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Pleasure as a Mental State

  • David Sobel (a1)

Shelly Kagan and Leonard Katz have offered versions of hedonism that aspire to occupy a middle position between the view that pleasure is a unitary sensation and the view that pleasure is, as Sidgwick put it, desirable consciousness. Thus they hope to offer a hedonistic account of well-being that does not mistakenly suppose that pleasure is a special kind of tingle, yet to offer a sharp alternative to desire-based accounts. I argue that they have not identified a coherent middle position.

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1 Sidgwick Henry, The Methods of Ethics, 7th edn., Indianapolis, 1981 (1907), p. 127.

2 Katz, Hedonism as Metaphysics of Mind and Value, Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 1986, p. 105.

3 Ibid., p. 112.

4 Ibid., p. 47.

5 Kagan, in ‘The Limits of Well-Being’, The Good Life and the Human Good, ed. Paul E., Miller F. and Paul J., Cambridge 1992, clearly has his eye on this intermediate position. Katz clearly distances himself from the ‘pleasure as sensation’ view but does not take pains to similarly distance himself from the ‘pleasure as desirable consciousness’ view. I am therefore somewhat reluctant to attribute to Katz the view under consideration in this section. At any rate it is the view I will describe, not the exact position of these two authors that I am here concerned with.

6 Kagan, 172.

7 Perhaps I should say only that to the extent I understand Katz's proposal it seems quite similar to Kagan's.

8 Kagan, 173.

9 Katz, p. 47.

10 It might still be the case that to identify the mental state we must compare different cases. However once we have identified the mental state, the degree to which it obtains should be determinable in isolation from other occurrences of that mental state. For example, we might need to examine many instances of pain before we are comfortable identifying it with the firing of c-fibres. But once we have made the identification we can measure the extent to which one is in pain in isolation from examination of other instances of pain.

11 Kagan, p. 175.

12 Kagan, p. 176.

13 Sobel David, ‘Full Information Accounts of Well-Being’, Ethics, civ (1994); On the Subjectivity of Welfare’, Ethics, cvii (1997).

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  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
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