We All Strive for Pleasure and Happiness: Hedonism and Kantianism
Two opposites with a common goal
I was viewing an episode of one of my favorite HBO television series (Merlí: Sapere Aude). There was a contest in a philosophy class where half the students were on the right side, and the other half were on the left. On the left stood those who claimed to be Hedonists, while on the right stood people claiming to be Kantians.
I enjoy philosophy, which I find thrilling. Philosophy is the study of life’s big questions. Questions like “What is the meaning of life?” or “What are morals?” and many more. One question that philosophy looks at is whether pleasure or duty should be what people strive for in their lives. Let’s examine these two opposing philosophies — Hedonism and Kantianism -.
Hedonists and Kantians indeed stand in opposition to one another, but they both share a common interest — what is good for human beings. They have different views on how to implement this goal best.
The Hedonist believes that happiness comes from pursuing what pleases them. While Kantians believe joy can be found through living a moral life by following one’s duty and obeying moral law.
What is Hedonism?
Hedonism is a philosophical doctrine that says pleasure is the highest good. A hedonist strives to maximize their pleasure in life, pursuing any experience that brings them happiness. But, it can be challenging to determine what pleasure is because many factors contribute to it. Some people might view excessive drinking as pleasurable, while others may see this behavior as destructive.
The Hedonist philosophy is the belief that pleasure and happiness alone are what matter in life. This philosophy indicates that one should pursue their pleasure, which means they would be selfish people who only do things to please themselves. If someone can get away with doing something immoral or wrong without consequences, then it’s believed they should go for it because having fun now outweighs any possible long-term effects of getting caught later on down the road.
Contrarily, Kantianism maintains that morality and duty are the essential aspects of life. Whether an action was good or bad depends not on how much you enjoyed yourself but rather if your intentions were pure when performing that act. This philosophy focuses more so on obeying a set standard of what is right and wrong.
What is Kantianism?
Kantians think that good or bad can be found through living a moral life by following duty and obeying moral law. This means they would focus more on the consequences of their actions than on having fun now, regardless of any possible negative ramifications later on in life. Kantian philosophy is always about doing your best to live up to an ethical code no matter how difficult it may prove for you at times.
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who specialized in the philosophy of ethics. Kantianism is an ethical system that is based on the idea of duty. The theory states that humans are autonomous beings, and their behavior should be guided by reason. There are three types of duties: “Duty to Self-Mastery, Duty to Others, and Duty to Universal Law.”
Arguments for Hedonism
1. Principle of Self-Consciousness
The Principle of Self-Consciousness is related to the idea of self-awareness. It means that humans are aware of themselves, but they are also mindful that they are familiar. This is called “reflective self-consciousness.”
2. Principle of the Greatest Happiness
The Principle of the Greatest Happiness is a moral principle proposed by Jeremy Bentham, a philosopher, and social reformer. This principle states that all individuals have a right to have their happiness considered equally and that they should do what will provide the most significant amount of joy to all people.
3. Principle of Minimizing Unhappiness
The principle of minimizing unhappiness is an ethical principle that is used in some forms of Buddhism. The basic idea of this principle is to avoid doing anything that causes unhappiness. This can be translated into everyday life with minor changes such as not getting angry with someone who bumps into you, not gossiping about others, and not taking revenge on people who have wronged you.
Arguments against Hedonism
1. Existence of Pleasure and Pain in the World
The first argument against hedonism is that the world contains evidence of enjoyment and suffering. People go through both pleasant and unpleasant events, such as childbirth and death, daily.
2. Difficulties in Finding Happiness in an Imperfect World
We live in a world of extremes. No matter what angle you look at, there is always room for improvement. This has caused many to feel that they are missing out on something or not happy enough. But, this is not the case. We will never be satisfied because our pursuit of happiness will always be imperfect and will never end, which is why hedonism does not work.
Arguments for Kantianism
1. Duty to Self-Mastery, Duty to Others, and Duty to Universal Law
In a world of “self,” the concept of duty seems to have been lost. We have an obligation to ourselves, but not so much to others. The Talmud teaches that there are three primary duties in life. This is what we must follow for us, and the world around us will be able to flourish.
2. Moral Progress is possible with fulfilling these duties
To understand Kantianism, one must truly understand the duties that must be fulfilled. Four duties must be fulfilled for moral progress to happen. These four duties are Respect Others, Maintain Justice, Keep Promises and Refrain from Treating People as a Means Only.
Arguments against Kantianism
The first argument against this philosophy is its simplicity. It’s easy enough to say, “don’t hurt others,” but when it comes down to doing it, we sometimes fail and fall into the trap of making exceptions or hurting someone else because they’ve wronged you or vice versa.
Another argument against this philosophy is that even though we may try our hardest not to make bad choices, most people lack common sense and will end up breaking one rule before complying with another. This can lead them astray of the philosophy that they are trying to follow.
The third argument against this philosophy is that it’s simply too complex for us to live up to its standards. This philosophy requires a lot of self-discipline and control, which most people do not have, especially considering how easy it can be for our emotions or desires to get in the way of following these rules.
I never considered myself a Hedonist or a Kantian. Although, at times, specific individuals have attempted to label my actions as such. I am now using these philosophies to filter my decisions. What do you think? Is it possible to agree with both views? What about the contradiction between them?
As I said before, both want to achieve “good” for humanity. But their pathways are pretty distinct. I can relate to both phylosophies. What about you? Which one matches your lifestyle better? Do you prefer one philosophy to the other?