About this topic

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 2016. 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). 
Related categories

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  1. Hedonism.Gregory Alexander - 2015 - In .
  2. The New Hedonism.G. Allen - 1894 - Philosophical Review 3:498.
  3. Review of J. C. B. Gosling, Pleasure and Desire: The Case for Hedonism Reviewed. [REVIEW]William P. Alston - 1972 - Philosophical Quarterly 22 (86):86-87.
  4. How Pleasures Make Life Better.Andrew Alwood - 2017 - Kriterion - Journal of Philosophy 31 (1):1-24.
    In this paper, I argue that Phenomenalists about pleasure can concede a key claim, Heterogeneity, commonly used to object to their theory. They also can then vindicate the aspirations of J. S. Mill’s doctrine of higher pleasures, while grounding their value claims in a naturalistic metaethics. But once Phenomenalists concede Heterogeneity they can no longer consistently endorse Hedonism as the correct theory of wellbeing, since they implicitly commit to recognizing distinct kinds of pleasure that are independently good-making. I also explore (...)
  5. Al-Sa'adah Wa-Al-Is 'Ad'.Abu Al-Hasan Muhammad Ibn Yusuf Amiri & Mujtabá Minuvi - 1957 - Danishgah.
  6. Fred Feldman, What is This Thing Called Happiness? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), Pp. Xv + 286.Erik Angner - 2011 - Utilitas 23 (4):458-461.
  7. Troubled Pleasures: Writings on Politics, Gender and Hedonism; Socialism and the Limits of Liberalism. [REVIEW]Dave Archard - 1992 - Radical Philosophy 60.
  8. Review of Kurt Lampe, The Birth of Hedonism: The Cyrenaic Philosophers and Pleasure as a Way of Life. [REVIEW]Kelly E. Arenson - 2016 - Polis 33 (1):205-9.
  9. The So-Called Hedonist Paradox.Felix Arnold - 1906 - International Journal of Ethics 16 (2):228-234.
  10. The Experience Machine Deconstructed.H. E. Baber - 2008 - 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 (...)
  11. A Defense Of Nozick's "Experience Machine".Nathan Ballantyne - unknown - Eidos: The Canadian Graduate Journal of Philosophy 18.
  12. Hedonism and the Experience Machine.Alex Barber - 2011 - 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 (...)
  13. 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]Alex Barber - 2011 - 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 (...)
  14. The Forms of Value. The Extension of a Hedonistic Axiology.Winston H. F. Barnes & A. L. Hilliard - 1952 - Philosophical Quarterly 2 (9):379.
  15. Arthur Dobrin, The Lost Art of Happiness.Emily Barranco - 2011 - Journal of Value Inquiry 45 (4):483-485.
  16. J.S. Mill on Calliclean Hedonism and the Value of Pleasure.Tim Beaumont - forthcoming - Dialogue:1-26.
    Maximizing Hedonism maintains that the most pleasurable pleasures are the best. Francis Bradley argues that this is either incompatible with Mill’s Qualitative Hedonism, or renders the latter redundant. Some ‘sympathetic’ interpreters respond that Mill was either a Non-Maximizing Hedonist or a Non-Hedonist. However, Bradley’s argument is fallacious, and these ‘sympathetic’ interpretations cannot provide adequate accounts of: Mill’s identification with the Protagorean Socrates; his criticisms of the Gorgian Socrates; or his apparent belief that Callicles is misguided to attempt to show that (...)
  17. J. S. Mill’s Hedonism: Activism, Experientialism and Eudaimonism.Tim Beaumont - 2018 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26 (3):452-474.
    Many contemporary scholars defend the position that J. S. Mill was a ‘eudaimonist’, in a sense implying that he was not an ‘experiential’ hedonist. One ‘activist’ argument for this interpretation rests on the claim that Mill’s core axiological uses of ‘pleasure’ in Utilitarianism should be understood to refer to worthy or pleasurable activities rather than mental states. This paper offers a three-stage rebuttal of the activist interpretation. Firstly, in the Analysis, the Examination and the Logic, Mill explicitly identifies pleasures and (...)
  18. Ruling Oneself: Platonic Hedonism and the Quality of Citizenship.R. K. Bentley - 2003 - Polis 20 (1-2):85-107.
    In this paper, I examine how the idea of self-rule is dramatised and articulated in the Protagoras and the Gorgias with respect to the apparently different treatments of hedonism. Looking at the former dialogue, I describe how the hedonist premise develops from a dramatic image of disorder, specifically the absence of self-rule. I then consider whether the evidence from that dialogue has any bearing on the Gorgias' discussion of hedonism. I conclude that the Socratic rejection of hedonism in that text (...)
  19. Interview: Kate Soper: An Alternative Hedonism.Ted Benton & Kate Soper - 1999 - Radical Philosophy 93.
  20. The Possibility of Modified Hedonism.Sandy Berkovski - 2012 - 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.
  21. L. W. Sumner, Welfare, Happiness and Ethics:Welfare, Happiness and Ethics.Mark Bernstein - 2001 - Ethics 111 (2):441-443.
