The Concept of Pleasure and the Thesis of Hedonism

Dissertation, The University of Iowa (1984)
One of the most enduring claims of philosophy is the assertion that people are motivated to act only from a desire for pleasure. It is an assertion, a "theory" if you like, which has been proposed, assumed, discussed, debated, refuted and proved as long as people have reflected on people's motives for doing what they do. Aside from its pedigree, the issue of the truth of this thesis is both interesting and important in its own right. It is a thesis that can seem both obviously true and obviously false, a thesis which the evidence can appear to refute and also support. Indeed, it can even seem that the truth, or the falsehood, of the claim can be established without appeal to "empirical" evidence at all. ;What I have attempted to do is to clarify the thesis, or rather, to specify the various theses which might plausibly be designated as "the" thesis of hedonsim. A by-product of such a clarification should be a greater understanding of the conflicting intuitions which surround the thesis of hedonism. ;It is clear that explicating the thesis of hedonism is inseparable from, and posterior to, specification of an account or analysis of the concept of pleasure, the major operant component of the thesis of hedonism . Unless one knows what pleasure is, what a person's having or feeling pleasure consists in, the task of assessing the truth-value of hedonism is clearly impossible. It is, therefore, a major task of this dissertation to examine and evaluate certain accounts of the nature of pleasure, both on their own merits and in terms of the relationship of each to the resultant conception of how the various specific theses of hedonism are to be evaluated with respect to truth-value
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