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Hedonism and Stoicism - A Guide to Happiness

Hedonism and Stoicism - A Guide to Happiness

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Published by Dustin Cassell

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Published by: Dustin Cassell on Mar 03, 2011
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Hedonism and Stoicism – The Roots of Happiness (Part 1)Dustin Cassell3/2/2011
Part 1: Introduction
“The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and toend with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.” - Bertrand Russell
If one takes a coin and examines it, one finds that both sides of the coin aredifferent, and yet both sides come together to make up the same coin. In life, wehave the same conundrum, i.e. we have pleasure and pain – both of which are
vestiges du passé
, relics of evolution, a testament of our past and of our future;the substratum of two philosophical pillars – Hedonism and Stoicism. In this paperwe'll examine the origins of these two schools of thought, their meaning, and thesubsets of their existence. We'll also look at Bertrand Russell's views on what itmeans to be idle and what he means by useless knowledge – whether the twoexist in reality or even in this day and age. We'll ask fundamental questions e.g.,“Are we moving towards a society where we work less or more?,” “Is there such athing as useless knowledge,” and, “Is all
 
knowledge power?” Each of thesequestions are subsets of of hedonism and stoicism which will be further detailed inwhat follows.
Part 2: Hedonism and Stoicism
“One of life's most over-valued pleasures is sexual intercourse; one of life's least appreciatedpleasures is defecation.” - Mark Twain
Hedonism can roughly be defined as a philosophy where the pursuit of immediate pleasure and happiness becomes the focal point of one's lifestyle. Thisdefinition specifically states hedonism is the pursuit of “immediate” pleasure and
 
happiness, which shortly will become important as we define the flip-side of thecoin – stoicism. The flip-side we note is the philosophy where the eschewal of pain emerges as the centrality of one's existence. In general, the momentaryavoidance of pain may not lead to immediate pleasure. However over time, in thelong run, it may result in a summation of pleasure greater than what would beobtained through hedonism, and here in lies the paradox. The hedonist whichseeks momentary pleasure may inadvertently bring about a future which lacks theoriginal gratification sought. The person momentarily avoiding pain might giverise to a future in which there is only pain. The problem with both schools of thought is that they lack foresight, the live in the moment attitude has a total lackof depth; and although it can be argued that one should always live in themoment, doing so may contradict the very essence of the original schools of thought!If we will still lived in a Newtonian world, we could view the two philosophiesand the people who subscribe to them as absolutes – just as some view liberalsand conservatives. However we no longer live in a Newtonian world, and life isnot so black and white. It is true that most people subscribe to a mixture of thetwo philosophies. In fact, it would be very short-sighted to yield only to one or theother. The only people in this world that carry one-sided coins are magicians andcon-artists. Now some would argue that a magician and a con-artist are one inthe same, but are they really? To put it differently, the analogy is quite simple,those in life who are a hundred percent hedonistic or a hundred percentphilosophically stoic are extremely rare. We can easily imagine a number of scenarios where a sequence of events may immediately result in either that of 
 
pleasure or of the avoidance of pain, but later may result in the contrary. Knowingthis, it can be only logical to subscribe to a mixture of both, so that the contrarydoes not occur “later.”We've already used the analogy that both philosophies are really just twosides of the same coin. Consequently we must now address the prospect of whether each differ at all theoretically, or if they merely put a different emphasison how one should live life. Naturally as noted above, both philosophies aredifferent sides of the same coin, where the coin is the decision one makes at anynon-specific point in one's life. We can now say that the two sides, i.e. hedonismand stoicism, are guidelines for living in the moment. In reality most people arenot so short-sighted. The point is, we often take into regard what the future holds,we even try our best at the mystical idea of precognition, using logic and empathyas our scyring tools... or at least most of us. Some resort to Tarot cards, crystalballs, and chopped liver. But no matter how we attempt to see the future, we'relikely to employ a mixture of hedonism and stoicism, so that either pleasure orthe avoidance of pain may be extended throughout the duration of our lifetime.In other words, they absolutely differ, not only theoretically but in actuality, inthat the consequence of their usage has varying results in any given situation.
Part 3: Idleness
“The condition of perfection is idleness: the aim of perfection is youth.” - Oscar Wilde
In Bertrand Russell's essay “In Praise of Idleness,” he discusses ourfantasies of prolonged idleness. It can be reasoned that to some degree we allenjoy being idle – i.e. we enjoy our days at the beach in Nantucket wearingnothing but whale pants and drinking whale ale – essentially having a whale of a

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