Dialogue on Katastematic Pleasure

  • Pd3 yes it is limit of quantity or magnitude. The point where pleasure is at its highest or greatest. The other pleasures that you are speaking of are seasoning of this state. Not the essence of it.

  • When you refer to "agreeable perception of the senses" you are apparently trying to limit the discussion to "the five senses."

    You do not seem to accept mental pleasures as agreeable perceptions of the senses at all. That would exclude all mental processes, including joy and delight, which are clearly considered to be "a delightful feeling—a positively agreeable perception of the senses."

    If you do not consider joy and delight to be mental processes, then we have a long way to backtrack, back to the nature of death as the end of all sensation in PD2. I would contend it was clear to Epicurus that a person could still be alive while not experiencing any present stimulation of the five senses, but still experiencing mental processes, and so mental pleasures of joy and delight, as well as mental pains are clearly of the ordinary variety and something different is not indicated.

    As for " sensation of complete emancipation and relief from uneasiness?" I am quite accepting that complete relief from one or more pains is a pleasurable feeling. I am rejecting that "absence" alone, without a positive experience of pleasures such as are ordinarily felt, does not equate in every respect to "the highest pleasure," except in a measure of quantity.

    You are saying "absence of pain is the highest pleasure" and that is all anyone needs to know. I am saying "Far from it!" That is not only not all anyone needs to know, but without an explanation of the limited quantitative context, such as statement implies absence of all feeling, and in practical terms is the biggest "turn-off" to the philosophy imaginable, which is why Cicero employed it.

  • As time permits I am going to supplement this thread with other references and arguments, including this one: ** That Cicero's argument about "absence of pain" being the "highest pleasure" is not supported, and by not being addressed is not seen to be significant, by contemporary sympathetic Epicureans who had access to proper sources and therefore spoke with authority. Examples which support this observation are:

    1 - The discussion of Epicurus and Pleasure in Lucian's "The Double Indictment," which makes no mention of such distinctions, found here: Lucian: The Case of Porch vs. Pleasure

    2- The letter of Cassius Longinus to Cicero in which Cassius makes no reference to "absence of pain" but states that the desirability of pleasure "and" tranquility of mind is true and demonstrable and not "hard to convince" people of: "I am glad that our friend Pansa was sped on his way by universal goodwill when he left the city in military uniform, and that not only on my own account, but also, most assuredly, on that of all our friends. For I hope that men generally will come to understand how much all the world hates cruelty, and how much it loves integrity and clemency, and that the blessings most eagerly sought and coveted by the bad ultimately find their way to the good. For it is hard to convince men that "the good is to be chosen for its own sake"; but that pleasure and tranquillity of mind is acquired by virtue, justice, and the good is both true and demonstrable. Why, Epicurus himself, from whom all the Catiuses and Amafiniuses in the world, incompetent translators of terms as they are, derive their origin, lays it down that "to live a life of pleasure is impossible without living a life of virtue and justice". Consequently Pansa, who follows pleasure, keeps his hold on virtue, and those also whom you call pleasure-lovers are lovers of what is good and lovers of justice, and cultivate and keep all the virtues."

    3 - Lucretius, who makes no reference to absence of pain being the highest pleasure.

    In contrast, is there any example of an authoritative Epicurean figure who gives a similar argument to that which Cicero places in the mouth of Torquatus? [We have already listed the dispute in regard to the letter to the proper interpretation of the letter to Menoeceus.]

  • First. I urge you not to forget what epicurus says explicitly about absence of pain (or fredom from pain or removal of pain or health of body since those expressions points to the same thing).


    Our every action is done so that we will not be in pain or fear. As soon as we achieve this, the soul is released from every storm, since an animal has no other need and must seek nothing else to complete the goodness of body and soul.

    Secondly. What do you mean by pleasure as is ordinary felt? Please give me examples.

  • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. From absence of essential part of epicurean doctrine in Lucian you cannot infer the absence of that doctrine in whole epicureanism.

    And argument in cicero is supported by letter to menoeceus.

  • Secondly. What do you mean by pleasure as is ordinary felt? Please give me examples.

