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Philosophy & Pleasure

At the coffee shop yesterday, Esther was chatting with one of the customers about philosophy. She invited me to join in. Having no formal training, I was mostly silent while they talked about such obscure topics as existentialism,analytic philosophy, and the difficulty of finding a basis for ethics. The customer (let's call him Ted) was very articulate and scholarly with a degree in classics.

Esther had to leave, and I conversed a little more with the customer . After discussing some other topics, we got back to ethics. He proposed that it's possible that you could have no basis for ethics, and suggested that you could devote your life to satisfying your basest desires. In fairness, I'm not sure he was advocating this. Let's say he was just presenting it for consideration.

I equated satisfying base desires with seeking physical pleasure, and he had no objections. I pointed out it might be a practical impossibility to always obtain the physical pleasures you wanted, and he said you could go pretty far before you were thwarted. I also pointed out that after time the intensity of pleasure would diminish.

Prefacing his remarks with "let's keep this G-rated" he proposed back massages as an example of a pleasure. We debated how enjoyable back massages would be if you could get them anytime you wanted. After a few minutes I noticed a lady sitting at the table across from us laughing. "Does it sound like we are talking in code?" I asked her. She nodded yes. "I guess if we changed it to chocolate it would still sound like code". Again she nodded.

She was probably right. "Back massages" does sound like a proxy for sex. That was problematic not only because of propriety, but it also suggested that all physical pleasure is sexual, which I don't buy at all.

I mentioned a very specific pleasure that I have enjoyed in the past...drinking Orange Julius. He'd never heard of it, but I assured him it was quite a delicious beverage. I told him the first time I had one was when I was very young and I went on a trip to Atlanta. I thought it was the best thing I had ever tasted in my life. Then a large mall opened in my town, and the food court had an Orange Julius stand. I could get Orange Julius nearly anytime I wanted, and the pleasure of having one diminished, although I still enjoyed them.

He tried to argue with this, and suggested scenarios in which I could recapture my initial enjoyment of Orange Julius. I had to concede that it might be possible. But only if it had been a really long time since I'd had one. Which, come to think of, it has. I think my point still stands though.

There were two takeaways from this discussion. The first one is that if you have to say "let's keep this G-rated", you are probably not going to succeed. The other is that an Orange Julius would really hit the spot right now. It's been a long time since I've had one.