Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Heathwood's Theory of Well-Being - Part 1 - Overview

I did not make it to Chris Heathwood's presentation on Friday . . . 

. . . Or, actually, I did and saw that the presentation was being given in a small conference room - a table with about 12 chairs surrounding it. This gave me the impression that they were not expecting members of the general public to attend.

Still, I found the homework that I did interesting.

I read a paper from Chris Heathwood's about the good life called, "Desire Satisfactionism and Hedonism" (Philosophical Studies, 2006, 128:539-563) in which he undertook the following project:

Step 1: Present the most plausible desire-satisfaction theory of well-being.
Step 2: Present the most plausible pleasure theory of well-being.
Step 3: Argue that the two theories are actually the same theory.

There are three major factions involved in the philosophical battles regarding a good life.

Faction 1: The good life is the one with the most desire satisfaction.
Faction 2: The good life is the life with the most pleasure and least pain.
Faction 3: the good life is the life with the most items on an objective goods list - friends, knowledge, family, virtue, etc.

Heathwood's article did not consider Faction 3 - the objective list theorist. There is good reason to discard it. This standard of well-being requires a list of items having some type of intrinsic prescriptivity - an "ought-to-be-doneness" built into the nature of those things that make it onto the list.

However, nothing in the real world has this type of value. Intrinsic prescriptivity is a fiction. An "objective list" of the elements of a worthwhile life that is not determined by their capacity to fulfill desires is an empty list. Things only have value in virtue of their capacity to make true the propositions that are the objects of desires. Either the propositions are true in the object of evaluation, or the object of evaluation has the capacity to make them true.

A devoted reader will have no difficulty concluding that I am to be found in Faction 1. All value is found in making or keeping true the propositions that are the objects of desires.

I might also be found within a certain subset of the community for Faction 2 - the hedonist theory of well-being. I hold that the sensations of pleasure or pain have no value in themselves, but have value in virtue of the fact that agents have a desire for pleasure and an aversion to pain. Neuroscience has an explanation for this phenomenon based on the fact that the sensation of pain is processed in one part of the brain, and the aversion to pain in a different section. This makes it possible to eliminate the aversion to pain without eliminating the sensation of pain itself.

On this interpretation, the value of obtaining pleasure consists in making true the proposition, "I am experiencing pleasure" and "I am not in pain" for those people who have a desire for pleasure and an aversion to pain. This version of Faction 2 is actually a version of Faction 1 - a version where only the desire for pleasure and aversion to pain are the only desires that are relevant to well-being.

I will say in advance that I think Heathwood provides an excellent account of desire-satisfactionism. However, I think his pleasure theory is less successful as is his attempt to argue that the two theories are alike.

I am going to spread this discussion out over a few posts. In my next post, I will give some attention to his desire satisfaction theory of well-being.

I will state at the start that I think Heathwood's best account of the "desire satisfaction" faction account of well-being is quite good. I am anxious to get into it. 

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