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Unconscious Pleasures and Pains: A Problem for Attitudinal Theories?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 April 2018

FRED FELDMAN*
Affiliation:
University of Massachusetts at Amherstffeldman@philos.umass.edu

Abstract

Ben Bramble, Dan Haybron and others have endorsed the idea that there are unconscious, or unfelt, pleasures and pains. These would be sensory experiences that are genuine pleasures or pains, but experiences of which the subject is unaware. The idea that there are such things is worthy of attention in its own right; but I am interested in this alleged phenomenon for a further reason. I am attracted to an attitudinal theory of sensory pleasure and pain. Bramble has claimed that the existence of unconscious pleasures and pains reveals that attitudinal theories cannot be true. Chris Heathwood has offered a reply on behalf of attitudinalism. I think a better reply can be provided. In this article I explain why an attitudinal theory of pleasure and pain is consistent with whatever is plausible in the ‘unconscious pleasure and pain’ phenomenon.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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References

1 See, for example, Bramble, Ben, ‘The Distinctive Feeling Theory of Pleasure’, Philosophical Studies 162 (2013), pp. 201–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Haybron, Daniel M., The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being (Oxford, 2008), p. 205Google Scholar.

2 I presented this ‘heterogeneity argument’ in ‘Two Questions about Pleasure’, Philosophical Analysis: A Defense by Example, ed. Austin D. (Dordrecht, 1988), pp. 59–81; that paper was reprinted in my Utilitarianism, Hedonism, and Desert (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 79–105. I gave a more extensive account in Pleasure and the Good Life (Oxford, 2004), pp. 79–81.

3 As for example, Heathwood, Chris did in ‘The Reduction of Sensory Pleasure to Desire’, Philosophical Studies 133 (2007), pp. 2344CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Parfit, Derek seems to commit himself to this view in Reasons and Persons (Oxford, 1984), pp. 493–4Google Scholar.

4 I presented this view in several places starting in ‘Two Questions about Pleasure’. I gave a more extensive account in Pleasure and the Good Life, ch. 4.

5 Bramble, ‘The Distinctive Feeling Theory’.

6 The argument appears in Bramble, ‘The Distinctive Feeling Theory’, pp. 204–6.

7 Or, as Bramble says, ‘one can hardly have the relevant kind of attitude (be it disliking, not wanted, disvaluing, or whatever) toward an experience that one is entirely unaware of’ (Bramble, ‘Distinctive Feeling Theory’, p. 204).

8 Haybron, The Pursuit of Unhappiness, p. 205.

9 Sacks, Oliver, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales (New York, 1987), p. 159Google Scholar.

10 Sacks, The Man Who Mistook, p. 159.

11 Chris Heathwood, ‘Unconscious Pleasures and the Attitudinal Theory of Pleasure’, published online 11 August 2017 in Utilitas First View, <https://doi.org/10.1017/S0953820817000188>

12 In recent personal correspondence, Heathwood has indicated that he does not want to take a stand on the question whether the word ‘aware’ is strictly ambiguous between the senses defined in WS and WA.

13 A referee for Utilitas encouraged me to distinguish more sharply between (a) the claim that I am not conscious of the sound in Phase One and (b) the claim that I am then conscious of the sound but not paying attention to it. I focus here on (a) since this is the claim that Bramble needs for his argument.

14 Sacks, The Man Who Mistook, p. 159.

15 The passage from Sacks is unclear. Some remarks suggest that the presence of aromatic substances in the air helps to make other – perhaps conscious – sensations more pleasant.

16 Bramble mentions this possibility in ‘The Distinctive Feeling Theory’, p. 204 n. 11. Heathwood, ‘Unconscious Pleasures and Attitudinal Theories of Pleasure’, pp. 8–9 n. 16, hints at the possibility of explaining unconscious pleasures by appeal to unconscious attitudes.

17 A corresponding thing could be said about unconscious pains.

18 Several friends and colleagues provided valuable comments, criticism and suggestions on earlier drafts of this article. I am especially grateful to Chris Heathwood, Miles Tucker, Eden Lin, Brad Skow, Owen McLeod, and an anonymous referee for Utilitas.

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