How does he answer such a question?
Traditionally, there are three basic answers to them. The first is that our well-being must be based on the fulfillment of our desires. It is known that each of us has some dreams, we would like to achieve some goals. Some philosophers say that achievement is good for us. However, based on the practice of daily life, it can be seen that sometimes we want things – especially in the long run – that are unfavorable or even harmful to us. Sometimes we hear: “Follow your heart” or “Listen to your intuition.” I am skeptical of this advice. There are quite a few situations where I want something and then it turns out to be not good for me. Each of us experiences them and knows them. For example, I constantly promise myself that I will not eat sweets, but I am a weak being, so I give in to this desire and then regret it. Because sometimes this is how we act unreasonably – choosing the wrong means for our ends. Some philosophers, then, believe that well-being is what we would wish for if we were perfectly rational beings.
So what do we want after thinking?
Just thinking about it may not be enough for us – sometimes we think for too long, and then make wrong decisions anyway. Hence the idea that well-being should be something objective and independent of our own desires and beliefs. These philosophical theories encourage us to seek, for example, knowledge, justice, truth, or an interest in moral character. In psychology, Abraham Maslow made a list of our natural needs. Culturally and socially, the existence of each of us is crammed into similar paths – we acquire knowledge because it is supposed to help us in life, we act with honor and morals, because our environment then loves us and it is easy for us to live in it as a group, we try to tell the truth so that people can trust us, and what till then. Most of us seem to operate in accordance with the pursuit of these values.
But adherence to these values sometimes brings us not only unpleasantness, but also disturbs our own well-being or the well-being of another person.
There are times when we realize that if we reinforce the values we hold dear, no one will benefit. For example, one could imagine a situation where the knowledge or truth I am seeking would hinder rather than help me. This is why we do not always and everywhere tell the truth. If grandma gives us a gift, we don’t comment that we don’t like it. We will be tough and feel it. So if the attainment of certain values brings us suffering in general, it seems to me that they lose their meaning. Because we tell the truth in order to grow, that is, to be a better person, and we do not make someone close to ourselves or stop believing in ourselves. Honor is a perfect example of this value. When I read that Pushkin died in a duel, I always thought in my head: Oh my God, what a stupid time to fight and give my life for honor. What our ancestors thought was an honor, we now consider a relic. This is a subject of long discussion, but it does highlight a shift in thinking in terms of long-term benefits. Luxury is not our luxury at all, and a certain value is our good, as long as it does not bring us real benefits. For me, that benefit is fun. But if you tell someone that their highest level of luxury is pleasure, it sounds cliched. People look at me suspiciously. So until we define pleasure, it will be difficult for us to talk about what luxury is.
Let’s define it.
Pleasure is a state of mind that we believe, when we experience, is good, worthwhile, or worthy of our efforts. To understand this, each of us must now think of some pleasure, and remember the situation in which we felt. If we do, we are more likely to test it again. It will be weaker, but the rule is that if we think of pleasures, we experience them to some extent. If so, we can try to determine for ourselves how this condition differs from others and how we know we are enjoying ourselves. I would argue that pleasure is the only feeling that in itself seems good to us. However, in the life of each of us it sometimes occurs in confusion with others, for example with regret or remorse, which is why it is sometimes difficult for us to separate them. We may enjoy eating a cookie, but at the same time we think we’ve broken our dietary pledge.
Is luxury a subjective concept – can it mean different things to everyone, or are there objective criteria?
When I talk to people about well-being, I often hear that when it comes to the good, everyone understands something else. But when I ask if love, friendship, closeness, or recognition of passion is good for them, they all say yes. Thinking that every good person is different is one of our fundamental cognitive errors. We are all evolutionarily shaped likewise, and what looks good to us is largely shared. If not, we will not agree.
Why should not everything, and not always what is good for each of us individually, also be useful for the world or simply useful?
– This is a natural struggle. And it always was. Sometimes the well-being of the individual must even “contradict” the welfare of the world. We want to fly on an exotic vacation, but flights affect the climate, we love meat, but we contribute to the suffering of animals, spending money on more bags or shoes, rather than using it for someone in real need.
