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March 03, 2009


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Matt Pianalto

C.L.: Sorry I'm just now looking at this post again; I hope you find this comment, and that it's in the ballpark of helpful. I was re-visiting the experience machine today in my Happiness and the Good Life class (Nozick's discussion of it in The Examined Life), and I drew attention to the fact that Nozick seems to have a "traditional" view of thought experiments: that they pump pre-theoretical intuitions to be used as data. That's contentious. Still, the example is an occasion for an interesting and relevant conversation. But it's not always clear that we should trust our intuitions (though I sympathize with my gut reaction to the experience machine!).

On the "stalemate": I think part of the difficulty is that often, more than one variable is at stake in trying to account for well-being. One is, as you put it, descriptive adequacy, but I suspect that normative adequacy is never too far in the distance. That is, if we have some sense that well-being ought to play some important role in practical deliberation (or policy), then we don't want well-being to be trivial. (Not logically trivial, but rather uninteresting, easy to come by--perhaps for some, "too subjective.") The threat for subjectivist-leaning views is that well-being gets "dumbed down"--at the limit: just plug into an experience machine; your life will be (and not just feel) wonderful. For objectivist views, the threat is something like exclusivity--at the limit: only Aristotle's contemplative philosopher is truly happy.

It seems to me--though I'd need to think a lot more about this--that one's theory of well-being may somehow be linked to one's sense of how much objective (or real) value there is in the world. I've also been thinking that one's conception of well-being is essentially tied to what it is to be a person, or have a life: if you're "Cartesian" in the sense of identifying the person/life with consciousness, then mental states are going to play a larger (if not exclusive) role. If you have a more embodied sense of personhood, then connections to reality, relational goods (that aren't reducible to the pleasure or other mental state that result), are going to matter, too.

So, it's all a mess. Maybe thinking about well-being needs to be more transparently connected to these other domains?

Clifford Sosis

Hello Matt,

As of now, I haven't worked out the details of the positive method I'm considering.

Right now, I'm interested in reasons why we should continue to use the traditional method.




What's the other (or new) angle? Thanks.

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