Suppose I am hedonist who wants to maximize the pleasure I experience in my life. I have observed the hedonic treadmill, and am aware that after having the same experience a few times, I will find it bland and pleasureless. But I also know that there are limits to the maximum pleasures I can experience.

Let us take fine dining as an example. There are a finite number of three-star Michelin restaurants in the world. Once I have eaten at all of them, I've "topped out", in a sense. There are no more great restaurants to experience, no greater heights (or speeds, I suppose) to attain on the hedonic treadmill. One I have reached this stage, I have severely limited the amount of future pleasure I can experience through fine dining.

Therefore, I conclude, I ought to pace out my experience. Start with the one-star Michelin restaurants, then, once those have been experienced, move on to the two-star restaurants, before finally finishing with the three-star restaurants. In this way, I propose to maximize my hedonist experience by pacing out the increases in pleasure that I experience.

I assume I am not the first person to write about this. What should I read to find a development of this idea?

  • Look up 'Ataraxia' and 'Epicurus' – Richard Dec 7 '18 at 23:46
  • So, Epicurus seems to have advocated the opposite: his response to the hedonic treadmill was to conclude that any pleasure which diminished with repeated exposure was not worth pursuing. My response is the opposite, that the diminishing pleasures imply that we ought to think very carefully about our pleasure-seeking strategy. – Noah Tye Dec 8 '18 at 0:49
  • I'd go further... What Epicurus said is that... If one must persue pleasure... One will never really find it.. like happiness... Pleasure is not an end goal... It is a state of being. One either is or is not happy.. one either experiences pleasure.. or does not. That is.. there is pleasure in everything if one understands that to be the case. Just as one can choose happiness (if free from pain etc) even if one has only a cup and a loincloth to one's name. – Richard Dec 8 '18 at 0:57
  • Epicurus goes on to tell us some ways of achieving his vision of ataraxia. By essentially 'keeping it real'. – Richard Dec 8 '18 at 1:03
  • Gradual increase means smaller amount of pleasure on each increase. However, I disagree with you that once you tried tastier, less tasty things no more give pleasure. – rus9384 Dec 9 '18 at 16:30

Welcome to PSE, Noah. Diminishing marginal returns are relevant here. The first fine dinner is marvellous; the second slightly less satisfying that the first; and the third less than the second.

Suppose we put numbers against the satisfactions - numbers of 'utils'.

3* dinner 1 = 10 utils; 3* dinner 2 = 8 utils; 3* dinner 3 = 5 utils. Total : 21.

By pacing we might get :

1* dinner = 4 utils; 1* dinner = 3 utils; 1* dinner = 2 utils. Total : 9.

You then move on to the 3* dinners as above. Total : 21.

Overall, then, with 6 dinners you have had 30 utils.

But suppose you had not paced but kept to 3* dinners. In the course of 6 x 3* dinners your scores might be :

3* dinner 1 = 10 utils; 3* dinner 2 = 8 utils; 3* dinner 3 = 5 utils; 3* dinner 4 = 4 utils; 3* dinner 5 = 3 utils; 3* dinner 6 = 2 utils. Total : 32.

In this case, pacing out has not produced the maximum result, assessed in utils. In a different context for a different person, or in the same context for a different person or in a different context for the same person, the results might vary. I doubt if pacing out versus 'topping out' can be rationally assessed as a maximising strategy, out of context and regardless of person, as 'the' rational choice.

  • Right, I suppose once we talk about "maximizing" something we can draw on literature from quantitative disciplines like economics. In this example it seems like the most important questions are: at what rate do returns diminish? how much total time do you have (eg, how many meals)? – Noah Tye Dec 10 '18 at 23:10

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