Although many try to lean close to Epicurus, wisdom would call for Ethical Hedonism to be updated to stay with our current knowledge, and then receive constant refinement to maintain its inherent integrity. It is, of course, a philosophy and not a religion.
Early advocates of hedonism may have had the right idea if we consider the limited knowledge of their time. The ethical hedonism that got swamped in the public mind by commercialism and zealous propaganda could use some help from modern science to restate its case, and to reclaim its rightful place as the predominant secular philosophy to develop a reasonable defense for atheism, humanism and secularism in general, and the predictive powers of science in particular.
Anybody familiar at all with bicycling will realize the importance of balanced stability to the cyclist’s well being. Even as expressed in early attempts to develop it by Epicurus, hedonism goes far beyond mere pleasure and pain. Thanks to modern science, hedonists can now apply to themselves the idea that the maintenance of balance permeates existence, that nature works toward balanced stability even in such major processes as ecology, evolution, the building of a universe, and every minor feature of it. That Nature does so through the destruction of unbalancing objects and processes in a “may the best one win” fashion is evident without much study. Hedonism is about more than the balance between pleasure and pain, therefore, since it can now be shown how loss of balance can negatively affect all forms of life in nearly every way, and even that which does not live. The universe looks designed? It should. Billions of years of balancing actions should produce that result.
All of those agents of naturalism seem to present a generally covert picture of support for hedonism’s ethical views with little awareness of what a modern, developed hedonism would have to say in their behalf. It seems that secular students of nature gain an innate awareness of that message, but find it hard to express in any meaningful way, mainly because the makeup of our modern cultures inhibits them from overcoming a lifetime of propaganda to gain that kind of knowledge on their own. They surely are not offered courses in it at any schools. They would surely and blindly begin by exploring the over-publicized aspect, pleasure, and never discover the importance of banance on their own.
They may, driven by impulse, gain some experience of the pleasure part, and so end up with some experience of the pain portion, but will not acquire the knowledge that will enable them to make accurate philosophical connections. Most people will never hear such words as ataraxia, eudemonia, disequilibrium, homeostasis, homeorhesis, let alone ever understand their meanings enough to realize their implications to themselves and their behavior. They will never get to read the thoughts of great proponents of hedonism like Epicurus, Hume, or Thomas Jefferson, nor about the gently raging debates spurred by such detractors as Pliney or Socrates. Their cultural and political beliefs will deny them the right to know that, and they will suffer the resultant ignorance as surely as any form of unbalance will induce suffering to a living being.
Picture this: the artificially developed sense of morality that we get coached about from the beginnings of our lives causes us to go through life as though on a right-leaning bicycle, upon which we must raise ourselves up from its seat to lean far enough left to maintain its balance. Political history shows us that if we lean right to match the bicycle, it will dump us. We will shed our blood for that political stance, and risk injury and loss of property. Look at the mess all the recent right-leaning folks have caused in our USA, and are continuing to cause because of their inability to learn from hard experience. There is no relief from guilt, either, for those whose lean leftward was induced by the divisive stance taken by their opponents. To act in contrary response rather than originate new trends and solutions to overcome the pervasive problems invading our world, only places their state of unbalance into opposing disequilibrium.
To a right-leaning person, even the most perfectly balanced, vertically upright stance will appear to be leaning to the left. The same as any political body, a leaning bicycle will travel in circles in an effort to maintain equilibrium, whichever way it tilts. What are the implications of that? A balanced bicycle will maintain an upright stance and undergo straightforward motion. Likewise, a balanced universe will have all its components traveling in such a manner that will limit their interference one against another. Unbalance caused by a rock traveling in an interfering direction will be met by calamity enough so that balance will be restored. Life itself results from a balanced state in an environment that will enable it to arise. Unbalance at any stage will endanger that process, as human beings are almost too slowly beginning to become aware.
