Life, the Universe, and Everything

A Course Blog for GET1029/GEK1067

Tag: W02

An Exchange with a Student

An email from a student (X), who gave me permission to share with the class.

Hi Prof. Loy,

This is X and I am one of your students in GET1029 this semester. I have some doubts that I don’t know if I should bring it up during tutorial but it’s keeping it awake at night so I thought I might just write an e-mail to ask you first.

1. The first topic discussing value theories have a big assumption that, everything in this world intrinsically contains value, ie something must be good or bad. So as a nihilistic person myself, who believes in that the illusion of well-being is merely a biological mechanism to ensure the survival of a life being, my stand is that why aren’t we scrutinizing this assumption? Because it is in my opinion a very strong argument against all three theories that we have discussed, as it directly challenges the ground that these theories stand upon.

2. And let’s say I accept the assumption that everything contains intrinsic value. One of the “worries” of the Objective List Theory is that different people may have a different list of things that constitute well-being, and different weightage/mixtures for the same list. My question is that, could it be that well-being might not have a universal benchmark, but is instead defined by the perception of each individual? So, the bigger question is that, is it acceptable for a philosophical theory to accept that the “one, whole story” about well-being just does not exist?

I would very much appreciate if you would allow me to pick your brain on these issues that I have!

Best Regards,


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Quiz 01 Hints

  • Question 1

Small edit to make things clearer (“doesn’t work” –> “not satisfactory”). Further hint = Don’t ignore what you’ve been taught in the Webinar. Just noticed something on W02 Slide #25 that, if more explicit, will probably help students. You can edit the last sentence there to “Hausman thinks that this is a serious objection to all Mental-States Theories of well-Being—mental states are only tangentially connected with how things really are.” Think of it this way–mental states are often caused by things happening in reality (e.g., someone punches you–you feel pain), or even reflect reality (e.g., you believe that the E-Lecture is happening because you are seeing and hearing things); but sometimes, they aren’t reflective of reality (e.g., you feel as if you are receiving the  Oscars–you were dreaming….). General advice: A lot of you really need to read the two relevant paragraphs in Hausman (beginning from “But there’s lots of different kinds of pleasures…”) very, very carefully.

  • Question 2

Typo corrected (should be “W02 Slide #21”).

  • Question 3

Small clarification appended to Option B (“i.e., it’s better for me not to plug in”) to make things clearer. If someone asks you whether X might be a Y, the way to proceed is to see if there’s anything about X (in the given information) that makes it not possible for it to be a Y. If so, answer “no”. Further hint = Don’t ignore the setup of the story. General advice: According to the Doctrine of Ethical Hedonism: Pleasure is the only intrinsically good thing–the only thing that is good in itself, rather than derivatively (W02 Slide #21; see also #15).

Update: A student asked me to explain what Claire was saying (“The one thing pleasure is good for is that it causes me to be fulfilled“). Since I did, I thought I should share with the rest of you. Think of a simpler analogy. Imagine someone telling you something like this: “The one [i.e., only] thing these rocks are good for, is that they can be paperweights (i.e., they can cause paper to be weighted down)…”

  • Question 5

General advice: See general advice for Question 3.

  • Question 6

General advice: Read the relevant paragraph in Hausman very carefully. The one quoted in the question itself.

  • Question 7

General advice: Review the material of Slides #29-30 carefully, and as one complete train of thought. If necessary, go replay the recording.

  • Question 8

Small typos corrected (“explanation”–>”explanations”).

W02 Q/A Part 5: Desires, Preferences, and Beliefs (some questions left at the end)

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–

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W02 Q/A Part 4: Ethical Hedonism

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.

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W02 Q/A Part 3: Well-being, and Morality

Hi prof, what is the difference between value theory and normative theory? whats the diff between good vs bad (value) and morally good/morally bad(normative)?

The short answer is that the matter of W02 is the good/bad while the subject of W03 is right/wrong. I’ll revisit this in W03.

What do we mean by morally correct if it is not subject to criticism? Since what is morally correct is subject to each other’s point of view (so everyone’s criticism?)

If you really did what is objectively right, then, you are not–rationally, deservingly–subject to criticism. This might not stop others from criticizing you, of course, since they might not have the correct beliefs. I should make this clearer in W03.

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W02 Q/A Part 2: Descriptive/Prescriptive, Well-being, and a Side of Aristotle

Before jumping into the Q/A itself, a general reminder. We are talking about two kinds of claims.

Descriptive Claim: A claim about how things are.

Prescriptive Claim: A claim about how things ought to be / how people ought to behave, etc.

But before going further, keep in mind that both kinds of claims admit of being true or false. That is, a claim (or in the terminology of “A Short Lesson for Arguments and Logic”, a statement) is true if and only if it’s the idea expressed really is the case. For example:

The claim “Singapore is part of Asia” is true if and only if it really is the case that Singapore is part of Asia.

The claim “People ought to be more caring to those who come from a disadvantaged background” is true if and only if it really is the case that people ought to be more caring to those who come from a disadvantaged background.

Conversely, when the thing expressed isn’t the case, then the claim is false. Don’t confuse the definition of what it means for a claim to be true with other issues such as, for instance, how we can know if a certain claim is true. They are related but not the same things. Ok, on with the questions.

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W02 Q/A Part 1: Course Matters

Let me start with the course or study related questions, before going to the substantive content questions in subsequent parts on the blog, or podcasts.

Hi Prof, just suggesting – i think itd be btr for the QnA to be shifted over to Zoom’s QnA function. That way while you’re explaining, maybe the tutors can help answer the questions asked using that function. the quality of the qns can improve since everyone here hides behind anonymity to shitpost

Hi Prof, I feel like the Pollev questions might be too distracting at times, is it possible for this to be shifted to another format so that the questions can be better curated/ less distracting?

prof can create a subreddit? then have different discussions for each lecture? cos that way we can respond to each others questions too

As far as I can tell, the fundamental constraint here isn’t really the platform–it’s the fact that there are many students. If you think it’s distracting to you, it’s just as distracting for us too… This is why I believe the it’s important for there to be smaller groups–likely based on tutorial groups, or clusters of them under the same tutor. Or your own informal peer groups. Likely using Telegram or some other persistent platform. But these can be managed by students, or perhaps the tutors.

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