So you can achieve your own well-being at the expense of others?
– naturally. Unfortunately, there are quite a few people who are good at it. The question the moralist would ask is whether we should do this. Pleasure is always good for us in the moment we feel it, but that does not mean that experiencing it concretely will not have long-term negative effects on others as well as on us. This is an ethical issue.
Since luxury and enjoying ourselves are good by definition, why is the selfishness with which we must always act according to our own best interests in our actions generally considered negative?
Well-being and selfishness are two different things. Like discussing what is good for us and talking about whether we should always strive for our own good. One describes the philosophical state of affairs, the other answers the question of what to do. The fact that my happiness is my pleasure does not mean that I have to strive in every situation. There are others in the world other than myself who, like me, suffer and have fun, and I must take them into account.
But why exactly, if our well-being should be important to us?
This is the most difficult question to ask in this context. How do we explain why we should be moral beings? Why are ethics important? There are many answers to this. I can do a trick and answer selfishly: we must be moral people, because we ourselves want others to treat us this way. According to the golden rule: do not do to others what you do not like, give to others what you want to get for yourself. We do not like egoists, we avoid them. Who would like to be friends or have someone as a life partner who only thinks of themselves?
Does this mean that luxury has moral values after all?
– Yes. The moral good seems to be a necessary part of our aspirations. Man is a being naturally entangled in what we call morality. Notice how much fun we have for others. How satisfied we are when we shop for someone, help find a way, or let someone pass in a traffic jam. From an evolutionary point of view, it is easily explained – we might have died long ago had it not been for the fact that we are rewarded with pleasure for good deeds.
In the popular understanding, we often confuse well-being with happiness. In your opinion, there is a big difference between them.
Some define luxury as happiness, but in my opinion this is wrong. I would say that happiness is the state of our personality – like joyful endurance and long-term satisfaction. It is closer to our adjectives that we call optimist. Happiness, understood in this way, depends on us to a small extent. We have a much greater influence on the experience of pleasure and that is why I believe that our well-being is pleasure. We can put ourselves in situations that bring us feelings that we consider good.
The first chapter of your last book, Desired State of Consciousness, is preceded by a quote from TS Eliot. And it ends with the words: “Because yours / Because life / Because yours.” Are you suggesting that it is up to us to live a decent life?
– naturally. Thank you for this question. You understood me brilliantly. This is precisely the case because we are the only source of pleasure we have in the sense that only we ourselves can make it ourselves. Of course, the source of pleasure can be external factors – let’s just think of the wonderful dinner we are invited to or the beautiful bouquet of flowers we get – but in the end it is up to us whether we find pleasure in it.
How do you take care of your well-being? What can we consciously do to strengthen it in ourselves?
Watch yourself, your experiences, think about who we are. We can start with the simplest things: we are animals, and we have needs for them: exercise and food. So we will always enjoy good food and some physical exertion. This is the basis. We are also social animals, so being close to others is the greatest pleasure for most of us. If not with people, then with animals or nature. Some mental closeness is necessary for us. We are also rational animals – we like to set different goals, we want to feel useful, we want to know what we live for, and we ask ourselves important philosophical questions and look for answers to them. Thus, thinking, knowledge and creativity will be a source of pleasure for us. After all, we are moral animals, that is, we need each other and we like people to think well of us. Thus, working for the benefit of others is also the source of desired states of consciousness. So it is a good idea not to be closed off to yourself, not to focus on your own well-being, but to be concerned with the world and the well-being of others.
Dr.. Catarzina di Lazare Radek – Philosopher and ethicist, lecturer at the University of Lodz. It deals with issues of well-being, happiness and pleasure. Together with Australian philosopher Peter Singer, she wrote two books on theoretical philosophy: “The Universe View: Sedgwick and Contemporary Ethics” and “Utilitarianism: A Very Short Introduction”. Her latest book, Desired State of Consciousness.
Małgorzata Mierżyńska – Journalist, editor and translator collaborating with Newsweek Psychology
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