Not all pleasures are good.
According to word net, pleasure is described as a deep feeling that people wish to experience. It is also described as joy, an originator of happiness, sexual satisfaction and also an action from which one gets enjoyment. According to the intelligent systems’ glossary, pleasure is achieved when one is about to attain certain set objectives. Regardless of the pain incurred, pleasure is derived from the end results. This concurs with the cosmic ledger’s description of pleasure as a sensation that is a property of ego resulting from pain. According to the cosmic ledger, pleasure therefore refutes happiness. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy also defines pleasure as a collective term for joy, gladness, happiness and goodness, as used when studying moral psychology, ethics as well as studies of the mind.
That which is not pleasurable, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is associated with pain and suffering and all the feelings associated with evil or bad. In the New Advent article, evil is defined as all that destroy caution and obstruct the use of reason, while good is defined as that which is in agreement with reason. However, evil is still relative. To some, evil is that which is sought by a man who lacks virtue, and is avoided by a man who is considered virtuous. Human beings therefore will tend to use the virtuous man as a means for measuring human action.
In the bible, 1st Corinthians 2:15, ‘The spiritual man judges all things.’ Therefore children and animals in whose mind there is no virtue, seek pleasure. Pleasure in this context can therefore be understood to be evil and should be avoided. On the contrary, in the same bible, Psalms 36:4 says, ‘Delight in the Lord.’ Since divine power cannot lead one to do evil, then one can say not every pleasure is evil since by delighting one will be seeking pleasure. But delighting in the Lord cannot be evil.
According to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, philosophy involves wisdom, though wisdom was subject to debate. Practical wisdom, according to Aristotle involved prudence. The characteristics of prudence involve that which is advantageous, useful, profitable and good to someone. It is therefore a prudent thing to drive at speed limit, but that does not necessarily mean that the person driving is prudent. Wisdom according to him therefore is being the most perfect, accurate and precise. Interestingly however, the word wisdom can have a negative meaning and fool have a positive meaning. An evil person, though clever and knowledgeable is sometimes referred to as a fool, while a fool who is ignorant when it comes to matters of sound reason is referred to as a fool of God.
According to ethics, some people still maintain that all pleasure is evil. This is with regards to bodily pleasure and sensory pleasures. Ancient philosophers were unable to distinguish between that which is intelligent and sensible, maintaining the thought that all bodily pleasures are bad. Man therefore tried to achieve high merits and virtue by abstaining from pleasure. The early philosophers were however wrong to maintain this opinion since no one can live without sensible and bodily pleasure, then if they who preached that such pleasure is evil were found partaking of the same pleasure, then the rest of the people would follow their example since human beings tend to follow their idols rather than what they preach. An interesting question then arises from the above analysis of pleasure;
Is every pleasure good?
It may seem that all pleasure is good by virtue that it is useful and pleasant; if everything virtuous is good as well as everything useful, then all pleasure is good. However, in the bible, Proverbs 2:14 says “Who are glad when they have done evil, and rejoice in most wicked things.” According to this verse, the bible warns of bad pleasures. Anyone who derives his/her pleasure from doings is therefore engaging in pleasure that is forbidden or simply wrong. While the Epicureans maintained that all pleasure is good, the Stoics were of the idea that all pleasures are evil. They seemed to ignore the difference between that which is simply good and that which is good to a specific person.
For that which is good to one person may not necessarily be good to another. That which is good to one person, however unnatural or unrealistic it may seem, is good to him depending on his current circumstances and conditions. For example a leper or beggar eating from the rubbish finds it well, albeit the fact that the food he is feeding on is not good to human body. Aristotle’s sees good as that which everyone tries to achieve. However, this gives it many meanings. For example, to say that something is good because it is the objective of certain actions does not explain why the actions are worth doing.
Heraclitus once said that salty water is good for fish, while only fresh water is good for human. In his example, therefore pleasure is relative to the situation and circumstances. Thomas Jefferson once said that, ‘Morality is a limitation of self interest’. A good example is Masochism, whereby the sufferer derives pleasures by inflicting physical pain on him/her. In Sado Masochism also, the person derives pleasure from inflicting pain on others. This is the same as Sadism. Such kind of pleasure is not morally acceptable in religion and social norms since it is obtained at the expense of pain and suffering, which are both described as bad or evil.
