Sep 18, 2022Liked by Richard Y Chappell

It seems plausible that someone whose life had negative hedonic value could overall be better off than someone whose life had positive hedonic value. Let me try to sketch out a comparison.

Let's imagine one person Sal, who is a perfectionist and overachiever. Sal involves herself in many worthy causes and because of the effort she puts in, she is mostly successful by any reasonable standard. Because she is such a perfectionist and has extremely high standards, she does not derive much pleasure from her achievements. She has friends and family and her life is contains many objectively good things, and while she is pleasant to be around, she obtains at most a mild degree of pleasure from her life. She lives a long life. And in the last five years of her life, even though she suffers from a painful and debilitating illness, she pushes on to do lots of good for others (e.g. she involves herself in effective charitable work). She does this out of a sense of duty and derives no pleasure from this. On her last day, while cooking a meal, she slips and falls in the kitchen, and breaks her hip. While she is lying there her house catches fire and she burns painfully to death. Overall, Sal seems to have lived a good life even though the last few years and especially her final moments put her total hedonic value on the negative end of the ledger.

Hal is a petty bully and drug addict. He lives till his twenties more or less on a constant high and dies painlessly of an overdose. Overall, netting off from any pain he might experience from going through periodic drug withdrawal (whenever he cannot get his hands on drugs), the hedonic value of his life is barely positive.

Let me make 3 points

a) I think Sal's life is better than Hal's all things considered.

b) a life with negative hedonic value is not necessarily worse off than one with positive hedonic value (all things considered) and hence avoiding such results cannot be a motivation for the multiplicative account.

c) Your multiplicative account (or some account like yours) can explain why Sal's life is better than Hal's. Sal's pleasures in her life are derived from a genuine if understated appreciation of objective goods and hence are greatly valuable. A good deal of the pain in her life especially that which is due to her illness is borne by her in order to do something that she takes to be worthwhile. Hence it's disvalue is less than it otherwise would have been. Hal's pleasures are empty and superficial and his pains arise from his pursuit of empty pleasure.

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Sep 17, 2022·edited Sep 17, 2022Liked by Richard Y Chappell

There are a few smaller problems, but these are the big ones.

1) It implies hypersensitivity. Let's say that pleasure that you get from friends is more valuable than the pleasure you get from other sources. Presumably if your friends were slowly replaced by zombies, that would make it so that they no longer multiply your pleasure value. However, as the amount of pleasure you get from your friends tends towards infinity, that would mean that each milisecond of zombification decreases your well-being by an arbitrarily large amount. This is really implausible; if zombification takes 10 years, it doesn't seem like one second of your friends becoming slightly more zombieish could decrease your well-being by any arbitrarily large amount -- having a more deleterious effect on utility than the worst crimes in human history. The same idea can be applied to the other things that are on the objective list.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding and it caps out at 1 where 1 is just a very good life. But if that's true then you have to accept that there's some pleasure cap, which seems implausible. You also still get hypersensitivity, because when a life is at the positive extreme, increasing the multiplying factor could be arbitrarily good (or maybe good till it reaches 1, but at 1 things are very good). While this doesn't look like hypersensitivity, in that it only changes the final score from 0-1 by a very small amount, remember, 1 is the best possible life and 0 is the worst, so small differences in the final scores will still be enormous.

2) It seems to result in equal pleasures and pains not offsetting. Suppose that everytime I see someone I get a headache, such that the overall quality of interacting with them is neutral. The pleasure precisely cancels out the badness of the headache. In this case, it seems strange to say that it's actively good to interact with them. However, on an OLT account, it seems it would be, because the pain's badness is left unchanged by the interaction, but the pleasure's goodness increases because I'm interacting with another person. You could get around this though by taking it to be about momentary net hedonic value, so that pleasures and pain's cancel out.

3) These views also violate the following intuitively plausible constraint.

