One man's look at hedonism

This article by Dan Polansky investigates various sorts of hedonism—seeking pleasure as an ultimate aim—and their possible criticism and defense.

Definition of hedonism edit

A broad definition of "hedonism" could be this. A hedonism is any of various stances or doctrines that link pleasure to a person's ultimate pursuit, the "intrinsic good", the "intrinsic value", or that which is "morally right". Thus, a hedonism is a stance that links A to B, where A is "my pleasure", "the largest pleasure of the largest numbers", and the like, and B is "that which I actually ultimately pursue", "that which I ought to ultimately pursue", "that which is of intrinsic value as opposed to instrumental value" or even "that which is intrinsic value".

Descriptive hedonism, normative hedonism, evaluative hedonism, motivational hedonism, psychological hedonism, and elective hedonism: Various sorts of hedonism can be distinguished depending on whether the hedonism speaks of what is the case or of what ought to be the case. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article "Hedonism" (further "SEP") speaks of "normative hedonism", "motivational hedonism", and "psychological hedonism", focusing on the former two, mentioning the last one only as a superclass of motivational hedonism. I am rather unhappy with this terminology, and introduce a slightly modified version of it: "descriptive hedonism", "evaluative hedonism", "normative hedonism", and "elective hedonism". My notion of normative hedonism is distinct from the one of SEP: a hedonism is normative if it speaks of what "ought to be the case", or if it defines "morally right" and "morally wrong". By contrast, an evaluative hedonism is, by my stipulation of the term, a doctrine that speaks of "intrinsic value" rather than "morally right". Thus, a person can be called an evaluative hedonist if he chooses pleasure as his ultimate pursuit for his conviction that pleasure is the only thing of "intrinsic value", whether his own pleasure or the largest pleasure of the largest numbers, or of the sort. Finally, I stipulate an "elective hedonism" as a stance of a person who says that he has freely chosen to pursue his own pleasure, the largest pleasure of the largest numbers, or whatever, without saying anything about "morally right", "intrinsic value", "highest good", and the like. In particular, an "elective egoistic hedonist" says this: "I have freely chosen to pursue my own pleasure as my ultimate aim".

Egoistic hedonism, universalistic hedonism: The division into "egoistic hedonism" and "universalistic hedonism" refines hedonism by answering the question "whose pleasure?". A hedonism is egoistic if it says that the person's pleasure is his ultimate aim, ought to be his ultimate aim, or whatever else a hedonism can be saying of pleasure. A hedonism is universalistic if it says that the largest pleasure of the largest numbest or the like is the person's ultimate aim, ought to be his ultimate aim, what not. A normative universalistic hedonism is identical or similar to utilitarianism of J. S. Mill. In this article, the main focus is on varieties of egoistic hedonism.

Definition of pleasure edit

Pleasure seems hard to define. It could be defined as "good feeling a person has" as implied in the phrases "I feel good" and "it feels good", but it only begs the question of what is meant by "good". It could be defined as "a feeling that seems worthy of seeking for its own sake", with the emphasis that it "seems worthy" rather than "being worthy". This abstract definition can be supplemented by listing things that people do in order to feel pleasure, such as eating ice cream, scratching an itch, watching movies, doing sports, playing games, solving puzzles, going places, or copulating, and by listing events that trigger pleasure in people, such as learning that one's mother's surgery went well, or that a favorite sports team has won a game. A person who is pleased or feels pleasure can show a distinct expression on their face, which can further help establish what is meant by "pleasure" in the language community. Furthermore, physical pain and its analogues including anguish are ranked as displeasure and automatically fed into the value of "pleasure" with negative sign in the various definitions of hedonism: they subtract from the felt pleasure. One could define a variety of hedonism that disregards pain and only counts pleasure, but it is doubtful that a living person ever proposed such a variety in earnest. One could further investigate the semantic relationship of "pleasure" to "happiness", "gladness", "joy", and "merriness", a task that I mostly give up on, assuming that most of these words are hyponyms of pleasure, being more specific. These words are sometimes used synonymously, but not all these candidate synonymies are plausible from the standpoint of customary usage of language: a person can enjoy eating ice cream without being merry. This short sketch, as imperfect as it may be, seems better than no attempt at a definition at all.

