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How not to argue against hedonism – Jonathan Sturel’s La contre-histoire de Michel Onfray (version anglaise)

Ecrit par Sjoerd van Hoorn le 23.01.15 dans La Une CED, Les Chroniques, Côté Philo

How not to argue against hedonism – Jonathan Sturel’s La contre-histoire de Michel Onfray (version anglaise)

 

There may be such a thing as the tone of the right (not to be mistaken for the right tone); its characteristics are anger, indignation, a measure of sanctimoniousness. The tone of the right is a travesty of victimhood. Having found that the downtrodden of the earth made legitimate claims to rights, the right have concluded that legitimacy resides in a show of being hounded down. The primus inter pares of the indignant right is the English writer Roger Scruton, who despite having held professorships at virtually every university of any name in the Anglophone world constantly presents himself as the underdog par excellence in British academia. In France of course things are not as different as perhaps they once were. One need not mention Éric Zemmour to see that the right in France too, so to speak, likes to be the black party in a chess game – it is always the other who started it. Now one of their party, the journalist Jonathan Sturel, has written a book against a figure who likes to think of himself as just a little less controversial than Zemmour himself, namely the soi-disant hedonist Michel Onfray. Sturel requires a 240-page pamphlet to get across the relatively simple idea that Onfray is a fake radical.

According to Sturel Onfray falsely presents an image of himself as a hedonist going against the grain of a still deeply Christian French ethos. Onfray’s posing as Sturel correctly holds is a little silly. Does Onfray really believe that France is governed by the ethics of abstinence and penitence? Less correctly Sturel argues, or rather, gauchely tries to argue, that Onfray’s doctrine of hedonism is incoherent. The hedonist holds that a pleasure is the goal of life. Onfray’s motto is to have pleasure and to give pleasure. Onfray adds to this that a pleasure is only to be foregone if a greater pain results. It isn’t clear however, what the relevant measure (unit) for such comparisons is supposed to be. Sturel asks if a man who wonders if he should seduce his neighbour given that her husband could beat him up has any one measure to weigh his options. However, this is not so much an argument against hedonism as an argument against utilitarianism: the idea that a good life consists in countable (quantifiable) pleasures. It doesn’t follow from the proposition that pleasure is hard to quantify that pleasure isn’t a legitimate goal of life. For that to the case, one would need to show either that we do not and cannot know what pleasure is or that we can know but are in principle unable to reach the goal in the sense that the hedonist strategy is self-defeating (a thought which we find in Aristotle’s Ethics.) Sturel goes on to adduce the thought that Onfray does not allow for moral qualms to enter the equation. This point seems to carry somewhat more conviction, for isn’t it indeed the case that moral arguments weigh in decisions about action? Still Onfray could retort that Sturel here assumes what Onfray rejects, namely morality as the arbiter of what one is to do, how one should live. Truth be told, Onfray nowhere, as far as I am aware, actually argues for hedonism – he rather propounds that it is the best life-choice and keeps pounding his drum about it. Sturel does try to produce arguments, but logic isn’t his forte. He is too caught up in his moral indignation about the evil Onfray. La contre-histoire de Michel Onfray is a wrong-headed and nasty little pamphlet which abounds in personal attacks and insinuations, seasoned with the semblance of arguments. Futhermore Sturel is a prononent of the tiresome view that France has been ruled by multiculturalists; the last time I looked France was a secular, laicist society. It would seem, then, that Sturel and Onfray have more in common than they bargained for: both are rather liberal with the truth.

 

Sjoerd van Hoorn

 


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A propos du rédacteur

Sjoerd van Hoorn

 

Sjoerd van Hoorn a obtenu un master en philosophie (thèse sur David Hume) à Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen (Pays-Bas).

De 2006 à 2011, Il a été maître assistant en philosophie des sciences à Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Ses travaux de recherche portent actuellement sur la philosophie de Leibniz et Kant. Il est journaliste et critique littéraire.