Philosophy TV Managing Editors

David Killoren (Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry, Australian Catholic University)

Jonathan Lang (Wisconsin Institute for Sleep and Consciousness, University of Wisconsin-Madison)


Ben Bradley and Dale Dorsey

Ben Bradley (left) and Dale Dorsey (right) on well-being.

According to subjectivism, something is good for you only if you value it. According to hedonism, pleasure is good for you—regardless of whether you value it. In this conversation, Dorsey defends a version of subjectivism against Bradley’s objections, and Bradley defends a version of hedonism against Dorsey’s objections.

Production note: Bradley’s audio is imperfect. It will sound better on some speakers than others. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Related works

by Bradley:
Well-Being and Death (2009)
with Kris McDaniel: “Desires” (2008)
A Paradox for Some Theories of Welfare” (2007)
Two Concepts of Intrinsic Value” (2006)

by Dorsey:
Intrinsic Value and the Supervenience Principle” (forthcoming)
The Hedonist’s Dilemma” (forthcoming)
Three Arguments for Perfectionism” (forthcoming)
Headaches, Lives, and Value” (2009)

4 comments to Ben Bradley and Dale Dorsey

  • David Sobel

    Ben asks if the resonance constraint does not just beg the question in favor of subjectivism. I hear: non-subjectivists don’t have a good way of capturing the commonsense thought that what is good for me has to suit me in some serious way.

    I don’t get why Ben (and Dale) think the Combo view (what is good for one is the combo of wanting x and x being the case) is not subjectivist. Dale introduced subjectivism as offering a nec condition. That is not my favorite way to do it, but doesn’t it get the result that the Combo view is subjectivist because it includes such a nec condition? I don’t see the Combo view as offering any serious objectivist constraint on what is good for one.

    I would say the subjectivist thought has to do with what makes it the case that something benefits one. If one wants it (in the right way) then it is good for you. Being good for you here just means that, were it actual, it would benefit. So it just follows, as I see it, from subjectivism that my wanting it and it being the case benefits. So I don’t see the Combo view as offering an alternative to subjectivism.

  • Ben Bradley

    Hi David. On the first point: the claim that “what is good for me has to suit me in some serious way” might just mean “what is good for me has to be something that I genuinely want,” in which case the resonance constraint is just the view it is supposed to support. So it seems to me that there is no *argument* for subjectivism here, merely a claim that subjectivism has some intuitive plausibility. I’m OK with just saying that subjectivism has some intuitive plausibility; I’m less OK with saying that subjectivism is supported by some other principle, because I don’t yet know what that other principle is.

    You say “if one wants it.. then it is good for you”. If by “good” you mean “intrinsically good” then the combo view is incompatible with this. Combos of wantings and gettings are good whether those combos are wanted or not. That’s why Dale and I agreed that the combo view is not subjectivist. But there is probably a way of stating subjectivism that makes the combo view turn out to be subjectivist. (In my view, there had better be, if the subjectivist/objectivist distinction is to be useful. I agree with you that the combo view should turn out to be subjectivist. I think Dale rejects this.) On the combo view, getting x when you want x is non-instrumentally (but not intrinsically) good for you; it’s a part of a whole that has basic intrinsic value. Subjectivism could probably be restated in a way that makes use of that distinction.

  • Ben Bradley

    The 2nd to last sentence would be less confusing if I had said: “on the combo view, when you want x, it is non-instrumentally (but not intrinsically) good for you that you get x.”

  • David Sobel

    Ben, it seemed that you made use of a resonance constraint against achievement oriented conceptions of well-being and in favor of hedonism. Since you seem to take hedonism to not be a species of subjectivism it seems you need the resonance constraint to not just be question-begging for the subjectivist. Sumner said, rightly I think, that it clearly does not follow from the fact that something is good that it benefits me. Rather we need to establish some compelling connection between the object and me before it is plausible that the object benefits me. The very weakest understanding of a non-question-begging resonance constraint of the sort that we are both looking for would just issue such a challenge: show me the compelling connection between the object and the agent whose good it is. You and I, I take it, think that this connection does not look compelling until it ensures some “favorable uptake” on the part of the agent where I guess we must agree that this favorable uptake must not just presuppose subjectivism.

    Your hedonism claims that pleasure is something that we have a particular pro-attitude towards, not a feeling. Since I imagine that you would allow that this pro-attitude is one that an agent could be fully rational while having or not having this pro-attitude towards any particular object, then I would understand your view to be a species of subjectivism. I wonder why you think it is not. How do you understand the divide between subjectivism and hedonism?

    As we agree that the Combo view is subjectivist so long as subjectivism is a useful category and you think at most the Combo view forces us to see that our current understanding of the subjectivist/non-subjectivist distinction needs a technical fix I will quit banging on about the Combo view.