Friday, July 25, 2008

Hedonism and Immaturity

I'm reading an excellent book edited by Gregory Bassham and Jerry L. Walls. It is titled The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy. Bassham is a philosophy professor at Kings College in Pennsylvania and the author of a book I use with my Critical Thinking classes.

Chapter seven of The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy addresses "Work, Vocation and the Good Life in Narnia." In this chapter, written by Devin Brown, the character of Eustace Scrubb is examined. Here is an excerpt of what Devon Brown has written:

In The Chronicles of Narnia we find a character that, while not as lovable as Tom [Sawyer], definitely adheres to Tom's philosophy of work. Through him we can see what Lewis's view of work, vocation, and the good life is not. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace Scrubb is clearly one who practices his own brand of hedonism and sees his highest good as his own comfort and pleasure. Eustace, like Tom, looks on any kind of work, even what is rightfully his own share, with dread and foreboding because it interferes with his selfish pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. (Note that these comments apply only to the early Eustace because, as you know if you have read the book, he later becomes quite a different character, which of course is Lewis's point.)

One of the best examples of Eustace's hedonism occurs when the Dawn Treader puts ashore on Dragon Island. At this point, the ship is a bit of a wreck. Casks have to be brought ashore, fixed, and refilled. A tree has to be cut down and made into a new mast. Sails must be repaired, a hunting party organized, and clothes washed and mended. In short, "there was everything to be done" (VDT, Chapter 5, p. 459).

Everyone immediately jumps in and begins working - everyone, that is, except Eustace. Here's what Lewis says about him:

A Eustace lay under a tree and heard all these plans being discussed his heart sank. Was there going to be no rest? It looked as if their first day on the longed-for land was going to be quite as hard work as a day at sea. Then a delightful idea occurred to him. Nobody was looking - they were all chattering about their ship as if they actually liked the beastly thing. Why shouldn't he simply slip away? He would take a stroll inland, find a cool, airy place up in the mountains, have a good long sleep, and not rejoin the others till the day's work was over. (VTD, Chapter 5, p. 459)
The other crew members - who begin working not only without complaining but even with a sense of a happiness - have a vastly different philosophy of work, vocation, and the good life than Eustace does.

By having Eustace grow and develop, from someone who at first cares only about his own pleasure, Lewis suggests that this pleasure-seeking state is an immature one. It's a position that might be understandable in a child but not in someone who has grown up. After his transformation, Eustace remarks, "I'm afraid I've been pretty beastly" (VDT, Chapter 7, p. 475). In associating the word beastly with Eustace's first condition, Lewis further suggests that if the love of pleasure is something we share with the animals, being human requires that we acquire a purpose in life that is greater than just our own hedonistic desires.

Read it all here.

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