A Multiplicative Model of Value Pluralism
How do distinct kinds of value combine?
As an objective list theorist, I’m drawn to a kind of value pluralism. Both hedonic and non-hedonic factors (such as friendship, achievement, etc.) intuitively contribute to our well-being. But difficult questions arise as to how to combine them. A purely additive approach seems unpromising, as that would imply that any finitely blissful life could be surpassed by a thoroughly miserable life that simply has enough non-hedonic goods added. And that doesn’t seem very plausible. One might try to avoid this by imposing lexical limits of various sorts, but these tend to imply implausible hyper-sensitivity to tiny changes in hedonic value. (See Theron Pummer’s ‘Lopsided Lives’ for good discussion—with thanks to Bentham’s Bulldog for the pointer.)
I wonder whether a multiplicative approach might prove more promising. Here’s a super-rough toy model. Take value to come in two dimensions, ‘hedonic’ and ‘non-hedonic’. Map both dimensions onto a scale from 0 - 1, where 0 = maximum disvalue, 1/2 = neutral, and 1 = maximum value. Multiply both dimensions together to yield a composite score on a scale from 0 - 1 (area on the graph below), where neutrality now lies at 0.25 (so unit intervals are not assumed to be constant in value). Any composite score < 0.25 corresponds to negative value, whereas a composite score > 0.25 corresponds to positive value.
Some nice features of this toy model:
Any sufficiently miserable life or experience, with hedonic score < 1/4, is guaranteed to yield negative composite value no matter how much non-hedonic value it is combined with.
No hyper-sensitivity: small changes in either dimension will only have a small impact on the composite score. (E.g. increasing hedonic score from 0.24 to 0.26 will, even in the presence of maximal non-hedonic score, merely shift the total value from slightly negative to slightly positive.
It captures intuitions about the importance of “well-roundedness”. If you score well on one dimension and poorly on the other, your well-being will be improved much more by slightly improving your low-scoring dimension than by boosting your high-scoring dimension yet further.
To further limit implausible extremes, one could restrict non-hedonic scores to a smaller range, e.g. 0.25 - 0.75, or even take 0.5 as the minimum, if one wants to ensure that subjectively happy lives always qualify as positive overall.
Of course, this is just a toy model, and much remains to be fleshed out. But it strikes me as somewhat promising at first glance. I’m curious whether others can foresee any devastating objections to this whole approach. Any pointers to others’ work that fleshes out a view along these lines in greater detail would also be most welcome!
Update: Josh Gillon suggests a potentially better alternative: reverse the initial scores so that 0 is perfect and 1 is maximally bad, and then take the composite score to be the distance from the origin (0,0) to one’s component co-ordinates. (Where, again, a lower score indicates more positive value.)