Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rational versus Enlightened

The other day a friend tweeted, “people never really think about consequences. It may feel good for the moment but how does it affect others??” Immediately I thought well, this is the at the “core” of rational hedonism. By thinking things through, contemplating the potential outcomes or consequences of our acts can save us from future disappointments, and perhaps even lead us to greater experiences of pleasure.

But almost as soon as I condensed that response into the requisite 140 characters, I realized that this was only the beginning. Yes to be rational, contemplative, logical, can yield a well thought response and greatly increase the odds of having a better outcome. But as much as we like to think that reason will bring certainty, that it can find the best of all possible paths, it often still falls short. Just as the scientific method can bring us “closer” to truth, verisimilitude to borrow a phrase from Karl Popper, truth itself is always remains theory or speculation.

So really, to lead the most fulfilling life, to follow the path to “enlightened” hedonism there comes a point where one must approach things with more art than science. There is a real risk that one can miss opportunities while trying to analyze the best course of action to take. Perhaps this is a flipside to the existential maxim that the failure to make a decision is a decision in itself. Our lives are finite, so we often lack the luxury of time to think things through to all their possible outcomes. Sometimes we must act swiftly to seize an opportunity, thus sometimes we must rely on luck or intuition to lead the best life and find enlightenment.

May we all make good choices, both those well reasoned, as well as well felt.

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