Evaluation of Hedonistic Ideal in Ethics:
Moral life is the life of the evolution of character. It augments the good qualities. It endeavors to mould life along ideal lines. In Ethics we study what the aim of life is, which of our actions are right and which of them strong, and what man ought to do.
Moral life is a life of self realisation or complete self satisfaction. Self is not merely individualistic, it is also social. It is not merely effective but also thoughtful and volitional.
Thus, a completely moral life will harmonise personal and social interests. It will afford numerous opportunities for the development and fulfillment of effective, volitional and rational, all the three aspects of the person.
Pleasure also has a place in a complete life:
In this way, moral life is not rigorist. It has a place for pleasure because it is the need of the effective aspect of man’s personality. Moral life is not an arid life devoid of enjoyment.
It includes and gets subject matter from sensual pleasures. It is the senses which initiate man to action. It is by controlling the sense motivations with the help of reason that a man of balance tries for a moral life.
Volition depends, to a large extent, upon the sentient aspect and it is volition which is the basis of a moral life. Thus, by excluding the tendency towards pleasure, moral consciousness will become partial. Moral life is an active life.
The propounded of Rigorism and asceticism forgot this truth. Moral life cannot be obtained by a complete suppression of the senses.
The hedonistic assumption of self is partial:
Thus, by emphasizing the affective aspect, the hedonistic ideal is instrumental in removing a major defect of Rigorist or Pure Rationalism. It makes it quite clear that feelings play an important part in human life, but this specialty of hedonism is also its defect.
The sentient aspect of the self is important but it cannot be thereby declared that the self is sentient. By treating pleasure as the ultimate aim the hedonists lose sight of the complete nature of the self.
The self also includes in itself, besides sentience, volition and thought. Thus, to say, that thought and volition are merely means to pleasure, would be as wrong as to declare that all feelings are immoral.
Secondly, Hedonism takes the individual aspect to be everything for human beings. Bentham, Mill, Spencer and Sidgwick, etc. stress the importance of looking upon altruism as essential but not one of their theories gives a satisfactory way of passing from egoism to altruism.
The truth is that altruism cannot be established on the basis of Hedonism. If die ultimate aim of mail is pleasure, then knowledge, beauty, good qualities, etc. are all relegated to the rank of means and moral life seems to be supporting animal life.
Actually, while hedonism coition is discarded on the one hand, on the other it is a mistake to regard it as a complete moral theory. In an ethical ideal it is also essential to stress the cognitive and co native aspect of the self. Qualitative distinctions in pleasure cannot be made on a hedonistic basis
A rational analysis of experience makes it necessary to believe that pleasures do have qualitative distinctions. All pleasures cannot be looked upon as equal. It was quite realistic of Mill to say that a dissatisfied man is better than a satisfied pig.
Intellectual pleasures are superior to physical pleasures. Art, literature and social service etc. yield pleasures which do not resemble sensual pleasure. Besides this, pleasure and happiness also have a wide difference.
In the same way, intellectual and physical pleasures differ widely. But when Hedonism is the basis, it does not allow the qualitative distinctions hi pleasure. To accept distinctions in pleasures is to mean that we place them on some criterion and examine them.
And this criterion is not pleasure because if it is, the only distinctions which can be affected will be with regard to result Thus this criterion is either reason, or the complete self or the perfection of the self.
In the Ethics of Mill, the criterion determining the importance of pleasures is the human sense of dignity or reason. The judges deciding on pleasures will decide rationally.
In this way, by accepting qualitative distinctions, Mill comes to Rationalism from Hedonism. According to perfectionism, that pleasure which directs the self towards perfection is more desirable than other pleasures.
Thus, it is clear that accepting qualitative distinctions means abandoning-Hedonism. In such a state, the ultimate good will is the realization of the self or reason and not pleasure.