Hedonism: The Pursuit of Pleasure
Written by: Vinicius Chaim
From: São Paulo, Brazil
Edited by: Luana Mayer
The philosophy of happiness works to explore how one should live their lives to the fullest, and pursue happiness or fulfillment in the most effective way. In the 4th Century BC, a school of thought known as Hedonism was created by Socrates’ disciple, Aristippus of Cyrene. Hedonism stated that the end goal of all actions in life was to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Aristippus believed that the only causes worth pursuing were the ones that would bring pleasure.
In today’s society, we are encouraged to suffer and work throughout our life to relax and enjoy retirement. High school, university, and working an eight-hour job while saving as much money as possible to enjoy the final years in retirement. This is known as delayed gratification, which Aristippus was completely against. He believed in exploring the pleasures readily available. Some may believe that this school of thought is reckless and lacks foresight; believing that recklessly using valuable time and resources can result in pain later.
Hedonism originally died with Aristippus because of rising religious beliefs like Christianity which emphasized the importance of mental and moral growth rather than the pursuit of happiness. Many years later, Epicurus presented the idea of Hedonism by redefining the meaning of pleasure. For Aristippus, the pleasure was a state of ecstasy and excitement. Epicurus, however, understood that pleasure was a state of tranquillity.
Modern Hedonism defines pleasure and pain as two mutually exclusive yet constant states. Unlike past Hedonism, which would compare “partying” to pleasure, modern Hedonism would simply state that not being scared of God, death, and pain is a pleasure.
On the other hand, there are two types of pleasure in modern hedonism: moving pleasure, and static pleasure. Moving pleasure is satisfying a constant desire. For instance, eating when you are hungry, sleeping when you are tired, and drinking when you are thirsty. Static Pleasure is a state of tranquillity and satisfaction when constant desires have been fulfilled and pain is absent. According to Epicurus, there is no in-between. The absence of pain is pleasure, and the absence of pleasure is pain.
The most controversial element of Hedonism is that it fundamentally stated that pleasure is the only intrinsic value that humans can find. Such would mean that finding purpose in life, upholding certain beliefs and studying, wouldn’t give any meaning to life unless it adds pleasure. When trying to argue Hedonists’ convictions, the most difficult element is the worth of reality. If pleasure is the ultimate goal, then it shouldn’t matter if that pleasure is real or fake. Robert Nozik created a thought experiment, asking people if they would prefer to be plugged into a machine (where they would never feel pain and always feel pleasure), or picking the reality they currently have. However, as predicted, people always chose the reality they lived in. They would rather have real pain than fake pleasure.
When Abraham Lincon revisits his childhood home, he’d seen the entire place in ruin. When he looked at it, he stated:
“My childhood home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There's pleasure in it too.”
This is directly opposing hedonism. It presents an environment and situation where both pleasure and pain are present at the same time.
Hedonistic principles are very intense, and therefore, often strive away from real-life situations as they aren’t as extreme. In my opinion, what is crucial to understand is that pleasure is a worthwhile pursuit. Many people live with the idea that working hard now will result in happiness later, and they forget to enjoy the little moments in their lives which are happy - now.