Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Autonomy and Hedonism

Shafer-Landau considers a number of arguments against hedonism (the view that happiness or pleasure is the only intrinsic good) in the second chapter of the book I'm using for my introductory ethics class. Here's one of these arguments:

The Importance of Autonomy Argument
(1) If hedonism is true, then autonomy contributes to a good life only insofar as it makes us happy.
(2) Autonomy sometimes directly contributes to a good life, even when it fails to make us happy. 
(3) Therefore, hedonism is false.
The argument is clearly valid, but are the premises true.  I'm mainly concerned with (2) (since (1), as Shafer-Landau suggests, is difficult to deny).  Do you think that autonomy contributes to a good life--that is, it makes one's life go better--even when it fails to make that person happy?  Why might someone reject this claim?  

29 comments:

Jake Seymer said...

Referring to premise 2:
I don't really see how autonomy makes a person's life better without making them happier. Having the power to make the choice in itself grants a person some small amount of happiness which contradicts premise 2 immediately.

Chen Huey Tsan said...

I think that autonomy does contribute to a good life even if the decision is not the most desired one and does not make the person happier. If a person does what he wants, he will be happier because his desires are fulfilled. However, doing what we want sometimes may not necessarily lead to a better life. For instance, if the person is too lazy and wants to drop out of school but decides to do the right thing which is to continue studying, his decision might make him unhappy temporarily but may make him lead a better life in the future because of his knowledge and qualification. Thus, autonomy sometimes makes our lives better even though it does not make us happy at the moment.

A hedonist might argue that the claim is untrue because having control and right to make decision at that moment does make the person happier and thus, a good life. It is still a good life even though the decision might not be the right one. When the person looks back and reflects on this decision, he'll feel happy that he had that right to make a choice.

Emily Engel said...

My ultimate problem with premise 2 is that it's too ambiguous, leaving "good life" undefined. What one person considers a good life another person may consider a horrible life. I may feel that so long as I get to lead an autonomic life, my life is good, even if I make poor decisions that don't really make me happy. Another person (perhaps a hedonist) might not care whether they make decisions for themselves, so long as they are happy.
This also leads to whether happiness counts in the short-term, long-term, or both. If I make all of my own decisions, and at the time they make me happy, it doesn't mean that, in the end, I'll still be pleased with those decisions and still feel happiness from them. It really depends whether you agree with the statement "the ends justify the means." Perhaps I started doing drugs, really enjoyed it, but then found myself about to die. I may feel that I lived a good life (because I was happy in the moment), but at this point, I no longer feel this happiness.

robert broome said...

I think autonomy is something that can make one's life better, even when it doesn't result in happiness. For instance, autonomy in its own right gives us more control and freedom in our lives; two qualities that I believe makes one's life better. As such I believe autonomy holds intrinsic value and is not simply an instrumental good as hedonism would suggest. Take the case of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union disbanded following the end of the Cold War, the people of various nations that formally belonged to the SU, were given autonomy. While some of these people may have found it daunting to be in control of their own decisions, and therefore in some cases uncomfortable or unhappy with given autonomy, it is hard to argue that they are not better off in the long run without Russian dictators telling them what to do.

Nonetheless, I can see how hedonists would reject the second premise. In their eyes, the only way to achieve the good life is if you are happy. If autonomy is improving your life, then by they're standards it must be making you happy. In other words they would reject the notion of the second premise--that you can improve your life while failing to become happy--as it contradicts their whole school of thought. From a non-hedonist stand point, it is also hard to think of specific cases where autonomy contributes to a good life, while also failing to make you happy--making premise 2 easier to reject.

Yeet Chien Tan said...

In my opinion, I think that autonomy does make our life better even it fails to give us happiness. From the word 'autonomy' itself, it means the power to guide our own life by making our own choice and I think most human beings want to make free choices.As an example, when a badminton player chose to retire because of a severe injury, he made his own choice for his own good even though this would not make him as happy as when he was a player.

Someone who endorse hedonism might reject the second premise because the ultimate goal of hedonists is to obtain happiness, which is an intrinsic good. They might argue that autonomy will definitely not contribute to a good life if it does not make someone happy. They might also say that people tend to make wrong choices which hurt themselves and thus, does not lead to good life.

Karynne Woodard said...

