Friday, October 17, 2008

A new problem for psychological hedonism?

Toby Ord comments
PH claims that one’s acts are all ultimately chosen to maximise one’s pleasure. However, there is a tension between immediate pleasure and lifetime pleasure. Indeed, it is easy to think of cases where people choose immediate pleasure at the expense of their total lifetime pleasure and to think of cases where people deny themselves immediate pleasure in order to increase lifetime pleasure. It thus seems that we can’t be attempting to maximise either immediate pleasure or lifetime pleasure. PH therefore lacks a coherent maximand and must therefore be false, or at least in need of considerable additional explanation.

in the comments I think Owen Weddle demionstrates why so many more philosophers should take psychology degrees with this.

Human behaviors consist of both of trained behaviors and extemporaneous behaviors. The former come about mainly from our sociological groups, such as family, religion, political party, occupation, military, etc, along with incidental events not attributed to human causes. As such, the groups “train” the individual in certain to follow certain behaviors, either through reward, punishment or the individual reflecting upon the value of such an action (which may even result in a oppositional behavior). All of which are motivations that can, at least in part, be explained by PH. All new untrained behaviors, are then caused by the PH, but many our actions become trained. By in large, from sociological groups, who themselves seek the maximize pleasure and minimize the pain of the group as a whole. So, altruistic behavior can be explained by the group’s (to coin a phrase that may not exist) sociological “hedonism”

Owen actually hedges his comments more than I would. When I make a decision like whether to dance a jig there are a number of determining factors. One of them is "do I have legs?" if I was born without them most peopel would not see that as a coice that PH needs to explain. The next is do I know how to do a jog? well maybe there were lessons finishing five minutes ago - maybe I could have chosen to go. Is doing a jig still a choice? what if I DID go and yet I'm too embarassed to try? What if I try and I mess it up (by conci0usly placing my foot in a place that happens to be the wrong place) just enough for it not to be an actual jig?

Now if I believed in PH I could say "all the PH choices are real choices and all the non PH choices are emvironmental factors" and suddenly my argument is water tight despite being bit circular. I could also argue that habit based 'choices' are choices and blow that out of the water (although that gets pretty unintuitive). So it would seem that there is a hidden semantic debate to be had here unless one wants to argue at cross purposes.


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