This question can seem rather disturbing and make me look like I'm not very stable mentally, but let me explain.

All of us live practically equally, our lives centered on a job or a career that can provide more or less pleasure to a person, doing all our duties, like cleaning or cooking, and spending our free time doing what we prefer. At least, that's the basics for the majority of us.

But the thing is, the pleasure that we get doing these things is provided by different reasons, it can be for distorted visions of reality for example, being a workaholic, where in essence working doesn't give you any pleasure, but you get it anyway because of the value that you've put on it. Anyway, the pleasure that you get from it can be provided in a much simpler and more primitive way, like heroin or stimulating your stupid genitals.

Assuming that you can perform these activities (drugs and other physical stimuli) without them affecting your daily life in any way, (what I said about your job and doing your duties) why shouldn't we just drug ourselves up if, by doing this we'll get a total income of pleasure that we couldn't get otherwise?

This basically comes from the fact that I've heard from a lot of people who clearly have thought about it (my philosophy teacher for example) that we shouldn't settle with just pleasuring ourselves with our carnal desires, that we should aim for big things, and not just sheer pleasure. I would like, related to my question, how this is "true" (to put it in some way).

Just to clarify, if anyone cares, no I don't drug myself up, or let myself in a world of lust, I'm just asking why it's always said that one shouldn't do this.

  • 1
    'stimulating our stupid genitals' is likely the primary thing which enabled the human species to surivive its early evolution. Sex for pleasure is a quintessential human trait and important for health and happiness. Denigration of it is nonsensical... but an outgrowth of the same anti-pleasure mindset born in the Industrial Revolution you seek.
    – otakucode
    Apr 8, 2018 at 3:21
  • @otakucode: That doesn't make our genitals not stupid, 'thinking with your genitals' is not a shorthand describing good decision making. However powerful & useful sex is, it's not clever. That's part of the joy of it.
    – CriglCragl
    Nov 14, 2021 at 12:31
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    @CriglCragl Sex is a form of communication. It can be clever with sufficient skill.
    – tejasvi88
    Feb 25, 2023 at 17:22
  • @tejasvi88: As the intersection of our animal natures and selfish genes with culture, I would say even when harnessed to good & clever purposes, it will be less a domain of intelligence & cognition than other dimensions of life. Our evolution of necessity, puppets our rational characters, in this area of behaviour.
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 26, 2023 at 15:15
  • Reference to sex completely derails discussion. That's never happened before...
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 7, 2023 at 19:54

8 Answers 8


Different schools of philosophy tackle the 'problem' of pleasure differently. Some would argue that pursuing pleasure burdens you with connections to your body and the material world which can distract or prevent you from pursuing some supernatural goal. Most anti-pleasure viewpoints, however, stem from the material consequences of pleasure-seeking.

It is important to keep in mind that while our modern society often considers pleasure to be inherently destructive or implicitly laced with negative consequences, this is often not true. I believe the real consternation comes from the fact that a simple intuitive approach to life would lead to the belief that pleasure is a reliable signal of a thing providing benefit. As this is not true, the intuition is revealed to be deceptive. Rather than blame intuition and burden themselves with the task of reasoning about the world, many take the route of blaming pleasure.

Denigration of pleasure has a long history, and much has been written about it. Michel Foucault wrote about it a great deal. In the end, pleasure itself is never the problem. Relying upon pleasure as an indicator of assured consequences of either a positive or negative nature is incorrect. It is simply a meaningless indicator with no reliability. It would be as sensible as relying upon color to determine which berries are safe to eat.

We have in the past and do still presently, pay the price for our aversion to pleasure and our striving to destroy pleasure-seeking behavior. In the early 20th century, a notion became popular that the pleasure-seeking behavior of an infant to cling to their mother was destructive and led to 'weak' children and immoral adults. In order to combat this, adults began actively avoiding affectionate touching of children. This became very popular. A hospital adopted a hands-off policy in their maternity ward and made a discovery. Babies die without affectionate touch. Even if all other survival needs are met, infants die if denied the pleasure of affectionate touch. Once knowledge of this came out, most people abandoned at least this deprivation, though I'm not aware of it causing many to doubt the mindset that led them to embrace the concept originally. More modern research has shown that lack of affectionate touch with children significantly increases later aggression and destructive behaviors in children as adolescents.

