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Summary

Hedonism about well-being, roughly put, says that how good or bad our lives are for us is just a matter of our pleasures and pains. 

Whether hedonism counts as a subjective or objective theory of well-being depends on whether it is paired with an attitude-based or felt-quality theory of pleasure.

The most influential contemporary challenge to hedonism is Robert Nozick's "experience machine" thought experiment, according to which hedonism entails that it would be best for one to plug into a machine that would give one any future course of experiences one wanted, when this plainly would not be best for one.

Key works

Important historical discussions of hedonism are found in Plato's Philebus, Epicurus' Letter to Menoeceus, Bentham's Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, and Mill's Utilitarianism. The most comprehensive contemporary defenses of hedonism are Feldman 2004, Crisp 2006 (Ch. 4), and Bramble forthcoming. Other defenses include Bradley 2009 (Ch. 1), Heathwood 2006, and Lazari-Radek & Singer 2014 (Ch. 9). Nozick's experience machine thought experiment appears in Nozick 1989.

Introductions Feldman 2004 provides the most thorough introduction to hedonism about well-being. See also Crisp 2013 (Sec. 4.1) and Heathwood 2014 (Sec. 3.1). 
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  1. Erik Angner (2012). Fred Feldman, What is This Thing Called Happiness? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), Pp. Xv + 286. Utilitas 23 (04):458-461.
  2. Felix Arnold (1906). The So-Called Hedonist Paradox. International Journal of Ethics 16 (2):228-234.
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  3. H. E. Baber (2008). The Experience Machine Deconstructed. Philosophy in the Contemporary World 15 (1):133-138.
    Nozick’s Experience Machine thought experiment is generally taken to make a compelling, if not conclusive, case against philosophical hedonism. I argue that it does not and, indeed, that regardless of the results, it cannot provide any reason to accept or reject either hedonism or any other philosophical account of wellbeing since it presupposes preferentism, the desire-satisfaction account ofwellbeing. Preferentists cannot take any comfort from the results of such thought experiments because they assume preferentism and therefore cannot establish it. Neither can (...)
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  4. Harriet Baber (2008). The Experience Machine Deconstructed. Philosophy in the Contemporary World 15 (1):133-138.
    Nozick’s Experience Machine thought experiment is generally taken to make a compelling, if not conclusive, case against philosophical hedonism. I argue that it does not and, indeed, that regardless of the results, it cannot provide any reason to accept or reject either hedonism or any other philosophical account of wellbeing since it presupposes preferentism, the desire-satisfaction account of wellbeing. Preferentists cannot take any comfort from the results of such thought experiments because they assume preferentism and therefore cannot establish it. Neither (...)
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  5. Nathan Ballantyne (unknown). A Defense Of Nozick's "Experience Machine". Eidos: The Canadian Graduate Journal of Philosophy 18.
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  6. Alex Barber (2011). Hedonism and the Experience Machine. Philosophical Papers 40 (2):257 - 278.
    Money isn’t everything, so what is? Many government leaders, social policy theorists, and members of the general public have a ready answer: happiness. This paper examines an opposing view due to Robert Nozick, which centres on his experience-machine thought experiment. Despite the example's influence among philosophers, the argument behind it is riddled with difficulties. Dropping the example allows us to re-version Nozick's argument in a way that makes it far more forceful - and less dependent on people's often divergent intutions (...)
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  7. Alex Barber (2011). Hedonism and the Experience Machine: Re-Reading of Robert Nozick,'The Experience Machine', in His Anarchy, State, and Utopia, New York: Basic Books, 1974, Pages 42–5. [REVIEW] Philosophical Papers 40 (2):257-278.
    Money isn’t everything, so what is? Many government leaders, social policy theorists, and members of the general public have a ready answer: happiness. This paper examines an opposing view due to Robert Nozick, which centres on his experience-machine thought experiment. Despite the example's influence among philosophers, the argument behind it is riddled with difficulties. Dropping the example allows us to re-version Nozick's argument in a way that makes it far more forceful - and less dependent on people's often divergent intutions (...)
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  8. Emily Barranco (2011). Arthur Dobrin, The Lost Art of Happiness. Journal of Value Inquiry 45 (4):483-485.
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  9. Sandy Berkovski (2012). The Possibility of Modified Hedonism. Theoria 78 (3):186-212.
    A popular objection to hedonist accounts of personal welfare has been the experience machine argument. Several modifications of traditional hedonism have been proposed in response. In this article I examine two such responses, recently expounded by Feldman and Sumner respectively. I argue that both modifications make hedonism indistinguishable from anti-hedonism. Sumner's account, I claim, also fails to satisfy the demands of theoretical unity.
