[PBP2013] Hedonism

The Lion of Cyrene in Libya

The Lion of Cyrene in Libya

The Hedonist loves fine things, from food to clothes, to entertainment to perfumes. Because of one’s love for these things, one has little regard for cost, in either direction. The lover of money, rather than pleasures, will brag of how much or how little something cost them, boasting either their assumed wealth or assumed savvy. Fine food and entertainment speaks for itself.

Hedonism is clearly at odds with Capitalism. Capitalism is an institutionalised love of money, placing a person’s inherent value by how much money one has. The Hedonist, educated in life’s pleasures, measures one’s worth by one’s diversity of pleasures.

The Hedonist is able to find pleasure in a diversity of surroundings, from the grandest of palaces to the lowliest of hovels. An appreciation of fine things within one’s means includes any means by which one is living, which is always subject to change. Always.

Hedonist reality is subject to knowledge. Knowledge is limited to personal experience. Personal experience is never wrong, but what we know of the external influences on those experiences can be. Experiences are also practically impossible to fully share with others (at last with current technology) because one is limited in one’s ability to share it with language —and even that which appears “white” to oneself may appear “cream” or “platinum” to one’s neighbour. Even an experience shared by two people is not going to be completely the same; not even two women scissoring are going to have the same orgasm, even if they each experience their orgasms together.

In spite of this empiricism and scepticism, Hedonists are not atheist, unless they’re Theodorans, and even that was debated amongst the ancients outside that sect of the Cyrenaic school. If one experiences the theoi, then one does –true, one cannot be certain of what brought that experience (after all, medical and psychological studies, at best, can only really show so much, and even then, they only really can explain what happens to the body when these experiences happen, not necessarily what makes these experiences happen, or why they happen), but it is what it is, and one should take pleasures in celebrating that experience. If one has not experienced the gods, then one has not; but if pleasures are to be derived from worship of Them, regardless of experiences, then indulge, for pleasure is its own justification. Indeed, the argument that present pleasure can be derived from Their worship, even for one who has yet to experience Them, can be a great one.

Cyrenaic Hedomism recognises Pleasure (the Hedones) as the ultimate good, and Pain (the Aglae) as the ultimate evil; pain is not the denial of pleasure, denial is merely an inert state. Aristippus likened pains to a violent storm over the sea, and pleasures to a gentle breeze, whereas lacking both, there is a calm. There is no “black-grey-white”, there are pleasing actions, painful actions, and absence. If pain were one colour on the wheel, and pleasure the colour opposite that, absence of either would be absence of any colour. All pleasures are equal, all pain is equal; your classical morality is “endorsed” by the Cyrenaic only as far as its ability to endorse pleasure and discourage pain, if it endorses more denial than pleasure, it is of no use.

While bodily pleasures are certainly equal to mental and spiritual pleasures in Cyrenaic thought, in spite of the insistent that Cyrenaics value bodily pleasures more highly, there is not a shred of evidence in the collective of surviving Cyrenaic teachings; indeed, the elder Aristippus himself seems to have sought mental delights just as easily, if not more-so, and it’s fair to conclude that “bodily pleasures” only have value from the mental pleasures that they can give. Without the ability to take in delights as a thinking person, the odours of fine perfumes, the feel of velvets and satins, the sound of a Brian Eno suite, the appearance of a stunning Erté litho, and the tastes of fine chocolates are rendered inert.

Denial is Epicuran delight. Despite this, some ancient believed that Epicusus practically plagiarised portions of Theodoros, student of the younger Aristippus, son of Arete, daughter of Aristippus of Cyrene. Through this allegation, there is a link between Marxism and Cyrenaic Hedonism (Karl Marx being influenced directly by Epicurus) and between Existentialism and Hedonism (Jean-Paul Sartre and Somine de Beauvoir being directly influenced by Marxist philosophy).

The dichotomy of Pleasure and Pain in Hedonism, mythologically, strike a similar chord with Empedoclean pluralism. To Empedocles, the universe was driven by the forces of Love (phila) and Strife (neikos), or rather, attraction and repulsion —respectively domains of Eros and Eris, and as per Apeulius, the former being the father of the Hedones, Pleasures, and the latter per Hesiod as the mother of Algea, the Pains.

