Hedonism

Source: Stanford, First published Tue Apr 20, 2004.

Motivational hedonism is the claim that only pleasure or pain motivates us. It is the most significant form of psychological hedonism. Normative hedonism is the claim that all and only pleasure has worth or value, and all and only pain has disvalue. Jeremy Bentham endorsed both sorts of hedonism in the ringing passage that opens his An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain, and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do” (Bentham 1789). Other major contributors to debate about hedonism include Plato, Aristotle, Mill, Moore, Sidgwick, Ross, and Broad. The discussion below nevertheless proceeds analytically rather than historically, discussing each main form of hedonism in turn.

Pleasure will here be understood broadly, to include all pleasant feeling or experience, such as elation, ecstacy, delight, joy, and enjoyment. Pain will be taken to include all unpleasant feeling or experience: aches, throbs, irritations, anxiety, anguish, chagrin, discomfort, despair, grief, depression, guilt and remorse. Ordinary language must be stretched to accommodate these broad usages. Pleasure and pain themselves might be states, states of affairs, things, events or properties. Below, ‘pleasurableness’ and ‘painfulness’ will be used when talk of properties is intended; and ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’ will do duty for all the other options. The intention is to avoid commitment as to which category pleasure and pain fit into. Further economy will often be secured by making ‘pleasure’ do duty for ‘pleasure or pleasurableness’.

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