I recently had the pleasure of reading an interesting paper by Neil Sinhababu, a friend I met while I was a visiting scholar at the University of Texas. Neil’s paper, thoughtfully posted online, is entitled The Epistemic Argument for Univesal Hedonism. In it, Neil makes an argument for a strong and controversial position that I’ve flirted with before myself: that pleasure and displeasure are the only things intrinsically good or bad in any ethical sense.
Neil’s argument proceeds roughly as follows (and this summary, qua summary, must necessarily leave out some of the detail and precision of his argument): Ethical judgement all derive from one of two sources: emotional perception and phenomenal introspection. The source of most of our commonsense judgements about morality is emotional perception: a process by which we react emotionally to states of affairs in the world, form moral judgements in connection with these emotional reactions, and thereby perceive the states of the world as having objective moral qualities. Neil draws on Jonathan Haidt’s empirical research to support this point.
Neil goes further, however, in arguing that we are wrong to make moral judgements on the basis of emotional perception, thus rejecting Mencius’s metaethics as well as those of the moral sense theorists. Emotional perception, he claims, is inherently unreliable. Continue reading