In our last article, we examined hedonism and utilitarianism as a group project in reference with America’s stance on THC. Unfortunately, for the views and ideas suggested throughout the article, it seemed impossible to attribute a moral ground using these two philosophical ideas in relation to the broad subject that Marijuana brings to the table; mainly because of their own shortcomings in the academic sense.
In this article we will be examining another interesting idea that attempts to show how we can be happy, and relate this theory to marijuana consumption: for lack of a better name, we will call this fulfillment. The idea is explored in depth by Susan Wolf, a distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her interests range from the Philosophy of Mind to Aesthetics, but mainly she focuses in Ethics.1 This article will explore the paper Meaning in Life and Why it Matters in an attempt to dissect the moral idea of fulfillment, and whether THC has any type of place in a fulfilling lifestyle.
The first question that should be addressed of course, is how does this style of philosophy work? What are its implications and what does it mean to be fulfilled? The dictionary defines it as “to succeed in doing or providing (something)” 2 but we can dissect this into two distinct parts: doing (successfully, as opposed to doing something unsuccessfully); and the thing itself. If my goal is to lift my hand, and I do so successfully, we can break that into the two parts: lifting (successfully); and the hand. Even something more complex, like shooting a basketball, can be seen as our two parts: the doing (which would consist of running, jumping, extending the arm, bending the wrist, letting the ball go, etc); and the thing itself, the shot. Or, in our case, ingesting Marijuana: ingestion; and the thing, in this case, THC.
So what is it to be fulfilled? Wolf writes
“When thinking about one’s own life, for example, a person’s worry or complaint that his life lacks meaning is apt to be an expression of dissatisfaction with the subjective quality of his life. Some subjective good is felt to be missing. One’s life feels empty. One longs for finding something to do which remedies this gap and makes on feel fulfilled.” 3 (Page 9)
“Such feelings are the opposite of the very bad feelings of boredom and alienation… …many of the things that grip or engage us make us vulnerable to pain, disappointment, and stress… …the pleasure one gets from pursuing these things may be though, at least from a hedonistic perspective, to be qualified or balanced by the negative feelings that accompany it.” (Page 10)
Fulfillment, she is arguing, is not the happy go lucky feeling a person gets when they see an old friend, kiss a mate, catches a game winning pass, or even finally finishes a thesis. These feelings are fleeting. Rather, the fulfillment Wolf is looking for is the feeling one has when the paper gets scrapped and (after crying uncontrollably for a few hours) a renewed vigor courses through you, and you get back to work on the thing that you love. It isn’t in the game-winning catch, but in the hours spent before making sure that you knew the route, knew how to react to the wind, in the preparation before the play. Of course, fulfillment comes out in these moments, but the feeling isn’t the important part–it is the deep down drive that you feel through the pain as well as the victories. It is taking part in something that transcends a person, is bigger and more powerful than you or I–an idea, a cause–and working toward that goal.
We are not trying to find objective meaning in life in this article, but it does seem interesting that some of Wolf’s points actually correlate directly with our goal. She looks into what she calls ‘the pot smoker’ and tries to decide if s/he actually believes that doing nothing other than smoking and telling us that they feel fulfilled for doing so would fit into her fulfillment view. This leads to a dichotomy between the subjective view point and an objective one. Subjectively, a person can argue that peeing on every bush on their street is what makes them feel fulfilled. It is absurd in the eyes of everyone else, and therefore objectively not fulfilling.
A less absurd example could be the one of a musician. I’ve heard (and said myself) “I would do anything for half the talent Jimi Hendrix had on guitar” or a similar exclamation followed by a wicked air guitar solo. Objectively, we can say that Hendrix was without a doubt a very skilled guitar player. But what about Hendrix? Without being able to speak to him, I can only assume he felt like what he did had some sort of subjective meaning. It is not like this with every musician, though–history tells of many ‘band break ups,’ strife, and even suicide from musicians that were held in very high regard. Some people feel the subjective power, the fulfillment, from playing–and it seems as though some do not.
