Hedonism: What is It?

Three interpretations of hedonism seem to prevail in today’s world: Commonest are the commercial approach and the misapprended misunderstanding derived from that, upon which the religious approach relies. Least common, but most true to hedonism’s origins are the various philosophical hedonisms, including my own Equatarianism and Gaian Ethics that attempts to update hedonism in ways the average person can grasp.

As true hedonism requires a high level of self-control and an advanced ability to cogitate, the philosophy suffers from the absence of metaphorical images available to the commercial and religious presentations, which enabled those to dominate from nearly the beginning of human life. Pitting Hell against Heaven, for a quick example, presents a more immediate pain/pleasure image than unspecified torment that may result from ill-considered questionable actions. Having a mean (tho loving) god to mete out specific dire punishment is far scarier than if Mother Nature threatens you with something that might affect you only if you live long enough. Rewards (pleasure) for good behavior are just as uncertain. You may never suffer obesity if you avoid overeating, and still die a miserable death from some other unforeseeable cause—or become obese due to defective glands. At any rate, those are not behaviors with which religion ordinarily bothers.

People of any organized belief system are left to find their own answers to life’s conundrums. Patriarchal religion’s main moral concern is about property: wives, asses, camels, land; worship and obedience: honoring the god, obeying the god (the priests), keeping holy days; and about relationships: punishments, the governing establishment (the church or equivalent), and the law.

Current forays by some scientists into moral questions are certain to perpetuate the centralism that takes control of morality away from the very people most affected by them, who will suffer most as a result of their inevitable wrong answers. People do not come in one size fits all packages of anything. We are individuals, not composites. We do nothing the same as everybody else. The tendency to establish power centers to control every aspect of existence was inherited from patriarchal religions and does not play at all in the moral interests of a truly free society.

Science must, instead, play an educative role by deducing all of the many links between behavior and the later damage or benefit. Much of that work may already be done, leaving science with a role it has never done well, which is to assure no person alive remains unaware of their findings, their universal importance, potential cost and savings by country and by individual. This ought to be something the church and its equivalents would deem worthy to join in on, for it would give them materials that increase or restore their social relevance, it is work they cannot and should not do, and would give them a voice backed by real, testable, evidence-heavy, constantly updated scientific data.



EQUATARIANISM: A study of Gaian Ethics as derived from the Lovelock/Margulis Gaia Theory combined with Epicurean philosophy. I call my own life philosophy Equatarianism to emphasize the role that maintaining balance plays in it. Keeping a balanced approach helps lessen the effects that outside forces will have against you, as you will be under less strain and so more flexible.

The moral arm of Equatarianism gained (from me) the label Gaian Ethics to recognize the large role that Gaia Theory plays within all the processes of existence, as all kinds of balances have been established and maintained within Nature’s processes.

Equatarian (Gaian) morality requires consideration of:

  • Is justice served? Who bears the cost for these actions must be the same as who gains the reward.
  • Who will suffer so I can make a gain? The same as the first consideration, justice (in hedonism) requires that to induce suffering in another imposes a penalty (pain) onto that person for which he or she deserves a reward (pleasure). This idea goes to the heart of hedonism as a philosophy and the origin of its name.
  • Who may apply the principle of reciprocity against me? Do I aim for reciprocity to punish me or reward me? (Would others judge my interactions good?—or bad?—by what standards?)
  • Do I treat others according to their reasonable wishes or according to my own?—or am I capable of reaching win/win compromises?
  • Do I honor the rights of all others the same as I honor my own? They are strong who can listen to and question opinions that differ from their own without anger. They are weak and insecure who respond with strong words, threats, and acrimony toward the person but offer no explanation of how they perceived error, nor evidence in their own behalf, nor much of value that applies to the subject being discussed.
  • Cause no harm: Do I avoid making inflammatory statements against those whose beliefs differ from my own? Words have the power to stir the passions and incite rage that can turn calm people into murderous-but-thoughtless bullies. Weak-minded people, their imaginations already primed and receptive, gain a perverse kind of pleasure that seems addictive, some of whom will fantasize about themselves acting against the victims at whom such statements were aimed. In such cases, why should not the makers of such statements be considered equally as guilty as those who acted on their hateful words?
    • Slavery, the holding of others in bondage with meager or no reward, especially to reap the benefit of their efforts, is a theft of another person’s life as surely as is murder.
    • Rape, the sexual forcing of one person’s will onto another, invades a person’s right to free choice and induces trauma from which the victim may never recover.
    • Stealing, the removal or use of property without permission, also the forcing of one person’s will onto another. That one person gets recognized as a victim can serve as warning against taking such actions in any case.
    • Murder, the forcing of one person’s will against another to end a life, exemplifies an extreme act of thievery.
    • Assault, slander, libel, fraud, bribery, act as lesser forms of murder against the victims.
    • Right to life, the pitting of a life already matured against one with little development; the right to limit one’s own bloodline.
    • The right to freedom from injury,
    • The right to privacy.   Dilemmas such as between stealing food and letting a starving family perish. Dying to rescue another. Choosing which of two people to save when it’s obvious you can only rescue one.
    • Develop a decision tree based on the latest science and your studies about ethics

A free PDF download I recommend to anyone who cares to update their knowledge about this important, little understood subject. I have no connection to this file other than as a reader who recognized its value. Just click on the title or link and go get it free: The Evolution of Morality http://www1.umn.edu/ships/evolutionofmorality/library/EvolutionOfMorality.pdf

Animals exhibit a wide range of behaviors. They forage. They defend themselves against predators. Sometimes they play. They reproduce, at times with spectacular displays. They learn. But perhaps the most striking from an evolutionary perspective is that they sometimes cooperate or help others. Why?

Morality seems to defy the image of natural selection as “selfish,” favoring only traits that benefit the individual in a competitive “struggle for existence.” Given the importance of morality for human society, this puzzle is a major challenge for science. How do biologists interpret such behavior? How could morality originate in an evolutionary context?

Do those who criticize science by calling it a religion intend to debase their own religion by so doing?


Copyright ©2014 by Lloyd H. Whitling. Permission to excerpt is granted if accompanied with credit to the author. Permission to reuse whole and unchanged is granted only if accompanied with this notice and proper credit. All other rights reserved.