Pleasure and Non-Hedonic Dominance: For any two lives, if one life contains both more pleasure and more non-hedonic goods than the other life, that life is better.

This violates it in the following way. Suppose that the only two goods on the objective list are knowledge and pleasure and pleasure from knowledge is twice as good. Suppose that, to dramatically simplify things, the relevant feature in regards to knowledge is the number of facts one knows. Person 1 knows 10,000 facts and has 8,000 units of pleasure. Person 2 knows 5,000 facts and has 6,000 units of pleasure. However, all of person 2’s pleasure comes from their acquisition of facts (they are an avid reader of the dictionary and encyclopedia!), while non of person A’s pleasure comes from their acquisition of facts. Person 1 would have 8,000 units of well-being, while person 2 would have 12,000 units of pleasure.

4) This gets a really wrong result when it comes to simultaneous experience of both pleasure and pain. Suppose a person simultaneously experiences some vast amount of pleasure from a source that’s on the objective list and some far greater amount of pain. Suppose the multiplier is 2 times. Suppose additionally that they experience 2 billion units of pain, and 1.5 billion units of pleasure from friendship. Additionally suppose that vicious torture causes overall about 100 million units of pain. Thus, their mental states, considered in isolation, are far worse than that of a person being tortured. The objective list theorist who adopts the multiplier view has to think that this person is very well off -- for their pleasure is multiplied to be greater than the pain. However, the notion that a person is well off who every second has experiences that are hedonically far worse than torture, is totally absurd. You can get around this though

5) Not sure if I'm missing something, but this seems to hold that if you're at 0 on the objective list score, then being at 1 on the hedonism score would be equivalent to being at zero on the hedonism score, which is wildly implausible. Your later solution avoids this though by taking it to be about momentary net hedonic value, so that pleasures and pain's cancel out.

I'm glad you started writing about well-being, so that we finally have something to disagree about. One clarifying question: is this over the course of lifetimes or moments, when we add up the values to multiply?

One other question: are the intervals regular? So, for example, is the difference between .55 and .65 the same as between .65 and .75?

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I lay out what is I think one of the biggest problems for such a view here.


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Sep 17, 2022Liked by Richard Y Chappell

Some possible objections:

1. It seems reverse-prioritarian in a sense. If A is better off than B non-hedonically, then increasing A's hedonic welfare by x is better than increasing B's hedonic welfare by x, but this seems backwards to me. This is especially bad if there are non-hedonic bads, maybe being a victim of mistreatment/injustice, being hated, having sufficiently inaccurate beliefs (not just ignorance, but strongly believing wrong things, and possibly because of deception or manipulation), so we can have a life that's overall non-hedonically bad. Maybe you can just stack standard prioritarianism on top of the overall welfare to try to fix this, though.

2. It requires value to be bounded, at least per "moment" of value in each individual.

3. It seems wrong to me for an overall miserable life where someone doesn't appreciate their non-hedonic goods to ever count as good. Restricting the range of non-hedonic value can help (like you suggested to ensure positive hedonic lives are good), but it seems ad hoc and hard to motivate independently. Hybrid views might help, but this might involve double-counting subjective value: if someone appreciates friendship, you multiply their subjective (preference-based or hedonic?) appreciation of friendship by their subjective hedonic appreciation of friendship.

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Applying a logarithm to both sides, we get u'(a, b) = log(a) + log(b), with -inf <= log(a), log(b) <= 0, positive lives having u'(a, b) > log(0.25) and negative u'(a, b) < log(0.25).

Ultimately this is just the additive approach with bounded positive contribution for each term.

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One other worry; this dramatically underspecifies population ethics. Presumably two lives with net score 1/2 wouldn't be as good as one with score 1. This seems especially weird with utilitarian aggregation that happens if we have the intuition that one should act as they would if they lived everyone's life and experienced everything that was experienced.

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This is basically a Cobb–Douglas utility function, isn't it?


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This is intriguing. What data could we test the predictive power on ?

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