The Problem of Pleasure

Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church:

In addition to the problem of pain, G.K. Chesterton seemed equally fascinated with its opposite, the problem of pleasure. He found materialism too thin to account for the sense of wonder and delight that gives an almost magical dimension to such basic human acts as sex, childbirth, play, and artistic creation.

Why is sex fun? Reproduction surely does not require pleasure: some animals simply split in half to reproduce, and even humans use methods of artificial insemination that involve no pleasure. Why is eating enjoyable? Plants and the lower animals obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds. Why are there colors? Some people get along just fine without the ability to see color. Why complicate vision for all the rest of us?

It struck me, after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain, that I have never even seen a book on “the problem of pleasure.” Nor have I met a philosopher who goes around shaking his or her head in perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure. Yet it looms as a huge question: the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the the problem of pain for Christians. On the issue of pleasure, Christians can breathe easier. A good and loving God would naturally want his creatures to experience delight, joy, and personal fulfillment. Christians start from that assumption and then look for ways to explain the origin of suffering. But should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness?

I’m not quite sure why this particular passage came to mind this morning like it did, especially considering our present circumstances (more on those soon, hopefully), but it did and so there you have it.

Read more about Philip Yancey and Soul Survivor.