Two types of psychological hedonism

Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2016 Apr:56:7-14. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2015.10.011. Epub 2015 Nov 21.


I develop a distinction between two types of psychological hedonism. Inferential hedonism (or "I-hedonism") holds that each person only has ultimate desires regarding his or her own hedonic states (pleasure and pain). Reinforcement hedonism (or "R-hedonism") holds that each person's ultimate desires, whatever their contents are, are differentially reinforced in that person's cognitive system only by virtue of their association with hedonic states. I'll argue that accepting R-hedonism and rejecting I-hedonism provides a conciliatory position on the traditional altruism debate, and that it coheres well with the neuroscientist Anthony Dickinson's theory about the evolutionary function of hedonic states, the "hedonic interface theory." Finally, I'll defend R-hedonism from potential objections.

Keywords: Biological altruism; Neuroscience of pleasure; Psychological altruism; Psychological egoism; Psychological hedonism.

MeSH terms

  • Altruism*
  • Humans
  • Philosophy
  • Pleasure*