Hedonists such as Bentham and Mill claim that pleasure is the only thing we pursue for its own sake. How might Mill's qualified Utlitarianism demonstrate both that Hedonism is true and that one...

Hedonists such as Bentham and Mill claim that pleasure is the only thing we pursue for its own sake. How might Mill's qualified Utlitarianism demonstrate both that Hedonism is true and that one does not have reason to plug into the experience machine?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The essence of the debate of hedonism being false or real is the question of whether hedonism depends entirely on the individual's choice, or is it something that we cannot help but doing.

Nozick (1974) argues this point by proposing that pleasure-seeking is not necessarily the only aspect of the human experience that promotes the choices that we make. In Nozick's book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), he sets forth this viewpoint by suggesting a thought experiment. The rationale is that, if people were given a choice to live in persistent pleasure by using an "experience machine" (virtual reality), they would be weary about it and, even if the machine were real, they probably would not go in it continuously. This suggestion directly counteracts utilitariaism's primary tenet that hedonism IS everything humans go for. Hence Bentham and Mills's hedonistic theories would be overruled: if there is YET another choice for people to make that does NOT involve seeking pleasure, then hedonism (as it is known philosophically) would be officially dead. Could this be due to "overkill" of pleasure, or pleasure-fatigue? Most importantly, is this hedonism the primary motivator of humans?

John Stuart Mills's 1863 book Utilitarianism states that feeling pleasure and feeling contentment are two different states of mind. Hence, he actually goes against Bentham, especially when he says

"it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; ...And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question."

Hence, the way in which this shows that hedonism is true and that people still do not have to undergo an "experience machine" is that, as it is true that contentment, the pursue of happiness, and the search of pleasure are ultimate motivators for human choice, there are still factors that influence the want for happiness that are not directly related to "utmost and complete" pleasure. Some people may find pleasure in moderation; others prefer not to find pleasure and, instead, commit to self-sacrifice. The "experience-machine" thought is actually a concept to be re-evaluated in terms of the 21st century experience. Now that we DO have the chance of experiencing virtual reality, we still see people who advocate against instant gratification, quick knowledge, and immediate solutions. 

Therefore, the way to show that hedonism is dead is by observing trends and patterns in human behavior that show that there is still a trait within human nature that seeks for higher knowledge through submission to circumstance. This is in no way a pleasurable experience, and directly counter-argues the proposal that hedonism is the source of everything.

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