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Why You Shouldn't Always Do What Feels Good

Americanspursuit of pleasure seems insatiable. We work long hours in order to buy more stuff, which we use in the leisure time earned at our jobs. It seems as if most people are on a quest to gain material wealth, which is usually considered a means of achieving pleasure. Making ourselves feel good is usually a very high priority in life, and conceivably so. Feeling good is inherent to our nature and exists for a purpose, considering that many pleasures could be traced to survival tactics. Many of these survival tactics are now deemed immoral by today’s social standards in certain degrees (married sex versus promiscuous or unmarried sex, the latter pleasure being unacceptable), and there are many more pleasures which can be traced to no means of survival whatsoever. “Feeling good” is a natural part of the human experience, and should be pursued with limits and moderation in order to satisfy needs and avoid self-destruction, all the while enjoying ourselves without harming others somewhere in between.

The body’s use of pleasure, or something which feels good, is a natural survival trait. Simply the fact that it feels “good” or advantageous means there must be some redeeming value in it. The most basic pleasures are “in the end determined by our organic needs and impulses.” Sensual pleasure is the most natural type since it is simply a bodily function, whereas intellectual pleasure goes above and beyond the organic realm (and also has less immediate propensity to cause bodily harm). Sexual pleasure exists to make the act of procreation enjoyable and advantageous, so that humans will be more prone to advancing and populating their species. Eating food when you’re hungry feels good, and feels that way so you won’t starve to death. As far as certain foods being damaging, the harmful qualities of eating fats and sugars are manmade pleasures, which I will address later. If these organic things felt bad, the individual and eventually the human race would die out. Pleasure exists as a “sign that the more ultimate end is being attained,” indicating that a person is on the path to satisfying his or her needs.

By examining the relationship between pain and pleasure, one can see once more that pleasure is natural to the human experience, and preferable and more natural to the feeling of pain (“feeling bad”). Reason gives us the ability to avoid pleasure, but not in the same manner in which we avoid pain. Pain can, in some instances, be eradicated by using drugs to anesthetize the afflicted area. In other words, pain can be externally manipulated and removed. The body can also go into shock, therefore not feeling great amounts of pain. But on the other hand, the “only way to be rid of unwanted pleasure”, or any pleasure at all, “is to get it off your mind, i.e. to stop noting its object or to see it under another description.” The fact that pleasure cannot be eradicated in the self, but only by eliminating the external object, shows pleasure’s domination over pain and its utmost necessity within the human body, to the point at which it is impossible to get rid of. One can use this same logic to see that pleasure can be induced, be it artificially or naturally. Some pleasures, though, can be created of human reason and of human hands which are not organically driven, but rather, can lead to the destruction of the human body, ending the ability to “feel good” altogether.

Satisfying needs justifies a person’s actions in the interest of staying alive. In this way, doing what feels good is allowable and should even be encouraged. Our legal system does not necessarily allow for such survival, as people are able to own the food and means of shelter to satisfy their own wants, therefore inhibiting others’ abilities to satisfy their own needs. This is the unsolvable oxymoron of capitalism: it allows those in power to take from the workers or those below them, but does not allow the workers to strike back in taking from those above them. For example, rich CEOs can overindulge their wants while the workers starve to death or barely make a living. Yet society has created the idea that doing what feels good, such as stealing to feed your family, is bad. But if you must satisfy your needs, then breaking this society’s laws may sometimes be necessary. Doing what feels good in the pretext of necessity should be done, even if violating society’s moral codes, in order to satisfy your amenities. Simply obeying laws cannot stop you from satisfying what your needs are, since “one who habitually obeys the law is law-abiding; and one who habitually guides his actions by justifiable moral principles is good or virtuous”. Therefore, on the level of what one needs, one should do what makes one feel good, with little regard to laws suspending one’s right to feel good.

Satisfying “needs” and “wants” do have something in common. Both bring a person pleasure and can make him or her feel good, but “although we tend to value what we need, ‘need’ and ‘want’ are different”. “Needs” are the driving force behind staying alive, such as food, water, clothing, shelter, and procreation to support the species. These same traits can also be found in animals, and can be seen as the most basic pleasures. What someone needs should and will have to be fulfilled in order to feel good and survive. But going above and beyond needs, to what someone wants, is where the use of reason must come into play. The attainment of what someone wants is a whole different idea from that of gaining the basic necessities. Just because what someone wants will bring pleasure, doesn’t mean it should be pursued. A comfortable, enjoyable life could be satisfied for every person if we concentrated only what our needs are, but not all of everyone’s wants and excessive pleasures could be satisfied. In deciding how to conduct oneself and making these judgments, one must remember that “it is simply incorrect to call a mere want a ‘reason’ for acting, or to think that anyone can ever justify his behaviour by appealing to his desires”.

