27 November 2012

Climbing the Ladder of Pleasure

[Cinnamon and Rufus had this exchange earlier today.]

4:40 PM Cinnamon: Is there any reason that pleasure should not be the purpose of living? My friend is still stuck on that.
4:45 PM Rufus: hmm yes
  pleasure is always the pleasure of an act
  people don't realize this
4:46 PM there isn't some detachable quality of acts called "pleasure", each kind of pleasure is particular to the act that provides it
  consequently it doesn't make sense to live for pleasure in the abstract
  you want to live for the best kinds of pleasure
  but the best kinds of pleasure are in the best acts
4:47 PM and here you have to clarify
  is there included in pleasure only physical pleasure, or also mental pleasure, i.e. the pleasure that comes from judging that something is good or delightful.
4:48 PM Because if you're just living for physical pleasure, then basically, you're just a brute animal and I have no interest in having anything to do with you any longer.
  But if you include mental pleasure, then you've got to start asking what acts are the best, what makes them the most enjoyable, and what the basis of our judgment of the excellence of things is
4:49 PM But then your living for pleasure changes from something stupid like mediocre hedonism, to something higher, something based on the intrinsic perfection and nature of things. This way of pursuing pleasure is capable of being intelligent and perfective of who you are as a human being.
4:50 PM And finally, when you pursue pleasure in this way, your search for the best things leads to you discover the principle which grounds all goodness, of which the diverse excellences you discover in things are simply a mirror or reflection.
4:51 PM And if you make that discovery, you will find that as a thoughtful hedonist you cannot help but turn toward God.
  But at this point you cease to be a hedonist, really, and become something different.

[A little later, their conversation continued...]

5:12 PM Cinnamon: He's saying that the life of the mind is important but the life of the body equally so
 Rufus: why?
5:13 PM Cinnamon: Hmm I think there's something to this that I should try to address
5:14 PM Sigh I don't know
5:15 PM Well, I think if he's saying anything legitimate, it's that we aren't just disembodied little floaty minds and that we actually have bodies and psychology and chemistry going on with us and whatever
 Rufus: absolutely
 Cinnamon: but that still doesn't mean that those
5:16 PM Rufus: but see he's jumping around
  he said he was going to live for pleasure
  that's fine
  then follow the thought through
  but now he's talking about giving the body its due
  this is a different concern from hedonism
  this is more about respecting the nature of things
  so we've left hedonism behind
5:17 PM unless he's saying that you can't have higher mental pleasures without a modicum of bodily pleasures alongside
  in which case you'll point out to him that the body has appetites that are very greedy, and so in order to prevent your better pursuits from being sidetracked by bodily appetites you need a rule, and you need control
5:18 PM in which case really we're talking about temperance and the rational mean
5:19 PM but the pure hedonist doesn't even care about the rational mean, he cares about shaping himself so he can go straight for the best things
  and not being tied down by petty wants and distractions
5:20 PM see there's a logic in human desire that, if you hold steady and pursue it straightforwardly in the context of human nature, can't help but point toward (1) virtue and (2) happiness as ultimate perfection.