The problem of interpersonal comparisons of pleasure and pain

Journal of Value Inquiry 42 (1):23-40 (2008)

Authors
Justin Klocksiem
New Mexico State University
Abstract
Several philosophers have argued that interpersonal comparisons of utility are problematic or even impossible, and that this poses a problem for the thesis that pleasure is a legitimate, measurable quantity. This, in turn, is thought to pose a problem of some kind for a variety of normative ethical and axiological theories. Perhaps it is supposed to show that utilitarianism or hedonism is false, or is supposed to show that there is no genuine hedonic calculus, or that any view that presupposes that pleasure and pain are morally relevant is false or untenable. Its proponents begin by noticing that interpersonal comparisons of pleasure and pain are impossible in some relevant sense. This impossibility has been exploited by different philosophers for different purposes. It is clear, however, that a great many ethical theories rely in some way on the thesis that pleasure is measurable, and that its incoherence therefore threatens a great many theories in ethics. The purpose of this paper is to survey several of the most interesting versions of this argument; then to explain several attempts to respond to the problem, and to explain why each attempt fails; then to present, explain, and defend the correct solution to the problem.
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DOI 10.1007/s10790-008-9101-4
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The Amenability of Pleasure and Pain to Aggregation.Justin Klocksiem - 2010 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 13 (3):293-303.

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