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20 thoughts on “[PBP2013] Hedonism

  1. Ah, Hedonism, how are you today?
    Strangely, my biggest gripe about Hedonsim isn’t the pursuit of pleasure, rather the avoidance of pain. As odd as this sounds, I enjoy pain, misery, and tragedy, and not in a Sado-Masochistic way. I enjoy it, because even when I’m low, struggling, frightened and scared, totally afraid of each passing moment, I know that after I’ve come out of the woods I’ll be a stronger man because of it. A more mature man.

    Like

    • See, the only thing I understand of pain is that it’s a wholly mortal thing. The tragedies are inherently mortal tales. To take pleasures as one is given them is to accept the divine gift of, even if only briefly, forgetting one’s mortality, and for that moment, accepting a fraction of what it must feel to be Divine. To struggle through pain with hopes of becoming stronger through it is mortal folly; all that exists is the present, the past is gone and nothing can be done about it, the future is, and always will be, a blank slate, and to rest dreams of what might come on the choice to endure pain now just strikes me as foolish. One could very well die before that “stronger person” on the future might’ve emerged, in other words, that stronger person may never exist, and in that time, when the option to take the gift of pleasures was forsaken for the endurance of pain, one has essentially martyred oneself at the altar of the Algea. On the other hand, if that mental pursuit gives you more than the worldly compounded with mental, I’m not here to judge, I just don’t understand it.

      Like

      • I’ve often found that the less pleasant option is the best in the long run, not that it leads to better pleasure for ourselves, or nicer things for ourselves, but for our loved ones, for others. Sometimes it may better our own lives, but the easier option is so often not the right one. To me, it makes little sense to break things down into pleasure or pain, or to ignore/neglect the future for the present. Though, this comes around to many of the gripes I have with Buddhism too. Plans may not, and often don’t, go accordingly, but that is no reason to forsake them altogether. Pain is not an enemy, pleasurable things are not a friend. They are things which are, wholly neutral as far as I’m concerned and both in desperate need to be moderated. Too much pain destroys a man, too much pleasure makes him soft and weak.

        Like

        • Well, aside from the fact that roughly the first half of your response is the Epicuran argument, the notion that pleasure can lead to weakness just seems bizarre to me. Are you that familiar with the biology of endorphins? These are the neurotransmitter hormones, released upon pain reception, including strenuous exercise, causing a pleasurable high to relieve pain and give one the ability to push through. The body doesn’t want pain, the body actively creates a means to reduce pain. Wisdom doesn’t come from pain, it comes from the ability to find joy in the hard situations you exalt. To actively seek situations that even something as mortally flawed as the human body knows is wrong, that just doesn’t strike me as wise, unless one is clearly seeking the endorphin high –which is completely valid, I mean, hey, it’s using the body’s own natural functions to produce pleasure drugs.

          Like

          • Is it? I’m not familiar with the Epicurean argument, I’ll have to look it up. As for endorphins, yes I’m quite familiar with how they work, and they may reduce pain but they don’t reduce it altogether. I used to be a runner, so I’m kind of familiar with the pain associated with exercising. I’ve also had a runner’s high on a couple of occasions, which was glorious really. Moving on from that, you are misunderstanding what I’m saying (which I’m sure is in part to my own writing abilities.) I’m not saying ‘seek pain’, I’m saying ‘do not fear pain.’ I’m also extending this to psychological and emotional pain. There may be situations that are painful to you, but that does not make them bad and they does not make them the enemy. There may be situations that are pleasurable to you but that does not make them good or make them a friend. Pleasure and pain are things which are, and both are capable of leading us to new insights when experienced in moderation.

            And easy living (which has a high amount of pleasure) will make you very soft and weak. For example, my ability to withstand hot temperatures changed dramatically when I started working construction as a teenager and doing roofing. The discomfort and pain associated with the hard work made me physically stronger and able to withstand the temperatures well enough. The same goes for psychological pain, when you have not gone through a particular situation such as the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship or friendship, and have not experienced the pain and agony associated with it, you have little insight into the situation or how truly awful it can be. By experiencing these things, we better open up ourselves to be useful and supportive to others because we have gained new insights. Likewise, you cannot talk about how wonderful sex is or truly understand why a friend spends all his time with his new girlfriend if you’ve never been infatuated with someone or have felt the emotion of love. Pleasures too lead us to insights, just as pain does.

