Friday, December 3, 2010

Good = Pleasure

Defining the most basic concepts can be quite difficult. The foundations of all knowledge are based on postulates that can neither be proved nor disproved. Starting with self-evident statements, a solid framework is created, and useful conclusions can be universally accepted. When delving into philosophical thought, it is especially important to agree on definitions, and thereby avoiding countless amounts of arguments that would otherwise result. After a long debate over which circumstances are considered "good" for each person, it became obvious that a proper definition of "good" would have been able to provide the necessary clarity to avoid useless bickering.

Before pondering the nature of true "good" in the world, I must begin by first clearly defining "good." Using no philosophical pondering, I will simply define "good" as pleasure. Having done that, the definition of pleasure may need to be specified as well. However, some words are too basic to possibly be defined, and can easily be understood remaining undefined. The concept of "pleasure" seems like a good candidate for this category. In other words, pleasure is readily apparent when it is experienced, and no further definition is necessary. My definition of "good" has asserted that the experience associated with pleasure is exactly the same as that which should be associated with good. Therefore, in further philosophical debates, good and pleasure can be interchanged.

What makes this definition important? At first glance such a trivial definition seems to add nothing, and no debates are avoided by clarifying this point. However, the difference in context of the normal usage of these two words may lead some people to debate this definition. Although pleasure is readily apparent to everyone, "good" may be easily misconstrued as something else. Pleasure is usually used to describe more simple situations, but "good" is commonly used in more complicated ones. For this reason one rarely comes across an argument regarding the nature of pleasure, but arguments over sources of true good constantly abound. Once good has been defined to be completely inseparable from pleasure, more complicated situations can be analyzed, and agreements are easily attained.

Using this definition of "good," ask yourself some questions. Firstly, is it ever good for anyone to suffer? Before pondering any further, notice that suffering is the antithesis of pleasure. It becomes clear that deriving pleasure through suffering is a paradox, and it should never be good for someone to suffer. Secondly, can someone do “good” for someone else by doing something that he or she doesn't like? Again, if it is assumed that pleasure by definition is liked, and good by definition is pleasure, it is not possible for someone to derive pleasure from something that is not liked. Therefore, one would never be doing “good” for someone if the result is not something that the individual would like.

Although these results may seem counterintuitive and flawed, deeper analysis can lead to a resolution. When one describes a painful procedure as being good for the patient, he or she thinks the patient will have an overall net gain of pleasure from the benefits outweighing the negatives. In economics, the concept of maximizing intertemporal utility describes the nature of a person trying to gain the most pleasure over an entire lifetime. Although at times a decision may have painful repercussions, it is believed that an overall assessment of the future lifetime will be that of a net gain in pleasure. Similarly, when one decides what is good for another person, it is assumed the helping party feels that he or she possesses the knowledge for maximizing lifelong pleasure that the receiving party may lack. The word "good" still means pleasure, but the pleasure is presenting itself in a more complicated situation.

In the Jewish religion, a similar concept can be found when discussing the afterlife as a reward for fulfilling the Torah's laws. In the Jewish world view, all that is created is good. Therefore, if some things don’t seem pleasurable, they must be a result of an individual’s misdeed. Although this is a good attempt, there are still some evils in the world that seem to befall everyone, and very few people can truly testify that life was a pleasurable experience. To reconcile a good world with an unpleasant existence, an afterlife must exist in which reward is given to those who deserve it. This proof of the afterlife stems from the definition of good as that which is pleasurable, and the assumption that the world exists for the good of humans. The pleasure is relegated to the next world to explain the fact that most people don't enjoy themselves in this world.

Although people may disagree over the source of true good, it is important that both parties at least agree on the definition of good. This small clarification can lead people to agree on many more concepts than they originally thought.

No comments:

Post a Comment