What Is Hedonism?

Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain, and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.

- Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

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Jeremy Bentham was one of the earliest Utilitarians as well as a dynamic law reformer. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast Philip Schofield, head of the Bentham Project, discusses Bentham's contribution to moral theory.

Listen to Philip Schofield on Jeremy Bentham's Utilitarianism

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“Simply put, hedonism says that your well-being is fully determined by your pleasures and pains; any two people identical in their pleasures and pains would be identical in their levels of well-being.

“The major competitor to hedonism,” he explains, “is desire-fulfilment theory. Desire-fulfilment theory says that what is good for you is fundamentally, not good feelings but, having the sort of life you want.

“To see the difference between these theories, ask yourself: Is pleasure good for you because you want it? Or do you want it because you are in some sense responding to the fact that it is good for you? I think it is the latter. Pleasure is good for us, not because we want it, but just because of how it feels. A pleasurable life would be good for us whether we wanted it or not.”

Continue reading Joe Humpreys article: In defence of hedonism

Further Reading

The word ‘hedonism’ comes from the ancient Greek for ‘pleasure’. Psychological or motivational hedonism claims that only pleasure or pain motivates us. Ethical or evaluative hedonism claims that only pleasure has worth or value and only pain or displeasure has disvalue or the opposite of worth. Jeremy Bentham asserted both psychological and ethical hedonism with the first two sentences of his book An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain, and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do”.

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Hedonism by Andrew Moore

Related Topics

 DesireEvolutionary PsychologyMoral PsychologyPain | Utilitarianism

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