Doing what one wants to do may harm oneself, and this would violate the natural law of self-preservation. Using judgment to decide to go against one’s needs is almost impossible, but using judgment to discern between one’s wants is necessary. It is in this way that doing what feels good must sometimes not be followed when concerning what one wants rather than what one needs. Wants are dangerous (but not necessarily bad) human desires, some of which may not even come naturally at all. This remains as one of the main, simplest problems with believing that “if it feels good, I should do it”. Simple “wants aren’t reasons, and they aren’t justifications” for doing something, and so, experiencing excessive pleasures cannot be reasons or justifications for acting. If heroin feels good, you should in fact not do it, because it is detrimental to your existence as a human, and may kill you. Doing what makes you feel good cannot be followed if it prevents you from doing anything in the future and is self-destructive. In order to pursue wants, one’s needs and amenities must be satisfied. Since staying alive is the most basic of needs (neither pleasures would exist without life), then one shouldn’t participate in wants if it endangers one’s needs. Future loss or injury must be considered when wanting to pursue immediate pleasures. True Epicureans or hedonists “must sustain their indifference about the future if they are to remain Epicureans, and it may be impossible for them to spend time influencing the future.” “Doing what feels good” is only a present concern, and some respect must be paid to the future. Reason and logic must be used to determine that, since this pleasure may cause problems for self-preservation, one should not participate in it. If people do participate in it, as they have right to do, then they must take responsibility for the harm that may come to them, and not harm another in the process.

The quest for pleasure must also be dictated by one’s obligation to act morally in respect to other humans. Self-destructive wants can arise, and “the persons holding them have as much right to pursue them as people holding desires and ends we approve of more or value more highly, so long as they don’t interfere with the rights of others”. But once someone begins to violate those rights of others, there is no reason why their own ability and freedom to seek pleasure would remain untouched by anyone else, and this would not allow either person to fully do what they perceive as “feeling good”. If someone violates the natural needs of someone else in “doing what feels good”, he or she goes against their own nature, which tells him or her that we must preserve the human race. Although the role of someone else in an individual pleasure may seem like a moot point, the concern for one’s fellow man must be addressed within the context of society. One cannot live in a solipsism with no regard for other humans, simply pursuing pleasures in an individual world, since one cannot avoid interacting with others. Many pleasures can negatively affect someone else, such as taking speed and punching someone in the face, or taking advantage of someone in order to gain intellectual pleasure. Regard of other people must be given in order to continue rightfully and justifiably pursuing one’s own pleasures.

Doing what feels good is, in some instances, justified, allowable and even encouraged. Feeling good is, in fact, a natural thing to do. If it weren’t, then pleasure wouldn’t be considered “good”. But there must be judgments made between what pleasures to indulge in, and a recognition of the differences between of “wants” and “needs”. Our ability to reason forces us to discern between what pleasures to indulge and which to not. Having pleasure through the satisfaction of needs is necessary at all costs, but gaining pleasure through satisfying wants has to be judged by the interests of other people and one’s self-preservation.

Works Cited

Gibson, Mary. “Rationality”. Philosophy and Public Affairs. Vol. 6, No. 3. (Spring, 1977). pp. 193-225.

Luper-Foy, Steven. “Annihilation”. Philosophical Quarterly. Vol. 37, No. 148. (July 1987). pp. 233-252.

Mayberry, T.C. “Morality and Its Analogues”. Mind, New Series. Vol. 80, No. 319. (July 1971). pp. 365-378.

McCloskey, Mary A. “Pleasure”. Mind, New Series. Vol. 80, no. 320. (Oct. 1971). pp. 542-551.

McShea, Robert J. “Biology and Ethics”. Ethics. Vol. 88, No. 2. (Jan. 1978). pp. 139-149.

Rachels, James. “Wants, Reasons, and Justifications”. Philosophical Quarterly. Vol. 18, No. 37. (Oct. 1968). pp. 299-309.

Rogers, Arthur K. “The Place of Pleasure in Ethical Theory”. The Philosophical Review. Vol. 28, No. 1. (Jan. 1919). pp. 27-46

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