The Sentience Argument for Experientialism about Welfare

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Abstract

Can a person’s degree of wellbeing be affected by things that do not enter her experience? Experientialists deny that it can, extra-experientialists affirm it. The debate between these two positions has focused on an argument against experientialism—the experience machine objection—but few arguments exist for it. I present an argument for experientialism. It builds on the claim that theories of wellbeing should not only state what constitutes wellbeing, but also which entities are welfare subjects. Moreover, the claims it makes about these two issues should have a certain coherence with each other. I argue that if we accept a particular plausible answer to the second question—namely that all and only sentient beings are welfare subjects—extra-experientialist theories face a problem of coherence. While this problem can typically be solved, doing so will involve steps that are unattractive. On experientialist theories, on the other hand, the answer to these questions cohere perfectly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-208
Number of pages22
JournalPHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES
Volume178
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • wellbeing
  • sentience
  • experience
  • experientialism

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