Philosophical HangoverPosted: April 15, 2011
Fame, fortune, beer. These are the three goods “pursued by the multitude” according to Spinoza. Well, he didn’t say “beer” exactly; he said “sensual pleasure.” But it is pretty easy to read between the lines.
Seriously though, beer as a source of sensual pleasure fits his descriptions fairly well. For one thing, it has destroyed countless people who, unable to control their desire therefor, were controlled by it. Its abuse also, not infrequently, “is followed by extreme melancholy, whereby the mind, though not enthralled, is disturbed and dulled.” This “hangover” may be observed after all sorts of sensual indulgence, but with alcohol it is both familiar and acute.
I, however, am not ready to give up beer (and indeed all sensual pleasures) in the pursuit of some eternal philosophical good. Not just yet. Besides, I am not even convinced that beer is NOT the one true good.
Beer of the Week: Streitberg – Those who seek only the pleasure of the senses would do well to avoid Streitberg. This slightly bitter, slightly sour German lager is just not very good. It seems that not all German beers are winners. Its fairly poor overall quality may help me to achieve a real and lasting good; since the flavor will not enthrall my mind, I will not be much distracted from the pursuit of a higher good. Lamentably, chicken wings, such as are available here, are of much the same quality.
Reading of the week: On the Improvement of the Understanding by Benedictus de Spinoza, 3:2-5;3, 7:1-3 – This excerpt from near the beginning of Spinoza’s treatise describes (and denounces) the three primary goals of the average person: sensual pleasure, riches and fame. Once these are disposed of as improper goals, Spinoza and those who will follow his method can begin the search for the ultimate philosophical good.
Question of the week: Spinoza claims that sensual pleasure, riches and fame are “certain evils,” “causing the death not seldom of those who possess them, and always to those who are possessed by them.” But is it fair to make these out as “certain evils” if they only destroy those who possess them occasionally? Cannot moderation or temperance make these “evils” into useful tools?