Thoughts on Mangan’s Hedonism Post

I’ve just read through the post on Mangan’s blog that sent me quite a bit of traffic. At issue was the need to have a sense of purpose beyond hedonism. The comments contain the following suggestions (I’ve added my comments):

fight for some cause [always a good idea. Having like minded comrades would help as well.]
Read: Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and St. Augustine’s Confessions [I have, but good advice]
Join an orthodox church [Certainly a serious option. Though I am not a Christian, I take Christianity too seriously to join a church in bad faith. If anyone wants to tell me why I should be a Christian, I’d be genuinely interested.]
fatherhood [would need to find a suitable wife first]
dedicated political activity [difficult to care about either of our political parties, but good advice nonetheless]
be a stoic [someone – perhaps Alisdair Macintyre – has compared stoicism to the ideology of hardness and unsentimentality found in the movements of modernist art. Both developed after the dissolution of a coherent world view and societal order, and offered discouraging views of the world coupled with an exhortation to be tough despite pessimism. Stoicism may be useful, but it’s not intellectually satisfying, nor intellectually productive.]

Other commentators offered the following:

An anonymous commenter suggests that pair bonding is merely a chemical high. I would suggest that within the system of discourse he has likely constructed, all of human life is merely a chemical process, so while given his (unstated) assumptions he is correct, his insight is pointless.

Postgygaxian suggests that everyone is some kind of hedonist. This is a kind of tautological argument that appealed to me when I was about 14, but I quickly grew out of; others should grow out of it as well. “We choose what we do, so whatever we do is what we decided to do, which is what we most wanted to do by definition, so we are all hedonists.” In a similar way one can “prove” that we all maximize our utility, or any number of such things. The lack of insight of such arguments should be apparent. Tautologies are rarely genuine sources of insight about people.

K(yle) suggests that one gain should full control over oneself, and not try to find “transcendental feelings” in women, or in faith, because this would be a self indulgent giving-in to feelings, but that one should rather try to be completely independent. Such self indulgence is certainly possible, and a potential danger, but not one I am prone to. I would challenge him on his Schleiermacheresque belief that religion is about feelings, as well as his belief that the highest human flourishing is to be found in not depending on anyone or anything. All human wisdom denies this. Even Ibsen – that’s the Ibsen of “An Enemy of the People” who declares that the lone individual is always right, and strongest and most right when he stands alone – even Ibsen warns in Peer Gynt that self-sufficiency is the way of trolls, not of men.

A comment by Bruce Charlton claiming that there was a simple choice between hedonism and god, led me to his blog, which looks interesting. I must say that I have doubts concerning his thesis, though, pending some more precise definitions. What would Mr. Charlton make of Aristotle’s Ethics?

Cyprian Korzeniowski offers this intriguing comment:

George Orwell’s review of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf contains a relevant insight:

Also he [Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a.view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation “Greatest happiness of the greatest number” is a good slogan, but at this moment “Better an end with horror than a horror without end” is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

There is a better way, but it’s the task of the alternative right to posit something concrete which is better than the manifestations of hedonism. It needn’t be Nazism or militarized socialism, but it must offer a dangerous adventure leading to a new tomorrow. The competition being what it is (Occupy Wall Street! Abolish money! or the insufferable, uncool mainstream conservativism), it will fall over easily.

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About Pechorin

A Hero of Our Time
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3 Responses to Thoughts on Mangan’s Hedonism Post

  1. bgc says:

    Bruce Charlton here – my understanding is that Aristotle chose god (small g god – not a monotheist god, but a first-cause/ prime-mover type god)

  2. Pechorin says:

    Sure. My question is, can one take Aristotle’s Ethics, divorced from his metaphysics and notion of god, as a self-sufficient system? Now that I formulate it like that, I think the answer is no. The reason is a very simple. Prior to all of Aristotle’s Ethics is the assumption that one should be governed by reason, not feelings (1095a). Furthermore, Aristotle requires that a student of the ethics be inculcated with virtue through a good upbringing (1095b); in fact he says that one acquires a first principle through one’s upbringing. He does not ask, shall we be good? but rather, HOW shall we act in order to be good. Plato is concerned with arguing with a Thrasymachus, while Aristotle simply says that it’s impossible to teach anything to such a man.

  3. Pingback: On Hedonism and Purpose: the Last Man | Pechorin

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