I believe that premise 2 is wrong. Just because a autonomy sometimes does not make us happy, does not make us happy in the long wrong. When we make a choice it makes us happy to be able to make that choice. As well as making a decision can lead to a happy life which means a good life.

Lik Sheng Ooi said...

I disagree with premise (2). Consider two countries, countries A and B. In Country A, the people are free to do what they want (autonomy), but are subjected to drought and starvation due to the country's geological location. In Country B, the people are subjected to a strict governmental rule, but they have food, water, blooming economy, and they have weekends off to spend time with their family. I think most people would rather choose Country B, where they sacrifice their autonomy for survival and happiness.

Yuan Xu said...

I think autonomy sometimes can directly contribute to a good life, even when it fails to make us happy. People with autonomy can control their own lives and determine what to do and what to avoid. From time to time, we make good choices leading to a good life. The ability for us with autonomy to decide cannot always make direct contribution to a good life, because the results can give us either happy or unhappy. For example, I make decision after comparing the pros and cons that I should go to class even though I want to go shopping preferably, while I am not happy to stay in the class. The decision I make does lead to a good life (I don’t escape the class) but I am unhappy for doing that.

However, hedonism would reject the second premise. They would say that the ultimate goals of having autonomy are creating happiness for ourselves. Regarding to the example I mentioned above, the decision I make to attend the class finally gives me happy because I will not get punished from my parents or grade penalty by the professor. Hedonism would argue that essentially autonomy would bring happiness because people would make decisions that are good for themselves even though they don’t feel happy at that moment. However, the beneficial decision would finally bring happiness to them.

Cristina Olvera said...

I do agree that having the ability to make your own decisions about how to live your life does grant someone happiness, although I see where someone could reject this claim. If someone had to make a choice between A and B, chose A and consequently had a bad outcome the fact that they chose A over B would no longer grant them happiness they might actually now be upset that they chose A and negate any pleasure that autonomy gave them.

Heather Wittrock said...

I think that premise 2 is accurate. I do think autonomy contributes directly to a good life. However, it is only accurate on the grounds that autonomy is something I value for its own sake, not the outcome. For me personally, I value autonomy, so whether my decisions make me happy, sad, better off or worse off does not really matter because it was my choice and that, to me, is important in itself.
I think somebody would reject this claim if happiness is the thing they want more than anything. For somebody who wants a life with no sadness or pain and wants to maximize happiness it may seem fair.

Miles Jeon said...

I see why autonomy contributes to a good life regardless of whether or not the end result is happiness. Having an option gives you a slight benefit, compared to not having options. In the situation of either choosing between death or endless torture, some may prefer death while others may value their lives enough to endure the torture. Both results will not result in happiness, but having the choice between the two contributes to a better life than not having a choice.

However, one reason someone can reject this claim is that regardless of choice, the intrinsic value of happiness will always rule. Whether you die, or you are tortured endlessly, the choice you make will bring you happiness because you don't have to endure the other option. If I would rather die than being tortured, the fact that I don't have to be tortured would give me satisfaction.

I believe autonomy is extremely important, but at the end of the day, happiness, in my opinion, is the only intrinsic value in life.

Woojai Jang said...

I think (2) is false in that autonomy always makes us happy. Let’s say I have to choice between living a peaceful life forced upon me without my consent and the endless torture. If I freely chose to get tortured as opposed to have the peaceful life, would I not thereby happier than I would have been with the other option? In making the choice, I decided that the misery—self-hatred due to the fact that I willingly gave up my autonomy—that complacent life will bring me is greater than the misery—voluntary physical pain—the torture will give me.
To me, the notion of autonomy is almost an inviolable virtue—yet, still instrumental value that leads to happiness. So, whenever I make a choice that honors my autonomy, am I not therefore better off?

Noratikah Ali said...

I feel that premise 2 is wrong. I believe that we do not entirely have freedom in our life because there is always restriction in making decision about our life. For example, a mother will restrict her child from playing with toys because she's afraid that it will harm the child and so both of them will have a good life because the accident rate is minimized. Another example is about laws in a country that the citizens need to follow. If they have the freedom to decide what they want to follow or not, wouldn't that make the country less stable and less peaceful, because of high crime rates, since some people like to do what they want to do. As such, they live in an unhappy life. Autonomy does not necessarily leads to a good life. It is good to have it because people get to decide about their life, but there is a limitation on it.

Zhen Ming said...

