Psychological hedonism, evolutionary biology, and the experience machine

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34 (4):506-526 (2004)
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Abstract

In the second half of their recent, critically acclaimed book Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior , Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson discuss psychological hedonism. This is the view that avoiding our own pain and increasing our own pleasure are the only ultimate motives people have. They argue that none of the traditional philosophical arguments against this view are good, and they go on to present theirownevolutionary biological argument against it. Interestingly, the first half of their book, which is a defense of group selectionism, has received almost all of the attention of those people who have published reactions to the book. No one has published a detailed reaction to the argument of the latter half of the book. In this article, the author explains and critically discusses their evolutionary biological argument against psychological hedonism, concluding that in its current form it is not strong enough to support its conclusion. However, the author goes on to argue that despite recent criticisms of Robert Nozick’s experience-machine argument, it is still a good argument against psychological hedonism. In support of the latter point, the author responds to the objections of Sober and Wilson and to the more recent criticisms offered by Matthew Silverstein. Key Words: hedonism • psychological egoism • evolution • Robert Nozick • Elliott Sober.

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