To recap (W02 Slide #21):

Ethical Hedonism = Pleasure is the only intrinsically good thing (pain is the only intrinsically bad thing).

And if we frame this as a theory of well-being, we get–

Pleasure/Pain Theory of Well-being (PPT) = Ah Beng is doing well =df Ah Beng experiences pleasure rather than pain (or, a positive balance of pleasure over pain).

And this is a specific instance of a general kind of theory in which well-being consists in experiencing certain mental states, e.g., pleasure and the absence of pain. Ok, on to your questions.

Since pleasure/pain could be better/worse for different people, why is it a virtue of this theory that different intuitive judgements do not matter

Isn’t pain smt good for u? like when you get criticised constructively ? So it will lead to personal growth and better your well-being?

This is with reference to Slide #22–those other intuitions about other intrinsic goods don’t matter because the ambition of the PPT is exactly to reduce all of them to the status of extrinsic goods derivative of the one true intrinsic good (pleasure). The intuitive idea that sometimes, pain is good and pleasure is not so good, however, is more troublesome–but again, if one is serious about pushing the PPT, then one just have to either bite the bullet and reject the intuition, or better still, subsume it under a more nuanced PPT. Which may not be that hard–pain is sometimes instrumentally good because they lead to greater pleasure later, or to a better overall balance of pleasure over pain across one’s lifetime–there!

Is pain interchangeable with harm? Can one be harmed but not be in pain, or vice versa?

The PPT (and behind it, Ethical Hedonism) basically wants to argue that pleasure is the only intrinsic and pain is the only intrinsic bad. So, it’s going to follow that pain is harm–i.e., something that reduces well-being. Therefore, if PPT is true, one cannot be harmed while not being in pain; conversely, if one can be harmed while not in pain, it’s going to follow that PPT is false. (This is called “one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens“; or “the Texan’s challenge” in the reading for W04 Factory-Farmed Meat. Look out for it.)

Who gave whoever wrote this theory the right to claim that pain is the only intrinsically bad thing (and vice versa for pleasure)?

Is it right to say that the Pleasure/Pain theory is a way to determine wellbeing by categorizing factors in the folk theory into what leads to pleasure/pain?

Obviously, you shouldn’t just take it as it is–apply your own critical thinking, please! That said, we need to understand that this isn’t a fly-by-night theory. It’s very old (Socrates–the guy who taught Plato, who taught Aristotle–was already dealing with people who seemed to held views of this nature). And there’s a reason why it keeps coming back–all things considered, if nothing else, pleasure is one of those things that is plausibly good, and pain, bad in an intrinsic way. Other goods are more controversial. And more importantly, if an overall story can be told explaining the bulk of our other intuitions in terms of pleasure and pain–it’s nothing to sneer at! (Am I’m saying all this despite not being a Hedonist myself.)

but arent there many situations in which you experience both pleasure and pain?

in the pleasure and pain theory, wht about neutral things? are there abt actions which are purely neutral? or that are both?

What if life is not so much about pleasure and pain but monotony?

what if you have someone who cant feel pain/pleasure? (like those people with the rare condition)

Sure and sure–the same stretch of our lives can include the experience of both pleasure and pain. They might even be mixed in with each other. But this isn’t an issue, is it? As long as the pleasure is there, and the pain is there, and there’s a way to say whether there’s more of one rather than the other, the theory can tell you if you are doing well in that stretch of life. If neither are there, then, this theory makes no comment upon your well-being. Or alternatively, it says that you are in a neutral state that is neither good nor bad. Again, quite intuitive.

And if you have a condition such that you literally can’t feel either pleasure or pain, then, the theory will just have to say “tough luck”–there’s nothing good–or bad–about your life insofar as it is considered from the point of view of sentience. (Or alternatively, the theory will loosen up a bit on what it means by pleasure and pain to include less intense mental states–after all, such a person might still be able to believe that he is doing ok, or that he is not. Making this move will still allow the theory to stay within the Mental States Theory camp.)

what if our lives are just a hedonic treadmill? and there isn’t a way to live life better? and any well-being theory just gives you the illusion of doing better?

