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July 23, 2004


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This is a little from the hip.

(CLP) appears to be motivated to explain an intuitive difference between lives with similar value and disvalue, but such that those lives receive their value or disvalue at different times.

Supposedly, it is intuitive that a life is better, all else equal, if the value is had later in life.

So, ordering makes a difference to value, not just amount.

Perhaps ordering doesn't make a difference. Rather, the intuition can be explained away. I have in mind an explanation like this.

When we evaluate which life would be better if it were actual, we consider the life from the perspective of the agent. We tend to consider the life from the agent when the agent is older, rather than when the agent is younger, and not from some omniscient point of view viewing the life as a whole. However, from the perspective of the older agent in case 1, the life is presently bad. From the perspective of the older agent in case 2, the life is presently good. So, we judge case 2 as better than case 1 because we judge present pain and pleasure differently than past or future pain or displeasure. In our mind, while we evaluate, we consider the present state of the agent and ignore (somehow) the total state of the agent over time.

Something like this seems right to me. The details would have to be filled in, but I think they can pretty straightforwardly.


How would you account for the intuition that the life where one regards the first ten years of marriage as a dead loss is worse than the life where the first ten years of marriage are the foundation for your future happiness? In this example, the timing, sequence, and trajectory of events and experiences are identical, for in both cases the years of strife and the years of happiness occur in the same order and at same stage of one’s life, and both lives have the same positive trajectory -— improving rather than declining.

The problem here is a phenomenological one that I think Christian is getting at. We experience our lives in one direction temporally. In addition most of our happiness is a result of the cares that we have and the futures those cares have, not the pasts they once did. When your happy, things seem better. Harms aren’t so bad. Tragic events aren’t so tragic etc. Think of being in love. When in love, days are better, not because there is anything new or special about that day to make them such, but merely that you are optimistic about them. And this is the key. When life is improving, you become optimistic about your future and look at your past with a satisfaction that those days are behind you. And the opposite is the case when things aren’t going well.

What is key here I think is that, most people intuitively imagine being on a downward trend, imagining being in the situation of regret for your mistakes, and longing for the past you can’t affect. Depression is made WORSE by the happiness that came before it because you long to be happy… Rarely do people long to be sad.

What I’m trying to say is that the mental experiment is somewhat flawed in that happiness just isn’t quantifiable as the experiment makes it out to be. It’s not that happiness is greater appreciated later in life, it’s merely that having a positive outlook on life is a better one to have; one more people want, and which is more easily attained with a life that gets better as it goes along.


In Velleman's case, we're suppose to imagine that the two lives contain equal sums of momentary welfare. If you're imagining a case where the experiences in the last half of the Uphill Life are more pleasurable than the same experiences in the first half of the Downhill Life (because of, say, your optimistic outlook), then you're not imagining the case that Velleman and I have in mind. It sounds to me like you're just refusing to consider the case at hand. That said, you may not share our intuition that a life that gets progressively better is, OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL, better than a life that gets progressively worse. But that's a different objection completely.


On second thought, I shouldn't have said that the intuition is that “a life that gets progressively better is, *OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL*, better than a life that gets progressively worse,” for we are not to imagine that everything else is equal. In the Uphill Life, the earlier misfortunes are causally linked to the later successes, and in the Downhill Life they’re not. Thus, in the Uphill Life, the earlier misfortunes are redeemed, whereas in the Downhill Life they are suffered in vain. So not everything else is equal. Nevertheless, we are to imagine that both lives contain qualitatively identical events and experiences, only in a different order. Now you seem to be imagining a case where the experiences are not qualitatively identical, for it seems to be your view that you experience things differently when you on an upward trend as opposed to a downward trend.

Even though both lives may have the same events, "where both lives contain qualitatively identical events and experiences, only in a different order," I think the impact would be greater on a downhill trajectory later in life because of our assumptions about oursleves. As children, if life is great, it is because others make it that way for us. As adults we recreate that for ourselves and others. How then would we account for a decline in our later years when we should/could have planned for such an eventualilty and avoided it? How does it not feel like failure? Whereas a miserable childhoood is the state of the world we live in.

Like Christian, I want to argue that the intuition is misleading and in fact UHL is no better than DHL. Let’s distinguish two UHLs: In UHL1, you draw some satisfaction from the fact that your current fortunes redeem your earlier misfortunes; in UHL2, you don’t, perhaps because you are unaware of the redemption value. I would argue that UHL2 is in fact no better than DHL, and UHL1 is better but irrelevant to the thought-experiment, because lives are no longer qualitatively the same.

