What Modesty Forbids

31 januari 2010 | In Books Hedonism Self-indulgence | Comments?

I’m sure every reader has his/her way of working her/his way through a book or paper with the help of a pen, underlining and making notes in the margin. The ”notes in the margin”, for me, has settled on a quite restricted number of expressions. There’s ”qb”, of course, for ”question begging”, there is the exclamation mark (which I hardly ever use otherwise) for remarkable statements, there are shorthands for missing premisses, spurious reasonings. and so on. There is the occasional ”good point”, when something strikes me as being just that. And the ”Exactly”, when someone makes a good point with which I agree. Finally, the ”Exactly. Damn it”, when the point is good, I agree, and it is so essential to my own argument that I curse the fact that someone else got to publish it first. (These things tend to happen when your views are true and interesting.)

This happened to me constantly while reading Leonard D Katz’ absolutely superb dissertation ”Hedonism as metaphysics of mind and value” (and yes, my title is a bit of a hommage). In fact, I might as well have put a sticker with ”Exactly. Damn it” on the cover. (His practically book-length on pleasure in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is simply amazing, without doubt the best piece of philosophical writing there is on the subject, and the fact that things still get written about pleasure without reference to either of those two texts is nothing short of a scandal. (Stop it David, you are getting all worked up and excited, and that’s a shame).)

And now it happened again, in the work of Sharon A Hewitt. The most striking resemblance of my view and hers is our claim that goodness and badness are basically phenomenal properties: the experiences of pleasure and displeasure. ”Feeling good” is, in fact precisely that: having that feeling which goodness consists in. I would like to praise her work, because it is really quite brilliant, but it seems to me that modesty forbids it. We have not been in contact while working on our respective dissertations, so either there is a common source (and Katz’ work might very well be it. That, or C.I. Lewis’ ”An analysis of knowledge and valuation”), or we have some sort of snail-telegraph thing going.

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