Unformatted text preview: , my
situation is worse than it would have been had the
alarm bell remained silent.
While I brush my teeth I begin to see some meaning in
my life, however, and as soon as I taste my morning
coffee the situation looks quite pleasant.
However, once I start to read the morning newspaper
things become worse. I am reminded of the miserable
state of the world (in many respects). In particular,
when I read about a famine in the aftermath of the war
in Somalia, I feel despair.
But when I catch the tube and embark on my journey
to work, once again I feel fine. However, when I leave
the tube station near my office, I see a child being
knocked over by a car.
Utilitarianism I rush to her rescue and for a short while I stand there,
holding the unconscious child in my arms, feeling the
weight of her head on my shoulder. I feel miserable.
An ambulance arrives and the child is taken care of.
I continue on my way to work. I start preparing a
lecture. I call the hospital and learn that the child has
not been injured seriously.
I deliver my lecture and get a stimulating response
from my audience. I go home by tube and prepare the
dinner. My wife, who is a nurse at the hospital returns
home in the evening. We have dinner together, I tell
her about the accident, and we go to bed early. The
last thing I feel, as wakefulness merges into
unconsciousness, is intense wellbeing.
This narrative and Figure 2.1 representing its hedonistic
aspect are meaningful, according to hedonism.
What is plotted on the y axis is how I experience my
situation at each moment, ‘from inside’, so to speak.
The (grey) area between the curve and the x axis can be
said to represent the sum total of my well-being on this
It is sometimes said that hedonistic utilitarianism is
incoherent since it operates with scales that are hard to
Even if, from a hedonistic point of view, pleasure is
positive and pain negative, how can we assess how
positive and how negative these feelings are, and how can
we calculate their respective contribution to the total
hedonistic state of a person at a certain moment?
But the version of hedonism stated here does not
presuppose that we have to perform such calculations.
According to the interpretation of hedonistic utilitarianism
discussed here, it is assumed that there is only one
hedonistic dimension of our lives.
At each moment we feel what we feel and that is it. Our
degree of pleasure is a quality of our total experience.
It is certainly true that all sorts of experiences can
contribute to the hedonistic state I am in at a certain
moment. While listening to the comments from my
students I remember what it felt like to hold the child in my
arms and I can also look forward to tonight’s supper, and
All this contributes to bringing me into the hedonic state
where, as a matter of fact, I am at present.
This does not mean that I try to ascribe an
independent value to my memory of holding the child,
or listening to the comments of my students and
looking forward to supper respectively, in order to
calculate what kind of state I am in right now.
I am in the state in which I am, and this is something I
The fact that I directly experience what hedonic
situation I am in does not presuppose that I can
always make correct judgements about my hedonistic
It is true enough that, at any time, I feel what I feel, but
this does not mean that my description of my state
must be correct.
And when I compare the state I am in right now with
the state I was in some time ago, I may very well
reach the wrong conclusion.
However, what is presupposed by hedonistic
utilitarianism is that there is a truth in the matter (there
is a fact of the matter to be right or wrong about, when
I describe it).
Bentham was a straightforward hedonistic utilitarian.
According to his version of utilitarianism, what should
be maximized is the sum total of felt well-being
(happiness). J. S. Mill did not concur with this simple
form of hedonistic utilitarianism. According to him, we
should distinguish between higher and lower qualities
of Utilitarianism- Eudaimonistic
John Stuart thought that Utilitarianism needed a richer
notion of happiness. Mill distinguished between two
different kinds or orders of pleasure.
The lower kind (eating, drinking, sex) are more
intense, but lead to pain when taken to excess. The
higher kind (high culture, intellectual creativity,
spirituality) are less intense, but are more protracted.
Mill argued that the higher pleasures are superior to
the lower pleasures. Mill’s version of Utilitarianism is
often referred to as E...
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