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  10. Mark Bernstein (2001). L. W. Sumner, Welfare, Happiness and Ethics:Welfare, Happiness and Ethics. Ethics 111 (2):441-443.
  11. Michael Bishop (2015). The Good Life: Unifying the Philosophy and Psychology of Well-Being. OUP Usa.
    Science and philosophy study well-being with different but complementary methods. Marry these methods and a new picture emerges: To have well-being is to be "stuck" in a positive cycle of emotions, attitudes, traits and success. This book unites the scientific and philosophical worldviews into a powerful new theory of well-being.
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  12. Michael Bishop (2012). The Network Theory of Well-Being: An Introduction. The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication 7 (1).
    In this paper, I propose a novel approach to investigating the nature of well-being and a new theory about wellbeing. The approach is integrative and naturalistic. It holds that a theory of well-being should account for two different classes of evidence—our commonsense judgments about well-being and the science of well-being (i.e., positive psychology). The network theory holds that a person is in the state of well-being if she instantiates a homeostatically clustered network of feelings, emotions, attitudes, behaviors, traits, and interactions (...)
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  13. Thomas Blackson (2009). On Feldman's Theory of Happiness. Utilitas 21 (3):393-400.
    Fred Feldman conceives of happiness in terms of the aggregation of attitudinal pleasure and displeasure, but he distinguishes intrinsic from extrinsic attitudinal pleasure and displeasure and excludes extrinsic attitudinal pleasure and displeasure from the aggregation that constitutes happiness. I argue that Feldman has not provided a strong reason for this exclusion.
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  14. Ralph M. Blake (1928). The Reinterment of Hedonism. International Journal of Ethics 39 (1):93-101.
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  15. Ralph Mason Blake (1926). Why Not Hedonism? A Protest. International Journal of Ethics 37 (1):1-18.
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  16. Greg Bognar (2010). Authentic Happiness. Utilitas 22 (3):272-284.
    This article discusses L. W. Sumner's theory of well-being as authentic happiness. I distinguish between extreme and moderate versions of subjectivism and argue that Sumner's characterization of the conditions of authenticity leads him to an extreme subjective theory. More generally, I also criticize Sumner's argument for the subjectivity of welfare. I conclude by addressing some of the implications of my arguments for theories of well-being in philosophy and welfare measurement in the social sciences.
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  17. Bernard Bosanquet (1903). Hedonism Among Idealists (I.). Mind 12 (46):202-224.
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  18. Bernard Bosanquet (1903). Hedonism Among Idealists (II.). Mind 12 (47):303-316.
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  19. Gwen Bradford (2012). Fred Feldman, What is This Thing Called Happiness? Journal of Value Inquiry 46 (2):269-273.
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  20. Ben Bradley (2010). Fred Feldman, Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties, and Plausibility of Hedonism (Oxford, Clarendon Press: 2004), Pp. XI + 221. Utilitas 22 (2):232-234.
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  21. Ben Bradley (2009). Well-Being and Death. Oxford University Press.
  22. F. H. Bradley (1895). "Rational Hedonism."-Note by Mr. Bradley. International Journal of Ethics 5 (3):383-384.
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  23. Ben Bramble (forthcoming). The Role of Pleasure in Well-Being. In Guy Fletcher (ed.), Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Well-Being. Routledge
    What is the role of pleasure in determining a person’s well-being? I start by considering the nature of pleasure (i.e., what pleasure is). I then consider what factors, if any, can affect how much a given pleasure adds to a person’s lifetime well-being other than its degree of pleasurableness (i.e., how pleasurable it is). Finally, I consider whether it is plausible that there is any other way to add to somebody’s lifetime well-being than by giving him some pleasure or helping (...)
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  24. Ben Bramble (forthcoming). A New Defense of Hedonism About Well-Being. Ergo, an Open Access Journal of Philosophy.
    According to hedonism about well-being, lives can go well or poorly for us just in virtue of our ability to feel pleasure and pain. Hedonism has had many advocates historically, but has relatively few nowadays. This is mainly due to three highly influential objections to it: The Philosophy of Swine, The Experience Machine, and The Resonance Constraint. In this paper, I attempt to revive hedonism. I begin by giving a precise new definition of it. I then argue that the right (...)
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  25. Ben Bramble (2016). The Experience Machine. Philosophy Compass 11 (3):136-145.
