Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Scepticism and hedonism

"...just as scepticism overcomes itself by bringing the standpoint of doubting into doubt, so does hedonism overcome itself in that the redonistic reflection looks at itself and questions whether we really feel our best when we are concerned with nothing besides feeling good. The answer to this question is no."

- Robert Spaemann, Happiness and Benevolence (trans. Jeremiah Alberg, S.J.; University of Notre Dame, 2000 [1989]), 32.

Spaemann is a fan of both scepticism and hedonism. He is not out to win a quick knock-down victory through this self-refutation point. He wants both of them in a more sophisticated, self-critical form. Just before this, he has approvingly quoted Hegel's comment that true philosophy is "fully accomplished scepticism". Later (p. 39), he goes on to praise Epicurus for thinking through the consequences of friendship to their end, even at the expense of hedonism:
"The full enjoyment of friendship only comes to the one who is not fixated on the enjoyment. And Epicurus draws out the consequences without reservation. The saying that giving is more blessed than receiving, which we know from the Gospel, is found also in Epicurus. One could understand it in such a way that one must, in order to enjoy life, engage oneself to a certain degree, but always in such a way that the costs-benefits balance. Epicurus goes farther: 'Under certain circumstances the wise one will also die for a friend.' For, only under this condition is the friendship authentic. And only when it is authentic do we have from it what one can have from friendship, its full 'enjoyment'. The wise one chooses, according to Epicurus, the way of living which holds the greatest enjoyment. The dialectic of hedonism, its self-negation, cannot be more clearly articulated. The saying, 'The one who keeps his life will lose it' is valid for every selfish system."