Personally, I agree with the second premise. Autonomy is something that is valuable in its own sake despite that fact that one day it makes me unhappy. Being able to have the freedom of autonomy and guide my own life and face the many possible unknowns of the future is far better to live a happy and predictable life. Therefore, despite the fact that one day my decision will fail to make me happy, however, indirectly I will have gain the experience.

However on the other hand, we could argue both ways that happiness is the only intrinsic value. In addition, doesn't matter what we do if it lead us to happiness then we don't care about the processes such as autonomy. And in this case premise 2 is false.


Su Jia Wong said...

I think it is possible that autonomy can contribute to good life even though it fails to make that person happy. It is important to have a life with the freedom to make choices because most of the time we know what we want and would like to fulfill the desire without disturbance from other people. Thus, having the autonomy itself is intrinsically valuable for a good life since we will be the one who decide how our life is going to look like.The end result might be an unhappy one, but we feel responsible for it and it is the sense of responsibility that makes our life a good one. For instance, a stay-home father decides to quit his job and takes over the responsibility of taking care of the kids. In the kindergarten, he might be treated as an outcast by the mothers of other children. They are suspicious of his ability to take good care of his kid. The father might feel unhappy about all the criticism but he is not regretful over his choice. He feels that he has the responsibility over his choice and it is the sense of responsibility defines a good life of him.

Hedonists might reject premise 2 if they think autonomy is instrumentally valuable instead of intrinsically valuable. In this case, autonomy will lead to happiness, which then contributes to a good life. Thus, it seems that autonomy is not intrinsically valuable because it is not good for its own sake.

Kah Yee Yap said...

I think autonomy occasionally can contribute directly to good life even though it fails to make someone happy at the same time. Autonomy provides the freedom to make decisions based on multiple choices. One clear example would be choosing your career path. I believe most people have at least two options to choose from at this point in their lives and some are confronted with having to pursue their dreams or settling for a future job that pay wages sufficient for living a stable life. As it turns out, some would go for the second option and they end up having a good life, if defined in terms of how good their living conditions are for instance, even though they might not derive the greatest happiness from their job relative to if they continue to achieve their dreams.

Ultimately, I think it is essential to define what a "good" life is. "Good" may have a variety of connotations for different people. You may say having a high-paying job is what makes your life good, or some individuals would say being able to do what you are passionate about even though you earn just enough to feed you everyday is what comprises a good life. Personally, happiness is important to me, but not losing the power to control your own destiny matters too.

Hedonists might reject this claim because happiness is the only intrinsically valuable good for them and they would say if someone is not happy, he or she is not leading a good life. Besides, they might also argue that someone who has to deal with tonnes of options might become overwhelmed and not make good and wise decisions eventually.

Daria Kryuchkova said...

Daria Kryuchkova said:

I strongly agree that autonomy plays a huge role in human life. Even little kids have to have some sort of autonomy; otherwise, they will fail to become a self-sufficient individual. I am myself was pretty infantile at the age 18 so my mom decided to set me free for a while and sent me to Europe, where I obtained unwanted independency. I said unwanted because it so convenient to be a child, depend on your mother and don't worry about "grown-up`s" problems. I had great living conditions; however, first couple months were tearing me apart. I hated everything about being autonomous. I had to take care of everything and constantly make choices. Back then I had no idea how eventually it will benefit me. Nowadays I appreciate my mom so much because she let me tasted an adult life. 6 months European experience prepared me for bigger experiences. 2 years later, when I turned 20 I was completely ready to live Moscow Russia and come to USA. Without that European experience I would not have been ever ready to cross the ocean.
Indeed, autonomy is intrinsically valuable, it fosters inner human core. It definitely makes you happy. When someone/something infringes someone`s autonomy it feels so wrong, like your natural exclusive rights have been taken away. It is better to be independent and unhappy than restrained and happy. Someone might reject this claim. Does autonomous mean solitary? Not at all, we have to be attached to our beloved ones for example; however, autonomy right has to be an essential part of these relationships as well.

Reed K said...

In class, there was about half of the class who would not enter the experience machine because they value the ability to make their own choices, their own autonomy, independent of happiness. This proves that there can be something that has more intrinsic value than happiness. In these cases, his or her life would be better than living in a false reality, so autonomy does directly contribute to the good life even if it fails to make us happy.

Sara Klunk said...

