about what I call "desires as ends" (as distinguished from desires-as-means) which I, too, would agree with.

However, Heathwood - inexplicably, as far as I can tell - links this to a good life.

According to Simple Desire Satisfactionism, your life goes...

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