Friday, January 8, 2010

15 What is pleasure?

What has intrinsic value…is it eventually only pleasure? Hedonism claims that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and that pain is the only intrinsic bad. And as we learnt last time: hedonism is the basic assumption of utilitarianism.

You are easily inclined to say: What is the big deal? Pleasure is just a feeling of enjoyment or content. However, if it were that simple. The MacMillan Encyclopedia of Philosophy, as well as the Stanford Encyclopedia have both an extensive article on pleasure.

Since pain is most commonly used as a term for a kind of bodily sensation, it is natural to think of pleasure as having the same status. And indeed there are uses of the term pleasure in which it seems to stand for a kind of bodily sensation.

But hedonist have often insisted that pleasure means more than a localized bodily sensation. You also have to include states of the following sort:

(1) Enjoying (taking pleasure in) doing something, such as playing tennis.
(2) Getting satisfaction out of something, such as seeing an enemy humiliated.
(3) Having a pleasant evening; hearing pleasant sounds.
(4) Feeling good, having a sense of well-being.
(5) Feeling contented being.

It seems clear that phenomena of these sorts do not consist in localized bodily sensations of the same type as headaches, except for being of an opposite quality. So this is a first problem with pleasure that can give you a headache.

Suppose you play a game of tennis. It is in fact too hot and you feel an oppressive humidity, you also enjoy the game, Apparently a mix of unpleasant and pleasant sensations.

Yet, afterwards you qualify the game as extremely pleasant. The pleasure sensation occurs in consciousness at the same time as all these cognitions. Therefore the sensation theory implies that I must be enjoying the oppressive humidity and the plane just as much as I am enjoying playing tennis.

But this is contrary to the facts. A person knows immediately which of the various things he is aware of at the moment he is taking pleasure in; and the sensation theory can give no account of this discrimination.

Then we choose to drop the view that pleasure is a (nonlocalized) sensation and choose for the idea that pleasure is not some kind of stand alone feeling but that pleasure is a quality that can attach to any state of consciousness.

However, listening to a symphony is pleasant as is kissing my wife and more, but we are unable to isolate a felt quality that they share, in the way in which we can easily isolate a quality of redness which a number of different visual sensations share, or a quality of painfulness that a number of different bodily sensations share.

When experiencing different shades of red we have outside support of our sensory qualities. We can tie down the quality to a certain kind of stimulation; people ordinarily get red visual sensations when and only when their optic nerves are stimulated by stimuli of a certain physical description.Nothing of the kind applies to pleasant sensations.

We can raise an even wider issue about motivational hedonism, about the idea that pleasure is the only value which justifies our actions.

Is it a contingent claim, about an aspect of our psychology that could have been otherwise? Or does it posit a law of our psychological nature, or a necessary truth about all metaphysically, conceptually, or logically possible worlds? We won't deal with these questions here, but think about them….

Some critics argue that not all pleasures are valuable, since, for example, there is no value in the pleasures of a sadist while whipping a victim.

Other opponents object that not only pleasures are intrinsically valuable, because other things are valuable independently of whether they lead to pleasure or avoid pain. For example, my love for my wife does not seem to become less valuable when I get less pleasure from her because she contracts some horrible disease.

Robert Nozick (1938–2002) came up with the idea of the experience machine, in fact the situation which you see in the movie The Matrix. Assuming that the machine is reliable, it would seem irrational not to hook oneself up to this machine if pleasure and pain were all that mattered, as hedonists claim.

Since it does not seem irrational to refuse to hook oneself up to this machine, hedonism seems inadequate. The reason is that hedonism overlooks the value of real friendship, knowledge, freedom, and achievements, all of which are lacking for deluded people on the experience machine.

These are just a few arguments which question the meaning and usability of pleasure / pain as the sole explanation and justification of morality. J.J.C Smart wrote a Defense of Consequentialism.

We might have a look at that next lecture. Maybe there is a consequentialism that leans less heavily on the hedonistic justification.