    All mental and bodily pleasures - "feelings" that are understandable without need for explanation or logical explanation. Bodily: Good food, good wine, sex, music Mental: All consciousness activities of the mind, whether reading a book, thinking about philosophy, or having a confident and pleased attitude toward life. All of these and many more are "felt" - these are all mental and bodily feelings that are "felt" by any ordinary person without need for explanation.

    Recall that Torquatus admits that he does not agree with Epicurus on whether pleasure can or should be defended logically. This passage betrays that Torquatus was intentionally deviating from Epicurus, and shows that it should not be surprising that "Torquatus" (Cicero himself) would extend an argument about quantity to try to make a point that Epicurus was too wise to make himself:

    “Some members of our school however would refine upon this doctrine. These say that it is not enough for the judgment of good and evil to rest with the senses. The facts that pleasure is in and for itself desirable and pain in and for itself to be avoided can also be grasped by the intellect and the reason. Accordingly, they declare that the perception that the one is to be sought after and the other avoided is a natural and innate idea of the mind. Others again, with whom I agree, observing that a great many philosophers advance a vast array of reasons to prove why pleasure should not be counted as a good nor pain as an evil, consider that we had better not be too confident of our case. In their view, it requires elaborate and reasoned argument, and abstruse theoretical discussion of the nature of pleasure and pain."

    That passage is the tipoff to why Torquatus' logical extension of "absence of pain" to be a full description of the highest pleasure cannot be trusted. Epicurus was talking only quantity. Torquatus/Cicero misrepresented that statement of quantity to mean equality in every respect. The logical extreme is not representative of the original point (see nearby post on Cassius, Lucian, and Lucretius, who are contemporary or later than Cicero, and are not recorded to have made any analogous points).

  • Torquatus is not not agreeing with epicurus. He and other epicureans thought that philosophy should be elaborated and developed further. I have no opinion on this subject right now but it wery well maybe true that at time of epicurus there was no need for logical arguement and in time of philodemus and torquatus such arguement was needed.

    Evolution of doctrine is natural thing. And it was propably unavoidable since in hellenistic and roman times philosophy became part of education, there was more interaction between members of philosophical sects, so there was more opportunities to refine, precise and develop the doctrines.

    Btw Lukian was not epicurean himself and i do not know why all of you treating him like one. Because he spoke favorably about epicureanism three times in entire corpus of works? By the same standard seneca should be epicurean also and even bigger one since he spoke favourably about epicurus more than 20 times in one book.

  • Another way of stating this issue is this:

    Rather than suggesting that "absence of pain" is a complete description of the highest and best life, my contention is that the highest and best life pointed to by Epicurus was this, also from Torquatus, which is clear and needs no interpretation through logic:

    "The truth of the position that pleasure is the ultimate good will most readily appear from the following illustration. Let us imagine a man living in the continuous enjoyment of numerous and vivid pleasures alike of body and of mind, undisturbed either by the presence or by the prospect of pain. What possible state of existence could we describe as being more excellent or more desirable? One so situated must possess in the first place a strength of mind that is proof against all fear of death or of pain. He will know that death means complete unconsciousness, and that pain is generally light if long and short if strong, so that its intensity is compensated by brief duration and its continuance by diminishing severity. Let such a man moreover have no dread of any supernatural power; let him never suffer the pleasures of the past to fade away, but constantly renew their enjoyment in recollection, and his lot will be one which will not admit of further improvement.”

  • As for your contention about Torquatus implicitly being smarter than Epicurus and seeing a need to engage in "word-chopping" where Epicurus did not, I will simply reply that I consider Epicurus to have been much too smart than to go down the road of considering "absence of pain" to be a complete statement of the goal of his philosophy. By doing so, later Epicureans, if Cicero can be trusted on that point, fell into the trap that Epicurus himself did not and that has diverted us down this path toward Stoicism and back.

    As for whether Lucian was an Epicurean himself that is not so important as the fact that he was familiar enough with his subjects to write articulately about him - people can read and judge for themselves where Lucian's sympathies really were. As to Cicero, Cassius, and Lucretius, there is little doubt as to their sympathies.

  • i am not implying this at all. What i said and let me be clear on this: maybe they have reacted to the change of philosophical discourse at their time.

