26 January 2011

Utopian Concept Of Pleasure

I'm averaging one post a week for the month of January. I must be blowing my own mind, in addition to the five people who read my blog.

The total upside to owning a electronic book-carrying device is that I have instant access to tons of excellent literature...to be read in the evenings at my leisure, as I wait twenty minutes for a train to pass, while my hair dye is saturating, while I do my morning rituals...

Right now, I'm reading Sir Thomas More's "Utopia". Very good stuff...I think I was supposed to read it in college, but never found the time to do so. I certainly wouldn't have appreciated it then, that much I know.

The book is a near-constant narration of one man, who describes a society he came into contact with during his travels. This society's manner of conduct, treatments, standards, etc., prompt the narrator to refer to it as a Utopia. So far, there are descriptions that are entirely too idealistic for their own good...and there are ones that I desperately wish we could implement in our society today.

Anyway, the section on pleasure is one I have found to be the most interesting so far. Let me nutshell it for you:

1. Yes, Utopians concur, there are pleasures that "tickle the senses" (e.g. hunting for sport), but since those pleasures are a matter of personal taste and preference, they cannot be considered "true" pleasures.

2. True pleasures are indeed few, and fall into two categories - of the mind and of the body. The pleasure of the mind involves knowledge and seeking truth, in addition to pondering and reflecting upon one's life.

3. Pleasures of the body include partaking of those things that every human body must have to survive: food, drink, rest, freedom from pain, carnal relations. Besides this, there also is the pleasure of music.

4. Utopians preciously treasure "undisturbed and vigorous constitution of body, when life and active spirits seem to actuate every part." They consider physical health so valuable because it forms the basis of every other pleasure. Being free of sickness or pain allows one to pursue other true pleasures.

5. While the body pleasures stem mostly from necessity, the pleasure of the mind does not, and therefore, is valued and sought after more than anything else in Utopia. In fact, Utopians are described as "unwearied pursuers of knowledge".

Now I know what makes this text 'timeless'. It may be five hundred years old - but the ideas I've just summarized here are just as meaningful (maybe even more) to today's audiences.

So...long story short, let's stop worrying about accumulating stuff like power, prestige, money, fame, cars, and kitchen appliances...and instead focus on increasing these two things:

Physical health and useful knowledge.

Excellent plan. Everybody got it? Okay, go forth and make it happen.

Huh. If it were that easy, we'd all be doing it instead of reading canonical literature about it. But, we must keep searching, pondering, reflecting, asking...

It's what the Utopians would want us to do.

The answer is out there.

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