Like Christian, I want to argue that the intuition is misleading and in fact UHL is no better than DHL. Let’s distinguish two UHLs: In UHL1, you draw some satisfaction from the fact that your current fortunes redeem your earlier misfortunes; in UHL2, you don’t, perhaps because you are unaware of the redemption value. I would argue that UHL2 is in fact no better than DHL, and UHL1 is better but irrelevant to the thought-experiment, because lives are no longer qualitatively the same.


You say that you would argue that UHL2 is in fact no better than DHL, but what would your argument be? Would you argue this on the basis of the claim that, for UHL2 to be prudentially better than DHL, one must experience more net pleasure in UHL2? Or would you argue this on the basis of the claim that, for UHL2 to be prudentially better than DHL, one must prefer UHL2 to DHL?

I reject the first claim for all the standard sorts of reasons that people object to this sort of "experience requirement" -- i.e., a requirement that in order for something to be prudentially better or worse than something else there must be a difference in one's experiences.

And I would give the following argument against the second claim. According to this claim, people would be better off leading UHL instead of DHL only if they prefer UHL to DHL. And what’s even more implausible is that those who strangely prefer DHL to UHL are better off leading DHL. Clearly, this is absurd; people are better off leading UHL whether or not they prefer DHL instead. In fact, I would argue that the reason most people prefer UHL to DHL is that they recognize that they would be better off leading UHL -- they recognize the redemption value that exists in UHL but not DHL. What we have here, then, is an instance of a more general problem associated with the desire-fulfillment theory: the desire-fulfillment theory mistakenly takes desires to have a constitutive as opposed to an identificatory role in determining what is beneficial and harmful. This gets the order of explanation backwards. People prefer UHL to DHL because the former is preferable to the latter; it’s not that UHL is preferable to DHL only because people prefer the one to the other, for it’s not as if we could make someone leading DHL better off by merely getting her to prefer DHL to UHL. That would be like arguing that what’s so tragic about living DHL is not the fact that one's sacrifices have been in vain but the fact that one unfortunately desires not to make sacrifices in vain -- if only one had desired to make sacrifices in vain, all would have been well. This too seems absurd to me.

I have to agree with Mr. Portmore. Regardless of whether it is recognized by the individual UHL2 would be the better life, even if the individual could not compare it to UHL1 or DHL. Even without awareness UHL2 would be better on the whole than DHL. As adults now, if we had the choice would we really choose a happy childhood over a fulfilling later life?
So if someone had that idyllic childhood, do they merely coast the rest of their lives, since it is, in a sense, all downhill from there?

Doug and John, your responses raise some fascinating issues. I have to admit to having a different set of philosophical intuitions (if you will) about them. Doug, not being an expert in the field (though I would one day like to be), I don't know what the standard reasons are for rejecting the "experience requirement." I do know I would probably like to defend some subtle version of it. In any case, I just posted on Desert Landscape an entry (is that the word?) that seems to lie at the base of my intuitions here.

In your comment (July 24, 1:18 PM), you had a problem with the plausibility of "...those who strangely prefer DHL to UHL...." I have two comments on this:

1) First, it is impossible to prefer the DHL over UHL because the issues involved in determining whether a life is UHL or DHL remain ever personal and subjective. However, it is possible to change whether a life at a single point in time is one or the other. Consider the story of the Buddha; Siddhartha Gautama starts life in affluence and luxury, but gives it up in favor of asceticism. At this point, others (or the pre-rebellion Siddhartha himself) might say he lives a DHL, while his defense (and essential advocacy) of his life's path clearly shows he believes his to be a UHL. Not only does Siddhartha change his definition of the UHL, but he also creates disagreement on the issue, "which way is Siddhartha travelling?"
2) The difference between the two qualifications (DHL, UHL) rests on the issue of Siddhartha's intention. The former Sid and the people of his village (who see his transition, rich to poor, as DHL) assume Siddhartha's intention is to value their version of a good life (stay in the caste in which he was born). However, Siddhartha's true intentions to live his version of the UHL lead him away from his caste and away from the general belief on "which way is up."

It remains impossible to prefer the DHL over the UHL (because the individual decides which direction his life has gone/is going). If there are objections to this, perhaps we can work to refine the definition of uphill and downhill with respect to life...

Douglas stipulates that "both lives contain qualitatively identical events and experiences, only in a different order." From the first person perspective, the UHL and the DHL are supposed to confer the same amount of momentary enjoyment.