I would agree with premise 2 that autonomy sometimes directly contributes to a good life, even when it fails to make us happy. I think that this goes back to the discussion about the experience machine and when given the option to live a virtual life of happiness that feels real, some people still choose to live outside of the chair. This shows that even though a person may be faced with more hardship outside of the experience machine, the option to make our own choices (even if it will result in more misery) can make a person happier, and therefore live a better life than someone lacking autonomy in an experience machine.

Dan Richard said...

My problem with the argument is with Premise 2. I personally don't feel autonomy sometimes directly contributes to a good life, even when it fails to make us happy. First off, I would say there isn't an example I could come up with that autonomy can contribute to a good life even when it fails to make us happy. In any example I can think of, especially in the case of countries, I would say gaining autonomy actually is creating happiness because that's the goal the country is striving for. Since they have achieved that goal, being able to make their own decisions, whether the decisions create happiness or not, is actually a form of happiness since they are getting their original desire met.

To me, it seems that every circular question of "why do you do something" always trickles down to the only intrinsic value of happiness. Every decision made seems to be made based on the logic of judging consequences and creating long term happiness, whether that means individual, familial, or societal happiness. Possessing autonomy might be seemingly valuable on its own, but in the end, it's valuable on its own because that in itself is creating happiness.

Max Haraldsen said...

I believe that this argument is true. As Shafer-Landau stated, there are plenty of examples of people giving up greater happiness for more autonomy. A life full of great happiness but that is totally controlled by others is never viewed as a good life. Even if a few people have sacrificed autonomy for happiness, this would disprove premise 2. While I think to quite a few people happiness is the only intrinsic good, there is a large group of people that autonomy is also an intrinsic good to. Thus, hedonism is false because it does not apply to absolutely everyone.

Robert Romeo said...

I believe that autonomy does contribute to a good life, even when it does not make someone happy. I do not believe in determined fate, because the thought that I do not have control over what happens to me is something that I don't like. This is similar to my views on autonomy because I think that the fact that a person can make a choice and know that they determined the course of their life is in some cases better than making a hedonistic correct" choice (a choice that maximizes happiness).

I can, however, see how a hedonist may reject the original argument. Hedonists are concerned with the maximization of pleasure above all other things. Therefore, they may be inclined to reject the second premise because they don't think that a decision made for the sake of autonomy could be better than a predetermined choice, if the autonomous choice does not bering as much happiness.

Caitlin Cooper said...

I think that the second premise is false. I believe that having autonomy overall does make you happy, even if your decision in the short term doesn't make you happy. Having the ability to make your own choice makes you happier. I also think that we like to believe that we are more autonomous than we actually are. Yes we can essentially go into any field of work that we want, yes if we have the money we can live wherever we want but when it comes down to it a lot of our where our lives go has less to do with our choices and more to do with what we are born into, literally. You get the genes your biological parents give you, you can't change anything about that, you live where your parents want you to live and to go to whatever elementary school you are told to go to or if your parents have the money you can go to whatever private school in the area and then instantly a kid that goes to a private school has a leg up on the competition than a kid that goes to a school that can barely afford paper. I would say that a lot of life is what happens to us (not our choices) and happiness all depends on what we do with it.

Zhantao Xu said...

In my opinion premise (2) is true. I believe autonomy can sometimes contribute directly to a good life even though it fails to make us happy. Autonomy gives us the right to make our own decisions, which means that we have the right to decide which option we choose can lead to a better life. We are rational, and we know what will make us happy and what will make us live better. Sometimes doing what we want makes us happy, but sometimes we need to do what we don’t want to do to make us live better. For example, I really want to play computer games now (which makes me happy), but I understand that I have to do my homework now instead of getting an F in this course. So I choose to do my homework (which makes me unhappy), get a better grade, and consequently improve my chance of being a b-school student in my junior year. Better grade, better job, and then better life seem to be true in today’s society. Thus the autonomy I have makes me unhappy but gives me a broader chance to live better. There are same cases that autonomy contributes to a good life, like choosing major or choosing career path. As an international student it is impossible for me to choose some majors I interesting in, instead I have to choose those majors which can provide me work chances. I can say that I’d rather play music if I don’t need to consider so much, but my autonomy makes me choose business and computer science for living.

But hedonists may argue that happiness is the only source of leading a good life. They may argue that if one is unhappy, he/she must be living in a miserable life even he/she is a millionaire and runs a top company in the world. This argument rejects that autonomy makes us live better while it makes us unhappy.