The Discussion

[13:23] herman Bergson: It was a pleasure.... ㋡ Thank you.
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:23] Saxon Beresford: lol
[13:23] BrainCrave OHare: seems pretty basic to me: there are objective standards for pleasure and subjective
[13:23] Izana Magic: : )
[13:24] herman Bergson: what are objective standards for pleasure, Brain?
[13:25] Alarice Beaumont: ppl experience pleasure differently, no?
[13:25] herman Bergson: that is why I ask
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:25] BrainCrave OHare: pleasures that would be required for life - e.g., freedom
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: ah ok
[13:26] Adriana Jinn: it should be but not so evident
[13:26] herman Bergson: freedom is a condition of being...maybe accompanied with is not equal to pleasure
[13:26] herman Bergson: freedom and the desire of freedom can be a source of great anxiety...
[13:26] BrainCrave OHare: i might buy that
[13:27] herman Bergson: for instance in Iran
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: or Russia over most of its history
[13:27] Gemma Cleanslate: and again it depends on what the idea of freedom is at a certain time or a certain place
[13:27] herman Bergson: Yes
[13:27] Alarice Beaumont: yes
[13:28] BrainCrave OHare: how about this one as objective standard: eating when you're hungry
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: so i guess it will all fit into subjective
[13:28] Alarice Beaumont: gives that pleasure?
[13:28] herman Bergson: That too Gemma, unless there is an absolute definition of fredom, which there isnt I would say
[13:28] oola Neruda: i work with a lot of blind people.. and a young blind man assured me once that he knew what red is... listing fire trucks, lights and cherries among his understanding of red.... he INSISTED that he knew what red is... i am an artist so i have my own ideas about red.... HOW CAN WE COMMUNICATE ABOUT PLEASURE
[13:28] Alarice Beaumont: pleasure would be with nice music and a glass of wine and nice company ,-)
[13:29] herman Bergson: I guess we could agree on that Alarice ㋡
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:29] Alarice Beaumont: ;-)
[13:29] Saxon Beresford: but nice is also subjective
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:29] Alarice Beaumont: yes..
[13:29] herman Bergson: But playing a game of tennis means also pleasure...
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: not to me lol
[13:29] Adriana Jinn: the pleasure can be just waking in the morning and feel free to organize your day
[13:29] Alarice Beaumont: probably not to everyone
[13:29] Izana Magic: people who loves tennis?
[13:29] Izana Magic: : )
[13:30] Adriana Jinn: just take your bath in the morning
[13:30] herman Bergson: most important thing is that tho we have a general intuition of pleasure, we cant identify a common factor
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: he had an idea of red that was pleasurable...
[13:30] Adriana Jinn: the pleasure is a feeling or a sensation ?
[13:31] Saxon Beresford: well there is an objective and measurable physiological reaction that matches pleasure
[13:31] herman Bergson: And what has become clear to me is that the pleasure / pain feature isnt a sufficient basis for justifying acts as good or bad
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: pleasure must not be as fundamental to the good -- yes, agree
[13:31] herman Bergson: There is a lot of debate about that Saxon
[13:32] herman Bergson: There is a lot of neurological research on pleasure experiences...
[13:32] Saxon Beresford: mm well seratonins and endorphins do correlate somewhat to pleasure
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: yes with new machinery to locate the pleasure in the brain
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: actually see it
[13:33] herman Bergson: yes that all is possible, but they are not able to locate 'pleasue' as such
[13:33] Saxon Beresford: yes you can see it on a pet scan
[13:33] herman Bergson: they can correlate certain observations with certain externa stimuli
[13:34] herman Bergson: but the dont know if it is a specific part of the brain or a combination of a lot of neuron networks
[13:34] Adriana Jinn: pleasure is not necessary good for every one
[13:34] herman Bergson: besides that....
[13:34] herman Bergson: what does it say "I had a pleasant evening' and on the scan we see part X iin the brain fire
[13:35] herman Bergson: does it mean when we are technically able to fire part X in the brain I will say "I had a pleasant evening'?
[13:36] Saxon Beresford: good point
[13:36] herman Bergson: So far I believe that the motivational or normative hedonism isn't a sufficient explanation of our moral behavior
[13:37] Ellla McMahon: maybe it does .. take people who like to lie on nail beds .. to most of us that would be a painful experience but to those that enjoy the experience, perhaps partX in their brain is being fired
[13:37] herman Bergson: There definitely is a relation with pleasure /pain, like in all living organisms
[13:38] herman Bergson: Oh yes Ellla, there is a lot of research on brain activity during meditative states
[13:38] Adriana Jinn: yes
[13:38] herman Bergson: But is the brain activity the total picture
[13:39] herman Bergson: personally I am eager to believe that, but I still have a feeling we are missing here something
[13:40] herman Bergson: The experience of a pleasant evening is not just identical with brain activity
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: memory
[13:40] herman Bergson: All scienfiction computers show the opposite
[13:40] Adriana Jinn: in singing
[13:41] herman Bergson: all electronic activity is identical with their performance
