An Honest Look at Hybrid Theories of Pleasure

Philosophical Studies 178 (3):887-907 (2020)
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What makes it the case that a given experience is pleasurable? According to the felt-quality theory, each pleasurable experience is pleasurable because of the way that it feels—its “qualitative character” or “felt-quality”. According to the attitudinal theory, each pleasurable experience is pleasurable because the experiencer takes certain attitudes towards it. These two theories of pleasure are typically framed as rivals, but it could be that they are both partly right. It could be that pleasure is partly a matter of felt-quality, and partly a matter of attitudes. It could be that a hybrid theory is true. In this paper, I aim to advance the cause of hybrid theories of pleasure. I do this in two ways. I begin by examining the challenges which motivate the search for a hybrid theory. I call these the HONEST challenges: Heterogeneity, Oppositeness, Normativity, Euthyphro, Separateness, and Togetherness. The first three challenges—HON—are challenges for the felt-quality theory. The second three challenges—EST—are challenges for the attitudinal theory. Having established the HONEST challenges, I then describe and motivate a particular cluster of hybrid theories which I will call dispositional hybrid theories. According to these theories, pleasurable experiences are all and only those experiences which dispose us to desire them in virtue of feeling the way that they do. The dispositional theories deliver on the promise of hybrid theories: because they appeal to both felt-qualities and attitudes, they have the resources to avoid most, if not all, of the HONEST challenges.

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Daniel Pallies
Lingnan University


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