With Will Ross
Meaning of Life
When I was younger I equated hedonism - the pursuit of happiness - with a lifestyle dedicated to gluttony, sloth and lust. And while these are a part of the hedonistic lifestyle, they are only a small part of it. There is much, much more to the pursuit of ethical hedonism. In fact the pursuit of ethical hedonism is hard work.
Another misconception that I harboured about hedonism was that it was self-centred. Ethical hedonism is more inclusive than the self-centred picture that I had. Ethical hedonism involves working towards an improved quality of life for all people, not just in our own community or even our own lifetime, but for all people everywhere of this, and future generations.
I am motivated towards ethical hedonism by the belief that this is the only life we will ever have. I believe that when we are dead we are dead. That's it - there is no more - there are no second chances. This is not a dress rehearsal for another life; this is the only chance we have to get it right.
So how does one go about pursuing a life of ethical hedonism? You may be familiar with the serenity prayer that is recited at AA meetings. 'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference'. Ethical hedonists share this goal, except they usually rely on reason rather than God to provide them with the qualities they seek.
I like to start with the conservationists' motto: Act locally, think globally. That means that I firstly take responsibility for my own well being, not in a selfish way, but in an enlightened self-interested way. "What's the difference?" I hear you ask.
Selfishness is caring only about yourself with no regard for others. Selflessness is caring only about others with no regard for yourself. Enlightened self-interest is a middle-of-the-road course. It means that by looking after yourself - your physical and mental health - you can be more effective in helping others to help themselves.
There's another ethical reason for looking after your own well being: There is already enough suffering in the world. By making yourself miserable, you only add to that suffering. By making sure that you are taken care of, you reduce the sum total of suffering in the world.
Ethical hedonists are concerned not only with their own well being, but the welfare of others. To this extent, many of them - myself included - follow Marx's maxim: From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs. John Lennon espoused the same philosophy in his song 'Imagine', "No need for greed or hunger."
On a global level, ethical hedonists are concerned with the elimination of poverty, ignorance, superstition, violence and war, exploitation, and environmental degradation. We believe that science and education are the best tools to eliminate these scourges and ensure the continued prosperous existence of life on this planet.
Up until now, I have focussed on the negative aspects of human existence, and it would be easy to see ethical hedonists as a dour lot without an ounce of frivolity in their bodies. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Ethical hedonists believe that life is to be celebrated. We only get one shot at it, so let's enjoy it. We live on a gorgeous planet in a truly amazing universe. We marvel at the Earth's bio-diversity, the setting sun, the night sky, snow-capped mountains, the awesome power of a cyclone, and the million and one other wonders of nature.
We revel in mankind's ability to make music, to use language to persuade and to move, to dance and to laugh. We enjoy sport for its sheer fun and its focus on human potential as athletes of varying ability seek to do their best. We aim to empower all individuals to follow their chosen dream, to gain maximum pleasure from their time on Earth.
While ethical hedonists enjoy moments of solitude and engage in many reflective moments, they enjoy life most when they are sharing it with others. Ethical hedonists are motivated by love and compassion for their fellow citizens and seek to understand and empathise with those who come from different backgrounds and lifestyles.
Ethical hedonists recognise that true fulfilment comes from dedicating themselves to long term projects that focus on others. That's why you often find them not only in the caring professions, but also in teaching positions, in science and in art.
One of the advantages of ethical hedonism is that it draws its inspiration from a number of very different sources. In this regard, Paul's letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13) would not be entirely out of place in the philosophy of ethical hedonism. While we might eschew faith, we would never reject hope or love. I'm reminded of the West Indian cricketer, Desmond Haynes, who had a pendant that he wore around his neck throughout his playing days that read: Laugh, Learn, Love. That very well could be the motto of ethical hedonists who would probably agree with Paul that the greatest of these is Love.
It's not always easy to follow these ideals. However, in the words of John Lennon "You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us. And the world can live as one."
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