            And just because the human body produces a counter-measure to it does not mean that the experience is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. Our bodies have developed to withstand a lot of pain for a variety of reasons, and it is an indication that being able to tolerate pain and misery was vital to our evolutionary survival and not much more than that.

            Like

            • You know, I can’t tell if I’ve talked past you, or if you’ve just intentionally avoided a couple of my previous statements in favour of your own argument, and I’m too exhausted to try and rectify this right now..

              Like

              • In the primary post:

                The Hedonist is able to find pleasure in a diversity of surroundings, from the grandest of palaces to the lowliest of hovels. An appreciation of fine things within one’s means includes any means by which one is living, which is always subject to change. Always.

                Sometimes, a largely unpleasant situation is unavoidable. That does not mean there is no joy to be found within it. The life of Aristippus alone can teach that. It’s not wise to seek those situations, if they can be avoided, but in the moments one must endure them, why is it unwise to focus on the pleasures to be found within those moments in favour of the future joys that don’t exist? The Hedonist posits that it is, indeed, far wiser to grab those “little” pleasures within even the worst situations, because it’s what exists now.

                Like

              • I’m not saying that is a bad idea. Hedonism though, teaches to avoid pain if you can, and take your pleasures if you can, how you can, when you can. At any rate, being optimistic (as I would call it) isn’t a bad thing, an optimist finds the rays of hope in dark situations, that is good. I’m just not calling that ability ‘wise’ or ‘unwise’. It is a good skill to have, solely for the fact that it helps you get through the tough times.

                And at any rate, you seem to be setting up a few straw men, because what I’m saying and what you are arguing against are two different things. You seem to be working on some premise that I’m coming from an Epicurean stance, which I’m not. I don’t aim for future pleasure, I don’t aim for present pleasures. Pleasures and pains are only themselves to me and not much else. If you want to boil my system of ethics down to anything, you are going to just have to call it Conorism. Calling or approaching it as anything else than that isn’t going to allow much give.

                Like

  2. Ah, Hedonism, how are you today?
    Strangely, my biggest gripe about Hedonsim isn’t the pursuit of pleasure, rather the avoidance of pain. As odd as this sounds, I enjoy pain, misery, and tragedy, and not in a Sado-Masochistic way. I enjoy it, because even when I’m low, struggling, frightened and scared, totally afraid of each passing moment, I know that after I’ve come out of the woods I’ll be a stronger man because of it. A more mature man.

    Like

    • See, the only thing I understand of pain is that it’s a wholly mortal thing. The tragedies are inherently mortal tales. To take pleasures as one is given them is to accept the divine gift of, even if only briefly, forgetting one’s mortality, and for that moment, accepting a fraction of what it must feel to be Divine. To struggle through pain with hopes of becoming stronger through it is mortal folly; all that exists is the present, the past is gone and nothing can be done about it, the future is, and always will be, a blank slate, and to rest dreams of what might come on the choice to endure pain now just strikes me as foolish. One could very well die before that “stronger person” on the future might’ve emerged, in other words, that stronger person may never exist, and in that time, when the option to take the gift of pleasures was forsaken for the endurance of pain, one has essentially martyred oneself at the altar of the Algea. On the other hand, if that mental pursuit gives you more than the worldly compounded with mental, I’m not here to judge, I just don’t understand it.

      Like

      • I’ve often found that the less pleasant option is the best in the long run, not that it leads to better pleasure for ourselves, or nicer things for ourselves, but for our loved ones, for others. Sometimes it may better our own lives, but the easier option is so often not the right one. To me, it makes little sense to break things down into pleasure or pain, or to ignore/neglect the future for the present. Though, this comes around to many of the gripes I have with Buddhism too. Plans may not, and often don’t, go accordingly, but that is no reason to forsake them altogether. Pain is not an enemy, pleasurable things are not a friend. They are things which are, wholly neutral as far as I’m concerned and both in desperate need to be moderated. Too much pain destroys a man, too much pleasure makes him soft and weak.