    In this paper, I reconstruct Robert Nozick's experience machine objection to hedonism about well-being. I then explain and briefly discuss the most important recent criticisms that have been made of it. Finally, I question the conventional wisdom that the experience machine, while it neatly disposes of hedonism, poses no problem for desire-based theories of well-being.
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  26. Ben Bramble (2013). The Distinctive Feeling Theory of Pleasure. Philosophical Studies 162 (2):201-217.
    In this article, I attempt to resuscitate the perennially unfashionable distinctive feeling theory of pleasure (and pain), according to which for an experience to be pleasant (or unpleasant) is just for it to involve or contain a distinctive kind of feeling. I do this in two ways. First, by offering powerful new arguments against its two chief rivals: attitude theories, on the one hand, and the phenomenological theories of Roger Crisp, Shelly Kagan, and Aaron Smuts, on the other. Second, by (...)
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  27. David Brax (2009). Hedonism as the Explanation of Value. Dissertation, Lund University
    This thesis defends a hedonistic theory of value consisting of two main components. Part 1 offers a theory of pleasure. Pleasures are experiences distinguished by a distinct phenomenological quality. This quality is attitudinal in nature: it is the feeling of liking. The pleasure experience is also an object of this attitude: when feeling pleasure, we like what we feel, and part of how it feels is how this liking feels: Pleasures are Internally Liked Experiences. Pleasure plays a central role in (...)
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  28. Bengt Brülde (2004). Happiness and the Good Life. In Christer Svennerlind (ed.), Ursus Philosophicus - Essays Dedicated to Björn Haglund on his Sixtieth Birthday. Philosophical Communications
    The paper starts with a presentation of the pure happiness theory, i.e. the idea that the quality a person’s life is dependent on one thing only, viz. how happy that person is. To find out whether this type of theory is plausible or not, I examine the standard arguments for and against this theory, including Nozick’s experience machine argument. I then investigate how the theory can be modified in order to avoid the most serious objections. I first examine different types (...)
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  29. J. H. Burns (2005). Happiness and Utility: Jeremy Bentham's Equation. Utilitas 17 (1):46-61.
    Doubts about the origin of Bentham's formula, ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’, were resolved by Robert Shackleton thirty years ago. Uncertainty has persisted on at least two points. (1) Why did the phrase largely disappear from Bentham's writing for three or four decades after its appearance in 1776? (2) Is it correct to argue (with David Lyons in 1973) that Bentham's principle is to be differentially interpreted as having sometimes a ‘parochial’ and sometimes a ‘universalist’ bearing? These issues (...)
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  30. Krister Bykvist (2002). Sumner on Desires and Well-Being. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 32 (4):475 - 490.
  31. Steven M. Cahn & Christine Vitrano (2013). Choosing the Experience Machine. Philosophy in the Contemporary World 20 (1):52-58.
    In the decades since Robert Nozick posed his now famous thought experiment involving the experience machine, philosophers have taken his treatment as conclusive. A review of the literature finds almost no one who has argued that people would choose the experience machine. To find such unanunity among philosophers is unexpected. But the situation is especially surprising because Nozick's conclusion appears mistaken. In support of this view, we offer three different sorts of reasons why persons would be inclined to choose the (...)
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  32. Gabriela Roxana Carone (2003). The Place of Hedonism in Plato's Laws. Ancient Philosophy 23 (2):283-300.
  33. Gabriela Roxana Carone (2000). Hedonism and the Pleasureless Life in Plato's Philebus. Phronesis 45 (4):257-283.
    This paper re-evaluates the role that Plato confers to pleasure in the Philebus. I argue that the mixed life of pleasure and intelligence is presented in the Philebus as a first best and not just as a second best for humans, and that, accordingly, Socrates proposes to incorporate-rather than reject-pleasure as one of the intrinsically desirable aspects of the happy life. (edited).
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  34. Gabriela Roxana Carone (2000). Hedonism and the Pleasureless Life in Plato's Philebus. Phronesis 45 (4):257-283.
    This paper re-evaluates the role that Plato confers to pleasure in the "Philebus." According to leading interpretations, Plato there downplays the role of pleasure, or indeed rejects hedonism altogether. Thus, scholars such as D. Frede have taken the "mixed life" of pleasure and intelligence initially submitted in the "Philebus" to be conceded by Socrates only as a remedial good, second to a life of neutral condition, where one would experience no pleasure and pain. Even more strongly, scholars such as Irwin (...)
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  35. Paul Carus (1908). Mr. Spencer's Hedonism and Kant's Ethics of Duty. The Monist 18 (2):306-315.
