January 20, 2010

Filthy Hedonist

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:55 am

Why the Church Lady Has it Wrong

In my world view, I have come to expect folks who believe themselves to be religious/ethical to speak of the difference between pleasure and happiness.  Typically, the notions are constructed to illustrate that pleasure is inferior to happiness, and people who behaving differently than us are going the wrong way.  Often this is expressed as pleasure < happiness.  Sometimes they will go so far as to construct pleasure = bad.  Eating a piece of cheese cake would bring you pleasure but not happiness.  It doesn’t take long for this gap to be turned into a gulf.

I assert this perspective is a mistake.  To illustrate this, let’s cast the argument in terms of ultimate results and use a very basic case study. I could gather a much debt as possible, spend all my resources, and buy a new Ferrari, which I would find quite pleasurable. 

However, I understand that the end results of this action will ultimately be unpleasant.  I am convinced that saving prudently for retirement, managing my money well, and so forth, will ultimately bring about greater pleasure than purchasing the Ferrari.  Delayed gratification and prudence bring about a circumstance that I will enjoy more than instant gratification. 

Most folks will accept this.  Future pleasure > present pleasure.

Goes God Enjoy Being Happy?

The key distinction lies in the reality that happiness itself is pleasurable.  In fact, it is asserted (and I accept) that happiness brings about more pleasure than any other competing pleasure I can think of.

If happiness and pleasure are really the same thing (pleasant experiences) why do people think they are different?  In my view, this stems more from cultural bias in the Western.  Eastern world views tend not to separate these concepts. 

In the West, I think we get hung up on some pleasant experiences being labeled as bad (carnal pleasures) and some being labeled as good (pleasant feelings that arise when gazing on your baby).  The bifurcation of pleasure and happiness is a proxy of this separation. 

A good illustration of this can be seen in the typical reactions to Utilitarian ideas on what constitutes the definition of ‘good’ :  Promotion of pleasure and reduction of pain.

Hangovers are not pleasant

At that time, people viewed this as equating noble humans with base animals.  Folks reflexively thought Utilitarians were talking about rooting around in instantaneous gratification of physical desires.  In fact, this was a misunderstanding of the point.  The pleasantness of solving an extremely difficult math problem, composing a symphony, acting in an altruistic way, fulfilling duty, etc. all bring about superior pleasantness to the competing alternatives.  Even the most severe ascetic endures their suffering because they believe it is bringing about a superior result (enlightenment, atonement, eternal life with God, etc. etc.).

Does God Enjoying Being Happy More Than Satan Enjoys Being Whateverheis?

 This comparison is actually the more apt measure.  The virtue is not avoiding the pursuit of pleasure. 

The virtue is in undertaking actions which will lead to the greatest pleasure. 

Happiness is considered the superior goal because it is understood to be more pleasant than the competing pleasures being evaluated. 

Have I Got a Deal for You!

The same structure holds for many of the forms of sacrifice being promoted.  All these are represented as being actions which will bring about a more pleasant end.  Forsaking blah and blah will receive 100 fold in the kingdom, etc. etc. 

Assuming for a moment that we have already established that the offer is genuine, it is extremely rare (I can’t think of one example), in which parishioners are asked to undertake an unpleasant action for which there is not an attendant, profitable (in the sense of more pleasant than the sacrifice was unpleasant) reward promised.

For those religousers who might not be brought around yet, let’s consider another illustration.  Unlike some worldviews, Christians in particular don’t hold with the popular saying: 

Life’s a bitch and then you die.  The end. 

Instead, it is replaced with things like:  Do X and you will receive Y, which is superior to what you might already want to do.  Patiently push through A and you will get B which is better than the alternative. 

Particularly in Christian philosophy, suffering, sacrifice, etc. are almost always (I want to say always) couched in terms of ultimately receiving a reward which will be more pleasant than what you gave up to become eligible.

Being Christian is Ultimately More Pleasant (Supposedly)

Therefore, the idea that the pursuit of pleasure is inferior to the pursuit of happiness misses the reality that the same religions represent happiness to be the supreme pleasure.  It is an argument of which pleasure is best, not pleasure being inferior to (or different than) happiness in and of itself.


  1. I would believe that pleasure is more of an action or an experience that brings about positive feelings.
    Happiness is a state of being. More of a mind set if you will.
    I agree that happiness as a state of mind can surely bring about much pleasure, as well as having the added benefit of being able to enjoy pleasures.
    I think that there can be happiness without pleasure. A painful experience, though not desired may not actually change the state of being happy.
    Happiness + Pleasure = :) . ( Yes I’m fully aware that smiley face is not a mathematical symbol)

    I also think that labeling pleasures as “bad” or even carnal is problematic. We, as humans, by our very design are made to experience pleasure. In other words..give me my daily scotch the smell of a women’s skin, and a hot cup of coffee. They are gifts, and pleasures, there for me to enjoy.
    The moral dilema comes when I abuse those gifts. If I drink too much or beat my wife, obviously I am abusing that God given pleasure of a fine scotch, and a beautiful women.
    There are many God given pleasures we deny ourselves in the name of piety and religion. In the hope for the “Golden Ring”. I don’t believe this was ever His (Gods) intention.
    I almost wonder if it pisses God off that we don’t use the abundent amount of pleasures in this world in the name of religion. Or for some far off happiness to be gained in the great beyond. Its tragic that we don’t live the life we are made for.

    Comment by Paul W — January 21, 2010 @ 5:09 am

  2. Besides being completely lost in the number of posts you made since I last checked, and the complexity of the subjects I agree with Paul that happiness is a state of being. Focusing on the “grand reward” at the end might make us miss out on all the little things on the way. Too many times I catch myself thinking:”If only I had this already, or this would have happened already I would be happier.” Why not sit down and enjoy what I have? I am learning to.
    Alot of things we want in life are hard work. My piano teacher says that most people chuck it because they want instant results. They are not willing to practise for years, but how often have you heard someone say:” I wish I could play like that.” If we want o reach a certain level will have to follow a pattern to get to it. (Wether or not we picked the right one is an entirely different chapter!)

    Comment by Karin — January 23, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

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