The Hedonistic Imperative is a manifesto by David Pearce outlining the goals of an endeavor to use genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and neuroscience to eliminate suffering in all sentient life. Such a use of technology to ameliorate undesirable and unnecessary aspects of the human condition is characteristic of the transhumanist movement.
Pearce mainly argues from a utilitarian ethic. If we assume happiness is equivalent to value, he asserts, then our goal should necessarily be the abolition of suffering and the instating of continual happiness for all conscious organisms. Pearce's idealistic ontological views also lead him to conclude that no living thing should be exempt from the abolitionist program.
Furthermore, by rejecting dualism, Pearce opens the door to nontraditional means of attaining his goal. If mental states are equivalent to physical states (or if there are no physical states, or if mental states are causally inert (the view of epiphenomenalists)), then—at least in theory—we can scientifically determine the neurological basis of happiness. At this point we would have the option of chemically or genetically ensuring permanent happiness for all organisms.
Since Pearce's theory holds views conflicting with free will and personal liberty, considering pleasure rather than freedom as 'ultima ratio', the risk of global totalitarianism has been raised by critics.
Sean Henderson of the Abolitionist Society counters that free-will has never been proven and appears highly unlikely. However, the will power of the human race can be increased by maximizing the subjective happiness of all - arguing that the maximization of subjective happiness is the inherent drive of all humans - though our genetic design prevents the satisfaction of this drive. Henderson also maintains that it will be necessary to cater to the illusion of free-will in order to teach humans to behave in ways that contribute to the good of the whole. However, he believes that if we can change human design so that we are motivated to collaborate rather than dominate each other - the illusion of free-will will become obsolete.
The existence of such a utopia has been portrayed in fiction in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Of particular interest regarding this book is its clear and lucid portrayal of such a hypothetical society. (However, it should be noted that Pearce does not agree that Huxley's portrayal is the inevitable outcome of such a society. He has written a detailed and extensive critique and rejection of Brave New World.) While Huxley disapproved of such a dystopia, the book is extremely open to personal interpretation, with no force-fed stance present in the book. A more overtly optimistic view of the implementation of a similar idea was portrayed in Octavia Butler's trilogy Lilith's Brood.
Pearce's views also contrast starkly with schools of thought which do not hold human happiness as the ultimate source of value. Compare, for instance, the popular interpretation of the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, which holds the "Will To Power", or, loosely interpreted, the craving for the power to affect, as the fundamental driving force of nature, although even this could be held as simply a means to obtaining happiness as the ultimate goal.
Consider, also, the complications which arise regarding the philosophical school of Stoicism, which holds emotions to be passions that cloud good judgement and objectivity. While not opposed to emotions as such, Stoics hold that building one's life around obtaining emotional gratification is necessarily shallow and idiotic, and that such a life is essentially ignoble and delusional in character. This may not necessarily indicate an incompatibility between Stoicism and the Hedonistic Imperative, but it may require some reinterpretation of the latter to bring about greater coherence between the two philosophies.