Hedonists believe that pleasure and pain are the only fundamental components of well-being. In discussing hedonism, the first question to ask is: what are pleasure and pain? We will focus on the nature of pleasure.
2.1 What Pleasure Is
Broadly speaking, there are two views about the nature of pleasure. On one view, pleasure is a certain distinctive kind of feeling . Just as there are feelings of coldness or warmth, pressure, nausea, and the taste of strawberries, there is also the feeling of pleasure itself. This feeling might be caused by other feelings. For example, eating strawberries might cause one to have the taste of strawberries, and this in turn might cause one to have the feeling of pleasure itself. But the feeling of pleasure is not the same thing as the taste of strawberries. It is a distinct feeling. The very same feeling of pleasure is caused by many different kinds of experiences, such as the pressure of a massage, or the warmth of the sun. Call this the " distinctive feeling view ."
We might doubt the distinctive feeling view in light of the fact that it is difficult to pin down what the feeling of pleasure would be. You may find it implausible that there is a single distinct feeling that you have when you enjoy eating a strawberry and when you enjoy the sun's warmth. What do those sensations have in common? Furthermore, consider how it feels to enjoy having completed a difficult puzzle. Does this feel anything like eating a strawberry? Is there even a way it feels at all ? If you don't think so, then you cannot accept the distinctive feeling view.
Suppose pleasure is not a distinctive feeling - then what is it? According to Henry Sidgwick, pleasures are feelings that we want to continue (Sidgwick 1907: 42-3). Thus if I am having the pleasant experience of eating a strawberry, there are certain taste sensations that I want to continue - those sensations are themselves pleasures. Those sensations do not feel the same as the sensations of warmth I get from the sun when I am enjoying being outside. What they have in common is that I want both to continue - but I can want two sensations to continue even though they feel completely different from one another. Call this view the " desire view " of pleasure.
On another view, pleasure is not a feeling at all. Rather, it is an attitude . Attitudes include such things as desires, beliefs, hopes, and fears. When one has a belief, there is nothing it feels like to have that belief. Beliefs are mental states that are about something. So, for example, I believe that it is sunny outside. My belief is about the weather - in particular it is about the proposition that it is sunny . You can't have a belief that isn't a belief about something. Belief is, in this way, unlike the feeling of warmth. The sun might cause you to feel warm, but your feeling of warmth is not about the sun. On the attitudinal view of pleasure, when you are pleased, there is always something you are pleased about. You might be pleased that you are meeting someone you've wanted to meet, or that your team is winning the game. You might be pleased that you are having a feeling of warmth. In all these cases, pleasure is an attitude directed at some fact - the fact that you are meeting someone, or that you are feeling warm. Call this the " attitudinal view ."
We do not need to decide which of these three views about pleasure is true. But the distinction will come in handy as we examine different versions of hedonism.
It will be helpful to remind ourselves of some very common assumptions we tend to make about pleasure and pain. One assumption is that pleasures and pains come in different intensities and durations. Obviously, some pleasures last longer than others. Some pleasures are also more intense than others. T