On Being A Philosophy Minor

There is, as I think I’ve mentioned, a good chance that I will have to stay an extra year at college because of my switch to the School of Fine Arts. It’s not a matter of too many credits so much as too many studio classes, which are time intensive.  The disadvantage, of course, is that I would have to take an extra year’s worth of student loans. The good news is, I would have plenty of time to fit in a philosophy minor.

At least, that was my thought, until recently. My Greek philosophy class, though, has had me wondering. Perhaps, like English, I liked the introductory classes (lots of arguing!) but not the higher level classes (lots of Plato). I grew up without any systematic source for morality (not religious, etc), and I suppose I liked introductory Philosophy because it exposed me to lots of different viewpoints and let me tear them to shreds looking for what I believe. I actually wish more people were allowed the freedom to do this – it felt really healthy. However, it’s hard to feel like Plato applies anymore.

Today, though, I decided to stick with it (schedule permitting). I was sitting in my aesthetics class, where we were talking about the nature of nature of the mind, and I remembered the question I had to answer for Greek philosophy.  It had to do with a passage in which Socrates argues that all pleasurable experiences are good. (For the record, he uses something like a utilitarian argument – when considering how pleasurable an experience is, one aught to consider not only the immediate reward but all the pleasure and pain it will cause in the future. As such, cheating on your wife feels good now, but in the long run, it is bad and painful. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying.) Somehow, the two ideas clicked and I was gripped by the sort of question that only seems to matter to philosophers; why do pleasurable things feel pleasurable? If that sounds strange, the other day we were debating whether Justice is just. Technically dfferent though.

I suppose my question goes more like this: Granted that a sensation of pleasure is associated with a release of endorphins in the brain, which serve to reinforce a memory as something that aught to be repeated (chemically, they tell our brain that what we just did should be done more often), why does pleasure feel like pleasure. Pleasure doesn’t feel like positive reinforcement, or a release of brain chemicals, it just feels good, sometimes so good it can be debilitating. Maybe I don’t know enough about brain chemistry (wouldn’t be surprising), but it feels a little circular to me. Something pleasurable happens, so the chemical is released, making us feel pleasure. Is that just a slightly different way of our neuron’s firing? Somehow, this doesn’t seem to capture the essence of the feeling we crave (after all, we seek pleasure, not pleasurable things, don’t we?).

I don’t know if I’m doing a very good job of this. Hmm.

Maybe a better question is not how but why does pleasure feel good? Perhaps the answer is as simple as brain chemistry; it feels good because that’s what pleasure is, and it’s meant to encourage humans to do things that help humans breed and expand their territory. If that works for you, I encourage you to quit now. After all, the next assumption is that God made it that way, although he’s an odd one then; after all, religious enlightenment and sexual perversion are both pretty pleasurable, right? Or is pleasure, as a Buddhist might think, one expression of the universal consciousness?

I don’t really expect that to make sense, and if you made it this far, thank you. Please stick around, the posts aren’t all this weird. I’m not sure I got to the root of my question, but I like talking about it, and encourage people to weigh in.

Philosophy: The art of giving others and oneself headaches!


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