Dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (2005)

Chris Heathwood
University of Colorado, Boulder
Theories of welfare answer the ancient question, What makes a person's life go well? Prominent among these are desire-satisfaction or preferentist theories, according to which welfare has to do ultimately with desire. This dissertation aims to criticize some recent popular arguments against standard desire-satisfaction theories of welfare, to develop and defend a novel version of the desire-satisfaction theory capable of answering the better objections, to defend the thesis that pleasure is reducible to desire, and to demonstrate an interesting link between preferentism and hedonism. The second chapter defends a simple "actualist" desire-satisfaction theory against the contention that such a theory cannot accommodate the fact that we can desire things that are bad for us. All the allegedly defective desires, I attempt to show, are either not genuinely defective or else can be accounted for by the theory. The third chapter criticizes the popular line that standard desire-based theories of welfare are incompatible with the conceptual possibility of self-sacrifice. I show that even the simplest imaginable, completely unrestricted desire theory is compatible with self-sacrifice, so long as it is formulated properly. The fourth chapter presents and defends a theory according to which welfare consists in the perceived satisfaction, or "subjective satisfaction," of desire. I argue that this theory is best suited to deflect the many lines of argument threatening the preferentist program. The fifth chapter defends the view that desire is what unifies the heterogeneous lot of experiences that all count as sensory pleasures. I develop and defend a desire theory of sensory pleasure. The sixth chapter argues that the most plausible form of preferentism is equivalent to the most plausible form of its main rival, hedonism. This is because what the best preferentism says---that welfare consists in subjective desire satisfaction---is the same as what the best hedonism says---that welfare consists in propositional pleasure---given a reduction of pleasure to desire along the lines of that defended above.
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