A short story
by Ursula K. Le Guin
from the collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters
, subtitled: "Variations on a theme by William James". It is based on a hypothetical question
posed by William James
Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs Fourier's and Bellamy's and Morris's utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torment, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel. even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?
In an introduction Le Guin comments, "The dilemma of the American conscience can hardly be better stated."
The story takes this intellectual question, and paints it in vividly emotional terms.