Over on the NZPhilosophy blog, Patrick argues that these thought experiments are irrelevant:
There are things I value more than my happiness. Perhaps, however, it would make sense to say that even though I prefer [mistaken sadness], I would be much better off [if mistakenly happy].
The basic claim is that we may simply care more about things other than our own wellbeing. What we value -- what is good to us -- may not be what is good for us. This sounds plausible. If it is true, then the fact that we care more about things other than our happiness does nothing to refute welfare hedonism. It could still be true that wellbeing simply consists in happiness, even if we value other things more.
This could explain an oddity I wrote about last year: my intuitions about welfare vary depending on whether I judge a case from the first person or the third person. In the third person I am much more inclined towards hedonism than I otherwise would be, at least in cases of other-regarding desires, e.g. about the health of loved ones.
But I think other-regarding desires complicate things. Plausibly, what is good to us is the fulfillment of all our desires, but other-regarding ones may not contribute to our welfare (what is good for us). This could explain my intuitions without recourse to hedonism. So let's consider a case involving self-regarding desires that may resolve this question:
Molly the Mathematician
Suppose Molly spent her whole life trying to prove a fiendishly difficult theorem. She finally thinks she's achieved it, and has some other mathematicians check her proof. Molly receives their answer, believes it wholeheartedly, then dies the next day. It is later discovered that she was told the wrong answer.
Which of the following scenarios is better for Molly?
1) The mathematicians (mistakenly) tell her the proof is flawed, when in fact it is correct.
2) The mathematicians (mistakenly) tell her the proof is correct, when in fact it is flawed.
Now, it seems to me that (1) is better for Molly, even from the third-person perspective. (There is little question that Molly herself would prefer (1) to be the case, as would I if I was in her position.) I'd be interested to hear what others think. If my intuition is accurate, it follows that welfare hedonism is false. We should instead adopt some (perhaps restricted) version of the desire fulfillment theory. Needless to say, I would be happy with that result. (Question for hedonists: if I'm wrong about this, should you inform me?)