September 13, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Does Hedonism Belong in Science?

What’s an article advocating hedonism doing on Science Daily?  Sure enough, an article entitled “Hedonism As the Explanation of Value” appeared today on the science news site without controversy or debate.  The entry gave David Brax of Lund University a platform to preach that “pleasure is the only thing that is valuable in itself.”
    The article acknowledged that this idea is nothing new.  “His theory develops the hedonistic philosophical tradition, with roots in antiquity.”  What, then, justified reporting this as science?  “What is new is that David Brax’s theory also takes into consideration new studies of how people function – studies carried out in cognitive science, neuroscience, and psychology.”

OK, preachers: if he can do it, you can do it.  If Science Daily will print the opinions of a hedonist just because he alludes to neuroscience, all you need to do is a little research into the latest findings on how the brain works and apply it to support your position that people are basically selfish and evil and need redemption.  Doesn’t your philosophy also have roots in antiquity?  Is there any other reason this hedonist earned free publicity in Seance Daily?
    How this story got sanctified in a science news site is astonishing.  It basically sends a message that science legitimizes one’s lust for pleasure.  Secular and pagan philosophers have been preaching this message for years – from Epicurus to Hobbes to Hugh Hefner.  To be sure, some of the more eminent advocates of hedonism had a more nuanced explanation of pleasure.  It did not mean the reckless pursuit of immediate gratification, but the building of a lifestyle or a society that might maximize long-term pleasure for the most people.  Roman Stoics and Enlightenment theologians had many debates over these issues.
    Still, any system built on hedonism is doomed.  If my pleasure is my highest value, why should I care about anyone else’s pleasure?  Why would a marine throw himself on his grenade to save his buddies?  That’s not very pleasurable.  Why should there be any self-sacrifice, any sense of duty, any justice in the world?  Why should I judge any other man’s evil if it brings him pleasure?  Look what this philosophy does to love.  The most unpleasurable thing in the world was for a Man to hang on a cross in agony and cry out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
    What the world needs is righteousness.  “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people,” the wise ruler Solomon said.  If you have righteousness, you may get some pleasure as a return on investment – but pleasure is not the principle – only some of the interest.  Pleasure is a gift of God, but it’s the dessert, not the main course; the decorations, not the foundation.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” Jesus Christ said.  That’s not just good science or good investing.  It’s wisdom; it’s the truth.
    In an act of tough love, doing the best for the most, we will be happy to give the Darwin Party all the wine, women and song they want, if they will just agree to shut up.

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