The hedonistic solution – can we find meaning in pleasure?

A meaningful life is surely pleasurable – but should pleasure be an end goal in itself?

Well the hedonists of ancient Greece certainly thought so. Hedonism argues that pleasure is the most important goal in life. A hedonist strives to maximize pleasure and to minimise pain.

That’s not to say that we should seek out pleasure at the expense of others. Ethical hedonism specifically says that people have the right to do anything in their power to achieve the greatest amount of pleasure possible, as long as in doing so this doesn’t impact negatively on others.

Even with this in mind, for some, hedonism still has a bit of a bad name. It may be associated with selfishness and over indulgence – excessive eating and drinking, promiscuous sexual behavior, possibly even drug taking. It conjures up an image of someone with a careless attitude and little regard for the long-term.

But this is not what Epicurus, one of the first hedonistic philosophers, meant. Living in Ancient Greece in the 4th century BC, he actually lived a very simple life.

He argued that one’s needs should not be self-destructive (which excessive eating, drinking and drug-taking ultimately are) as that would not bring pleasure in the long-term. He said that the simpler one’s needs, the more likely they are to be satisfied.

If that is a hedonist, then I’ve come to realize that my father must be one. Not particularly motivated by money or power, I’ve always thought of my father as someone who values the simple things in life. A good book, a meal with his family, and the occasional Sudoku puzzle. These are the things that seem to give him pleasure.

The internet is full of quotes that celebrate the value of appreciating the simple things, and the importance of enjoying and finding pleasure in life……

‘Enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things’.

‘Life is to be enjoyed not just endured’

‘It’s not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness’

‘Life brings simple pleasures to us every day. It is up to us to make them wonderful memories’

But is living a pleasurable life enough?

It seems to me a meaningful life is multi-layered. It’s rich. It’s complex. There is no one single method for living such a life. There are different components to it and, for me, the enjoyment of life is certainly an important component.

And for others too I suspect pleasure and enjoyment, though they may not be sufficient, they are certainly pretty necessary parts of a meaningful life.

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