Criticism edit

Elective egoistic hedonism can be criticized above all for its being immoral, in the rough and broad sense of harmful to other people or society. The sort of hedonism so criticized is both short-term and long-term hedonism; term does not matter; what matters is that it is an egoistic hedonism or aiming at one's own pleasure as the only ultimate aim, or self-pleasure-seeking. While some people feel displeased with the anticipatory idea of their committing immoral acts and also feel displeased in retrospect, experience shows that not all people are displeased with their performing acts harmful to other people and society in general, such as groundless killing of another person on a whim.

Elective egoistic hedonism can achieve morality, so some authors[who]. It is through pangs of conscience before committing an immoral act, through remorse after committing an immoral act, through reciprocal benefaction, and fear of retaliation.

Normative egoistic hedonism ("You ought to pursue your own pleasure as your ultimate aim") can be criticized as follows. A conceptual distinction between "displeasing to the actor" and "immoral" needs to be upheld. When parents teach children what is moral and what is immoral, and what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, they cannot do so in terms of pleasure experienced by the child; in particular, they cannot say "if you do as you please, that is moral" (beware that this may be a mere turn of phrase). While there is certain displeasure at performing immoral acts in most people, the displeasure depends on and stems from the person's ranking an act as immoral; if the notion of immorality in its turn is determined solely in terms of one's pleasure and displeasure, we have a vicious circle, it seems. This criticism applies to egoistic hedonism rather than universalistic hedonism known under the Millian head of "utilitarianism". The utilitarian may be pleased with his being an utilitarian, but his utilitarianism consists in his aiming at some aggregate pleasure of all the people, not at his own pleasure.

A different phrasing of some of the above on elective elective hedonism: The conscience has to know somehow what is right and what is wrong, and a particular account of what is right and wrong is a particular ethical theory. If the ethical theory that one's own pleasure is the right measure of right and wrong is wholeheartedly accepted, then the question of what is right and wrong is replaced by the question of what is pleasant to oneself, meaning that the part of displeasure generated by conscience is fed again into the conscience's consideration, a circle that may be not vicious, but looks suspect anyway.

Disambiguation of "moral": I read "moral" roughly as "avoiding harm to other people or society" rather than "of or relating to a person's ultimate aim"; another option would be "of or relating to norms that society enforces through frowning upon, and ultimately banishing". Evaluative hedonism is per my definition a unifying answer to the question of what to ultimately value, subsuming both moral and non-moral decisions; normative hedonism subsumes only moral decisions.

Normative egoistic hedonism appears absurd if turned into a point of legal code. Imagine a murderer explaining to the judge that killing the victim has produced extreme ecstasy in the murderer, and that he does not feel any remorse, a painful displeasing feeling. Under the normative hedonistic account, the person's not feeling any remorse speaks in favor of the criminal deed. This, again, does not apply to Millian universalistic hedonism AKA utilitarianism.

Put differently, even if I aimed at my pleasure as the sole ultimate aim, I doubt that I would think that I ought to do so. It would be foolish for me to try to convince other people that they should aim at their pleasure as the sole ultimate aim, as some of them are sadists and take pleasure in things I find repulsive and morally unacceptable. I should actually prefer that they aim at my pleasure, a position I am unlikely to sell to them.