The preference for an UHL over a DHL isn't philosophically interesting if we allow ordering effects to influence total happiness (as they would in real life). There's nothing puzzling about our preference for a UHL over a DHL unless we control for momentary happiness. It's easy to see why it's more enjoyable to live the same set of event in the UHL order than the DHL.

Imagine a multi-course meal at a fancy restaurant. In Uphill Meal the chef starts you off with little hors d'oeuvres, builds to the piece de resistance, and closes with a sumptuous desert.

The Downhill Meal consists of exactly the same dishes, but the standing rib roast appears as soon as you sit down, followed by chocolate mousse. Then you have to eat your arugula before you get the cocktail peanuts to round out your meal.

If the chef has done her job, the UHM will be much more enjoyable than the DHM. It's more fun to eat your hors d'oeuvres and salad while anticipating the arrival of the main course.

If you want to make a Velleman-style comparison of the UHM and the DHM, you have to control for momentary enjoyment. If the UHM and the DHM are to have equal momentary enjoyment, the DHM must have better food. Eating the identical dishes in the wrong order decreases your enjoyment of each dish and your enjoyment of the meal as a whole. The DHM would have to consist of much better food in order to make the utility work out.

Doug, you say this: "For instance, an episode of pain that is causally linked to the production of some desired end is of less prudential disvalue than an otherwise identical episode of pain that isn't so linked. In other words, it is better not to suffer in vain."

This seems clearly true, if we're talking about *overall* prudential value (including intrinsic and extrinsic), because the pain has some good consequence. But that wouldn't help you say that UHL is better than DHL, because you still have the same amount of intrinsic goodness in the two lives, just some extra extrinsic goods in the UHL. Your principle needs to say that pains that cause goods are *intrinsically better*. And that seems very implausible to me. It raises lots of questions. Is it just pains that work this way? Or suppose that some apparently intrinsically neutral event E1 causes something intrinsically good. Are we now to say that E1 is not intrinsically neutral after all, but is actually intrinsically good? Then won't we also have to say that whatever caused E1 is intrinsically better than we thought?

Many thanks for the great comments. I fully intend to respond to them, but may not get a chance until Wednesday morning. Please check back Wednesday afternoon.


In reply to your reply :o)

I guess that's my point... The term qualitatively equal makes very little sense to me… The quality of different experiences if variant to me at different times in my life. Asked “Would you rather have your life get progressively better, or get progressively worse?” the answer is obvious. Add the clause “even if they have the same overall quality…?” and I get confused. My notion of quality and happiness in life alter from year to year. The joy I had as a kid getting ice cream seems like an altogether different kind of joy than what I experience now with that same ice cream. It’s not an amount that varies, it’s the very kind of joy that is different. Call this the quality, in qualitative, fine. But the problems is still this, the quality (kind) of joy I experience as a child is not something that can be had as I get older… Same too with it’s polar opposite. So it simply can’t be that the “quality” of my joy as a young child and the quality of my joy as an old man can be the same. The identity at work here simply cannot be had in the way the experiment suggests. This is, of course my phenomenological observations, but I think they are general enough not to be subjective… maybe.



You want to endorse the experience requirement (or what you call internalism about the good life – see On this view, if two lives are alike with respect to their mental states, they must also be alike with respect to their prudential value. The main objection to this view is the objection from false pleasures (i.e., pleasures that derive from false beliefs). To illustrate, consider the following case (a case discussed by both Nagel and Kagan). Imagine two businessmen: one is well-loved and successful (Uriah) and the other is neither (Doug). Suppose that, despite this difference, both Doug and Uriah believe that they are loved and successful and that consequently they both have qualitatively identical mental states. According to internalism, Doug’s life (the deceived life) is just as prudentially good for Doug as Uriah’s life (the undeceived life) is for Uriah. I find this very counter-intuitive and for that reason I reject internalism. But let me try to pump other people’s intuitions. Imagine a revised scenario. In this scenario, Doug doesn’t die believing that he’s loved and successful, for on his death bed Josh enlightens him to the fact it’s all been a charade. Josh convinces Doug of what is in fact the truth: his colleagues despise him, his business is in shambles, and his adulterous wife holds him in utter contempt. So I ask, what should Doug’s reaction be? Should he say “well, I’ve been really well off up until now” or should he say, “wow, I haven’t been nearly as well off as I had thought”? Intuitively, the latter seems much more plausible. Also, consider who Doug should be angry with? Should he be angry with his wife and colleagues who deceived him or should he be angry with Josh who enlightened him to the truth? If internalism is correct, he should be angry with Josh. Josh is the one who ruined his last few hours of life, assuming, that is, that he gets upset upon hearing the news (of course, if internalism is true, it’s not clear why he should get upset in the first place). He shouldn’t be upset with his wife and colleagues, for their charade is responsible for his life going as well as it has up until now. It’s Josh who is to blame for making him upset and consequently less well off. Doug should resent Josh not his wife and colleagues. Sure his wife and colleagues lied to him, but it was for his own benefit.


