PHIL 2030: Introduction to Ethics
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Tuesday February 25, 2014


[6.4.] Against Happiness/Pleasure as the Sole Intrinsic Value.


For the most part, utilitarians no longer believe that happiness/pleasure is the only thing with intrinsic value.


·         James Rachels discusses some of the reasons for this in EMP 8.2; see his examples of the concert pianist whose hands are injured and of the person whose friend makes fun of him behind his back. These examples are supposed to show that “[w]e value things other than pleasure. For example, we value artistic creativity and friendship. These things make us happy, but that’s not the only reason we value them. It seems like a misfortune to lose them, even if there is no loss of happiness.” (EMP 112)


·         Robert Nozick’s[1] thought experiment about the experience machine (see RTD ch.5) is supposed to illustrate the fact that humans do, and should, value things other than pleasurable experiences. He concludes: “We learn that something matters to us in addition to experience by imagining an experience machine and then realizing that we would not use it.” (RTD 45)[2]


If Rachels and Nozick are right, then utilitarianism is wrong if it assumes that the only thing with intrinsic value is a certain kind of experience… like happiness or pleasure.


For the most part, modern utilitarians do not focus on any sort of experience. Instead, they focus on welfare or general well-being. The difference between modern utilitarianism and classical utilitarianism is that modern utilitarianism replaces hedonism with an emphasis on welfare or general well-being:


modern utilitarianism (full definition):

·         consequentialism: what makes an action right or wrong are nothing but its effects

·         impartiality: the interests of any being are just as important as the same interests of any other being.

·         welfarism: that which has intrinsic value is well-being, or making people (and perhaps other creatures) better off; this may include happiness/pleasure but is not limited to it.[3]


From here on, we’ll be talking about modern utilitarianism, not classical.



Stopping point for Tuesday February 25. For next time (Tuesday March 4), finish reading EMP ch.8 (pp.117-124) and study today’s lectures notes. We WILL definitely have a quiz over this material at the beginning of class.


[1] Nozick (1938-2002) was a professor of philosophy at Harvard University. His best known work, from which RTD ch.5 is an excerpt, is Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974).


[2] Anarchy, State and Utopia, p.44.


[3] For more on the concept of well-being and on the doctrine of welfarism, see Roger Crisp, “Well-Being,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = < >.

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