Multiple Flavors of Hedonism

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Hedonism Two Ways

The basic tenet of hedonism states that pleasure or happiness is the highest good and ought to be what people strive for as an ultimate end. That being said, there are multiple flavors of hedonism with varying qualities, principles, definitions, and consequences. Ethical hedonism and psychological hedonism tend to garner the most attention. These two theories are similar at their foundations—later to be discussed—but when defined one is descriptive and the other normative in the nature of their values. Neither ethical nor psychological hedonism is perfect, I believe, though each has important strengths which offer the basis for discussion. Additionally, some arguments and ideas presented by Robert Nozick in his essay “The Experience Machine” prove relevant to the discussion of hedonism. One question in particular that Nozick poses proves fundamentally vital to the discussion of hedonism in ethics: other than our internal feelings, what else can or should matter to anyone? In the end, ethical and psychological hedonism will prove to be insufficient for living the good life, in my opinion, because of their extreme or unrealistic nature, and a middle amalgamation will emerge as the best policy.

The terminology in question must be defined in order to be properly critiqued. Ethical hedonism is the belief that humans ought to be able to pursue the utmost pleasure (happiness) as the highest good. More than that, ethical hedonism states that to do it, a person is within their right to make their own personal happiness the priority. That means that each individual human ought to put his self-interest ahead of everyone else’s. There are multiple ways to extrapolate this definition. G. E. Moore asserts that the egoist “...

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...anism might be applicable: “Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experience of both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure” (Mill 331). Uneducated people who do not have the “experience of both” aforementioned—whatever that is—may use the experience machine because they know no other way to extract pleasure from life. I do not think I can agree that “no one” would plug into the machine; it could make a great number of lives better. To the argument that people do not know what they have not seen (that someone who has never seen a luxury car cannot own one in the machine), Nozick helps my case by saying that “if you are worried about missing out on desirable experiences[…you] can pick and choose from their large library[…] of such experiences” (42).

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