Wolf drives this point home: “on this bipartite view, in order for a lift to be meaningful both an objective and a subjective condition must be met.” (Page 16)
It makes it much harder to argue, then, that a life of smoking pot is fulfilling. We all know these kind of people–college was an eye opening experience for myself, and I’m sure many others–that people may tell you that they are in control of their mental addiction, but do nothing to curb their appetites (mental addiction, mind you, not physical). They are not a part of anything; rather, they are completely engrossed in the self and its’ comfort. the first criterion is met, subjective meaning, but the second is not.
As human nature would have it, there are many people who do not feel that pot smoking is a way of life. They find the release much the same as I do while I type this and drink my dark liquor: I don’t find the liquor fulfilling, but I do find the writing to be. Although the liquor has arguments against its’ objective fulfillment (even from me), I don’t find any moral ground in drinking it as I am, which is in moderation.
The moderate smoker, much like the moderate drinker, is not going to find fulfilling value in partaking their poison of choice. Even in the example of a person who consumes marijuana for medical reasons, it is unlikely that they believe the the drug is the thing that is fulfilling their life–if they did, we would have to entertain the thought that the drugs that allow diabetics to continue living is the fulfillment that they are looking for. Of course this is absurd–not out of the question, of course, but we are not looking at the negligible population who may think this way.
What about a non-physical entity, such as porn? There are more than enough articles and studies showing the pros and cons of watching porn, but can anyone argue for its fulfilling effects? It may boil down to the same issues that marijuana does, considering the type of addiction it leads to: a mental one4. A subjective person may argue for the use of pornography for the same reason they use marijuana–release of stress, a way to unwind–while their family and friends may try to explain the way that it is hurting him/her. Of course, there is the flip side; some may argue that it may help a relationship. Those kinds of arguments, of course, belong somewhere else.
Fulfillment view, then, allows for the moderated use of any drug (or addiction), right? It would seem as though this view would allow anything to happen that would not impede the fulfillment one seeks, and would not impede the fulfillment of another person. Not quite, according to Wolf, who addresses the idea of Elitism in her paper, explaining that not one nor even a group of people can be in control of ‘who is to say’ what is objectively meaningful, but rather a view from outside is needed, an unbiased view or a view that puts yourself in another person’s point of view.
Unfortunately, this may cause issue with many people: it doesn’t allow us to pass a judgement upon the issue at hand. Many people will argue that consuming marijuana is objectively and subjectively unfulfilling or meaningless; even if the act is not harming your ability to fulfill your life, it would be very hard to argue that ingesting any sort of mind altering drug is actually propelling you in the direction of fulfillment. Others still will say that, like alcohol, it allows you to recoup and relax, deeply and intensely and in a way that allows you to continue your journey tomorrow–the same way a simple vacation may allow you to continue your work in whatever field you may be the best in.
So what good is the fulfillment theory? As we search for what is subjectively fulfilling to us, can we say that marijuana, or any drug for that matter, is merely a way to escape and recoup? Objectively, can we say that award winning scholars on the brink of new scientific advancements deserve, or even require a type of escapism so that they do not overload themselves? What sense does it make to say Beer over Marijuana, when it seems to be the same as saying Aruba over the Andes? My point stands as such: reason points to us being unable to choose the type of escape that one person chooses over another. Why do we try to make people choose alcohol when they may be better off with Marijuana?
- Over time, an addiction to Marijuana can become physical according to some studies as an over-stimulation of the brain will change the effects of the drug THC on the brain. There are arguments that the chemical reactions in the brain can make porn addiction physical as well.
- Anthony J, Warner LA, Kessler RC. Comparative epidemiology of dependence on tobacco, alcohol, controlled substances, and inhalants: basic findings from the National Comorbidity Survey. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 1994;2:244–268.
About the Author: James Bittner
Lover of wisdom and learning. Gamer, metalhead, and MTG enthusiast. Quiet and reserved until you get him on a topic that he is passionate about.