Zhantao Xu said...

In my opinion premise (2) is true. I believe autonomy can sometimes contribute directly to a good life even though it fails to make us happy. Autonomy gives us the right to make our own decisions, which means that we have the right to decide which option we choose can lead to a better life. We are rational, and we know what will make us happy and what will make us live better. Sometimes doing what we want makes us happy, but sometimes we need to do what we don’t want to do to make us live better. For example, I really want to play computer games now (which makes me happy), but I understand that I have to do my homework now instead of getting an F in this course. So I choose to do my homework (which makes me unhappy), get a better grade, and consequently improve my chance of being a b-school student in my junior year. Better grade, better job, and then better life seem to be true in today’s society. Thus the autonomy I have makes me unhappy but gives me a broader chance to live better. There are same cases that autonomy contributes to a good life, like choosing major or choosing career path. As an international student it is impossible for me to choose some majors I interesting in, instead I have to choose those majors which can provide me work chances. I can say that I’d rather play music if I don’t need to consider so much, but my autonomy makes me choose business and computer science for living.

But hedonists may argue that happiness is the only source of leading a good life. They may argue that if one is unhappy, he/she must be living in a miserable life even he/she is a millionaire and runs a top company in the world. This argument rejects that autonomy makes us live better while it makes us unhappy.

Enrique Franco said...

I think autonomy has a crucial contribution to a good life. It’s easy to forget the value that humans place on our ability to choose. Autonomy provides us with a level of control on otherwise chaotic lives. The significance of autonomy is evident in examples of its absence. Imagine for instance the life of two people both that lived happy fulfilled lives. Now imagine that one of them is a slave. We very naturally don’t think these two people’s lives were equal. Autonomy has some value. The question remains whether it contributes to a good life. Consider a situation in which you and your family are trapped in a room and one of you must die. In situation one you have no choice in the matter. In situation two you choose which of you, including yourself, is killed. You will never be happy with the choice and in fact you may despise the very concept. We still value the choice. In this example it’s natural to feel a high level of responsibility for our loved ones. While the choice will cause us pain and potentially result in the end of our own life we would not want to risk the life of the ones we love.
That being said many people could also find a situation like this to be too overwhelming. A hedonist for example would find that in such situations an increased level of autonomy is overwhelming, possibly detrimental to a good life. The level of stress and anxiety that can be felt from too many choices could be found by a lot of people to make life worse.

Conner Schultz said...

I think that autonomy is an intrinsic value, so yes, I believe it does contribute to a better life. I think there are a number of great examples in support of this. For instance, the book provided many great examples; one of which was the drug that makes everyone happy but rendered them heteronomous. It was very difficult for me to see how that could possibly make someone’s life better. If our end goal was nothing but happiness, then according to Hedonism, we ought to take the drug because it will surely make us happier. Even if we aren’t as happy now as we would be on that drug, we still appreciate and value our autonomy and our ability to dictate our lives (determinism/indeterminism debate aside). An example from my life is how my parents treat me. They think that because they financially support me, they can dictate what I do because it will make me happier in the long run. While following my dad’s path might make me richer (and maybe happier), I want autonomy, because my autonomy gives me the ability to make my own decisions (and make my own mistakes), learn from experience, and figure out what I really want to do.
A hedonist can reject my claim that autonomy is an intrinsic value. They could very easily say that you should take the drug that makes you happy but heteronomous, because according to them, autonomy contributes to a good life only insofar as it makes us happy. Therefore, some hedonists might not even see the problem in my claim that the drug would not make for a better life. Other, more analytical, hedonists might say that autonomy is only an instrumental value and that there aren’t actually any scenarios in which you weren’t happier on account of your autonomy. They might say that you’re happier in the long run because you had autonomy and autonomy makes you happy. They could even say that you wouldn’t actually be happier if you took the drug; your happiness would only be along the level of a lobotomized child, essentially. I refute the claim that autonomy is an instrumental value because I hold my claim that there are scenarios in which you could be happier in the long run but had no autonomy.

Jeff Collins said...

I believe that being able to have ability to make our own decision whenever we want give us at least a little bit of happiness, therefore, I don’t believe that it is possible for autonomy to contribute to the good life and not make us happy. Autonoy makes a person’s life better, but it also makes that person happy at the same time.

Irving said...

Great!