        Like

        • Well, aside from the fact that roughly the first half of your response is the Epicuran argument, the notion that pleasure can lead to weakness just seems bizarre to me. Are you that familiar with the biology of endorphins? These are the neurotransmitter hormones, released upon pain reception, including strenuous exercise, causing a pleasurable high to relieve pain and give one the ability to push through. The body doesn’t want pain, the body actively creates a means to reduce pain. Wisdom doesn’t come from pain, it comes from the ability to find joy in the hard situations you exalt. To actively seek situations that even something as mortally flawed as the human body knows is wrong, that just doesn’t strike me as wise, unless one is clearly seeking the endorphin high –which is completely valid, I mean, hey, it’s using the body’s own natural functions to produce pleasure drugs.

          Like

          • Is it? I’m not familiar with the Epicurean argument, I’ll have to look it up. As for endorphins, yes I’m quite familiar with how they work, and they may reduce pain but they don’t reduce it altogether. I used to be a runner, so I’m kind of familiar with the pain associated with exercising. I’ve also had a runner’s high on a couple of occasions, which was glorious really. Moving on from that, you are misunderstanding what I’m saying (which I’m sure is in part to my own writing abilities.) I’m not saying ‘seek pain’, I’m saying ‘do not fear pain.’ I’m also extending this to psychological and emotional pain. There may be situations that are painful to you, but that does not make them bad and they does not make them the enemy. There may be situations that are pleasurable to you but that does not make them good or make them a friend. Pleasure and pain are things which are, and both are capable of leading us to new insights when experienced in moderation.

            And easy living (which has a high amount of pleasure) will make you very soft and weak. For example, my ability to withstand hot temperatures changed dramatically when I started working construction as a teenager and doing roofing. The discomfort and pain associated with the hard work made me physically stronger and able to withstand the temperatures well enough. The same goes for psychological pain, when you have not gone through a particular situation such as the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship or friendship, and have not experienced the pain and agony associated with it, you have little insight into the situation or how truly awful it can be. By experiencing these things, we better open up ourselves to be useful and supportive to others because we have gained new insights. Likewise, you cannot talk about how wonderful sex is or truly understand why a friend spends all his time with his new girlfriend if you’ve never been infatuated with someone or have felt the emotion of love. Pleasures too lead us to insights, just as pain does.

            And just because the human body produces a counter-measure to it does not mean that the experience is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. Our bodies have developed to withstand a lot of pain for a variety of reasons, and it is an indication that being able to tolerate pain and misery was vital to our evolutionary survival and not much more than that.

            Like

            • You know, I can’t tell if I’ve talked past you, or if you’ve just intentionally avoided a couple of my previous statements in favour of your own argument, and I’m too exhausted to try and rectify this right now..

              Like

              • In the primary post:

                The Hedonist is able to find pleasure in a diversity of surroundings, from the grandest of palaces to the lowliest of hovels. An appreciation of fine things within one’s means includes any means by which one is living, which is always subject to change. Always.

                Sometimes, a largely unpleasant situation is unavoidable. That does not mean there is no joy to be found within it. The life of Aristippus alone can teach that. It’s not wise to seek those situations, if they can be avoided, but in the moments one must endure them, why is it unwise to focus on the pleasures to be found within those moments in favour of the future joys that don’t exist? The Hedonist posits that it is, indeed, far wiser to grab those “little” pleasures within even the worst situations, because it’s what exists now.

                Like

              • I’m not saying that is a bad idea. Hedonism though, teaches to avoid pain if you can, and take your pleasures if you can, how you can, when you can. At any rate, being optimistic (as I would call it) isn’t a bad thing, an optimist finds the rays of hope in dark situations, that is good. I’m just not calling that ability ‘wise’ or ‘unwise’. It is a good skill to have, solely for the fact that it helps you get through the tough times.

                And at any rate, you seem to be setting up a few straw men, because what I’m saying and what you are arguing against are two different things. You seem to be working on some premise that I’m coming from an Epicurean stance, which I’m not. I don’t aim for future pleasure, I don’t aim for present pleasures. Pleasures and pains are only themselves to me and not much else. If you want to boil my system of ethics down to anything, you are going to just have to call it Conorism. Calling or approaching it as anything else than that isn’t going to allow much give.

                Like

  3. Pingback: I’m probably not Going Silent for July, BUT… | Of Thespiae

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