I’m not sure what you mean by “hedonic treadmill”. If there’s pleasure and pain to be had, the theorist has enough to work on. More critically, he might ask you where that “live life better” thing comes from, if not connected with the pleasure and pain. Note also that no theory can give you the illusion of doing better. If there already was a problem–given the idea that our lives are just a hedonic treadmill–then the problem exists whether or not a theory of well-being exist.

Does that mean humans like to do messed up things because we gain pleasure or enjoy pain? Does that lead to depravity?

So if i achieve happiness via drugging myself to get a good mental state, as in Brave New World,  would that be a good life?

If the theory is true. (The theorist is also going to press you on what you mean by “depravity”?) Note also that this is a theory of well-being, not a theory of morality. The two might still interact with either other, which brings me to:

what is the difference between ethical hedonism and utilitarianism?

Ah–good one. I started talking a bit when discussing the connection between individual well-being and social-well-being, and how normative theory may have a role to play. More in W03. For now, Hedonism is a theory about what things are intrinsically good/bad. Utilitarianism is a theory about what actions are morally right/wrong.

The remaining questions contain a lot of overlap so I will bundle them where possible. There are basically two clusters–one to do with the Hedonic Value calculation (Slide #23), and another to do with the Bob/Tod thought experiment (Slide #26). But first, the background. As mentioned on Slide #21, pleasure and pain are prominent members of our conscious experience. Consequently, there is a very important sense in which they are subjective–there is such a thing as how they feel like “from the point of view of the subject that is experiencing it” (more about this when we reach W10)–

Is the intensity present in the hedonic value assigned to the activities subjective to how a person perceives the pain/pleasure?

One implication is that there’s no further truth to the matter of whether you are experiencing pleasure or pain beyond your perceiving that pleasure or pain–in a manner of speaking, you can’t be wrong about your own feelings (or more colloquially, “don’t tell me how I’m feeling!”). The same applies to your judgment that this pain is intense than that pain, this pleasure lasts longer than that pleasure. And all this doesn’t mean that there’s no truth to the matter as to whether you are feeling pleasure or pain or both or neither, or that one pleasure is more intense than another or that one pain lasts longer than another–it’s just that the truth to the matter is bound up in your subjective perception, that’s all. And all this despite the fact that the experiences are obviously “intangible” in some crucial sense. There’s thus an easy answer to:

who assigns the hedonistic value as to how intense a pleasure is?

You–the subject experiencing the pleasure and pain–do. The theory is also entirely happy with acknowledging that one person get a bigger pleasure kick scoring well in the exams than another, or even that the same happenings (e.g., watching a live death metal concert, or if you prefer, a classical symphonic performance) gives one person pleasure while another pain.

Is hedonic values specific to individuals? I.e does it capture that pain for one may be pleasure for someone else and vice versa

After being in constant pain, some people just grow numb. Does it still count as pain when they became numb from pain?

If someone lives in more ‘pain’ most of the time and experiences pleasure more sparsely, would you say those rare pleasures are more intensely experienced? And are pleasures dulled if someone lives a life full of pleasures?

How can we measure well-being when some may feel pleasure in pain?

isn’t the intensity something that varies from each person as well?

Hi Prof, can I ask a question about PPT? Must the hedonistic calculator give the same values for 2 different people that went through the same experiences? Or is this invoking a question about subjective/objective well-being?

It all boils down to your subjective experience–you are the king of your own domain. If you are one of those who literally feels pleasure in pain, then, sure, count that in too. The theory isn’t interested and doesn’t need to care about in how you ended up experiencing that pleasure or that pain.

That said, there is a potential problem:

isnt there a problem in terms of attempting to quantify these since they’re mostly intangible? how can the value given be equal for all given that everyone responds to the same situation differently? if it’s not equal, how should it be distinguished?

That’s right, the problem concerns whether pleasure and pain can be quantified and measured. More specifically, one, whether we can go beyond basic pairwise comparisons to quantify the pleasures and pains on a common scale individually, and two, on a common scale that applies to a whole population.

