A reflection on Plato’s Philebus
I have previously discussed the nature of pleasure, and have staked my flag in opposition to the hedonistic life. However, I also think it rash to condemn pleasure itself, as it very well could act as an important aspect of our development. As such in this reflection, I will examine the cost of removing pleasure from our own lives before considering the way in which we can implement pleasure in the course of development.
To begin with, we should examine the insensate life, to determine if excising pleasure is a solution to a life of addiction. A person who rejects all forms of pleasure, withdrawing into a sharp form of asceticism, is on the same path as someone who rejects the world, preferring internal contemplation to external action (see on Pure Contemplation). However, a person who pursues this path ignores the possibility that pleasure, as a facet of the human condition, is potentially critical part of human life.
This ascetic, if they are true to their beliefs, must reject pleasure in all its forms. They will not only reject the most extravagant versions of sensation but even its plainer cousins. It is not a matter of abstaining from meat and fine wines but food and drink. It is not a rejection of comfortable clothing or a soft bed, but all protection and sleep. Going to a logical extreme, the ascetic rejects life in its entirety. To conform to their beliefs with true conviction, they should lay still and allow the wasting effects of exposure, starvation and thirst to ravage their frames, destroying the mortal prison of their soul.
However, if we reject the idea of pleasure as pure evil (see on Pleasure), then we can instead begin to see it more clearly as a tool, something that we can utilise to shape our lives and achieve our goals. In fact, I would posit that in the absence of pleasure humanity would languish, unable to be motivated to any goal, slowly decaying into nothingness as the species rots from apathy – pain unable to motivate our senseless bodies.
So with this in mind, we must attempt not to avoid pleasure, but to use pleasure justly. I would argue that this requires us to pursue an understanding of the good life, and how we can delay gratification to stoke the fires in our hearts. Even more important, we should shape our natures so that we derive pleasure from good acts: creation, improvement and selfless service to others. Only then will we mix pleasure and just action in the correct amounts.
Emil Brack, The Discussion, c.1890