Monday, April 2, 2012

Hedonists All

Scott Bradley

I have just recently finished reading a book about Hellenistic philosophy (Hellenistic Philosophy; A.A. Long), specifically Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Skepticism. My interest in Stoicism was sparked by a 'stoic' quality in Daoism and by comparisons between these two philosophies made by certain sinologists. In the end, it was in Skepticism that I sensed the greatest similarity; but that's another post. This post is about what they all, classic philosophies both East and West, have in common: Hedonism.

Hedonism, if narrowly defined, espouses a life of sensual gratification as the means to the greatest happiness. "Eat, drink and be merry; for tomorrow we die" is a well-known Epicurean axiom ironically given legs by the apostle Paul, who quotes it polemically. But even this seemingly simple formula requires a great deal of philosophizing before it can be applied to positive effect. How much should one eat and drink? Drink too much wine, and there will be pain in the morning, not to mention liver disease down the line. Eating too much results in indigestion, and eventually obesity and its concomitant diseases. It is not surprising therefore, that Epicurus and his followers actually advocated moderation, not dissipation, as the key to happiness; and happiness is the goal.

Stoicism actually has more in common with Confucianism than with Daoism. The universe is moral and rational and our happiness depends on our learning its principles and following them.

Skeptics believed that by understanding the equality of the contradictory arguments of the “dogmatists” (for Confucians and Mohists, substitute Epicureans and Stoics) one arrives at a "suspension of judgment" and the consequence of this is "freedom from disturbance".

Our goal is happiness, as defined in whatever way we wish, and by whatever means we can conceive. This, I choose to call hedonism defined in its broadest sense.

Ah, but it's illusory! There is no one to be happy. Yes. So? So, if you want to be happy realize that there is no one to be happy.

One practical benefit of realizing our universal urge toward happiness is that it unites all our diverse attempts to achieve it. Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics, all believed they had found it. Who am I to contradict them? Maybe they did. But their beliefs were so different! So what? Maybe what we believe is not so important after all. Maybe it's results that count; and only those who experience them can judge whether they have achieved them.

Of course, such a view discounts our ability to know Truth. And this is the path that I follow, because it seems to me to be the nature of the case. My pursuit of tranquility must therefore work within this context. I do not presume, however, to declare this Truth; and thus I (try to) affirm those who do know Truth or believe it is there for them to find. May it bring you happiness.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

1 comment:

  1. There is in Roman and Anglican Catholic traditions a prayer for a "happy death."


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