    Or we can look at this in another way. Desire to engage in logical argument with opposing school and defend philosophy although unnecessary it is natural. As long as it is in reasonable limits it trains the mind and brings pleasure during reflection and debating itself.

    Well nevermind.

    And yes in letter of menoeceus epicurus states that


    Our every action is done so that we will not be in pain or fear.

    Either you consciously ignoring this fact or you have to admit that epicurus himself was a stoic. I will let you decide for yourself.

  • No, I am not ignoring that, I am simply emphasizing that before he said that, he said this:

    And for this cause we call pleasure the beginning and end of the blessed life. For we recognize pleasure as the first good innate in us, and from pleasure we begin every act of choice and avoidance, and to pleasure we return again, using the feeling as the standard by which we judge every good.

    He is saying that we avoid pain and fear because we want pleasure, not because our primary overriding goal is to avoid pain and fear. If our primary overriding goal were narrowly drawn to constitute avoidance of pain, which is the result of your construction, then the logical result would be suicide, because only through death can we avoid all pain. But the goal of life is pleasure, and we life for pleasure, not for nothingness.

    As you say, everyone has to decide for themselves whether their goal is simply to avoid all pain, or whether it is to achieve pleasure even at the cost of some pain. And an excellent test of that question is that posed by Cicero in referencing Hieronymus of Rhodes, from whose doctrine Epicurus is very distinct, but which is the logical conclusion of your position. And that is because the pleasure you describe is only that which is needed to satisfy pains, rather than that pleasure which is the goal of life regardless of the pain required to attain it:

    Do you remember, then,” I said, “what Hieronymus of Rhodes pronounces to be the Chief Good, the standard as he conceives it to which all other things should be referred?” “I remember,” said he, “that he considers the End to be freedom from pain.” “Well,” said I, “what is the same philosopher’s view about pleasure?” “He thinks that pleasure is not desirable in itself.” “Then in his opinion to feel pleasure is a different thing from not feeling pain?” “Yes,” he said, “and there he is seriously mistaken, since, as I have just shown, the complete removal of pain is the limit of the increase of pleasure.” “Oh,” I said, “as for the formula ‘freedom from pain,’ I will consider its meaning later on; but unless you are extraordinarily obstinate you are bound to admit that ‘freedom from pain’ does not mean the same as ‘pleasure.’ ”

  • Btw Lukian was not epicurean himself and i do not know why all of you treating him like one. Because he spoke favorably about epicureanism three times in entire corpus of works? By the same standard seneca should be epicurean also and even bigger one since he spoke favourably about epicurus more than 20 times in one book.

    Lucian's words about Epicurus in "Alexander the oracle monger" exhibit a level of reverence comparable to Lucretius in DRN.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • Like Seneca in letters. Proper place of Lukian's relation to epicureanism is a secondary source and not what was proposed above - standard and point of reference for specific doctrine in epicurean philosophy.

    Lukian was eclectic freethinker. His views can be best described as skeptical cynicism or cynical skepticism. Many protagonists of his dialogues are named cyniskus or Diogenes if I remember correctly. Best example of his skepticism is dialogue Hermotimos where he uses several skeptical tropes against dogmatists, which is evident for anyone who has knowledge of greek philosophy at the level of Diogenes Laertius Lives. I remind you that some skeptical tropes were invented specifically to counter epicurean canonic. God momos is another example of his cynical skeptical inclination to mockery of established religion and astrology. Those are the issues where three schools overlap a bit so epicureanism could be Lukians third source of inspiration. distant third place. Very distant.

    Nevertheless Lukians dialogues and diatribes in themselves are great read and I recommend them strongly to anybody who accidentaly gets them in their hands. You can lick a little bit of philosophy from them.

  • We can disagree on several of your points, especially as to Hermotimus, but in this context the only point in raising Lucian is that he was clearly familiar with the central contentions of the rival philosophies, and in presenting Epicurus' philosophy he makes no mention of absence of pain or a katastematic category of pleasure, which provides inferential evidence that those were not in fact central points of the philosophy.

  • Cassius one more time. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. You go down the shore, you fill a cup with water. It’s got no fish in it. Does that mean no fish in the ocean?

