Parfit on Pains, Pleasures, and the Time of Their Occurrence

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 32 (1):67 - 82 (2002)
Consider our attitude toward painful and pleasant experiences depending on when they occur. A striking but rarely discussed feature of our attitude which Derek Parfit has emphasized is that we strongly wish painful experiences to lie in our past and pleasant experiences to lie in our future. Our asymmetrical attitudes toward future and past pains and pleasures can be forcefully illustrated by means of a thought-experiment described by Parfit (1984, 165) which I will paraphrase as follows: You are in the hospital to have an extremely painful but completely safe operation for which you can be given no anaesthetic. In order to ease recovery, you know that the hospital will give you drugs that cause you to forget your operation as soon as it is completed. You wake up, not remembering having gone to sleep, and ask the nurse if your operation has been completed. She tells you that there were two patients for this operation and she cannot remember which you are: either you already had your operation and it was the longest such operation ever performed, lasting ten hours, or else you are the other patient in which case your operation is imminent, but will last only one hour. 1. I wish to thank Sarah Broadie for comments on a version of this paper and Derek Parfit for conversations on this subject.
Keywords Ethics  Pair  Pleasure  Time  Parfit, D
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