I wrote this blog post as a preliminary sketch of an argument I may use within my second paper. I am focusing on Mill, Hedonism and possibly how the doctrine of Hedonism may influence any decisions we may make regarding Robert Nozik’s Experience Machine. I would love any comments about the effectiveness of this argument, and especially how it may interact with the Experience Machine.
Hedonism, as defined by Mill, follows the principle that happiness is the only intrinsically good value (unhappiness as the only intrinsically bad value). Hedonism helps us decide what we ought to do, and what we ought not to do, based on creating the greatest possible aggregate happiness. Thus, it seems like a very practical theory in individual or group decision making scenarios. Mill address the question regarding the need to choose between different types of happiness:
“On a question, which is the best worth having of two pleasures, or which of two modes of existence is the most grateful to the feelings, apart from its moral attributes and its consequences, the judgment of those who are qualified by knowledge of both, or, if they differ, that of the majority among them, must be admitted as final”. (287)
Mill argues that based on experience and knowledge of happiness outcome, we make certain decisions. If we are unable to use experience, then we accept the majority opinion in cases of moral conflict. To illustrate this, lets take a basic example of ditching class. Let’s say I have an experience of what it is like to skip class and drink beer all day. I also have an experience of the pain I get from failing my exam. I choose to study and not drink beer due to the experiences I have had, and my knowledge of the pleasure outcomes.
This is all good and fun, but what can we say about actions that we have no previous experience of? Lets use another well studied thought experiment: we must choose between saving 4 children who are going to get hit by a train, or to kill the conductor and save the children. Surely very few people can draw on previous experiences in order to make a decision that would maximize happiness. How can we determine what is most pleasurable when we have no experience of the other side? In addition, Mill states that we would follow majority opinion to know the right decision. This suggestion fails because it would be incredibly difficult to know the stance of the majority population, and the decision that the hypothetical majority may come to may not in fact maximize aggregate happiness. Thus, I am arguing that Mill’s notion of how we (the methods we use) to make these difficult decisions is unpersuasive.