  • "Thus we need pleasure only when we are in pain caused by its absence; but when we are not in pain then we have no need of pleasure." Epicurus

  • "Thus we need pleasure only when we are in pain caused by its absence; but when we are not in pain then we have no need of pleasure." Epicurus

    And given tremendous evidence from the rest of the texts that passage clearly means one thing: We have no need of MORE pleasure when we are not in pain, because when we are not in pain our experience is full of the pleasures that have accumulated while we were in the process of eliminating pain. There is absolutely no inconsistency whatsoever between that passage and the many passages stating clearly that PLEASURE is the alpha and omega and the spring for all our actions. Every one of these passages that appear to cause a problem with the standard pleasure model are just truisms based on the quantity of one being the measure of the quantity of the other, since (1) pleasure and pain are the only two feelings that exist, and (2) there is a limit to what we are able to experience.

  • Epicurus precisely say and let me quote

    So please find and let us know those fragments that will enlighten us. Or let be enlighten by us by pointing to you what is evident to everybody.

    Evident to you. Not to everyone. Please understand that clearly some far more seasoned scholars than any of us have taken both sides. This is not a clear-cut 'of course' issue.

  • I don't think there is any doubt but that the central formula is to avoid pleasures which will create more pain than the pleasures are worth. And as a result there is going to be a bias against pleasures that are bound to create huge problems, for example, the pleasure of becoming world dictator. The action of trying to become world dictator is pretty much bound to create so much negative reaction that the resulting pain is simply not going to be worth any exhilaration in trying, at least by the calculation of most people.

    But who is to say how that calculation should be made in any individual case? There is clearly no god or central point of idealistic correctness from which one can say in a godlike manner: "Thou shall not seek to become world dictator" and conclude that the rule applies to everyone, everywhere, at all times. The reason the advice is so sweepingly valid comes from the nature of people we can expect to encounter, but as there is no central enforcing agency it is possible that under certain circumstances steps toward being world dictator might be appropriate (and in this analogy I am thinking of Maciej's earlier statements that an Epicurean would always reject participation in war, which I disagree with also).

    So while we can say very clearly that (1) "pleasure is the goal" and, (2) since that is the case, we should avoid pleasures which are going to create more pain than pleasure" we are still left with the observation that there is no central authority as to what pleasure is "worth" to each individual in every context. It seems to me that that calculation is ALWAYS going to be an individual decision based on the totality of that person's circumstances, and the fact that there may be a bias toward actions which generate pleasures that are sustainable, we know that Epicurus said that the goal is not the life that is the longest, but the happiest. I take that to mean that if we can gain a very large degree of pleasure from actions which are risky, it's still valid Epicurean thinking to take that risk. It seems to me therefore very justifiable in Epicurean terms to conclude that living a day as a lion, enjoying the more intense pleasures that are available to a lion, could be chosen over living a decade as a sheep, presuming that the pleasures of a sheep are less intense than those of a lion.

    Another factor to consider, though, is that coming from the point of view of "unity of pleasure," then "pleasure is pleasure" and the pleasure of living in a cave chewing tobacco is not entirely different in nature than the pleasure of being an astronaut on a rocket ship to the moon. Just as I can justify the choice of being the astronaut, I think an Epicurean could justify the option of chewing tobacco in a cave. But if an Epicurean was advising someone who had to choose between the two, he would still tell that person to choose the option which leads to the happiest life, not the longest life, and the Epicurean would leave the decision in that person's hands to judge individually.

    So in sum it seems to me that the important issue is to point out that the faculty of pleasure and pain is the ultimate arbiter of what to choose and to avoid, and that in itself is revolutionary and profoundly important for people to understand, so that they see that it is not gods and not abstract idealism which is the proper standard. It's much more important that people see that the choice is between "guides" to follow, and that the choice is religion vs logic vs pleasure/

    pain, than it is to establish that there is a single best path among the various pleasures that can be chosen.

    This is another place to mention the example of our departed friend from the Epicurean Facebook group Amrinder Singh, who died in an ultralight airplane accident. Amrinder chose to pursue his pleasure in a very risky hobby, and his life ended much sooner than it might have otherwise due to an accident. Can we look at his example and say that he should not have pursued ultrlights because of his accident? I would say "no" and that Amrinder lived the life that was for him not the longest, but the happiest: