Hedonism Essay, Research Paper
Webster’s dictionary defines hedonism as “the
ethical doctrine that pleasure, variously conceived of
in terms of happiness of the individual or of society,
is the principal good and the proper aim of action” or
“the theory that a person always acts is such a way as
to seek pleasure and avoid pain.” With this definition
in mind, and with further examination of John Stuart
Mill’s theory on hedonism, I am going to argue that
hedonism is not an exclusive or distinct way of
thinking. In fact, I think that with the exception of
possibly a few people, most people are very
“Hedonistic utilitarians identify happiness with
feeing pleasure and avoiding pain, meaning that the more
an individual enjoys pleasure and avoids pain, the
happier that individual is” (phil.tamu.edu). Now, is
this really a new and profound thought? If you avoid
pain, you will lead a happier life? With a few
exceptions, I don’t know many people who see pain as
enjoyment. Most people I know have made it a point to
enjoy themselves in so me fasion or
another, and that doesn’t include the enjoyment of pain.
“Mill’s overall subject is the right of the
indivieual to think and act for himeself of herself.
For Mill this does not mean the right to think and act
as you please (Castell 360). Eventhough Mill encouraged
independent thought and actions, he did not justify
running around and doing whatever you liked. According
to the Hedonic Society, what they call Enlightened
Hedonism (”a naturalistic and humanistic lifestance
advocation the ration cultivation of pleasure and
happiness for all”) can be stated in six principles:
1. Knowledge is gained through a reasoned study of
all available evidence.
2. In the absence of conclusive evidence for a
supernatural, ethics and morality must be based on our
living in the natural world.
3. Pleasure and pain are our natural means for
determining what is beneficial or harmful to life.
4. Those actions are best which lead to the
greatest pleasure and happiness, or the least pain and
suffering, in the long term for all concerned.
5. Our lives are made most happy and fulfilling by
cultivating the higher pleasures of intellectual
development, aesthetic appreciation and creativity, and
social bonds of friendship, family and romantic love.
6. Happiness is best attained in an atmosphere of
freedom, tolerance, nonviolence and diversity.
The Hedonic society also states that the ethics of
enlightened hedonism is a positive, dynamic and life-
affirming alternative to traditional religious and
In today’s terms, when you hear someone speak of
hedonism, your mind automatically goes to associating
sex, orgasms, and all other types of physical pleasure
with the term hedonism. The important thing to keep in
mind, however is that hedonism does not just include
physical pleasure. It is possible to strive to achieve
happiness and excitement, and at the same time avoid
sadness and anxiety. This is also a hedonistic way of
thought. Hedonism is not the pursuit purely physical.
It is possible to be intellectually hedonistic as well.
And, Hedonism is not based solely on the individual. It
is to be the greatest amount of good possible for the
greatest amount of people.
So just because you want to something, and fulfill
your original desire/want/need, doesn’t mean that it is
right to do it. You have to take into account what
would benefit others as well. “By each of us going
immediately for that which we most want, which would
give us the most pleasure, is for the greatest possible
good to be accomplished…(Stanford).”
Mill says that the ideal way to be is a little bit
of both physically and intellectually hedonistic. He
introduces the Competent Judge Test (CJT) to battle
common objections he faces against hedonistic
utilitarianism. The objection stems from the
philosophical controversy between bodily (eating,
drinking, and sex, but also things like exercise) and
intellectual (art, literature, philosophy, and science)
pleasures, and the relative value of each of those
pleasures (phil.tamu). “Since hedonistic utilitarian
define happiness in terms of pleasure and the absence of
pain, they are open to the objection that their view
give human beings’ lives no higher purpose than that of
any animal. Mill calls this ‘the doctrine of swine
objection.’ …Mill reasons that if what gives a human
being pleasure (and/or pain) is radically different than
what gives it to an animal, then what counts as human
happiness will be radically different” (phil.tamu).
Intellectual pleasures are superior to the physical
pleasures, and Mill says that
his CJT proves it. “Of tow pleasures, if there be one
to which all of almost all who have experience of both
give a decided preference, irrespective or any feeling
of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more
desirable pleasure” (phil.tamu).
Mill has four different components that are a part
of the testing of qualitative superiority;
1) Who the competent judges are; 2) What kind of
majority of them must give; 3) What kind of preference
to one kind of pleasure over another for it to be judged
the higher quality pleasure; and
4) What this qualitative difference implies about the
relative value of pleasure of the two kinds.
He also presents the Four Steps of CJT; 1)
Identify the competent judges; 2) See if any of them
prefer X over Y; 3) Ask if the preference for X over Y
is shared by certain characteristics;
4) If #3 is true, then we are justified in concluding
that X is somehow superior (phil.tamu).
Mill says that if you substitute intellectual
pleasures for “X” and bodily pleasures for “Y,” then “X”
is “qualitatively superior” to “Y.” However, like I
stated above, each person in their own aspect has some
hedonism in them somewhere. I would argue that in order
to have a relatively balanced life, you would include
and intellectual aspects of your life. Whether or not
you would be labeled a “Hedonist” would remain to be
seen. If you incorporate the greater needs of others
into your individual immediate needs, then technically,
yes, that would be Hedonism. But, I would venture to
say that you would be labeled “a nice person.”
Castell, Alburey, et al., Introduction to Moern
Philosophy: Examining the Human Condition. (New
Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001).
“Hedonism.” Stanford University (online)
“John Stuart Mill.” unknown (online) *www-/
“What is Enlightened Hedonism?” Hedonic Society