On Harris’ Insight into Katastematic Pleasure
Harris refuses to label abiding pleasure as such, however in his approach to happiness he does make a case for it while discussing the logic of retreating from the world.
If there exists a source of psychological well-being that does not depend upon merely gratifying one’s desires, then it should be present even when all the usual sources of pleasure have been removed.
Harris then approaches this existential pleasure in purely ascetic terms. I am making this observation here to bring to the attention of my readers two concerns that we Epicureans have with assertions of this sort:
- that, while claiming to be free of religious undertones and doctrine, people like Harris fail to challenge the prevailing religious presumptions and still consider pleasure to be a bad word, akin to sin and evil, and miss the opportunity to reclaim and rehabilitate pleasure, and to differentiate calculated and rational hedonism from vulgar hedonism and instant gratification.
- that, while not explicitly embracing a belief in an-other world, he implicitly performs the act of contrition that all religious adherents perform by taking refuge “from the dangers of this world” in asceticism, as if there was no other way to tackle this world, no way to affirm it and engage in it spiritually as a yay-sayer. This is not to say that the world is not dangerous or that there is no suffering and confusion, or reasons to take refuge in a wholesome teaching. But the tendency to escape can be mindless and may represent an unwillingness to analyse life diligently.
In this, again, he is fully a Buddhist. Both of the above are the result of buying into Buddhist religious doctrine. Even the most secular Buddhists are exposed to a philosophy so saturated with asceticism that they may not think to evaluate the merits of the view that all desires and all pleasures are bad. This view is, in my opinion, false. (See Principal Doctrine 29 for what Epicurus has to say on this).
Having said this, we should fully support the use of contemplative practices, particularly now that we have empirical evidence that shows that they can change the brain and produce happier brains and lives. What we should question is the rejection of this world, and this life, as a necessary lifestyle choice for a meditator. We can include contemplation into our hedonic regimen without despising the body, the world, and all the healthy and exuberant pleasures available to us.