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“Eight Theories of Ethics: Hedonism” by Graham Essay

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Updated: Sep 18th, 2022

In this chapter, the author primarily focuses on the philosophical concept of Hedonism. In his analysis, he thoroughly dissects different historical approaches and the evolution of this particular set of views over time (Graham, 2004). The author attempts to highlight the most prominent contradictions that arise from the theory and provide a reasonable assessment of its practical implementation in comparison with other philosophical concepts.

Hedonism suggests that the most desirable life for a human being is the one filled with as much pleasure and as less pain as possible. This idea was first introduced by the Cyrenaics in Ancient Greece. They believed that pleasure is the only natural good that can be recognized universally. The author emphasizes the impossibility of enjoying bodily pleasures without suffering from the consequences of this particular lifestyle.

The theory was later adjusted by the Epicureans who implied that a person should only enjoy gentle pleasures in a relatively mild manner. However, the author deems this approach as questionable due to restrictions one must endure to relish delicate pleasures. He points out that these acquired pleasures can no longer be viewed as natural, and therefore this idea does not correspond to the natural appeal of the original theory.

John Sturt Mill claimed that one should differentiate pleasures in terms of value. He introduced the notion of lower and higher pleasures that bring a different quality of satisfaction. According to the author, such distinction between pleasures is vague and based only on subjective judgment, and thus it raises more questions than settles.

Finally, by referring to Aristotle’s view on pleasure, he discovers the fundamental structural inconsistency within the initial theory. According to the text, persistent hedonists often confuse pleasure with pleasurable sensations. While pain is clearly defined, pleasure appears to be much more complex. Stated examples prove: not all activities that bring joy are necessarily connected with bodily pleasure.

The author indicates that this asymmetry between pain and pleasure within the framework of Hedonism is the reason why the concept ultimately fails to provide clear guidance on how to live the most desirable life. In conclusion, he states that in order to comprehend the image of a good life, we must instead focus on the idea of happiness rather than pleasure.

Reference

Graham, G. (2004). Eight Theories of Ethics. Routledge.

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