All criticism of one's pleasure as the sole ultimate aim can be dismissed on the ground that it is each candidate ultimate aim that defines what is ultimately good for the person, so each ultimate aim affirms of itself that it is good and beyond reproach. But it is a bit like a liar claiming that he is an utter truth-teller. I do not want to deny the fundamental division between descriptions and valuations. I even in a way accept the raised point, at the bottom of my intellectual honesty. But I do not think I accept it as an argument in a real discussion between two or more people. What does the argument claim? Does it claim that each ultimate aim is equally good? This cannot be the case once the meaning of "good" is fixed in that sentence, other than "good" being a constant function. It cannot be that the meaning of "good" is substituted per ultimate aim. The discussed claim can be formulated in this way: A x,y: ultimateAim(x) and ultimateAim(y) => goodness(x) = goodness(y). Whatever the definition of goodness, it does not depend on the ultimate aim of which it is predicated. In order for an ultimate aim to define the meaning of "good" when applied to an ultimate aim, the formulation would have to be relativized: A x,y: ultimateAim(x) and ultimateAim(x) => goodness(x,x) = goodness(y,y), where goodness(a,b) is the goodness of a as evaluated on the basis of b. Another option is to give up predicating good and goodness of ultimate aims. Anyway, the points that I have raised in previous paragraphs assumed that this apparently bulletproof defense against any criticism whatsoever is refused, refused perhaps in part for its absolute watertightness, on the analogy of refusing non-falsifiable claims as scientific.

Ultimate aim vs ultimate good: In the previous paragraph, I have played with the idea that each ultimate aim could define the specific meaning of the term "ultimately good" or "ultimate good", and thus pronounce itself "ultimately good". I think this idea is untenable per common usage of the adjective "good". It comes down to whether some shared meaning of "good" is presupposed between people (or other communicating agents), and on what level of abstraction or indirection this meaning is shared. The term "a person's ultimate aim" does not break the requirement of a shared meaning of an adjective, as the only adjective used is "ultimate" in the sense "not serving merely as a means".

A dialogue on moral criticism of elective egoistic hedonism:

  • A: In elective egoistic hedonism, the term "moral" does not program on "pleasure"; by contrast, it informs pleasure. That is good. But no significant moral guarantee is given by elective hedonism, as we do not know how much displeasure an immoral act creates, relative to pleasure gained from certain acts classified as immoral.
  • B: So what?
  • A: So I say that people who decide to aim at their pleasure as one of their ultimate aims should add keeping morality as another of their ultimate aims, constraining the action motivated by pleasure. The displeasure generated by conscience seems an insufficient guarantee of moral action.
  • B: If the displeasure generated by conscience is not that which deters an agent from transgressing, then I do not know what does.
  • A: Elective hedonism is the one that involves a free choice without reference to "highest good", "intrinsic value" or the like, but also without claiming that everyone is driven by pleasure anyway. But your last point implies a descriptive hedonistic stance.

One's pleasure may be chosen as the sole ultimate aim; that is what elective egoistic hedonism involves. Yet this ultimate aim appears to be a means of sort, a means to the implied goals of the implied agent that has created the organs and bodily systems that produce pleasure. The only unifying implied aim that I can discern is the reproduction of the genes, which in its turn requires the survival of the individual and roughly his reproduction or at least reproduction of his close or more distant relatives. I find being controlled by this implied further removed aim somewhat disconcerting.

Evaluative egoistic hedonism ("One's pleasure is the only thing of intrinsic value") can be criticized on the following questions: how do you know it? If Simplicio says that it is freely chosen, the question of knowledge becomes harder to pursue; the mechanism of choice is deliberately left in clouds. But if Simplicio is Epicurus and says that pleasure is a sensory source of information about value and goodness, my question is why should pleasure be accepted uncritically, given what we see with our eyes is not accepted uncritically: optical illusions and hallucinations.

