Sunday, 19 February 2012

Hedonism - a reason to be proud?

I hatched the idea of writing this in late 2009, after seeing on my two friends' respectively: facebook profile and website their "about me" descriptions. One described her interests as "pure hedonism" (hedonizm w czystej postaci, the other introduced herself as "consummate hedonist" (wytrawna hedonistka. I read it with a bit of disdain, pulled a silly face and decided that the next day I would ask my closest schoolmates how they would react to it.

My pristine reaction was "there's nothing to boast about". Pursuit of pleasure is not evil itself, but setting it as an overriding goal in life smacked of being totally out of place. Then I read the entry in wikipedia to learn more about this so-called "school of thoughts", the read dispelled some of my doubts, but the bad aftertaste remained - maybe I was biased. But then it turned out my friends' opinions generally squared with mine. Actually they didn't find it as repulsive as I did, but were all far cry from embracing the pleasure-oriented stance.

As open-minded and tolerant people, we are aware and accept that people have different definitions of happiness and different hierarchies of values and they have a right to arrange their lives in a way they choose. Different people mean different objectives in life. For some the most important things are: family, friends, work, career, money, material goods, travels, education, sport, hobby, entertainment, fun, sacrifice to other people, etc., so why not pleasure? The take on how one assesses hedonism probably hinges upon the definition of the term. What occured to me, at first glance, was that pursuit of pleasure, the most important goal in life for a hedonist, must be subordinated to other values, including feelings of fellow people. The "at all cost" pursuit of pleasure probably whipped up my reject of the concept. My first association was that seeking happiness must be done at the expense of other people. I see two reasons for such reaction: blissful ignorance (mother of prejudices, misunderstandings and egregious errors) and my perception of the two women who’d declared themselves hedonists and whose behaviour usually involved caring little about others.

The wikipedia article says: a hedonist strives to maximize net pleasure (pleasure minus pain). Well, I'd had it in mind before and this probably will always prevent me from embracing hedonism. The pain, not physical, but primarily emotional, is an indispensable element of a human life. If you've never experienced a pain tearing you apart, you can't call yourself a human. You simply can't always avoid pain. Suffering adds you experience, toughens you up, makes you wiser, allows you to sympathise with the worse-off. This puts me further away from the embrace and brings me closer to reject.

So is the hedonism about self-centredness then? Maybe if it's rational to take care of one's own interests firstly, the answer is 'yes'? Is there one good answer? Are there still more questions than answers? I don't wish to condemn the dissenters, but it seems the key question is whether somebody is able to strike a trade-off between egoism and altruism, with more emphasis on the latter.

The whole post is apparently one huge ramble, may it charm consist in the confusing disorder of thoughts...

1 comment:

DC said...

Aren't we all trying to maximize our net pleasure? Studying and working hard are just a way to make sure the pleasure lasts a lifetime, and hopefully we get some pleasure from that too if we do it right. It only becomes annoying as in the Ant and the Grasshopper: people who spend all their money foolishly and then expect others to keep the party going.

I also don't equate altruism necessarily with pain or sacrifice. I love being around, and doing things for elderly people. Having lived so long, many have excellent bullshit filters and really know how to enjoy what is left of life. Or maybe that's not altruistic since I enjoy it.