Every choice we make as humans, whether conscious or not, is made with our own pleasure in mind. When we choose to buy a pack of chocolate, go to church, or even go to work, we do it with the goal of maximizing our own pleasure. The choices we make are those that we feel will give us the greatest pleasure. We spend our entire lives trying to maximize pleasure and minimize pain; this is the essence of man.
Aristippus was one of the first philosophers of ancient Greece to state that the focus of life is pleasure. He said that "The highest good is pleasure, the greatest evil is pain." (Gaarder, 132) Epicurus expanded his ideas around 300 BC, saying that the pleasurable results of an action must always be weighed against its possible side effects. He believed that momentary pleasure should be weighed against the possibility of greater, more lasting, or more intense pleasure in the future (Gaarder, 133). For example, rather than smoking cigarettes everyday for a year, you could save your money and health and instead take a trip to the ocean or buy a new recliner. Pleasure is the main objective. He emphasized that these desires are not only for sensory pleasure, but also for values such as friendship and appreciation of art. Upon Epicurus' death, the Epicureans --his followers-- began to shift towards caring only for momentary pleasure, and now the term Epicurean refers to s omeone who cares only for their own pleasure (Gaarder, 133).
It is important to remember, however, that not only is our own pleasure important, we also care about others pleasure. In other words, it gives us pleasure to bring others pleasure. Most have a desire to please our family, our friends, or our God. We do it because it makes us feel good to make these others feel good. People give to charity because it makes them feel benevolent, which is a pleasing emotion. I have yet to hear of someone who gives gifts or charity simply for the altruistic value. The do it for the pleasure it brings them. Kant hypothesized that a person who gives without taking any pleasure from it is a much better person than one who does. I would agree, but I'd say that person does not exist. The fact is we please others simply because it pleases ourselves.
This argument is discredited by those that say humans function from a higher, often religious, sense of morality. They say that pleasure and morality have nothing in common. This could not be further from the truth. Morality and pleasure are directly linked "Why do (we) need morality? To make the right decisions. What are the right decisions? Those which create pleasure, not pain." (Lizard) Morality is, by extension, human nature. Morality is not an ever-present truth. It is constantly changing. It was considered a moral practice to own slave in the 1700's, because a slave was seen as inferior and as needing guidance. Now, however, it would be wildly immoral to consider owning a slave. Morality changes with whatever brings the most pleasure at the time.
People's emotions are tied to the pleasure they receive. How happy we are depends upon how much pleasure we receive, or, often more importantly, what we choose to take pleasure in. Those that take pleasure only in their own accomplishments are often seen as unhappy, but the man who takes joy in others accomplishments is nearly always happy. So many factors affect our consciousness, but the most important is how much pleasure we get from our surroundings.
The entire thought process, our actions, and human morality is a direct result of our quest for pleasure. Pleasure is the active force in all human achievements. Our continued drive for pleasure has led us from caveman to the current technological might we have achieved, and it will only continue to drive us to new heights. We might even reach a time in the future where only pleasure exists, which could be seen as the ultimate goal of humanity. It is pleasure that pushes man forward, pleasure that is the goal of humanity, pleasure that is the essence of man.
Lizard. "Does God Exist?" (1999): n.pag. On-line. Internet 15 April 2003. Availible WWW: http://www.spectacle.org/699/debate.html
Gaarder, Jostein. Sophie's World. New York: Berkley, 1991. 132-133.