The term Hedonism refers theories that involve happiness and pleasure in the supreme end of life. Hedonism is the doctrine that pleasure is the sole good. (Banks) Within the criminal justice system there exist two forms of hedonism, psychological hedonism and ethical hedonism. Ethical hedonism refers to the view that not only do people seek pleasure, but they also ought to seek pleasure because pleasure alone is good. (Banks) Psychological hedonism refers to people pursuing pleasure and only pleasure in their lives, and that all their activities are directed toward achieving pleasure and avoiding pain. (Banks)
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Over the years philosophers have tried to distinguish between psychological hedonism and ethical hedonism. What exactly do we need psychological hedonism for? Criminal justice professionals when dealing with psychological hedonism are motivated to maximize him or her pleasure and pain. They are concerned with ethics in our daily lives. In order to understand people’s behavior hedonism comes into play. Banks stakes explanations that the only thing that is worth seeking just for its own sake is pleasure and that pleasure is good. All humans seek pleasure in different ways.
History of Hedonism
Ancient Epicureanism founded by Epicurus stated that pleasure is that pleasure is the greatest good. “He also appreciated that pursuit of pleasure might itself result in pain.” (Banks, pg. 253) Around the time of the middle ages Hedonism was denounced because Christian philosophers believed it was inconsistent with the Christian emphasis on avoiding sin and doing God’s will. Because of the 19th century ethical theory of utilitarianism philosophers such as Mill and Bentham developed and refined Hedonism. Bentham believed that the value of pleasure could be quantitatively understood, and Mill on the other hand preferred a qualitative approach dependent on the mix of higher quality pleasures and lower quality, simple pleasures. (Branch/ Doctrine)
Hedonism Contribution to the Criminal Justice System
What does hedonism contribute to the criminal justice system? Hedonism is used to understand criminal behavior. Behavior such as why they commit the crimes they do. There is psychological reasoning for everything that happens in our lives. A criminal has a pattern and with this pattern there comes habits. These habits can contribute to an investigation and crime scene. If behavioral patterns of criminals are studied then the rate of crime can decrease because of hedonism. According to the theory of hedonism, people are supposed to aim towards pleasure and seek pleasure.
As I mentioned before psychological hedonism aim is to display pleasure. When applied to criminal justice psychological hedonism makes a proposal those criminals actions are based on motivation. On the other hand ethical hedonism states that pursuit for pleasure is normative.
Looking from a classical perspective crime is seen as the result of a free will decision meaning it is guided by the plain pleasure principle. The plain pleasure principle refers to people acting in a way that maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain. People are hedonistic when they naturally seek pleasure as every opportunity to avoid pain. When dealing with Hedonism and crime you think of deterrence. The deterrence theory states that people don’t commit crimes because they are afraid of getting caught but because they are motivated by some deep moral sense.
When pain is associated with any type of crime the punishment is greater than the pleasure derived from the crime. There is a general problem with the theory of crime. First, deterrence is not effective in criminal justice. I think this because apprehension is low. Secondly, hedonism towards short term gratification must come from somewhere. (Damer, Pg 33)
If applying the theory of hedonism to why criminals commit crimes, it suggest that everyone acts in a different way, analyzing. If the criminal justice system can get to know the criminal then patterns and thoughts can be established.
If hedonism is based on pleasure that is the highest good, can it be proven otherwise? I will mention some examples that would support the reasons that pleasure are not the highest good. For instance; let’s think about child molesters. These people get a high from raping children. It is ethically wrong in any nature. If you refer back to hedonism this act would be considered good because the rapist is receiving pleasure. A Hedonist may argue that this is not a good example and that is not the pleasure they speak of because it the long run it will have a bad impact regardless. Sooner or later the rapist/molester will be sentenced to a long life in prison and he will receive much more pain then pleasure.
According to Hedonism how is one ought to live? The text gives the answer that
“the good life consists of a life of pleasure and that a person ought to act in such a way as to acquire pleasure.” (Banks) When referring back to the beginning with Greek philosopher Epicurus, he attempted to find pleasures that did not produce painful consequences. Instead he did find that pleasure might be accompanied with pain. He uses the example that, friendship can be accompanied by depression and sadness at the death of a close friend. I’m pretty sure everyone has gone through some type of loss in their life. According to Epicurus he finds it difficult to see how ethical hedonism can function as a guide for behavior in the everyday lives of people. He states advising a person to seek pleasure is often also advice to seek pain. (Banks)
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Hedonism is an ethical theory that states pleasure is the highest good and proper aim of human life. It requires that everyone conducts themselves in ways that acquire reasonable pleasure. Criminal justice professionals can use this theory to find patterns of criminal activity and understand why those actions are used. When referring to ethics and what are morally right and wrong hedonism can play a small part. Distinguishing between pleasure and pain and how to use it depends on the person. For example, if I choose to commit a crime using my own free will that is based on my judgment and no one else I will still understand that whatever I do can give me pleasure or cause me pain in the long run. When committing a crime you do way the pros and cons and make a conscious decision. Some may probably say pleasure? Or pain? In conclusion there is much criminal justice theory that tries to pin point what people think before they put themselves in danger with criminal actions.
Banks, C. (2013). Criminal justice ethics: Theory and practice (3rd Ed.). United States of
America: Sage Publications, Inc.
Hedonistic utilitarianism. (1998). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Rudebusch, G. (1999). Socrates, pleasure, and value. New York: Oxford University Press.
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