Pleasure as goal of life
The Charvakas1 sought to break the power of the Brahmins’ religious exploitation racket that took their freedom and wealth. They did so by calling and mocking the Brahmins’ bluff.2
The Charvakas simply denied the sources of valid knowledge that claimed to prove the truth of the fantastic beliefs and promises3 of the Brahmins’ exploitation racket, namely inference, testimony, comparison, postulation and non-apprehension. For them the only acceptable means to truth was sensory perception.
With the Brahmins’ world view discredited the Charvakas considered4 that the only reasonable goal in this life was to increase and sustain of one’s pleasure,5 hence ‘Live and be merry for tomorrow we die.’
There were two ways of achieving pleasure. The first was to gain pleasure by achieving an actual or virtual goal, i.e. by succeeding.6 The other was by directly acquiring the payoffs (or perks) of achievement.7
It was for the latter means to pleasure8 that the Charvakas were vilified, indeed demonised as hedonists by the religious racketeers.
© 2021 by Victor Langheld
1. Just like the other nastika (i.e. deniers of Vedic mythology) schools, such as Buddhists, Jains, Ajivikas and so on.
2. Calling the religious’ bluff would also happen in Christendom during the European Age of Enlightenment. It has yet to happen in Islam.
3. Such as Karma, Rebirth, the immortal soul, moksha (release), Gods and Devils, heaven and hell, a personal future and so on. The late Vedantic solution to pain avoidance was moksha, meaning escape from life (i.e. Samsara). It invented the jivanmukta (i.e. ‘liberated while still in the body’) ideal and who became the model Hindu. The jivanmukta ideal had disastrous long term consequences for Indian society as a whole for it weakened the basic individual and social survival drive.
4. They observed on the basis of daily observation that no meaningful goal could be attributed to life, i.e. nature, that, indeed, the short, dreary and painful everyday struggle for survival was a completely absurd enterprise.
5. For ‘pleasure’ (Sanskrit: sukha) read also: the varieties of happiness, joy and so on.
6. i.e. by ‘winning’ the highly competitive and usually painful (Sanskrit: dukkha) survival struggle. The emergents of ‘Pleasure’ and ‘pain’ serve as self-generated Guide & Control signals that indicate personal success or failure. They do not exist apart from the body. Indeed, for a given human, apart from the body nothing exists and which is the essence of the Charvaka creed.
7. For instance, booze, food, sex, conspicuous consumption, i.e. the top end life-style.
8. Pushed to extremes. Note that seeking pleasure (or avoiding pain) is common to all living systems. Pleasure sustains the energy levels of a system and so aids its survival responses. In this connection see my book: ‘How to make and fake happiness.’ (Langheld 2013)