Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hedonism As A Journey

There are two kinds of pleasures that differ in duration, stability, and intensity. They are what I would call euphoria and eudaemonia. The former is short lived, induces erratic behavior, and brings about very intense feelings of happiness; the latter is long lived, is conducive to reasonable behavior, but brings about a less intense feeling than euphoria. Euphoria is the dopamine rush of sex, drug use (particularly hard stimulants), eating rich food, or any other activity that satisfies immediate desires without prolonged effort. Eudaemonia is the pleasure that is brought about through achievement, good habits, and the pursuit of knowledge. It is sometimes called pride, joy, or satisfaction with life, but they all refer to pleasures of the same kind.

However high or low we are at any time, we always eventually return to baseline. This is true even of people going through depressive or manic episodes. If our goal in life is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, then we should not elevate ourselves above baseline by seeking euphoria, but elevate our baseline itself by seeking eudaemonia. The explanation for this is simple. The pleasures that elevate us above baseline are sensual pleasures caused by external stimulation, and they cannot persist without constant external stimulation. The pleasures that elevate the baseline itself are the more enduring intellectual pleasures and moral sentiments that rely on internal stimulation i.e. conscious thought. For this reason, they persist even when the external stimuli that aroused them is far removed in the past. Of course this is not to say that all sensual pleasures should be avoided and only intellectual pleasures and moral sentiments should be pursued. What is meant here is that the latter should be prioritized over the former as the foundation of a meaningful life.

Maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain in the long run is not as simple as it seems on paper. In this pursuit we are bound to stumble upon obstacles of our own invention; obstacles that result from our very nature. In these instances we are required to sacrifice the immediate gratification of our base desires for greater pleasure in the long run. To maximize pleasure in the long run we have to overcome our instincts by learning to exercise restraint over them through habituation, that is, we have to learn and practice the four cardinal virtues of justice, temperance, courage and prudence. All four cardinal virtues refer to some restraint on instinctive behavior. Temperance is a restraint on sensual indulgence of our appetites. Prudence is a restraint on reflexive behavior. Courage is a restraint on our instinct to avoid situations that elicit fear, and justice is a restraint on emotional impulse. The cardinal virtues become ingrained through repetition over time, the result of which is a stable character that is less susceptible to the emotional ascents and descents of life.

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