Is trying to calculate hedonic value a form of physics envy…

Mathematical equations actually makes things very easy to quantify and compare in this kind of very abstract topics

i feel like if we want to “measure” pain and pleasure, duration shouldn’t be the duration of the actions (instrumental) but the duration of the impact (instrinsic).

The idea of doing this sort of calculation isn’t new–it predates 20th century mathematical physics. For purposes of the module, I gave you a simple (simplistic) version reduced to just intensity (technically, average intensity) x duration (yes, it’s the duration of the pleasure/pain, not the action). Back in the old days, the founder of Utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham (1747–1832) talked about as many as seven distinct vectors, nicely summed up in the following mnemonic:

Intense, long, certain, speedy, fruitful, pure—
Such marks in pleasures and in pains endure.
Such pleasures seek if private be thy end:
If it be public, wide let them extend
Such pains avoid, whichever be thy view:
If pains must come, let them extend to few.

The point, however is simple–given the terms of its own claims, PPT could do with a way to quantify and calculation. And if such a calculus can be had, it’s a very powerful consideration in favor of the theory. If. But that’s just another way of saying that this is… a really hard road to travel.

Could there be another path? Yes, though it’s fraught in it’s own way. Suppose we are able–through modern neuroscience, to discover the “Neural Correlates of Consciousness”–those neuronal events and mechanisms in a person’s brain and nervous system (and more broadly, the physical-chemical-electrical occurrences) sufficient for the presence of a specific perception of pain/pleasure, and even better, the way those neuronal events and mechanisms correlate to how much pleasure or pain the person is experiencing. Then, as long as those neuronal events and mechanisms can be detected and measured, we are in business!

If i just say Well-being is just a bunch a endorphins being released into the body–> the release of the happiness hormone and not anything related to  outer consequences can this be considered a philosophical theory? or m i just being objective?

Couldn’t we measure the intensity of someone’s pleasure or pain by measuring the chemical concentrations of serotonin or endorphins in the brain and thereby deriving some form of objective measurements?

Everything hangs, however, on discovering those neural correlates of consciousness–and that’s not as straightforward as it might seem. More about this much later, in W10.

Ok, now the Bob/Tod thought experiment (Slide #26). This will be more brief. First, a few misconceptions dispelled.

Is Tod aware that his experiences are machine-given and not real?

Bob, because he actually did it. With pleasure comes pain

tod, because he dint experience the pain asscosicated with success, just pure pleasure

No, Tod isn’t aware of any such thing–because whatever mental experiences Tod has, Bob has, and vice versa. As far as the mental experiences are concerned, the two are identical. This also means that Bob didn’t feel any extra pain compared to Tod. The very set up of the experiment is exactly to ask for your intuition given that the only difference between Tod and Bob is that while one only has the mental experience, the other has both the mental experience and the actual “real world” actions (in fact, he has the mental experiences because of his actual activities in the real world).

Isn’t Tod doing just as well as Bob until he wakes up?

So what if Bob’s experience is physically more authentic, where he is interacting with real people. To Tod, it is just as real and just as authentic, provide he doesn’t wake up

but Bob would have more external pleasures etc –> fans, people that adore him..wouldn’t that make his experience more authentic which would then add to his mental state and hence he is “well-being” is better?

Some people who want to be Tod because it is a thing. Most I assume would want to be Bob. However, is there a reason why one would choose one over the other?

they both believe they did well, so they both have a “good life”. but when youre being objective, only bob has the “good life” cause he act did all that they recorded

honestly I would say both are equal but I would rather be the real guy because no risk of one day waking up and discovering it was all a lie

I knew there wasn’t going to be time so I didn’t do a Poll but the little bit that came into the Pollev (above) is already indicative. Our intuitions aren’t all aligned. As far as I’m concerned, the thought experience (pace Professor Robert Nozick, and for that matter, Daniel Hausman as he presents the issue in the reading) doesn’t really refute Ethical Hedonism. But it’s a tremendous device for each of us to see for ourselves whether we are on the side of the Hedonist or on some other side.