To recap, W02 Slide #28 introduces the basic Desire Satisfaction Theory of Well-being–

Desire Satisfaction Theory of Well-being (DST) = Betty is doing well =df Betty’s desires are satisfied—she gets what she wants.

The next two slides talk about the problem of false beliefs, and then  Slide #31 introduces the improved version of the DST–

Preference Satisfaction Theory (PST) = Betty lives well =df Betty’s preferences are satisfied—she gets what she would have wanted if she didn’t have false beliefs.

Before moving on, let’s consider how DST/PST are different from PPT (and Ethical Hedonism), since some students are still slightly puzzled–

Can explain abit whats the difference between pleasure/pain and mental state

Is it to say that mental states (i.e. PPT) does not correlate as well to reality as much as PST? What if my mental state has to do with how societal norms pan out?

In simple terms, is the difference between Hedonist theory and PST/DST that in PST/DST, reality is required, but in Hedonist, relality is not required (ie expereince machine)?

The short version is this. On the PPT (and more generally, all Mental States Theories of Well-being), you are doing well if you have a certain mental state–you feel a certain way (e.g., experience a surfeit of pleasure over pain, etc.). What makes you well off is thus something always about your mental states. In contrast, on the DST and PST, what makes you well-off concerns how the world pans out.

If you are experiencing a certain pleasure or feeling a certain pain–that’s it, you are experiencing those mental states. As you recall, how you come to experience those mental states is a different issue. Maybe you came to have those mental states because you were interacting with people. Maybe it’s because you were dreaming, or plugged into an experience machine–these details don’t matter as long as you really are experiencing those mental states.

Desires and preferences work differently. They are satisfied, if it turns out that the thing you want “obtains”. If you want to solve a word puzzle, your desire is satisfied if you… solved that word puzzle. If you want the president of some other country to be nicer to the prime minister of yet another country, your desire is satisfied if the first fella is nicer to the second fella.

what if someone doesn’t know what they want?

The beautiful thing about the DST (and PST) is that, as far as well-being goes–this doesn’t matter. Just because you don’t know what you want, it doesn’t follow that your wants cannot be satisfied, or not satisfied–assuming you have those wants. (Or preferences.) Now, plausibly, if DST is true, and you don’t know what you want, then you may have some trouble achieving well-being–if knowledge of the good (and thus what you want) is needed for you to do so. But this doesn’t imply that the DST is false as a theory of well-being. It just means that if you are ignorant of your own desires, you are going to have a tougher time achieving your well-being…

achieving your desires is not the end goal though, it is the pleasure that results in getting what you want?

The two can meet, of course–suppose you want to experience a certain pleasure, say, of eating some ice cream. Then your desire is satisfied when you experience the relevant mental states. But even so, whether your desire is satisfied is not simply subjective–it’s not as if you can just tell yourself “I’m now feeling the pleasure of eating some ice cream” while you are chewing some sawdust. (The pleasure is subjective in the sense that if you are subjectively perceiving it, that’s the end of the matter as to whether you are experiencing it. But whether you are or not perceiving it isn’t subjective in the same sense!) And furthermore, unless you also believe that the only thing we can want is something about our own mental states–that at least some of the things we want are about other things–then the gap between the two can always exist: your desire being satisfied doesn’t always have to go hand in hand with any subjective mental experience at all.

Imagine, on your deathbed, you direct the executors of your estate to use your vast fortune to fund an interstellar expedition–because your desire is that humankind visit our neighboring star systems and come back. If your goal is literally the pleasure that results in getting what you want, then sorry, it’s impossible for you to get what you want–you will be long dead by the time the thing you want happens. So unless it’s impossible for you to want such a thing, the only way out is to say that in principle, it is possible for us to want something that isn’t about how we feel at all. You desire is satisfied–after your demise–when the expedition has successfully returned to earth after visiting those star systems!

Long and short: there is thus a very important sense in which the conditions for our desires to be satisfied might not be subjective at all.

It seems these theories are subjective to the individual’s criteria for pain/pleasure & preference/desires. How then can we measure the criterias objectively when everyone’s life are live and experienced in such different ways?

The above doesn’t mean, however, that we all have the same desires or preferences. Just as the PPT doesn’t assume that we derive pleasure/pain from the same things, the DST/PST doesn’t assume that we desire/prefer the same thing. And so, like the PPT, the DST/PST has a ready explanation for why different things are good/bad for different people–they differ because people have different desires and preferences!

