Hedonism as the Explanation of Value

Dissertation, Lund University (2009)

David Brax
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 the motivational system such that pleasure tends to influence, and in turn be influenced by, other motivational, dispositional and evaluative states of the agent. While this connection is strong, it is often indirect and contingent - the necessary attitudinal connection is a matter of how pleasure feels, not of how it functions. Part 2 is concerned with the nature of value. What kind of problem is it that value poses, and what ought a theory of value to do? In face of the fundamental disagreements that persist over these questions, we try to gather and systemize what we can agree upon about value, and then develop a theory that accounts for (enough of) those things. Meta-ethical naturalism, as developed here, is the view that value is a natural property, identified via the role “value” plays according to the best systematization of moral and evaluative thought. The theory engaging meta-ethics with the scientific investigation of matters relevant to value: we need to understand the causal processes behind our beliefs in order to make an informed decision about which of the competing theories offers the best explanation of value. Finally, the argument is made that the nature and function of pleasure shows it to play the kind of explanatory role necessary for a sound naturalistic reduction of value: it makes many of our beliefs about value true, and it is causally responsible for most of our attributions and beliefs about value.
Keywords Meta-ethics  Hedonism  Emotion theory  Naturalism
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