Explaining the Paradox of Hedonism

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 97 (3):497-510 (2019)
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The paradox of hedonism is the idea that making pleasure the only thing that we desire for its own sake can be self-defeating. Why would this be true? In this paper, I survey two prominent explanations, then develop a third possible explanation, inspired by Joseph Butler's classic discussion of the paradox. The existing accounts claim that the paradox arises because we are systematically incompetent at predicting what will make us happy, or because the greatest pleasures for human beings are found in certain special goods which hedonists cannot enjoy. On the account that I develop, the paradox is a consequence of a theory about the nature of pleasure, together with a view about the requirements of rational belief. Which of these explanations is correct, I argue, bears on central questions about how to understand the nature and extent of the paradox.

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Alexander Dietz
University of Southern California (PhD)


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