Moral Philosophy Seminar (Monday - Week 5, MT18)

moral philosophy

Hedonism is frequently taken to be one of the canonical examples of axiological monism since, according to hedonism, there is just one type of good: positive experience. However, hedonism is committed not just to the claim that positive experiences are the sole good, but also to the claim that negative experiences are the sole bad. And given that the goodness and badness of experience must be weighed against one another in order to reach an overall assessment of the welfare of an individual according to hedonism, we can ask whether hedonism truly retains the purported theoretical advantages that are thought to apply to monism. I argue that pleasures and pains are sufficiently different such that hedonism cannot retain the advantages typically assigned to axiological monism. To make this case, I provide two distinct sets of evidence; one based on philosophical intuitions about well-being and beneficence that show that people treat pleasures and pains differently in moral and prudential decisions and one critically evaluating recent discoveries in the scientific study of pleasure and pain. The upshot of these two sets of evidence, I argue, is that the goodness of pleasure cannot be explained in the same manner as the badness of pain, and that there is no adequate way of trading the value of pleasure against the disvalue of pain interpersonally. As such, I argue that hedonism does not retain the advantages of axiological monism. This does not mean that hedonism is an incorrect account of value, but it does suggest that additional work is required in order to explain how positive and negative experiences are related to one another.


Members of the audience are invited to join the speaker and the convenor for drinks afterwards at a local pub.