We’re reading Sidgwick’s The Methods of Ethics in a reading group this semester. This is his statement of egoistic hedonism:

According to this the rational agent regards quantity of consequent pleasure and pain to himself as alone important in choosing between alternatives of action; and seeks always the greatest attainable surplus of pleasure over pain—which, without violation of usage, we may designate as his ‘greatest happiness.’ (7th edition, book 1, chapter 7, my emphasis)

Now not many of us think that egoistic hedonism is true of anyone nor should it be. But I thought about what happens when we do consider our own pleasure, and I thought that the surplus of pleasure was much less important than the ratio of pleasure over pain. For focussing on the surplus means that a situation with lots and lots of pain but more pleasure is better than a situation with roughly equal pleasure and pain but both much lower.

Everyone else in the room disagreed.