A dialogue on the knowledge of pleasure's intrinsic value:

  • A: I admit that pleasure has the immediate appearance of seek-worthiness for its own sake, that is, not as a means to something else. But how do you know that this immediate appearance is not deceptive? Even such a sophisticated organ as the human eye, combined with the sophisticated visual processing that together with the eye makes up human vision, is liable to optical illusions. Why should the analogues of external senses—the information channels through which the conscious part of the mind learns about the presence or absence of pleasure—be taken uncritically as utterly reliable?
  • B: First, I am not sure I will be able to answer the question about my knowledge of seek-worthiness of pleasure. The seek-worthiness of pleasure seems obvious to me, beyond doubt. Similarly, the existence of the cup that I see seems obvious to me, yet the cup that I see is a model in the mind built based on retinal data, so its existence is philosophically uncertain. A more important question is whether the pleasure sense or senses implied in what you said were really analogues of external senses, or whether they were fundamentally different. Yet another question is whether human vision, even when accepted critically and corrected by comparison with prior beliefs or posterior tests, should be taken as utterly reliable.
  • A: I actually do not say that the critical attitude requires an uncritical reception of criticism-augmented human vision. Even after criticism has been applied to human vision, the knowledge obtained from it remains tentative in principle. Whereas the self-pleasure-seeker proposed his own pleasure as an ultimate aim.
  • C: That depends on whether the theory of the self-pleasure-seeker should be read as literal and perfectly precise and accurate. It may much more be the case that the self-pleasure-seeker has accepted some rough and broad stance of seeking his own pleasure.
  • D: In some sense, one's own pleasure is not the true ultimate aim; there is no true ultimate aim. To use the term "ultimate good" and "highest good" is misleading, as there is no such thing. A decision to aim at one's own pleasure as the ultimate aim is a person's free decision, one that does not rest on knowledge of anything. The question "how do you know" is not a factual question; it is a question about what decision procedure has been used.
  • A: But my point is that I actually admit the apparent seek-worthiness of pleasure, based on my human experience; I am not a Martian researcher. Whereas you, D, seem to give up any justification of your choice of the ultimate aim.
  • D: Justification of my choice of my ultimate aim? To whom? To a looming powerful figure who threatens me with death unless I provide to him a justification? A true justification or one that will be convincing to the looming powerful agent? If a choice is free, it lacks justification; it still has a causation, but not a justification.
  • A: A free choice lacks justification? I don't think so. It possibly lacks trace, but it should still be justified as allowable.
  • D: Okay, if that is what you have meant by justification, then my justification (explanation that I should be allowed to do so, not derivation of my choice) for my choice is the following: my moral sense is set up in certain way, and it produces pleasure and displeasure, so the community does not need to feel threatened by my being a self-pleasure-seeker. Note that I do not define or instantiate "moral" as "pleasing to me"; I only identify "my ultimate aim" with "my pleasure". So "my ultimate aim" programs on "my pleasure" by my choice and "my pleasure" programs on "my acting in morally acceptable way" by my biological setup and parental programming. So in a way, I am not really a normative egoistic hedonist. I may even not be a hedonist at all in the sense "he who claims that one's pleasure is the ultimate good", because I deny that the term "the ultimate good" has any extensional meaning (see Frege and his "the least rapidly convergent series"). I have merely freely chosen to aim at my pleasure as my ultimate aim.
  • A: This is an impressive justification or defense. The only weak spot in it, if at all, is the term "free choice". That free choice had to be made in the brain, somehow. But you, D, do not claim that you have made that choice based on pleasure; you possibly admit that you have made that choice unconsciously (without conscious access to what went on during the choice) based on something else. So there is something unconscious that is more ultimate than the conscious ultimate aim, but (a) it remains unclear whether the "aim" relationship still applies when crossing the boundary between conscious and unconscious, and (b) you are not saying that the unconscious choice of pleasure is based on pleasure. So you really are using something that I will term intuition for lack of better term in order to pick your pleasure rather than some other ultimate aim.
  • E: The question of knowledge is not altogether addressed by "free choice". The arguing with "free choice" would be worthy of further scrutiny, but digging into this any further would be a demanding enterprise. It goes back to the subject of traceability. And it in principle goes into the direction in which elective and evaluative becomes conflated with descriptive: the choice of the person gets reduced to the algorithms of choice actually implemented in the person by biology, even if these algorithms are algorithms for the choice of algorithms or informal procedures. (An example of meta-algorithm or rule: "Choose a method that seems acceptable to some reference community.")

