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Commentator:
Brad Hooker, University of Reading
(B.W.Hooker@reading.ac.uk)
Posted 8/29/96

w-drop.gif - 1.5 Khen you choose the greater of two distinct goods, you might nevertheless regret not having brought about the lesser good. This regret is clearly rational. Value monism is the view that there is just one generic value, or good-making property. Pluralism obviously takes there to be more than one. Extreme pluralism takes there to be very many. Many philosophers believe that only pluralism can allow for rational regret. Hurka's excellent article shows conclusively that this widespread view is mistaken, and thus that the bare fact that such regret is rational does not entail value pluralism. Furthermore, Hurka argues that moderate value pluralism can explain our rational reactions as well as an extreme value pluralism can. Given this, and given that other things being equal we should prefer the simpler theory, we should prefer moderate pluralism.

The first section of the article sets out and defends what Hurka calls the proportionality view about how we should divide our "love" between different good objects. The view holds that "you should feel some love for both goods [between which you might have to choose] and should divide this love in proportion to their degree of goodness." (p. 558). So if you choose the greater of these two goods, you should of course take pleasure in its obtaining, but also regret that the other does not obtain too. If you really did choose the greater of the two goods, however, the regret for the forgone lesser good should be less than the pleasure taken in the greater good (559). And there are additional reasons for minimizing such regret (559). Furthermore, the proportionality view becomes even more plausible if we hold that regretting the absence of a good should diminish as the possibility of its obtaining becomes more remote (560).

In the second section of the article, Hurka first shows that Wiggins and Nussbaum are wrong to think that only pluralism can account for the occurrence of weakness of will (561-2). Then he shows that even a value monist (such as someone who thinks pleasure is the only good) can allow rational regret. Here he makes a useful distinction between what he calls inclusion cases and noninclusion cases. For an example of an inclusion case, suppose you could give me either pleasure X or pleasure X plus pleasure Y. You choose the X+Y alternative. You cannot here rationally regret not having chosen the other pleasure for me. For in giving me X+Y, you did give me X.

Hurka's example of a noninclusion case is one where you can give five units of pleasure to person A, or ten units of pleasure to person B. Here we have one generic good - pleasure, and two distinct instances of it - the pleasure to A or the pleasure to B. If you choose the ten units of pleasure for B, you can thus still regret A's not getting the five units.

Hurka's picture contrasts with Stocker's. For Stocker, "this-person's-happiness and that-person's-happiness involve plural values: the differently-owned happinesses" (Hurka quoting Stocker, 564). But Hurka must be right that there is the distinction between a generic value (e.g. pleasure) and instances of that value (pleasure for A, or pleasure for B). And he must be right that there is a distinction between inclusion cases and noninclusion cases. Once we have in hand those two distinctions, we can see that a value monist can allow rational regret for missed instances of a value.

Having explained how monism can allow regret for a forgone lesser good where different people are involved, Hurka proceeds to cases where you are choosing between instances of the same generic good for the same person at the same time. Can regret about the forgone lesser good be rational here? He argues that it can. We can treat cases of a choice between goods as noninclusion cases if the goods are distinct in their "intrinsic properties", that is, distinct except in their relations to other states (566). According to a plausible non-Benthamite view of pleasure, different pleasures have different introspectable, and thus different internal, properties. Because of their internal differences, it can be rational to regret missing a forgone pleasure of a different kind from the one chosen.

In the second section of the paper, Hurka argued that, even if we are monistic hedonists, we need not accept Stocker's view that different pleasures and the pleasures of different people are different generic values. In the third section of the paper, Hurka argues that Stocker's extreme pluralism compares unfavorably with moderate pluralism. Moderate pluralism holds that there is a moderate number of different generic goods (e.g., five, twelve, even twenty) but not an "immense number" of them. Moderate pluralists of course think regret rational in some cases where monism says it would not be. For example, moderate pluralists will have rational regrets when they have to choose between pleasure and knowledge, or pleasure and achievement, or knowledge and achievement, or any of these and equality. But once we add together the cases of rational regret allowed by moderate pluralism and the cases of rational regret over lost instances of the same kind of good, we have accounted for all the cases that Stocker's extreme pluralism accounts for. Then, if other things being equal we should go for the simpler theory, we should go for moderate pluralism.

In conclusion, this paper argues clearly and persuasively for an appealing account of value and its relation to our emotions. If anything, the article can seem too successful. At the end, I found myself wondering how anyone could have held Stocker's view that different pleasures and the pleasures of different people are different generic goods.

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