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Hedonism as the explanation of value
10 September 2009
Friendship, knowledge, health, and prosperity are all things most of us would call valuable. But why? What is value? According to the philosopher David Brax, who is now submitting a new dissertation at Lund University, there is only one universal value: pleasure.
“If we want to understand what value is, we need to examine both how and why we value things. My theory is based on the observation that the pleasure system is central to these explanations. Why do we feel that friendship is valuable? Because friendship is so often associated with positive feelings. For many values the explanation is considerably more complicated, but their origin is the pleasure system,” explains David Brax.
His theory develops the hedonistic philosophical tradition, with roots in antiquity. It posits that pleasure is the only thing that is valuable in itself. In his dissertation David Brax investigates what value actually is, and he also develops a theory of his own regarding what pleasure is, in support of hedonism.
What is new is that David Brax’s theory also takes into consideration new studies of how people function – studies carried out in cognitive science, neuroscience, and psychology.
“Psychology has come a long way in the last century, providing interesting findings about phenomena that philosophers have long been interested in, especially regarding how emotions affect our thinking and decisions. We philosophers should be part of this project rather than narrowing down the type of questions we address. The various disciplines can benefit from each other, and the best exchange takes place when they develop in tandem and to some extent together,” says David Brax.