PHL 204-07

First Epicurean Argument

  1. The only thing intrinsically good for you is to experience pleasure; the only thing intrinsically bad for you is for you to experience pain
  2. Therefore some event is bad for you only if that event either causes you to experience pain (and some event is good for you only if it causes you to experience pleasure)
    – OR –
    prevents you from experiencing pleasure (Nagel)

Question: If hedonism is true, does #2 follow?


  • Being saved from the Mad Stabber: did this action benefit you?
  • Cash intercepted by the Rottten Mailman: did the mailman harm you?
  • The deprivation account of the harm of death:
    The harm of death is not that it puts you into a bad or harmed state; the harm consists of the fact that your death prevents you from experiencing future pleasures

    advantages of this view:

    • it can explain why we think it a greater tragedy for the very young to die, but not as great for the very old to die
    • it can explain why we view some deaths as benefits
    • Second Epicurean Argument

    • The problem of the subject/time of the harm of death:
    • The assumption of this argument is that all harms and benefits are states of a person.
    • example to question this assumption: severe cognitive impairment — doesn’t necessarily put you in a bad state. the harm is not a state you are in, it is instead dependent upon comparing the way you are with the way you would be
    • Some problems for the deprivation account

    • does the account allow us to ever know whether any event harmed of benefited us?
    • It requires you to compare what actually happened with what would have happened
    • our knowledge of what would have happened is hard to come by
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