Someone yesterday was saying that Aristotle’s idea of pleasure is doing something well. I think that’s one good definition. Contemporary man treats pleasure as stimulation, but without other purpose or meaning. Constant stimulation that we get from video games, sex without love, or mindless dissipation in simulated pleasures – which might be rehashed TV or music, or reading crappy magazines.
I think pleasure is always other-related, it’s always outward, not merely auto-erotic or entirely in the self. I’m not knocking those things, but I’m saying there’s a distinction between pleasure and stimulation, and that pleasure is derived, ultimately, from meaning, like all other human qualities. I just got back from conducting a 2hr training, and then another appointment for 2hrs of consulting. I left knowing I did well, and deriving an ongoing attitude of pleasure from it. My experience suggests that Aritstotle, as we may interpret him, has this right.
But how does one evaluate doing “well”? Lots of people on American Idol think they sing well, when clearly they don’t. You’ll see someone belting it out, but it’s awful. Some will say it doesn’t matter, that it’s singing “well” if you derive pleasure from it. This is fundamentally backwards. It’s a heresy against man’s energies, against the order of creation, to say such a thing. No, it is possible to seem to derive pleasure illicitly – pleasure from acclaim, from attention, from an illusory self-image, but these aren’t actually pleasure – they’re merely the stimulation of the passions. In such a case, meaning is alien to the activity, in that meaning is an interaction with others, not merely a presentation of an image to others or the receiving of a stimulation from others. To act “well” implies an interaction with others that is more substantive than self-gratification alone. Actual pleasure is derived from doing well in the sense that meaning, external to the self, but thereby residing in the self, is the source and fruit of one’s activity.
It’s not writing a poem that only you understand. That may have “meaning” to just you, but it’s not Meaning, in a universal or cosmic sense. By definition, that which is utterly autonomous is not a source of cosmic meaning. Doing something well is doing something that benefits or enriches creation, and you as part of it. Meaning is that which is derived from acting in coordination with creation as a whole. And genuine pleasure is derived from meaningful activity.
If you cook well, it is well when it provides comfort, nourishment, and peace to yourself or to others. If you made an intricately detailed casserole and then just threw it away, that’s not cooking “well”. You can claim all you want that you showed expertise, skill, and creativity, and that may be true in the barest sense, but those things only derive their meaning by finding a place in the grand (cosmic) scheme of things – in conjunction with creation. Autonomy from meaning is the curse of pleasure. And nothing is done well that is devoid of meaning.
So, in the quest for meaning, which all people are on, whether it’s to find for the first time, to find what was lost, or to continue to find what is nearby and identified (the quest for meaning is, in this way, like the quest for food), it may be helpful to distinguish pleasure from stimulation, doing something well from doing it with mere technical skill (again a chef who makes a souffle for the garbage is not doing well in the same way as a mother who makes scrambled eggs for breakfast), and to distinguish between meaning and self-gratification (what people erroneously refer to as “meaning to me” – as though we all live in separate cosmoses and get our own cosmic meaning – meaning is meaning precisely because it can be shared in by all of creation).
It is an opinion, but taking a queue from Aristotle, I believe this is some of what our Faith would say about it. As ever, I don’t speak for the Orthodox in this, because it’s just an opinion (we would say “speculation”), and I acknowledge with the fathers that speculation is dangerous and to be avoided where possible. One reason for this journal is to remove from my mind through expression those things that, if I hold them inside it too long, can become an endless source of speculation that will surely lead me to the pit. Sometimes people will pick up something off the ground and run with it. Please keep in mind, if that’s you, especially if you are not of the Faith, the one, holy, and true Orthodox Faith, this is trash. This is not a gem. It is cast off here for a reason. It is only the byproduct, the emission of a mind that is striving to obtain union with the source of meaning, the most holy Trinity.