  22. James Warren, “The Pleasures of Reason in Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic Hedonists.” Review by Facundo Bey. [REVIEW]Facundo Bey - 2016 - Boletín de Estética 36:71-76.
    The Pleasures of Reason in Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic Hedonists se centra en la relación mutua entre las capacidades humanas de sentir placer y dolor y el carácter afectivo que las une con las facultades cognitivas de aprender, comprender, recordar, evocar, planificar y anticiparse. Para esto, Warren consagra toda su agudeza analítica a eminentes obras del pensamiento antiguo: particularmente nos referimos a los diálogos platónicos República, Protágoras y Filebo. Otro tanto hace con De Anima, De Memoria et Reminiscentia, Ética (...)
  23. Hedonism in Plato's "Protagoras" and "Gorgias".Richard Alan Bidgood - 1982 - Dissertation, University of Massachusetts Amherst
    In this dissertation, I focus on the hedonism in Plato's Protagoras and Gorgias, paying close, but not exclusive, attention to the recent discussion by Terence Irwin in his Plato's Moral Theory and his translation of and commentary on the Gorgias. ;I argue that there is a genuine ethical hedonism discussed in the Protagoras, but that we are not forced by considerations in the Protagoras to ascribe that hedonism to Socrates. Furthermore, I argue, contra Irwin, that Socrates is not committed to (...)
  24. Elements of an Evolutionary Theory of Welfare: Assessing Welfare When Preferences Change.Martin Binder - 2010 - Routledge.
    It has always been an important task of economics to assess individual and social welfare. The traditional approach has assumed that the measuring rod for welfare is the satisfaction of the individual’s given and unchanging preferences, but recent work in behavioural economics has called this into question by pointing out the inconsistencies and context-dependencies of human behaviour. When preferences are no longer consistent, we have to ask whether a different measure for individual welfare can, and should, be found. This book (...)
  25. The Network Theory of Well-Being: An Introduction.Michael Bishop - 2012 - The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication 7.
    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 (...)
  26. The Good Life: Unifying the Philosophy and Psychology of Well-Being.Michael A. Bishop - 2015 - 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.
  27. On Feldman's Theory of Happiness.Thomas Blackson - 2009 - 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.
  28. The Reinterment of Hedonism.Ralph M. Blake - 1928 - Ethics 39 (1):93.
  29. The Reinterment of Hedonism.Ralph M. Blake - 1928 - International Journal of Ethics 39 (1):93-101.
  30. The Reinterment of Hedonism.Ralph M. Blake - 1928 - International Journal of Ethics 39 (1):93-101.
  31. Why Not Hedonism? A Protest.Ralph Mason Blake - 1926 - International Journal of Ethics 37 (1):1-18.
  32. Why Not Hedonism? A Protest.Ralph Mason Blake - 1926 - Ethics 37 (1):1.
  33. Why Not Hedonism? A Protest.Ralph Mason Blake - 1926 - International Journal of Ethics 37 (1):1-18.
  34. Authentic Happiness.Greg Bognar - 2010 - 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.
  35. Hedonism Among Idealists (I.).Bernard Bosanquet - 1903 - Mind 12 (46):202-224.
  36. Hedonism Among Idealists (II.).Bernard Bosanquet - 1903 - Mind 12 (47):303-316.
  37. Fred Feldman, What is This Thing Called Happiness? [REVIEW]Gwen Bradford - 2012 - Journal of Value Inquiry 46 (2):269-273.
  38. Fred Feldman, Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties, and Plausibility of Hedonism (Oxford, Clarendon Press: 2004), Pp. XI + 221.Ben Bradley - 2010 - Utilitas 22 (2):232-234.
  39. Well-Being and Death.Ben Bradley - 2009 - Oxford University Press.
  40. "Rational Hedonism."-Note by Mr. Bradley.F. H. Bradley - 1895 - International Journal of Ethics 5 (3):383-384.
  41. "Rational Hedonism."-Note by Mr. Bradley.F. H. Bradley - 1895 - Ethics 5 (3):383.
  42. "Rational Hedonism."-Note by Mr. Bradley.F. H. Bradley - 1895 - International Journal of Ethics 5 (3):383-384.
  43. Rational Hedonism.F. H. Bradley - 1894 - Ethics 5:383.
  44. The Role of Pleasure in Well-Being.Ben Bramble - forthcoming - 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 (...)
  45. A New Defense of Hedonism About Well-Being.Ben Bramble - 2016 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 3.
    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 (...)
  46. The Experience Machine.Ben Bramble - 2016 - 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.
  47. The Distinctive Feeling Theory of Pleasure.Ben Bramble - 2013 - 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 (...)
  48. Hedonism.Richard B. Brandt - 1967 - In Paul Edwards (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York: Macmillan. pp. 4--432.
  49. Hedonism as the Explanation of Value.David Brax - 2009 - 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 (...)
  50. Happiness and the Good Life.Bengt Brülde - 2004 - 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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