Can Negative Hedonism Be Defended?

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Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2010 06:20 pm
One of the many aspects of Epicureanism to which I am drawn is the concept of negative hedonism. As I understand it, this is the belief that one should seek pleasure as one's ultimate goal, combined with the thesis that pleasure consists simply of the absence of pain (physical and mental/emotional). By this account, pleasure is synonymous with peace of mind.

However, I have come across at least two persuasive arguments against negative hedonism. First, if peace of mind is one's ultimate goal, then it would seem that one should commit suicide as quickly and painlessly as possible, since continuing to live can only disturb one's mind, without any compensating benefit. Such a conclusion seems unacceptable. Second, the thesis that pleasure consists simply of the absence of pain (that is, that pleasure is synonymous with peace of mind) appears to be contradicted by the fact that positive feelings (such as euphoria) and negative feelings (such as physical pain) appear to be caused by different brain chemicals and processes. Thus, it appears that pleasure and pain are in some ways independent of each other.

Can any of you provide effective counterarguments in favor of negative hedonism? Thank you for your time.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Fri 4 Jun, 2010 07:31 am
@chap9898,
chap9898;172720 wrote:
First, if peace of mind is one's ultimate goal, then it would seem that one should commit suicide as quickly and painlessly as possible...


This doesn't follow. Suicide cannot give piece of mind since a successful attempt would destroy the mind.

chap9898;172720 wrote:
...since continuing to live can only disturb one's mind, without any compensating benefit.


I can't figure how this could be correct in any sense. How'd you come to this conclusion?

chap9898;172720 wrote:
Second, the thesis that pleasure consists simply of the absence of pain (that is, that pleasure is synonymous with peace of mind) appears to be contradicted by the fact that positive feelings (such as euphoria) and negative feelings (such as physical pain) appear to be caused by different brain chemicals and processes. Thus, it appears that pleasure and pain are in some ways independent of each other.


This is interesting. The absence of pain does not necessarily equate to the presence of pleasure; although, I'd say that such a state (absence of pain only) could be called a "degree" towards, or of, pleasure.

chap9898;172720 wrote:
Can any of you provide effective counterarguments in favor of negative hedonism?


Not really, except as a side note to say I've never quite heard it termed this way. I believe that being happy (and in this I mean the relative absence of pain while experiencing a more pleasurable disposition) is a worthy goal. Obviously, pleasure comes from many sources and endeavors, not necessarily the lascivious, gluttonous or debaucherous sources most people instantly equate the term 'pleasure' with.

Thanks
 
Orange Hood
 
Reply Sun 6 Jun, 2010 05:12 pm
@chap9898,
chap9898;172720 wrote:
First, if peace of mind is one's ultimate goal, then it would seem that one should commit suicide as quickly and painlessly as possible, since continuing to live can only disturb one's mind, without any compensating benefit. Such a conclusion seems unacceptable.


I don't think this is a fair criticism of negative hedonism. Firstly, as mentioned above, the destruction of the mind rules out peace of mind. Second, even if one disregards the first flaw one must consider the unspoken presumption made in the critique; that is ending one's life is wrong. Essentially the criticism is saying: "this ethical theory could lead to this behavior which is bad." That is a problematic statement because it can be reduced to "this ethical system is wrong because it has violated the standards of another system of ethics"; which in turn presumes the validity of the system of ethics in which the critique is based.
 
 

 
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