Intuition (by that I mean the automatic functioning of the brain absent intentional thought - hunches, guesses, 'gut feelings', etc) is a dangerously unreliable guide to human life, particularly modern human life. Perhaps if we lived in a nomadic tribe on the African savannah (the environment it evolved to handle) it might fare better. Rather than blindly seeking OR avoiding pleasure, rational consideration of the consequences of an action and whether it might cause suffering is the only moral path in my opinion.


TL;DR: Drugs provide a “deceptive pleasure” that tricks you into thinking they’re good for you.

My philosophy professor in college taught of a (Platonic?) concept called The Good — the idea that everything was created with a purpose, and what is “Good” is for that thing/person to fulfill their purpose. (E.g. The good of a chair is to be sat upon.)

He also said that happiness is what a person feels when they believe they have “the good“ — regardless of whether they truly have it. (I think pleasure can be substituted for happiness here.)

People will disagree about what The Good is for humans, but if you buy into this concept then clearly pleasure cannot be The Good. And you look around and realize that people all over are deriving “deceptive pleasure” from things that aren’t really The Good.

I think drugs fit into this category of things that provide a deceptive sensation of pleasure.

Personally, I believe The Good is the knowledge of God. But even if you have another belief of The Good, drugs still often fit the same bill.

For example, some common informally held views of The Good:

  • Love/charity toward one’s fellow human.
  • Following the law of some God or religion.
  • Doing useful work that helps humanity prosper.

Given any of these views of the good, drugs incapacitate a person to the point of preventing them from The Good for them.

  • 1
    Many drugs (DMT, other psychedelics like it) lead very commonly to 'knowledge of God' so would seem to fit your definition, no?
    – otakucode
    Apr 8, 2018 at 3:39
  • 1
    First, is it possible to have a "deceptive sensation of pleasure"? It's possible to have a deceptive sensation of well-being, or of being useful, or of having "the good". Second, having "the good" doesn't have to be 24/7/365. If I'm doing useful work that helps humanity, why shouldn't I take drugs in my down time? Apr 8, 2018 at 3:56
  • I'm really glad I'm not a chair. Being a programmer seems better than most other jobs. Everyone should do it.
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 7, 2023 at 19:58

Your question is a watershed criterion. People say that we should not (only) pursue purely selfish ends, but how can we justify this statement? Well, as the earlier Answer says, we cannot, it is basically a personal preference. You feel an urge toward a life with collective values, or you would not be asking your question. You personally are probably not able to be happy living selfishly.

Perhaps some can. But as Huston Smith famously said, "The self is too small an object for perpetual enthusiasm", so it would be wise to think that selfishness is self-defeating for everyone ultimately.

For my part, the only meaningful statement that I live by is: "The collective enterprise is worthwhile." I think that about covers it.


Picturing pleasure as an ontic category, leads to this https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_utilitarianism#The_benevolent_world-exploder I would argue, that this is indicative not of a desired state of affairs, but of a problem with the assumptions, that pleasure is intrinsically good, and pain intrinsically bad. Where do we get those valuations?

Looking at the supposed generators of 'positive mental states' we have, not rats choosing them over food, social benefits etc. but https://www.summitbehavioralhealth.com/blog/overview-rat-park-addiction-study/ It is pretty dubious to equate psychaedelics to stimulants and opiods and other addictive compounds, in practice they seem to have a counteracting effect https://www.nature.com/news/lsd-helps-to-treat-alcoholism-1.10200

Say you decide for whatever reason, drinking special brew in a comfy chair watching TV is the ultimate goal of life. Or any other set affairs. Evolution will place a creature that chooses a more resiliant versatile goal, in the position of propagating more. Meaning itself, is a heuristic for understanding resiliance and versatlity. If you have more meaning, and pleasure is just one subset of the category, you will strive harder, suceed more often. And propagate.

