Thursday, September 19, 2013

(AE) SEP on Motivational Hedonism

"Any confirmed case of an individual being motivated by something other than pleasure or pain would refute motivational hedonism. Here are some standard candidates: the soldier with no belief in the afterlife who opts for a painful death for himself to save his comrades, the parent motivated to give her or his child a good start in life, the walker motivated to kick a stone just ‘for the hell of it’. The standard response to such cases is to conjecture a suitably hedonistic rival motivational story. Despite himself, the soldier was really motivated by the underlying belief that it would secure him a joyful afterlife, or at least a half-second's sweet pleasure of heroic self-sacrifice. The parent was really motivated only by his own pleasurable intention to give the child a good start in life. And so on. If one already accepts motivational hedonism, one might be convinced by such re-interpretations. They show that hedonist rival conjectures can generally be made, even when humans seem clearly to be motivated by other and more diverse things, but they do not show that the hedonist re-interpretations are the more plausible ones.

Hedonists have a further problem. Their re-writes grant, in effect, that saving the comrades, or giving the child a good start in life, does motivate. But they insist that all such motivation is ultimately only for the sake of that individual's own pleasure or pain. Motivational hedonists might mean to claim here that ‘favors pleasure or disfavors pain’ in part defines ‘motive’. That would make their central claim a definitional truth, but only a trivial and uninteresting one. Further, if this stipulation about ‘motive’ is made, then critics of motivational hedonism need only restate their central point in different terminology; for example, that we are often moved to act by matters other than pleasure or pain. But perhaps hedonists are instead making the empirical conjecture that motivation by pleasure and pain underlies and generates all apparently non-hedonistic motives, such as to become competent with more recipes, make one's spouse happy, preserve the New Zealand tuatara, and so forth. The difficulty motivational hedonists must then confront is to make literal sense of this talk of ‘underlying’, such that it would be possible to tell what sort of psychological evidence would be needed to confirm or refute their claim."

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