Friday, November 23, 2007

So, What Really Is Pleasure?

Was in the middle of a moral studies class when we touched on this subject. It defines pleasure with a utilitarianism calculus. Yeah, at first it might sound too confusing for us, one of those philosophical theories; but reading on after doing some research, I found it was rather interesting. Does it makes sense on how we define pleasure?

The Hedonic Calculus (taken from here)

Bentham’s hedonistic utilitarianism states that we always ought to perform that act that leads to the greatest pleasure. This raises the question as to how we are to quantify pleasure; if we cannot put a value on the quantity of pleasure that an act produces, then we cannot compare it to other acts in order to decide which of them we ought to perform.

To overcome this difficulty, Bentham proposed the hedonic calculus. The hedonic calculus lists seven features of pleasure to which attention must be paid in order to assess how great it is: intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity, purity, and extent.


The intensity of the pleasure caused by an act is reasonably self-explanatory. Mild pleasure is less valuable than intense pleasure, and so acts leading to the latter are to be preferred to acts leading to the former, other things being equal.


The duration of the pleasure caused by an act must also be taken into account when assessing the goodness of the act. Transient pleasure is less valuable than lasting pleasure, and so acts leading to the latter are to be preferred to acts leading to the former, other things being equal.


The certainty criterion refers to the probability of the pleasure resulting from the act; how likely is it that the act will bring about the anticipated pleasure? If we must choose between an act that will definitely cause pleasure and an act that will only possibly bring about pleasure, then we do better to perform the former.


When deciding what to do, Bentham thought, we should bear in mind how distant are the anticipated benefits of each possible course of action. The more distant the benefits, in either space or time, the less weight we should give them in making our decision.


The fecundity of an act is the likelihood that the pleasures or pains that it causes will be followed by similar pleasures or pains. If the happiness that an act causes is likely to be followed by yet more happiness, then that act is better than a similar act that will cause only one isolated instance of happiness. Similarly, if the pain that an act causes is likely to be followed by still more pains, then that act is worse than it would otherwise be.


It is also important to be attentive to the purity of the pleasure and pain caused by an act. An act that causes only pleasure is better than one that causes the same amount of pleasure mixed with a little pain. When pleasure or pain are unmixed with their opposites, their purity is high; when they are so mixed, their purity is diminished.


The final criterion for quantifying the pleasure caused by an act is its extent: the more people enjoy the pleasure, the better. This criterion, unlike the previous six, was not among the original criteria described by Bentham, but was added by John Stuart Mill.

The question is, can pleasure really be defined and calculated?

0 Added Colors:

This blog officially represents the thoughts in my head. All rights reserved 2007-2008