"Everyone aims at their own pleasure ultimately, so I cannot be blamed for doing as everyone else." This is a sly argument. It rests on the assumption that "I cannot be blamed for doing as everyone else" or "I cannot be blamed for doing the same thing as everyone else". The trick is where one locates "the same". One person kills for pleasure, another cares for sick people for pleasure; qua pleasure they are doing the same. But, interestingly, qua doing they are doing the same; once doing is stripped of all the specificity, it remains the same. Also, qua aiming and qua aiming at one's ultimate aim they are doing the same. So put more abstractly, "I am just aiming at my ultimate aim just like everyone else, so I don't see how I can be blamed." The antecedent is right, but the consequent is simply unacceptable for any group of survival-worthy agents. A person can be blamed for their choice of their ultimate end. "I cannot help it, so I cannot be blamed" is along the lines "I am a deterministic machine, so I cannot be blamed". But, in my view anyway, deterministic machines can be blamed and should be blamed.

Descriptive egoistic hedonism claims that each person is motivated by his own pleasure and only by it. It acknowledges that people vastly differ in what makes them feel pleasure, or what pleases them. All following objections to this theory raised by me are non-moral, and I see no point in raising moral objections.

My first objection to this theory, a weak one, is that not all human behavior is intentional and mediated by the brain, as is the case of spinal reflexes. In a spinal reflex, a movement of a skeletal muscle is triggered by a stimulus that is not relayed to the brain, but rather is handled by a few neuron bodies in the spinal cord. But I admit that spinal reflexes have nothing to do with larger aims of people, and with their life planning and life styles. Some people decide to spend a lot of time traveling for fun, other work hard to leave legacy to their children, skipping vacations. These sorts of long-term behaviors are unlinked to spinal reflexes. So I consider my objection refuted. I mention it for its clarifying effect on the phrase "what motivates humans"; this phrase has to be read in such a way that the objection does not apply.

My second objection is the lack of testability of the theory, which involves the failure of the theory to give an operational definition of "pleasure" and the lack of specifying parameters of hedonism, such as discounting rate or risk-aversion towards future pleasure. The discounting rate has to be chosen; such a discounting rate can be chosen that pleases the person at the point of the choice. But that discloses fundamental ambiguity in descriptive hedonism: what if a person is displeased with aiming at future pleasing moments? What are the time parameters or time behavior of this allegedly tautological pleasure-seeking? What experiments could refute the theory?

Rats: There is some experiment with rats whose pleasure centers have been stimulated by the experimenters after they press some button; this leads to the starvation of the rats[cite]. This would speak in favor of descriptive hedonism in rats. But then, did the rats aim at pleasure or were actually controlled by it? By how time-distant pleasure were the rats controlled?

A dialogue on the modified rat:

  • A: Did the modified rat who died of starvation actually aim at pleasure?
  • B: Yes.
  • A: How long was the term of the pleasure at which the rat aimed?
  • B: I do not know, but my estimate would be that it was really a short-term or very short-term one. One problem is with the verb "aim" as applied to rat; it is unclear whether the rat was in any sense conscious of aiming at anything.
  • A: Should have the modified rat aimed at pleasure?
  • B: Admittedly, no, in order to stay alive longer.
  • A: Was it the rat's moral obligation to aim at his own pleasure?
  • A: How do we know that the rat aimed at or was controlled by an analogue of human pleasure?
  • B: We know it by comparing the neuroanatomical structures of rats and humans, and we think to have identified pleasure centers in humans, that is center such that, when stimulated, produce something of which the subjects of the experiment verbally confirm that it is pleasure.