Could u combine PST and hedonism in that case to balance the reality and mental states related to well-being

Yes–and so create a new Objective List Theory which says that what’s intrinsically good are (1) our preferences being satisfied, and (2) pleasure over pain… (Just be careful though–you might not literally be creating such a new theory. You might be subsuming one under the other.)

Does DST/PST say something about the “metric” of unsatisfied desires/satisfaction? would someone with no desire (hence no desire satisfaction) be considered living as well as someone with desires but none are satisfied?

Nice one! Presumably, for DST/PST the person who has no desires or preferences can’t also be well-off given that he has not satisfied desire. So it will depend on whether the particular version of the theory says that when an existing desire or preference is not satisfied, it’s not just a zero, but a minus.

what if someone wants something bad to happen to someone else and they fulfill that action? eg; revenge

It’s analogous to the situation where someone derives pleasure from “morally bad” things. If one is a consistent DST, and this is what the person wants, then he does well when his desire is satisfied.

On to the issue of false beliefs–which motivates the transition from DST to the PST:

Regarding false beliefs, how would we define them? As in misunderstandings, being decieved or as a social construct?

How is it possible to not have false beliefs in reality?

What if we are all brainwashed in a doctrine (as in 1984) to think that ‘freedom is slavery’, ‘war is peace’ and ‘ignorance is strength’ is good for us? how do we constitute this as living well?

This is where being entirely grounded is going to be important. We are actually counting upon a very ordinary notion of a false belief–you believe that something is the case, it really isn’t the case. You walk to UTown Foodclique believing that Tiantian Chicken Rice is available, only to discover that the stall holder went on a holiday. You believe that the question on quantum entanglement will come out in the exams (your groups was trying to spot questions), and as a matter of fact, it isn’t. It doesn’t get more ordinary than this–we sometimes get the world wrong. Maybe because of carelessness. Maybe others fooled us. Maybe we were just unlucky. Sure, maybe because we happened to live in a society in which a falsehood is widely believed. And you can certainly have a false belief without ever discovering so.

The issue isn’t about how we sometimes have these false beliefs. It’s not even about whether we can find out (I believe that in many cases, we can often find out, but only in a piecemeal way–another story for another day). To motivate the PST, all you need to agree is that (a) sometimes, all things else being equal, we wouldn’t have wanted the things (don’t forget that “things” are just “stuff”; see Slide #28) we actually wanted if we had known better, and (b) in at least some portion of those cases, we would have ended worse off (e.g., by the same measure of desire satisfaction) if we had gotten what we actually wanted. The (b) condition is important–

While a belief might be false, the consequence of believing in it brings about much more satisfaction for them, then would that lead to an overall net benefit, and thus well being is achieved?

The cases we are thinking of thus concerns those where both the (a) condition and the (b) condition hold.

Is the preference satisfaction theory a subset of the desire satisfaction theory?

Technically no. Our preferences aren’t a subset of our desires. They are the desires we would have if we didn’t have false beliefs–which may or may not overlap with the desires we actually have, depending on how bad our ignorance is. If we don’t have many false beliefs of the sort that matter (given the (a) and (b) condition), then, our preferences are going to be the same as our desires. But if we have many false beliefs of the sort that matter, then, in principle, it might well be that most of our desires are not among our preferences at all.

Prof, can we say that preferences are influenced by prior experiences and desires are influenced by false perception of experiencing something?

No–our desires are not all influenced by the false perception of experiencing something–they could be, that’s all. Our preferences are the desires that we would have if we don’t have those false perceptions, for instance.

If there’s a way to confirm that the person will never find out their belief is false and they still achieve their desire with full satisfaction, does it lead to a good life? Because I believe that one will only live a bad life if they REALISE that they have been living with a false belief all along

In which case you are not a true DST/PST person–you ultimately hold a type of Mental State Theory, assuming that’s what you mean by their “realizing” something, that they come to believe/perceive that the earlier belief is wrong.

Could PST be used to discount the experience of those suffering from mental-illnesses? E.g. people who are suffering from depression but do well in all other areas of life and are accomplished – would PST say that they have lived well?

I don’t see why though–presumably, someone suffering from mental-illnesses can also have preferences, and if PST is true, then, they are doing well when their preferences are satisfied. So, if that person’s preference is to, e.g., be accomplished, then he lived well according to PST. The fact that he is suffering from depression doesn’t really affect this part of the equation,.