Now, you may be cringing at such imbecilic examples, and if so, then heed this demand: Think of any situation involving any component of reality wherein a state of balance is not required, or else does not naturally, eventually result through some process tending toward equilibrium. A sign mounted at the top of a tall post stays up because all the forces involved in it are in balance. Lose some aspect of that complicated set of agents, and the sign will immediately topple. The same is true of a tree, a ship on the ocean, a building of any height on land. A cancer patient is the ultimate human example of unbalanced processes. All the doctors’ efforts go to a semblance of restoration of balance. Failure means the termination of them all for that one individual.
You breathe air while on your bicycle, your breaths coming in pants to match the effort of climbing a hill. You will lose weight if the calories your body consumes while riding that vehicle are not equaled by the contents of your meals. You will gain weight if your meals exceed the calories burned by your daily activities. You will maintain your healthiest body by balancing your intake of nourishment with what you expend, or else suffer the consequences.
Your body also makes other demands of you for its maintenance. Prejudice of any origin interferes with our considerations about some of of those demands by demanding of us to deny our animal natures. Commercial hedonism interferes in an opposite direction by demanding our involvement in a gluttonous way that considers pursuit of pleasure as an end in itself without considering any of the consequences. The consequences of extremism in either direction result from the unbalanced conditions that results from their application.
We are a lazy animal, for the most part. Much of the technology of recent development tends to support that foolish laziness, and maybe inspired much of it. We work at jobs we hate just to pay for that technology, and do little to develop and promote our own innate talents and interests. Unaware of the diseased futures most of us face, we choose the easy path offered by our social structures and pray to our gods that we will somehow avoid the tortured ends we see occurring to dying members of our previous generations. Such unrighteous prayers will be denied. Nature will answer to her forces that demand balance. Like those who drink poison will be poisoned, few will escape the consequences of stress by which our laziness gets maintained.
Those gods to whom we pray result from our intellectual laziness, enforced by the fact that we cannot learn too much about certain subjects before our gods get called into question and then deposed. Our laziness demands that we avoid such a route, and our religious leaders have even created injunctions of sorts against such knowledge. Disingenuous mesmerism cannot be supported by skepticism, but requires artless, naive, gullible trust in our self-appointed mentors, so much so that we label it faith and declare their stories true because we —or they—have said so. When nature demands for balance to be restored, we will bend under the forces she applies so that our self-chosen ignorance lowers our station amongst humanity, our physical effort will struggle to equal what we have failed to gain through the application of our minds to the art of living and the maintenance of balance that we failed to learn.
It is the inclusion of balance as a requirement for moral living that completes hedonism and makes it an ethical statement applicable at all levels of any society. It applies not just to individual persons, but even moreso to groups, the actions of any of which can enhance or diminish the quality of life for numerous people in one swoop.
Think of a group of bicyclists riding along a highway, acting in complete accord, and their effects not only upon themselves, but upon others beyond their group, who may perceive and appreciate a kind of harmonious beauty. Aggressive refusal to give up space on a lane may lead to collisions among the cars attempting to get past them. Accidents with such vehicles will likely result in injury and death to at least some of the bicyclists, and offers a scenario not unlike the conditions found in modern societies all around the globe, wherein the refusal of give and take results in all kinds of violence as nature attempts to maintain stability by imposing balancing forces where required.
We fight against nature when we fight each other, and induce pain where hugs are required to balance relationships. We tend to offer pain where pain exists already. We have killed and injured each other by the millions over a span of time that surpasses the recording of history, and will as likely as not continue doing so in the future, just for that very same reason.
We, who ride bicycles, know the importance of balance and the consequences of failure to maintain it. We are seldom aware of our pursuit as being hedonic, but are aware of how the joy of it can bring us pleasure, and the strengthening burn of our muscles can enhance the joys we can share with others who ride with us. We know we will lose balance sometimes, and that we are then faced with a choice: to blame our injuries onto our bicycles, or to recognize that we toppled over because we became unbalanced. We face those same choices in all categories of life’s activities, and must face them with the same attention to balance or suffer the consequences.