Why the dialogue? Because B needs to commit himself to meanings of words, step at a time, more so that we do not have a solid operational definition of pleasure.

A dialogue on the release of hormones into bloodstream as the ultimate aim:

  • B: It's all hormones. Everyone pursues things that give the required hormonal response.
  • A: George Mallory, a British mountaineer who died during one of his expeditions to Mount Everest, was motivated by his fascination with (achieving the goal of) climbing up the mountain. He did not have in his mind as the goal the exhilaration that is likely to come after he succeeds. He could expect to feel exhilarated after his success, but such an exhilaration could come after another achievement as well. There was some process in his mind through which he decided that this goal was extremely worthy to him, a process that is far from scrutable. This process is not meaningfully expressed as a release of hormones into bloodstream. Above all, the hormones do not really carry all that much information. Their release is governed by some logic or algorithm. Also, their release is not directly available to the consciousness of Mallory, unless he has some measuring device attached to his bloodstream.
  • B: Hormones, and epinephrine in particular, are going to be released to the bloodstream. The hypothesis that Mallory pursues reaching the mountaintop as his ultimate aim is no less speculative and untestable than the hypothesis that Mallory pursues the release of hormones into his bloodstream as his ultimate aim. Mallory has already climbed lower peaks, so he knows that reaching the mountaintop tends to create certain sort of experience or feeling.
  • A: Mallory cannot pursue release of hormones when he does not even know that there are hormones and that they are released into bloodstream.
  • B: Of course, Mallory pursues the pleasing experience that accompanies the release of epinephrine into the bloodstream. He pursues whatever sensations or other things enter his consciousness when the hormone is released into his bloodstream.
  • A: But not only release of epinephrine is pleasing. The pleasingness, as far as I can see, does not account for the specificity of Mallory's pursuit.
  • C: It is not only that hormones are going to be released to the bloodstream after his hitting the target. Also, there is going to be an increased heart rate. There has to be some specificity about the predicate. The awareness of achieving the long-sought goal generates some bodily responses that may be specific to achieving a long-sought goal. But are the macroscopic responses, such as the hormonal ones, specific? Various hormones are released into the bloodstream on all sorts of occasions. The predicate "hormones are being released into the bloodstream of the person" is wholly non-specific: hormones are being released all the time. It is as specific as "the heart of the person beats" or "the neurons of the person are conducting signals".
  • D: The non-observationality of hormones for a non-specialist is a good point. I really do not know what we are talking about as regards hormones: I have no practical access to levels of hormones in my bloodstream, and no way to empirically test various claims made about hormones and their correlation with certain experiences. Statements in terms of thrilling experiences make more sense to me.

Paradox of hedonism edit

The paradox of hedonism is the claim, whether true or false, that a person who is rationally or with full awareness directly pursuing his pleasure as his ultimate aim is unlikely to attain it. The paradox is sometimes formulated using "happiness" instead of "pleasure". Several authors mention the paradox, including J. S. Mill and Henry Sidgwick. The validity of the paradox is unclear. The phrase "pursue one's pleasure as one's ultimate aim" is not wholly clear, as no time-value of pleasure or discounting rate for pleasure as known from finance is specified, and too many other details are left open, including how the success in such aiming is to be determined at the end of the life of the person, if at all. No empirical proof has been given, merely an opinion that the paradox could be true based on personal experience, possibly affirmed by further quotations from writers who have stated the paradox.