A number of commentators (e.g., Chris and Lindsay) have suggested that the answer is “no.” I still maintain that the answer is yes, but Chris and Lindsay have convinced me that we would have to imagine UHL and DHL to be very different from ordinary human lives. Since the further we depart from the ordinary the harder it is to get an intuitive grasp on things, let me revise my position and say that we should not imagine that UHL and DHL contain qualitatively identical events and experiences, only in a different order. It may be, as Lindsay suggests, that the person living the DHL will have to have to experience “better” events so that the total sum of momentary well-being will equal that of UHL. So, for instance, if Chris is right that an adult will never experience the same joy from eating ice cream that a child would, then imagine that the adult eats more ice cream so that the total amount of momentary joy comes out the same. In any case, commentators should not ignore Velleman’s other example, the one involving the marriages. This one seems, to me, to be the one that gets to heart of the matter. And in this example, the worries that Chris, Christian, and Lindsay have don’t arise.



The prudential value of an episode of one’s life is just the final value (the value it has for its own sake) that that episode has for one. So I’m not talking about the overall value (the final value plus the instrumental value) nor the intrinsic value (the value it has solely in virtue of its intrinsic/non-relational properties). I believe that the final value of something (its value as an end) can depend on its extrinsic properties, and, in particular, can depend on its instrumental value.

You ask, “Is it just pains that work this way?” Not necessarily. Take the pen that Abraham Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves (Kagan 1998, 285-88). This pen had considerable instrumental value. It was the actual means by which a great deal of non-instrumental goodness was brought into the world. Not only did it have a great deal of instrumental value, but it seems to also possess a great deal of final value, that is, it seems to be valuable for its own sake. The destruction of this pen would be a bad thing, and not just because it would mean that fewer people could gaze on it in some museum and thereby acquire some pleasant feeling; for it seems that it would be bad to destroy it and replace it with an exact copy. So although other pens could replace it in terms of its instrumental value, none could replace its final value.

Now this doesn’t force us to say that the machine that made this pen has any final value. Why would it?

Well, you do say this of the EP pen: "It was the actual means by which a great deal of non-instrumental goodness was brought into the world." And exactly the same thing is true of the machine that made the pen. So maybe it's something else about the pen that is what you think gives it its intrinsic value. Otherwise you're committed to saying that whatever is instrumentally good is intrinsically good.


Okay, I see the force of your point, but Kagan and I don't have to say that it's something *else* about the pen that is what gives it its final value in order to avoid being committed to the claim that whatever is instrumentally good is intrinsically good. We could say that something in conjuction with its instrumental value is what gives it its final value. So the fact that it was the actual means to bringing about so much non-instrumental goodness while also being something that was in physical contact with the great man who signed EP is what gives the pen its final value. Or we could say that because the pen was the immediate or direct means to freeing the slaves is what gives it its final value.

Right, you could say something like that. I suspect that lots of other things would turn out to have final value then too, depending on which way you go. Perhaps including some of the molecules that were formerly part of L's body, molecules he breathed at the time... lots of weird stuff. Maybe you & Kagan would be happy to say such things have final value. I find the idea of a pen having final value bizarre, but it's hard to argue against the idea until we know what principle is supposed to support it.

“In any case, commentators should not ignore Velleman’s other example, the one involving the marriages. This one seems, to me, to be the one that gets to heart of the matter. And in this example, the worries that Chris, Christian, and Lindsay have don’t arise.”

Ah, see I think they do. Phenomenologically speaking these mean lead different lives. This is why I am still confused by the term qualitatively identical. Part of the qualia certain mental events have, and the experiences of them, stem from their juxtaposition with other moments. The experiences we encounter are shaped by their place in our lives. To use the ice cream example, it not that I would require more ice cream when I’m older to have the same sense of joy a toddler has with it, I would have to have the disposition to experience the ice cream in a certain way… they way a child does in experiencing all the new things the world has to offer. Same too with the marriage examples. Having not been married contributes to the disposition to experiencing a marriage, and these two people would have a different disposition in that regard. Having failed, at a marriage would undoubtedly give me a new outlook on the concept of marriage and my appreciation of it.