When people take mind altering substances in practice, their succeptibility to unhealthy use is actually related to their own unhealthiness - see rat consumption of cocaine over food as a result of isolation, or alcoholism not as a 'product' of alcohol itself but of poor emotional development etc.

We reset our sense of what is desirable in relation to feedback, and desire for repeated simplistic feedback is a pathology, because feedback cannot be an end in itself, only a category of subjective experience. You can choose special brew in a comfy chair watching TV, and the world will move on without you. You can choose curiosity, community, vision, and build a future in which you are part. That is not a judgement, unless you choose it to be.


Taking drugs alone to solve your problems and seek pleasure isn't exactly the best option for a complex human. Taking an excess of drugs to numb the pain of life makes one avoid the essential questions of existence. This sort of drug-induced lifestyle is thus philosophically lazy. To feel accomplishment and pleasure that goes beyond a momentary "high", one must understand the obstacles facing them and proceed to tackle and overcome these obstacles. By overcoming your obstacles, you can feel gratified, while also attaching meaning to the pleasure you feel. With high doses of drugs, you circumvent all the obstacles of life to achieve some sort of hollow, momentary pleasure. Further, drugs and other forms of base gratification make the individual forget they have problems at all. This contributes to complacency, as one passively floats through existence to live for a single, pleasurable thing. This is the precise reason why Nietzsche and Marx both hated mass indulgence in drugs and alcohol. Your question also hits on a very deep idea: that there is very little difference between a "workaholic" and an alcoholic and a drug abuser. This is another idea of Marx and one of his key criticisms of capitalism. Through mundane work that likens the worker to a cog in a big machine of production, one becomes alienated from their labor. That is, they can no longer see themselves (their creativity, their nuance, their emotion, etc.) in their work. Thus, you must see yourself in all you do to find fulfillment. Of course, there is no way to find yourself in drugs, so drugs clearly won't give you anything beyond base, hedonistic pleasure. Your question also strikes the very core of existentialism: finding meaning in a meaningless world. We mustn't be lazy and fall back on drugs, Monday night football, and materialism to satisfy ourselves. We must grab life and our struggles by the horns, make them our own, and conquer them. I hope that helped you as much as it helped me formulate some latent ideas. Cheers.

  • I've often thought that we should simply provide a safe environment for people to take drugs if they want, as much and for as long as they choose. For many, I think this would fairly quickly lead to them losing interest and moving on to other things. Perhaps there are some people who have a predisposition to getting stuck in drugs. If that is biological, then we would have to intervene. If it was caused by earlier misfortunes in life, perhaps we should remedy those? Then the question evaporates.
    – Scott Rowe
    Nov 14, 2021 at 13:04

Those who claim we should not do these things are placing their own values above our own, which is philosophically reprehensible. We are each free to make our own decisions, and judge whether or not they will be productive or counter-productive to our lives. We may be judged by others based on these decisions, but that is just another variable to add into our equation when deciding whether or not something is worth doing or not.

If you were to truly believe the positives would outweigh the negatives, I would say there is no reason for you not to do drugs. I smoked pot for 10 years whilst outperforming everyone in my office, and making steady progress in life, and so for me there was no reason to stop. Eventually I did make the decision to end it, but not for any negative reason other than I was getting bored of it.

What you are referring to is peer pressure, and that can be safely ignored if you are confident in your own assertions about the effects of what you are doing.


Aside from religious reasons, there may be something off-putting about drug fuelled hedonism. Sure, the sensations are pleasurable enough, but - even supposing they do no damage to your life or anyone else's - the social (and introspective, though that may sound overly idealist) side of them may be distorted in various ways. Analogously, you can appeal to the refinement and aesthetics etc. of more worldly pleasures.

But it's a good question. I think the similarity between drugged up pleasure and wicked foolish happiness is there, however seriously we take morality, however symbolic the analogy.


You have a duty to develop your capacities. Taking drugs is a hindrance to this development. Therefore, you should not take drugs.

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