Ethical Theory of Hedonism

Modified: 8th Jun 2017
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According to many scholars, to live ethically means to thinks about things that are beyond one’s personal interests. When one thinks and lives ethically he or she becomes a just human being with needs and desires of his own but still living among people who also have their needs and desires. Ethics is branch of philosophy that deals with the study of right and wrong questions and therefore helps us to make the right moral judgments in the events of our daily life. This excerpt aims at discussing normative and applied ethics and in particular hedonism and its application in the criminal justice system. The modification of hedonism as a theory in ethics engrosses a number of amazing and important decisions. In this excerpt therefore two types of hedonism are also discussed.


Both the criminal justice system professionals and the general public are concerned with the application of ethics in our daily lives. Everybody would like to see all the public servants and all people in the world perform their duties in the best way possible. In understanding the people’s behavior the criminal justice system uses number of ethical theories where hedonism is one of them. According to Banks (2009), hedonism has been traditionally expressed as the notion that “pleasure alone is intrinsically good” (p.333). In his explanations banks says that the only thing that is worth seeking just for its own sake is pleasure and that pleasure is the good. Hedonism is therefore the doctrine that pleasure is the sole good. Hedonism was first explained by Epicurus who was a great philosopher from Greek. In the English form Epicurus name appears as ‘epicure’, which means “a person whose main enjoyment and satisfaction is gotten from exotic and carefully made food and wine”. Epicurus advocated for the moderate and yet pleasurable living where he stated that pleasure is the good for which all human beings aim.

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On the other hand the pursuit of pleasure can also result to pain for instance when a person drinks to excess in his or her pursuit for pleasure and suffers stomachaches and headaches. Pain is mostly good as a means since it’s usually a signal that something is not right and that a change is necessary. Therefore according to the views of Epicurus the best way for one to live is to live in a pleasant manner and at the same time suffer not any of the unwanted effects of pleasant living. According to Banks (2009), the main aim of human living is tranquility of the mind and the health of the body. He did not recommend a life of endless pleasure or sensuality since by pleasure it means the absence of pain on the body as well as the absence of problem in the soul. However certain pleasures like making fun of others or taking drugs are a means of something painful and therefore would not be good. Tranquility of the mind is attained through practical wisdom and philosophical understanding.

Hedonism appears in two forms which are ethical hedonism and psychological hedonism. Psychological hedonism states that “human beings pursue pleasure and only pleasure in their lives and that all their activities are aimed towards attaining pleasure as well as avoiding pain (Banks 2009 p.334). Ethical hedonism on the other hand states that not only do human beings seek pleasure but they are actually supposed to seek pleasure because pleasure alone is good. In psychological hedonism all actions are motivated or driven by the search for pleasure while the ethical hedonism goes a step further and views the pursuit for pleasure as being normative. However, in its both forms hedonism is criticized by many scholars for trying to give only a single explanation for all human acts.

According to Tuner (2000), pleasure is not the only thing that is desirable. Many other things like peace, money, education and liberty are desirable as means and ends but in hedonism pleasure is desirable as the eventual end. In this study we also find that human beings get pleasure in different ways. Pleasure can also be the same even when the sources of pleasure are the same. The hedonists believe that moral goodness is actually an instrumental good and not necessarily an intrinsic good. Moral goodness means doing the right thing even when it does not lead to happiness. According to hedonism, moral goodness can be an instrumental good though it does not always mean that it will result to pleasure (Larry, 2009)

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The idea of pleasure and happiness being a measure of ethical morality is basically limited to the western philosophy. Many people have promoted the hedonistic belief in pleasure from Aristotle and Socrates to John Mill and Jeremy Bentham as well as to others in the contemporary times. According to the proponents of hedonism all human beings are selfish by nature. These supporters argue people do good or bad to others so as to acquire a certain intrinsic pleasure (Everett 2006 p. 36). This pleasure may be overtime, in the immediate future or may even cause them pain in the immediate sense and eventually cause them pleasure. In this sense it’s believed that people help others because helping others gives them pleasure. Similarly people do evil because doing evil gives them pleasure.

The criminal justice system therefore uses the theory of hedonism to understand the behavior of criminals and what drives them into committing crimes (Turner). This way the criminal justice system is able to give the right punishments to these law offenders. People have different ways of walking, thinking or acting. When one begins to know an individual there begins to emerge a pattern in train of thoughts. These behavioral patterns and traits are usually studied by the behavioral scientist. For instance the law enforcement uses such behavioral studies to monitor dangerous criminals like serial killers (Axelrod & Antinozzi 2002 p.22). Deep inside the mind of criminals there is psychological reasoning behind the actions that they commit. A criminal will therefore leave a signature or a pattern behind which helps the investigators of the crime scene in analyzing information regarding the crime.

Classical criminologists view human beings as rational and capable of making free choices. In a well organized society that has rational system of criminal justice therefore, any crime should be defined as the product of an irrational decision. According to Axelrod & Antinozzi (2002), all behavior is reduced to avoidance of pain and seeking of pleasure. The main question of the criminal justice system is therefore how to make crime less pleasurable and more painful to the criminals (p.26). From the perspective of those intending to commit a crime, the pain involved should be more painful than breaking the law is worth. Only by making the punishment this way will the Criminal Justice System be able to discourage criminals and those intending to be criminals from indulging into crime. Otherwise if the pain gotten from committing a crime is equal or worth the pleasure derived from the committing it then many would go on committing the crime. The end punishment should always be meant to prevent the criminal from doing further harm to the society after refrain others from committing similar offences. The criminal justice system should therefore be able to choose punishments that will a strong and lasting impression on the mind of the criminal.


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