The Rob and Sob scenario (Slide #33).

i’m sorry, but what’s the problem with it being too real to reality? is it because PST is neglecting mental states..? i am a little confused

I’m being tongue in cheek. The idea is that, Rob and Sob are stipulated to have the same preferences–to be respected in the community. For Sob, his preferences is satisfied even though his experience is exactly as if its not. For Rob, his preference is not satisfied even though his experience is exactly as if it is. If you are a consistent PST (and we can tweak the thing for DST too), you are supposed to say that Rob is better off. But conceivably, some of you might find that implausible.

But to be clear, I don’t think Rob and Sob is a serious objection against DST or PST, just as Bob and Tod wasn’t a fatal objection against Hedonism. Rather, to the extent that the DST/PST theorist takes Rob and Sob seriously, the easy way out will be to argue that a (subjective) sense that life is going well is itself something that we want/prefer. This allows her to keep the theory without introducing another basis for well-being that is not desire satisfaction or preference satisfaction.

Could we argue that, under PST, the real preference isn’t to be ‘respected’, but to be ‘aware that you are respected’. Would that make a difference?

It will make a difference since you are changing the scenario… but this doesn’t really affect the original scenario though. General rule of thumb–changing the scenario isn’t the way to show that what the original scenario was attempting to show doesn’t work. But otherwise, if the preference is to have that awareness, then it’s relatively straightforward–Rob’ has his preference satisfied while Sob’ doesn’t. With all this in mind, it will follow that the answer to:

Is PST incomplete in the way that it negates the self-perception of ones desires?

Is “no”–since it’s actually not hard for PST to incorporate the having of certain subjective states as things that people prefer. What it doesn’t want to do is to say that the having those subjective states is itself intrinsically good.

Would Worry #2 basically bottom out as asking whether the statement ‘I prefer x’ is a descriptive or prescriptive statement? It seems to me that a Preference Theorist would say it’s inherently prescriptive, whilst others may say it is descriptive.

This is referring to Slides #24-35–technically, no. The PST theorist should not say that “I prefer X” is prescriptive. Rather, it is descriptive–a bit like a prediction. If “I prefer X” is prescriptive–e.g., it is covertly “I should X”–then in a sense the preference is no longer doing work serving as the thing the satisfaction of is intrinsically good. Whatever is making it such that X is the thing “I should” is doing the real work now.

Still kinda related to Rob and Sob:

But who’s to say we’re not in a simualtion right now? Since it’s hard for us to determine reality in the first place (I mean isn’t reality a whole philosophical topic on it’s own), shouldn’t state of mind be everything?

If one is already a Mental State Theorist (whether of the Hedonist sort or not), then obviously, “state of mind” is everything. But the idea that we are already in a simulation is neither here nor there. Even in a simulation, there will still be a difference between the simulation of a mind whose desires are satisfied–because the rest of the simulated world pans out as desired, and one whose desires are not satisfied. Or one whose beliefs are true because they line up with the rest of the simulated world, and one whose beliefs are not so. And there will also be the simulation of pleasure, pain, and so on. All this just means that even within a simulation, you can still have an analogous divide between a mental states theory of well-being versus a desire or preference satisfaction theory… I know it sounds weird.

There’s more but I’m going to take a rest… Let’s hope I have time to come back to this later. It may not seem so but some of these are going to take us into deeper waters than they may seem at first sight. So in a sense, I am quite pleased that people are pushing the limits. But it sure is working your instructor hard 😀

Then cant I just afterwards ask the question “Why should I desire/prefer what I desire/prefer?” as a way to deconstruct the theory even more?

In the case of choosing a major/career path, is pst not as applicable because it is speculative? Because you don’t know whether it will be good for you?

is the preference-satisfaction theory a good way to compare between the goodness of two different lives? how would it be possible if they have very different preferences?

why is an article of property, an estate of land , for example, valuable to one?

Would you say that in terms of sequence: the decision of which is better/worse between 2 things would come first, followed by the desire and preference between the 2 things?

For PST the problem is that there needs to be a metric to choose between preferences correct? Why can’t that be a preference itself?

What if our desires/preferences change over time? e.g. my desires before and after entering uni changes.

There are also others that have already been earmarked by the tutors for our discussion in Podcast Episode #2.