I believe that Michael’s point is that, while we cannot imagine suffering without some kind of interest to have it stop (at least in the moment itself), we can imagine a mind that does not care for further joy.
The relevant comparison, I think, is between (1) someone who experiences suffering and wants this suffering to stop and (2) someone who experiences happiness and wants this happiness not to stop. It seems that you and Michael think that one can plausibly deny only (2), but I just don’t see why that is so, especially if one focuses on comparisons where the positive and negative experiences are of the same intensity. Like Paul, I think the two scenarios are symmetrical.
[EDIT: I hadn’t seen Paul’s reply when I first posted my comment.]
(2) someone who experiences happiness and wants this happiness not to stop.
Some sleeping pills can give you a positive feeling of intense comfort. And yet people fall asleep on them rather than fighting their tiredness in order to enjoy the feeling a bit longer. I suppose you can point out an analogous-seeming case with depressed people who lack the willpower to improve anything about their low mood. But in the case of depression, there’s clearly something broken about the system. Depression does not feel reflectively stable to depressed people (at least absent unfortunate beliefs like “I’m bad and I deserve this”). In the case of me going to sleep rather than staying up, I can be totally reflectively comfortable with going to sleep. Is this example confounded? It seems to me that in order to decide that it’s confounded, you have to import some additional intuition(s) which I simply don’t share with you. (The same might be true for arguing that it’s not confounded, but I always point out that people with different foundational intuitions may not necessarily end up in ethical agreement.)
Interesting example. I have never taken such pills, but if they simply intensify the ordinary experience of sleepiness, I’d say that the reason I (as a CU) don’t try to stay awake is that I can’t dissociate the pleasantness of falling asleep from actually falling asleep: if I were to try to stay awake, I would also cease to have a pleasant experience. (If anyone knows of an effective dissociative technique, please send it over to Harri Besceli, who once famously remarked that “falling asleep is the highlight of my day.”)
More generally, I think cases of this sort have rough counterparts for negative experience, e.g. the act of scratching an itch, or of playing with a loose tooth, despite the concomitant pain induced by those activities. I think such cases are sufficiently marginal, and susceptible to alternative explanations, that they do not pose a serious problem to either (1) or (2).
I’d say that the reason I (as a CU) don’t try to stay awake is that I can’t dissociate the pleasantness of falling asleep from actually falling asleep
That makes sense. But do you think that the impulse to prolong the pleasant feeling (as opposed to just enjoying it and “laying back in the cockpit”) is a component of the pleasure-feeling itself? To me, they seem distinct! I readily admit that we often want to do things to prolong pleasures or go out of our way to seek particularly rewarding pleasures. But I don’t regard that as a pure feature of what pleasure feels like. Rather, it’s the result of an interaction between what pleasure feels like and a bunch of other things that come in degrees, and can be on or off.
Let’s say I found a technique to prolong the pleasure. Assuming it does take a small bit of effort to use it, it seems that whether I’m in fact going to use it depends on features such as which options I make salient to myself, whether I might develop fear of missing out, whether pleasure pursuit is part of my self-concept, the degree to which I might have cravings or the degree to which I have personality traits related to constantly optimizing things about my personal life, etc.
And it’s not only “whether I’m in fact going to use the technique” that depends on those additional aspects of the situation. I’d argue that even “whether I feel like wanting to use the technique” depends on those additional, contingent factors!
If the additional factors are just right, I can simply loose myself in the positive feeling, “laying back in the cockpit.” That’s why the experience is a positive one, why it lets me lay back. Losing myself in the pleasant sensation means I’m not worrying about the future and whether the feeling will continue. If pleasure was intrinsically about wanting a sensation to continue, it would kind of suck because I’d have to start doing things to make that happen.
My brain doesn’t like to have do things.
(This could be a fundamental feature of personality where there are large interpersonal differences. I have heard that some people always feel a bit restless and as though they need to do stuff to accomplish something or make stuff better. I don’t have that, my “settings” are different. This would explain why many people seem to have troubles understanding the intuitive appeal tranquilism has for some people.)
Anyway, the main point is that “laying back in the cockpit” is something one cannot do when suffering. (Or it’s what experienced meditators can maybe do – and then it’s not suffering anymore.) And the perspective where laying back in the cockpit is actually appealing for myself as a sentient being, rather than some kind of “failure of not being agenty enough,” is what fuels my stance that suffering and happiness are very, very different from one another. The hedonist view that “more happiness is always better” means that, in order to be a good egoist, one needs to constantly be in the cockpit to maximize one’s long-term pleasure maximization. That’s way too demanding for a theory that’s supposed to help me do what is best for me.
Insofar as someone’s hedonism is justified solely via introspection about the nature of conscious experience, I believe that it’s getting something wrong. I’d say that hedonists of this specific type reify intuitions they have about pleasure (specifically, an interrelated cluster of intuitions about more pleasure always being better, that pleasure is better than non-consciousness, that pleasure involves wanting the experience to continue, etc.) as intrinsic components to pleasure. They treat their intuitions as the way things are while shrugging off the “contentment can be perfect” perspective as biased by idiosyncratic intuitions. However, both intuitions are secondary evaluative judgments we ascribe to these positive feelings. Different underlying stances produce different interpretations.
(And I feel like there’s a sense in which the tranquilism perspective is simpler and more elegant. But at this point I’d already be happy if more people started to grant that hedonism is making just as much of a judgment call based on a different foundational intuition.)
Finally, I don’t think all of ethics should be about the value of different experiences. When I think about “Lukas, the sentient being,” then I care primarily about the “laying back in the cockpit” perspective. When I think about “Lukas, the person,” then I care about my life goals. The perspectives cannot be summed into one thing because they are in conflict (except if one’s life goals aren’t perfectly selfish). If people have personal hedonism as one of their life goals, I care about them experiencing posthuman bliss out of my regard for the person’s life goals, but not out of regard of this being the optimal altruistic action regardless of their life goals.
Anecdatally, I’ve taken medication for insomnia before and ended up trying to stay awake for longer because I was enjoying the sensation of sleepiness. Unfortunately fighting to stay awake was kind of unpleasant, and negated the enjoyment.
>>> I suppose you can point out an analogous-seeming case with depressed people who lack the willpower to improve anything about their low mood.
This reminds me of the ‘Penfield mood organ’ in Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep?’
>>> From the bedroom Iran’s voice came. “I can’t stand TV before breakfast.” “Dial 888,” Rick said as the set warmed. “The desire to watch TV, no matter what’s on it.” “I don’t feel like dialing anything at all now,” Iran said. “Then dial 3,” he said. “I can’t dial a setting that stimulates my cerebral cortex into wanting to dial! If I don’t want to dial, I don’t want to dial that most of all, because then I will want to dial, and wanting to dial is right now the most alien drive I can imagine; I just want to sit here on the bed and stare at the floor.”
(though this description is of someone who stays in a bad mood because they don’t have a desire to change it rather than lacking the willpower to)