Paradox of hedonism or pleasure-seeking, a dialogue:

  • A: Direct pursuit of pleasure is in vain: the harder you try, the less pleasure you get.
  • B: That sounds as implausible as anything. The last time I wanted to feel pleasure, I have bought ice cream, and I felt pleasure as expected.
  • A: But were you really maximizing pleasure? It seems that you wanted to add a little bit of pleasure rather than maximize pleasure. In order to maximize pleasure, you would have to try really hard.
  • B: If my experience shows that a little bit of ice cream once in a while causes pleasure while additional ice cream does not generate any additional pleasure after certain frequency, then the perfectly rational thing to do in order to maximize that pleasure which stems from ice cream is to choose an optimal frequency and volume of ice cream. I do not see that I should try "harder" in such a way that I would predictably miss the goal of maximum pleasure. This sort of "trying harder" is not really a rational maximization of a variable that takes full advantage of past experience with the behavior of the controlled system in question.

Whether "happiness" can be substituted for "pleasure" without substantial modification of the semantics of the paradox is unclear. While he who has just eaten ice cream may have a pleasing experience, it is doubtful that he is thereby automatically happy, per the customary use of the words "pleasure", "pleasing", and "happy". J. S. Mill's redefinition of "happiness" as pleasure minus pain, where pain includes not only physical pain but also anguish, does not seem to match usual linguistic usage of those terms. Interestingly, Henry Sidgwick seems to use "pleasure" and "happiness" as if they were interchangeable.

What should an hedonist do about the paradox? If an elective egoistic hedonist accepts the hedonistic paradox as true, what should he do to fight its consequences? Should he engage is some sort of self-deception, by which he convinces himself that he now aims at, say, the happiness of others as his ultimate aim, while deep in his heart he still knows that he has chosen his "ultimate" aim only as a means to his own happiness? These questions raise further questions as to what does it really mean to aim at a thing as an ultimate aim, or what does it mean to aim at it directly, questions that I do not address in this article. One resolution could be this strategy a hedonist could try. Never monitor the level of your pleasure or happiness; never ask yourself whether you are pleased or happy; always choose some objectives that are distinct from pleasure and happiness, and measure your success by measuring the degree of achievement of these objectives.

Selected quotations relating to the paradox of hedonism follow, either because of their beauty, or also because of the notability of their authors.

Wayne W. Dyer on happiness paradox, allegedly quoting C. L. James, but the quotation is only found online in Dyer, in Your Erroneous Zones:

A big cat saw a little cat chasing its tail and asked, "Why are you chasing your tail?" Said the kitten, "I have learned that the best thing for a cat is happiness and that happiness is in my tail. Therefore I am chasing it and when I catch it, I shall have happiness."
Said the old cat, "My child, I too have paid attention to the problems of the universe. I too have judged that happiness is in my tail. But I have noticed that whenever I chase it, it runs away from me and when I go about my business, it just seems to come after me wherever I go."—C. L. James, On Happiness, quoted in Dyer

J. S. Mill on happiness paradox in his Autobiography, although Mill's happiness is, per his Utilitarianism, pleasure minus pain by his stipulation or determination:

The experiences of this period had two very marked effects on my opinions and character. In the first place, they led me to adopt a theory of life, very unlike that on which I had before acted, and having much in common with what at that time I certainly had never heard of, the anti-self-consciousness theory of Carlyle. I never, indeed, wavered in the conviction that happiness is the test of all rules of conduct, and the end of life. But I now thought that this end was only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness along the way [...] Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so." (p. 94), also quoted in part in WP

Henry Sidgwick in his The Methods of Ethics, Book II, Chapter III:

[...] It may be replied that if these permanent sources of pleasure are consciously sought merely as a means to the hedonistic end, they will not afford the happiness for which they are sought. With this I to some extend agree; but I think [...] I should not, however, infer from this that the pursuit of pleasure is necessarily self-defeating and futile; but merely that the principle of Egoistic Hedonism, when applied with a due knowledge of the laws of human nature, is practically self-limiting; i.e., that a rational method of attaining the end at which it aims requires that we should to some extent put it out of sight and not directly aim at it. I have before spoken of this conclusion as the 'Fundamental Paradox of Egoistic Hedonism'; [...]

See also edit

Further reading edit