According to an article on the Ethics Utility website, Utopia: Ethics, Utilities and Economics, the hedonistic ethics argues that the main duty of a good government is to provide good life for its citizens. However, life in politics, despite the power and pleasure that comes with it, requires that one live like the common man; hence a politician is not able to enjoy the good life. Epicurus also makes negative comments on sex and relationships. Too much love for a person of the opposite sex that may lead to inner instability is not necessary. When a couple competes for pleasure, they erode love, while too much sex on the other hand weakens the health; hence shortens life.
A more real life example is the pleasure of accomplishment. Like in the case of Venezuela; Adolph Hitler took advantage of the adverse effects of the war. While the people were still vulnerable and desperate for change and healing, he used propaganda and easily won the people’s confidence using tempting promises. He blinded the people of the truth, until much later when it was too late to save the situation. He rose to power at the cost of the largest war in history and genocide of six million people; adversely affecting the economy of the world. (William Sheridan Allen, The Nazi Seizure of Power: the experience of a single German town).
An interesting question then arises; does the fact that an individual who has accomplished something of intellectual, social or political value, which provides lots of inner satisfaction to him or her, necessarily make it a good thing? Well, the answer is no. As much as it is a good thing to him, it is not a good thing to others. The loss of life is evil and sinful as well as inhuman. Using lies is also unacceptable and incorrect. Pleasure derived through such means is not good and should therefore be avoided. The same applies to wars. Development of atomic bombs and bio chemical weapons are obviously meant to take life. When a country wins the war, should it pride in its victory which is at the expense of innocent lives?
According to Epicurus, there is no pleasure that is bad in itself, except when the things that bring about the pleasure itself in some circumstances entail disturbances which are often greater than the pleasure itself. Some desires are natural and necessary for example conjugal desires. Some are natural but not necessary while others are neither natural nor important, but still they are brought about by meaningless actions and thoughts.
According to F.H. Buckley (2003), laughing at someone who has failed or is deformed is cruel. He calls this ‘vicious laughter.’ In his Superiority thesis, he notes that cruelty is necessary in life and joy; hence to laughter too. It is a common habit to tease friends, although sometimes the teasing genuinely hurts them. Although teasing can be well intended for humor, at times it is intentionally cruel to others. He compares laughter to sex; just like sex starts with play and joy and laughter but ends up in serious involvement, so can cruelty begin with play and end up with adverse effects like murder.
Comics are also sometimes not well received especially when they involve personification. In the movie, The Dead Poet Society (1989), John Wayne is imitated doing a passage of Shakespeare. This seems very hilarious to the audience, however the person being imitated might not like it. Comics are meant to entertain and bring joy, but can sometimes be mocking and reproachful. It might bring out some traits and habits that people might not be aware of.
Aristotle describes the vital human good as happiness. The human good is therefore measured in terms of the acceptable virtues. Some virtues are regarded as being better than others. Ultimate happiness therefore is associated with better virtues. He considers the fact that sometimes life can go wrong; hence happiness is a matter of a lifetime. The greatest virtue according to him is wisdom which helps one understand eternal truths and the supreme power. It is easy to think that Aristotle compared ultimate happiness to a life of philosophy.
Pleasure is seen as the first good and the end of the good life because it is the initial good innate in human beings and from it begins every act of choice and prevention. We go back to pleasure again as an end result for judging everything that we consider good. Every pleasure therefore with regards to its end results is good to us, yet not every pleasure is to be selected. Just like pain is regarded as evil, yet we cannot avoid all pain. It is therefore obvious that not all pleasure is good, yet to engage in pleasure whether good or evil is a personal choice.
Ø F.H. Buckley, The Morality of Laughter University of Michigan Press, 2003
Ø Aristotle, 1984, The Complete Works of Aristotle, Jonathan Barnes (ed.), Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Ø Steven Smith, Ways of Wisdom
Ø New advent
Ø UTOPIA: ON ITS ETHICS, POLITICS, & ECONOMICS
Ø Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Pleasure, First published Wed Nov 23, 2005; substantive revision Fri Jun 16, 2006
Ø Prudence, Goodness and Wisdom, http://www.friesian.com/wisdom.htm
Ø Robin William’s movie, The Dead Poets Society ,
Ø William Sheridan Allen, The Nazi Seizure of Power: the experience of a single German town
Ø Word Net, wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
Ø The Cosmic Ledger, www.cosmicledger.com/glossary/p