Question: What is the hedonistic paradox?
Peter Singer: The hedonistic paradox is something that ancient philosophers were aware of and what they pointed out that people who directly aim at pleasure, it’s where the term hedonism comes from, people who directly point out at pleasure seldom get it. They end up finding the things they thought would give them pleasure, not satisfying, not pleasing to them.
On the other hand, people who don’t aim at pleasure but aim at something else, some activity that’s worthwhile in itself and they get absorbed in the moment of doing what they’re doing and what the psychologists are calling the flow. They actually get enjoyment of fulfillment out of it so the paradox of hedonism is if you want to get more satisfaction, more happiness out of life, don’t aim for happiness, aim for something else.
I sight the paradox of hedonism in response to questions like, well, why should I be moral? Why should I pursue morality? Why shouldn’t I just go after my own happiness? Why shouldn’t I earn what money I can and then retire to the beach where I have beautiful people of the other sex rubbing oil into my skin or whatever your vision of what hedonism might be?
What I argue is that, that’s really not likely to bring you happiness, and you’re more likely to get happiness from doing something that is intrinsically worthwhile, that you can see is worthwhile, and you can take some real satisfaction from when you actually succeed in achieving it.
Recorded on: March 16, 2009
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