  36. Roy C. Cave (1928). A Scientific Ethics and Hedonism. International Journal of Ethics 38 (4):443-449.
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  37. Hugh S. Chandler (1975). Hedonism. American Philosophical Quarterly 12 (3):223-233.
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  38. Shaoming Chen (2010). On Pleasure: A Reflection on Happiness From the Confucian and Daoist Perspectives. [REVIEW] Frontiers of Philosophy in China 5 (2):179-195.
    This paper discusses the structural relationship between ideals on pleasure and pleasure as a human psychological phenomenon in Chinese thought. It describes the psychological phenomenon of pleasure, and compares different approaches by pre-Qin Confucian and Daoist scholars. It also analyzes its development in Song and Ming Confucianism. Finally, in the conclusion, the issue is transferred to a general understanding of happiness, so as to demonstrate the modern value of the classical ideological experience.
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  39. K. J. Clark (2010). Well-Being and Death * by Ben Bradley. Analysis 70 (3):592-593.
    (No abstract is available for this citation).
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  40. Samuel Clark (2012). Pleasure as Self-Discovery. Ratio 25 (3):260-276.
    This paper uses readings of two classic autobiographies, Edmund Gosse's Father & Son and John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, to develop a distinctive answer to an old and central question in value theory: What role is played by pleasure in the most successful human life? A first section defends my method. The main body of the paper then defines and rejects voluntarist, stoic, and developmental hedonist lessons to be taken from central crises in my two subjects' autobiographies, and argues for a (...)
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  41. Samuel Clark (2011). Love, Poetry, and the Good Life: Mill's Autobiography and Perfectionist Ethics. Inquiry 53 (6):565-578.
    I argue for a perfectionist reading of Mill’s account of the good life, by using the failures of development recorded in his Autobiography as a way to understand his official account of happiness in Utilitarianism. This work offers both a new perspective on Mill’s thought, and a distinctive account of the role of aesthetic and emotional capacities in the most choiceworthy human life. I consider the philosophical purposes of autobiography, Mill’s disagreements with Bentham, and the nature of competent judges and (...)
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  42. Brenda Cohen (1962). Some Ambiguities in the Term `Hedonism'. Philosophical Quarterly 12 (48):239-247.
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  43. Elliot David Cohen (1980). J. S. Mill's Qualitative Hedonism. Southern Journal of Philosophy 18 (2):151-158.
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  44. Elliot David Cohen (1980). J. S. Mill's Qualitative Hedonism: A Textual Analysis. Southern Journal of Philosophy 18 (2):151-158.
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  45. R. G. Collingwood (1928). Hedonism and Art. By L. R. Farnell D.Litt., F.B.A. , (Proceedings of the British Academy. Oxford University Press: Humphrey Milford. 1928. Pp. 19, N.D. 1s. Net.). [REVIEW] Philosophy 3 (12):547-.
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  46. George Couvalis (2009). Aristotle Vs Theognis. In Michael Tsianikas (ed.), Greek Research in Australia. Department of Modern Greek, Flinders University 1-8.
    Aristotle argues that provided we have moderate luck, we can attain eudaimonia through our own effort. He claims that it is crucial to attaining eudaimonia that we aim at an overall target in our lives to which all our actions are directed. He also claims that the proper target of a eudaimon human life is virtuous activity, which is a result of effort not chance. He criticises Theognis for saying that the most pleasant thing is to chance on love, arguing (...)
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  47. Roger Crisp (2011). Pleasure and Hedonism in Sidgwick. In Thomas Hurka (ed.), Underivative Duty: British Moral Philosophers From Sidgwick to Ewing. OUP Oxford
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  48. Roger Crisp (2006). Hedonism Reconsidered. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 73 (3):619–645.
    This paper is a plea for hedonism to be taken more seriously. It begins by charting hedonism's decline, and suggests that this is a result of two major objections: the claim that hedonism is the 'philosophy of swine', reducing all value to a single common denominator, and Nozick's 'experience machine' objection. There follows some elucidation of the nature of hedonism, and of enjoyment in particular. Two types of theory of enjoyment are outlined-intemalism, according to which enjoyment has some special 'feeling (...)
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  49. Roger Crisp (2004). Pleasure is All That Matters. Think 3 (7):21-30.
    Roger Crisp asks whether hedonism is quite as bad as is often supposed.
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  50. David Crossley (2000). Early Criticisms of Mill's Qualitative Hedonism. Bradley Studies 6 (2):137-175.
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