[13:41] Adriana Jinn: the activity is much involved
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: oh
[13:41] herman Bergson: Yes.... making music and enjoying that
[13:41] Saxon Beresford: maybe maybe we all understand pleasure because the consequences of whatever the stimulus (dinner tennis etc) are the same like red
[13:41] Alarice Beaumont: I think one only sees that there is action in the brain.. but not possible to identify if good or bad
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: i wonder if those machines can see brain activity indicating pleasure when one recalls a past event
[13:42] herman Bergson: Good point there Alarice
[13:42] Adriana Jinn: it seems that with the scanner they can
[13:42] Alarice Beaumont: really?
[13:43] Adriana Jinn: i read something about that lately
[13:43] herman Bergson: Well Gemma...we identify brain activity as pleasure, because the scanned person says so...indeed
[13:43] Alarice Beaumont: would be interesting to test it
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: "mind" then seems to be more than the simple sum of the parts of the brain
[13:43] herman Bergson: otherwise we never could conclude it from the scan
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: oh yes
[13:43] herman Bergson: That is a huge Chapter repose...!
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: need to understand consciousness to develop an adequate ethic?
[13:44] Repose Lionheart: hope not :(
[13:44] herman Bergson: Yes...maybe so Repose
[13:44] herman Bergson: I think the end...
[13:44] herman Bergson: it will lead to a philosophical antropology....a vision on man
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:45] herman Bergson: I have a vague notion that the concept of virtue will become important in our discourse
[13:45] oola Neruda: i do not think we can agree on a sensation (like red) because of the differences we have in our experiences...
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:45] oola Neruda: people near the equator think of cold differently than canadians do
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: yes, or even not in experience, as you noted above ㋡
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: true
[13:46] herman Bergson: but they may agree on not killing fellowmen
[13:46] Adriana Jinn: same for the notion of plesure
[13:46] Adriana Jinn: pleasure
[13:47] oola Neruda: some societies do not stop at the idea of killing and even eating their fellow man
[13:47] herman Bergson: well I dont know Adriana...
[13:47] herman Bergson: Some people experience pleasure in eating insects....
[13:47] Adriana Jinn: yes
[[13:48] herman Bergson: I what pleasure experience is that?
[13:48] Adriana Jinn: that is why i say that the notion of pleasrue is different for people
[13:48] herman Bergson: ok
[13:48] herman Bergson: but maybe not of murder and theft
[13:49] Adriana Jinn: of course yes i agree
[13:49] herman Bergson: We''ll pursue our course in the direction of consequentialism and see if there still is a defense
[13:49] Adriana Jinn: the romans seems to have pleasure seeing people eaten by lions
[13:49] BrainCrave OHare: i've gone over every possible example i can think of that could be considered an objective standard of pleasure and i've come to the conclusion that it's likely all pleasure is subjective
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: oh good brain
[13:50] Adriana Jinn: yes
[13:50] herman Bergson: ok Brain..
[13:50] Repose Lionheart: could be...
[13:50] Adriana Jinn: yes
[13:50] herman Bergson: Again...what we call pleasure.... we have no common feaure
[13:51] herman Bergson: Like the word game...
[13:51] herman Bergson: think of Wittgenstein's idea about that
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: ;he has become a favorite go to person
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:52] herman Bergson: Like A has a feature in common with B and B one with C but C not with A and yet we call A,B and C examples of pleasure
[13:54] herman Bergson: I hope I have kept my promise to 'explain' what pleasure means as basis for moral justification
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: will have to read an digest it all again
[13:54] herman Bergson: I guess you are now enjoying the pleasure of thinking about that ㋡
[13:54] Adriana Jinn: it is quite interesting
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: lololl
[13:55] Adriana Jinn: yes
[13:55] Repose Lionheart: lol
[13:55] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:55] BrainCrave OHare: well, if pleasure is all subjective, then it is moral to let each person decide what is best for their own pleasure/happiness
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: Herman
[13:55] Adriana Jinn: lots to do with that
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: see you tuesday
[13:55] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[13:55] Saxon Beresford: thanks Herman
[13:55] Izana Magic: thank you very much : )
[13:55] Repose Lionheart: thank you, Professor
[13:55] Izana Magic: was enjoyable class!
[13:55] herman Bergson: Yes Brain and then we are back to moral relativism which we declined as an answer
[13:55] Alarice Beaumont: was great!
[13:55] Adriana Jinn: thanks so much herman
[13:55] Saxon Beresford s brain hurts
[13:55] herman Bergson: My pleasure ㋡
[13:55] Alarice Beaumont: thx very much Herman :-))
[13:55] Izana Magic: lol
[13:55] BrainCrave OHare: thanx herman
[13:56] Izana Magic: i might have activated a few new cells...
[13:56] Izana Magic: chuckles
[13:56] herman Bergson: See you all on Tuesday....maybe consequentialism will be saved
[13:56] Saxon Beresford: lol

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