The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde is a novel that meditates on the nature of hedonism, a philosophical principle in which sensual pleasure is valued above morality. The protagonist of the story, Dorian, marvels over the transient nature of his life when he sees his portrait, whose beauty, unlike his own, will last forever. Dorian is shocked to discover that, as he ages, the portrait changes in appearance while Dorian remains young. This portrait not only ages but also bears the moral consequences of Dorian’s actions by physically manifesting his guilt in its appearance. Dorian, free of guilt, pursues a hedonistic lifestyle, unaffected by moral ramifications. Eventually, however, Dorian seeks to destroy the painting, as it proves the guilt of his actions, and, in doing so, he accidentally kills himself. This moment emphasizes the inevitability of consequences for one’s moral faults and, by extension, the flaws of a hedonistic lifestyle.
The moral ramifications of hedonism is an increasingly important issue for us university students to consider. After all, “the University party” certainly appears to be the embodiment of hedonistic pleasure: loud music, alcohol, drug use, and sexuality, in spite of the potential associated health risks, all exemplify indulgence of the senses. With an estimated 11,000 attendees to Western’s most recent FOCO event, these hedonistic parties seem to be a lifestyle that Western students prioritize. What we as students, particularly as undergraduate students, must then consider, is to what degree we believe that the prioritization of sensory pleasure in our lives is moral.
On one hand, hedonism seems to inherently dismiss morality. Putting hedonistic indulgence in sensual pleasures above all else suggests that all other factors are irrelevant. This would certainly appear to be the case with some aspects of Western’s FOCO, or Fake Homecoming celebrations: 37 Western FOCO attendees were hospitalized this year, demonstrating a disregard for physical health, and 60 charges related to the FOCO event were made by police, demonstrating a disregard for the law. The London Police and the university have expressed concerns about student safety at these events, particularly surrounding the difficulty for EMS services to access people in need as a result of FOCO related events. As such, it would appear that this event is essentially immoral in its disregard for its own ramifications. Is it not ironic that we, as members of an institution devoted to the furthering of humanity through the pursuit of knowledge, would be characterized by such a sensually charged event?
On the other hand, the pursuit of sensual pleasure does not inherently correspond with a disrespect for morality, as Wilde would have it in his novel. One may be capable of indulging without disregard for the effects this may have on him/herself and others, even if this indulgence is an addictive behaviour. Is it not our right, as members of a nation governed by the Charter of rights and freedoms, to choose what we want to do with our time regardless of how others feel about it? In addition, many students would argue that the purpose of celebrations such as HOCO – and by extension, the newly established FOCO – is to express pride for our school: a seemingly harmless pursuit. Finally, the pursuit of this hedonistic lifestyle would appear to be only one element of the University Student Life, Western being ranked in the top 1% of Universities in the world for areas including the balance of our student life, suggesting that this pursuit of sensual pleasure is not one that dominates all elements of a student’s life and is therefore not obsessive and, by extension, irrelevant in the overall scheme of morality.
My conclusion, then, would be the same as all other conclusions I come to on social matters: unless your discussion or participation in the matter in question specifically and actively progresses towards the betterment of humanity with regard to that issue and the engagement does not hinder the human rights of another, your complaints and attempts to change the social issue (particularly by changing the opinions of another) are fruitless. One should be able to get drunk without being shamed and one should be able to stay in and study without being socially ridiculed, according to the charter definitive to this nation’s identity. The great thing about being in a large student population like Western’s is that there’s room for lots of different types of people. But the moment you open your mouth to critique, or complain about, the social activities of another, in a way that benefits neither them nor the greater student body, is the moment you waste a breath; a breath that could’ve better been used to inform yourself to make your own decisions about your own social life; a breath you waste complaining that could’ve been used to bring about actual social change. I ask neither that you party more nor that you study more, but rather ask these three things:
- Remain open-minded towards the engagements of others and know that, according to our charter, they have the freedom to express themselves peacefully in any way they desire.
- Inform yourself before committing yourself to a particular social lifestyle.
- Consider how constructive the time you dedicate to the social issues that matter to you really is.