Conscious hedonism is superior to unconscious asceticism. Ascetic practices are more commonly valued in moral complexes only because asceticism often requires a greater degree of conscious discipline. This premise rests on the assumption that the default way of life, at least for most, is not ascetic.

We assume hedonism leads to unconscious behavior. Absorbed in pleasure, the hedonist soon loses himself; the sensual power of experience washes away his identity, his control, his composure–his consciousness. But it’s quite possible for the ascetic to experience such an ecstatic loss of restraint. Only explore the ecstasies of the mystics; every ascetic practice hides some terminal or climactic point which houses its reversal, and, if we believe the reports, fulfills itself as a true asceticism only when it achieves a grand hedonistic moment–God impregnates the virgin1

A firm asceticism is not respectable for its denial of pleasure, it is respected only for the amount of conciousness involved in its practice. A conscious hedonism, a philosophical hedonism, is just as valuable–so long as the pursuit of pleasure is a broad, conscious choice we can repair it to the house of good opinion.

It is unconscious action that is damned in most value-systems, and when unconsciousness is valued, it is only valued to the extent that it serves as a conduit to bring another conciousness to life: in the case of the saints, the voice of God, in the darker case of the alcoholic, his uninhibited self. Few, if any, value systems value unconsciousness as an end in and of itself. The vast majority of human actions are in service to some form or idea of consciousness–some god object–all gods are conscious. As David Foster Wallace put it, “Everybody worships.”2 What humanity has always rallied against is unconsciousness, which finds its full manifestation in death.

  1. Evelyn Underhill - Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (New York: Dover Publications) 

  2. David Foster Wallace - This is Water (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009)