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Harshit Mahey




Source: Wikipedia.org article, adapted under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ license

The paradox of hedonism, also called the pleasure paradox, refers to the practical difficulties encountered in the pursuit of pleasure.

Unfortunately for the hedonist, constant pleasure-seeking may not yield the most actual pleasure or happiness in the long run—or even in the short run, when consciously pursuing pleasure interferes with experiencing it.

The philosopher Henry Sidgwick was first to note in The Methods of Ethics that the paradox of hedonism is that pleasure cannot be acquired directly.

Variations on this theme appear in the realms of ethics, philosophy, psychology, and economics.

It is often said that we fail to attain pleasures if we deliberately seek them. This has been described variously, by many:

John Stuart Mill, the utilitarian philosopher, in his autobiography:

But I now thought that this end was only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness along the way Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.

Viktor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning:

Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself.

The more a man tries to demonstrate his sexual potency or a woman her ability to experience orgasm, the less they are able to succeed. Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself.

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in The Antichrist (1895) and The Will to Power (1901):

What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself.

What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness.

What is happiness?

The feeling that power increases — that a resistance is overcome.

Psychologist Alfred Adler in The Neurotic Constitution (1912):
Nietzsche's "will to power" and "will to seem" embrace many of our views, which again resemble in some respects the views of Féré and the older writers, according to whom the sensation of pleasure originates in a feeling of power, that of pain in a feeling of feebleness.

Poet and satirist Edward Young:

The love of praise, howe'er concealed by art,

Reigns more or less supreme in every

The Proud to gain it, toils on toils endure;

The modest shun it, but to make it sure!

Politician William Bennett:

Happiness is like a cat, If you try to coax it or call it, it will avoid you; it will never come.

But if you pay no attention to it and go about your business, you'll find it rubbing against your legs and jumping into your lap.

Novelist Joao Guimaraes Rosa:

Happiness is found only in little moments of inattention.

Suppose Paul likes to collect stamps. According to most models of behavior, including not only utilitarianism, but most economic, psychological and social conceptions of behavior, it is believed that Paul collects stamps because he gets pleasure from it. Stamp collecting is an avenue towards acquiring pleasure.

However, if you tell Paul this, he will likely disagree.

He does get pleasure from collecting stamps, but this is not the process that explains why he collects stamps.

It is not as though he says, "I must collect stamps so I, Paul, can obtain pleasure".

Collecting stamps is not just a means toward pleasure.

He simply likes collecting stamps, therefore acquiring pleasure indirectly.