In recent posts, Leiter argued that well-being cannot merely be preference-satisfaction.
Why can't well-being be equivalent to preference-satisfaction? Simple answer: there are lots of preferences whose satisfaction makes people worse off, and this happens all the time. Why? Because people are dumb or irrational or lacking in information or addicted, and so on.
But this then raises the question, how are they "worse off"? Presumably because their other preferences have been frustrated as a result. Due to some unintended consequences, their stated preference turned out to not be what would best realise their desires overall. There is no need to abandon preference-satisfaction here, we simply need to take a broader view of it, by assessing how well an event conforms with all of a person's preferences. Some of these may well conflict, but that is no great problem - they'd just cancel each other out, in a sense. We just want to maximise our preference satisfaction. If the maximum we can achieve is less than 100%, then so be it.
Consider Leiter's example:
Richard really wants Mexican food, and so goes to a neighborhood dive, to satisfy his preference; he does not know that sanitary conditions at the dive are so poor, that the salsa is full of salmonella, and he dies of food poisoning two days later
Now presumably Richard has a great many other desires/preferences, which require his being alive in order for them to be realised. So by the broader understanding of a preference-satisfaction view of well-being, he is clearly far better off not eating the Mexican food.
Similarly for addiction examples. Even though the addict wants to take the drugs, he also wants several (more) other things which he can only achieve if he overcomes his addiction. Long term, his overall preferences are best satisfied by not taking the drugs. Leiter's objections do not appear to apply to this broader preference theory of well-being.
But is mere subjective desire satisfaction (i.e. the pleasant feeling arising from our belief that our desires have been realised) enough, or does genuine wellbeing require that our desires are fulfilled in fact? Uriah at Desert Landscapes raises a similar question, to which Doug Portmore replies in the comments at PEA Soup:
Imagine... Doug doesn’t die believing that he’s loved and successful, for on his death bed Josh enlightens him to the fact it’s all been a charade. Josh convinces Doug of what is in fact the truth: his colleagues despise him, his business is in shambles, and his adulterous wife holds him in utter contempt. So I ask, what should Doug’s reaction be? Should he say “well, I’ve been really well off up until now” or should he say, “wow, I haven’t been nearly as well off as I had thought”? Intuitively, the latter seems much more plausible. Also, consider who Doug should be angry with? Should he be angry with his wife and colleagues who deceived him or should he be angry with Josh who enlightened him to the truth? If internalism is correct, he should be angry with Josh.
Another example I first heard from Alonzo Fyfe. Imagine a mad scientist kidnaps you and your family, and offers you the following two options:
- He will let your family live in a pleasant but secluded captivity, but you will be made to believe (eg through hypnosis, or whatever) that they were all tortured and killed.
- He will torture and kill your family, but you will be made to believe that they are safe and well in a pleasant but secluded captivity.
After making the choice, all recollection of the bargain will be erased from your memory. Which option would you choose? Most people say #1 - the desire fulfillment option. We want our families to be well in fact, and this is more important to us than whether we merely believe that all is well.
These thought experiments seem to recommend externalism over internalism; objective desire fulfillment over subjective satisfaction. But is desire fulfillment alone an adequate account of human flourishing? More on this later...
Update: For further reasons to reject normative hedonism, see Phluaria: Hurts So Good, and 'The Evaluative Worthlessness of Happiness' at The Fly Bottle.
See also the Matrix:
Most of us care about a lot of things independently of the experiences that those things provide for us. The realization that we value things other than pleasant conscious experience should lead us to at least wonder if the legitimacy of this kind of value hasn't been too hastily dismissed by Cypher and his ilk. After all, once we see how widespread and commonplace our other non-derivative concerns are, the insistence that conscious experience is the only thing that has value in itself can come to seem downright peculiar. If purchasing life insurance seems like a rational thing to do, why shouldn't the desire that I experience reality (rather than some illusory simulation) be similarly rational? Perhaps the best test of the rationality of our most basic values is actually whether they, taken together, form a consistent and coherent network of attachments and concerns. (Do they make sense in light of each other and in light of our beliefs about the world and ourselves?) It isn't obvious that valuing interaction with the real world fails this kind of test.