Sunday, January 04, 2009

New pleasure book

Too late for my Christmas list, unfortunately, comes a new book on the 'science of pleasure' by Paul Martin, author of Making Happy People (not, interestingly, Making People Happy... because as the subtitle shows Martin is interested first of all in childhood development). Anyway, I'll be getting hold of it as soon as I can. The review in the Grauniad is not very helpful and hints that the direct philosophical interest in the book may not be very high. (The review suggests that the 'interesting' distinction between pleasure, desire, happiness and satisfaction is left aside for some more straightforward talk that a little bit of what you like is probably good for you.) Bu there do seem to be some bits on the neurology of pleasure that even an idiot like me might be able to comprehend.

What's interesting is that there is rather a good seam of sophisticated and scientifically-informed discussion of the philosophy of pain (I'm thinking in particular of work by Hardcastle and Aydede, most recently) but much less when it comes to pleasure. Of course, philosophers like talking about pleasure alright. But there's not such an impulse to turn to our natural philosopher friends and ask what pleasure is or what its physical basis might be. I wonder if this is because pleasure is less homogeneous than pain; there seem to be so many (very) different kinds of pleasure that the impulse to find any common physiological basis is that much weaker. And Martin's book perhaps points that way too -- the title at least points to certain kinds of pleasure, physical ones linked to generally agreed pleasant physical stimuli. Now these might well have some common basis. But it wouldn't be so tempting to title a book: Sex, a nice conversation, and a new idea... even though I reckon these three too might all be said to be common causes of pleasure.

I'll let you know what the book is like once I read it. I like the cover though.

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