I think this experiment has a certain sense of, on the surface it seems intelligible, but when we investigate the particulars about it the notion of “qualitatively identical” simply can’t apply to experiences in the way the experiment needs. Experiences, esp. when examined over the course of a lifetime, simply are too complex to and intricate to allow for such identity… or at least within the context of the particular facts about human psychology.


You say, "Having failed, at a marriage would undoubtedly give me a new outlook on the concept of marriage and my appreciation of it." I'm not sure that this undermines the example. Both lives contain ten years of marital strife followed by ten years of marital contentment. So, presumably, if what you say is true, both will experience the second ten years of marriage with a new outlook given that they both failed to make their first ten years of marriage work. I'm not convinced that the marriage has to actually end in divorce in order to gain this new outlook.

The emphasis on it’s actually failing was not my intent, so let me clarify. It that they have different experiences in those first tens years, in one case, climbing slight, and getting better, while in the other getting progressively worse that would shade their understanding of marriage differently. Described however, it’s a necessary entailment of them having different experiences that they are going to have different attitudes toward their next tens years of marriage. To couch it otherwise seem to deviate farther from the reality of human psychology, and as you stated, corrupts whatever intuitive pull the example might have had. Sorry to flood this discussion with methodological criticisms, as I know that’s as directly helpful in answering this question, but I firmly believe that discussing happiness as if it’s a quantitative thing is simply harmful to the practice of philosophy as a means of understanding the world. That is, I think the phenomenological evidence of our individual lives shows it to be the case that we don’t live in a world where such qualitative identity is a possibility.

The whole argument revolves around the distinction between UHLs and DHLs. I think this distinction is impossible. It is just like those old assumptions of perfection. What is perfection? Is the sphere the perfect form? Why?

You talk about marriages: happy and unhappy ones. But what if I told you there is no such thing as happy marriage? What if, for instance, you presented two different stories to someone who deems marriage always a setback. Before x was young and had a happy sexual life, having many love experiences. Now x is just 39 but looks ten years older and has to look after a bunch of children. X's existence is destroyed. Or what if you consider professional life: Before x had not work and could enjoy life. He could surf, go to parties, had a rock band and used to play basketball all week long. Now x is exploited by the system, wastes a huge amount of time in going to and coming from the workplace and has a miserable life in his job place.

Or imagine another picture, the once tycoon who became poor: Before x earned a billion dollars per year and humiliated his employees who were nothing more than well paid slaves. Now, he has not a dime, but his heart is really human and he is found of helping people in a social project.

All these things depend on how you look at them and the sets of values you choose, what interpretation you make. It is too subjective to make a sensible discussion.

I don't think we need to codify whether a marriage is good in any objective sense. Doug merely needs the married person(s) to have a certain satisfaction in his marriage. Whether they have a "good marriage" is less material than whether they have a reaction to that marriage that they feel is, in a subjective way, good or bad. So long as the individual can say something is good (pleasurable, enticing, satisfying etc.) that is all the example is looking for. The UHL and the DHL lifes need not be objectively UH or DH, they merely need to feel UH or DH; that is, from the idividuals perspective they merely need to have a certain quality. So long as you billionaire feels that his new life of poverty and enacting social change is a step in the right direction, we can call it an UHL, because HE calls it an UHL.

My problem is that such sensations seem so individualized and circumstance dependant that the notion of having two individuals with "qualitatively identical" experiences merely in different sequence, seems impossible given the facts of human psychology and experience.

Yeah Chris, this in line with what I mean.

While this is an interresting topic, the presentation is not very applicable to real life. While most people's lives either get progressively better or worse, there is very rarely a circumstance where a person with a UHM has the same opportunities and experiences as a person with a DHM. The perfect example of this is the over-used expression "the rich get richer while the poor get poorer." Both may experience either path, but at non-linear rates.

I am also confused by those that say with profound emphasis that the DHM is preferred when looking at this model in reality. A child is a sponge, absorbing all he sees, hears, and experiences. A child that is raised in the most destitute of homes, both financially, culturally, physically, and emotionally, is almost certain to emulate that experience as an adult even given the world on a platter as an adult. It's what he knows. Just as the child that grows up with every opportunity, resource, and ability possible while being raised in a loving, nurturing environment is more likely to handle the later struggles much better. It's what he knows.

Ultimately, the problem with this idea is that it does not take into account the reality that people do, in fact, have an impact on their own future. Personally, I'd prefer the DHM. What good is having a secure future when your past is always haunting you?

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