All Pleasure Is Desirable, Because It Is Pleasing To Us, But Is All Pleasure EQUALLY Desirable?

  • Daniel, I am incredibly sorry I did not mention this in my post, but the entirety of my post was a direct response to Cassius' numerated reply to my previous post. All of the "you's" and "yours" would have been addressed to Cassius there.


    I do not think I have a disagreement with any of the ideas in your previous post (the one before last), except the claim that your perspective goes against PD3.


    If one accepts the view that the natural and necessary pleasures are the only sort which should be actively toiled for, then one is able to make sense of PD3 (while also keeping that freedom from pain is not directly proportional to pleasure). Pursuing natural but unnecessary desires is only beneficial to do in intervals, and while it will increase our pleasure, it does not increase our overall net pleasure. That is what I believe PD3 is saying. "The magnitude of pleasure..." where pleasure is net pleasure in one's life. I do not believe Epicurus means the magnitude of an INDIVIDUAL pleasure. There is a hedonist principle called the "hedonist treadmill," which is "the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes." That is along what I was attempting to say, that our baseline for freedom from pain will adjust if we continually pursue natural but unnecessary desires.


    I agree with you that Epicurus was not against having much, but I believe he was against actively toiling for more than is necessary for one's freedom from pain. Those things which are natural but unnecessary should be enjoyed if they come to you, but not constantly sought, because 1) fortune is fickle, and 2) in attaining these pleasures through pain, we become acclimated to them and no longer enjoy them as pleasures.


    In response to your statement: "As long as one fully appreciates having much in some pleasure (a fine taste to enjoy costly meals or a love of big TV screens or a personal library full of enjoyable literature), I think Epicurus would have been fine with them enjoying much."


    Enjoying much is different from seeking for much in my opinion. If you win the lottery and are able to eat a lobster and steak every day at the finest restaurant, indeed you should enjoy this pleasure, but it is of the natural and unnecessary sort. The money has come to you and therefore Epicurus would not oppose you allowing those luxuries which result to wash over you. However, after enough time eating this fine dinner every day, it will become the baseline, and will no longer be enjoyed as pleasure. It will become necessary maintenance for freedom from pain.


    That is why these unnecessary things should be pursued only in intervals. That is the only way to ensure maximum pleasure. From Diogenes Laertius on Epicurus:


    "In his correspondence he himself mentions that he was
    content with plain bread and water. And again : 'Send me a little
    pot of cheese, that, when I like, I may fare sumptuously.' Such was
    the man who laid down that pleasure was the end of life. And here is the epigram in which Athenaeus eulogizes him :

    Ye toil, O men, for paltry things and incessantly begin strife and war for gain ; but nature's wealth extends to a moderate bound, whereas vain judgements have a limitless range. This message Neocles' wise son heard from the Muses or from the sacred tripod at Delphi."

  • My comments which I will interject - I hope it is clear to what I am responding.

    (1) Pivot: "I agree with you that Epicurus was not against having much, but I believe he was against actively toiling for more than is necessary for one's freedom from pain." <<< I think in another thread (or maybe this one earlier) we discussed my concerns with the terminology, and this is another example. If we are Epicureans who fully endorse and do not suppress pleasure, then we equate "freedom from pain" with an experience full of active and ordinary and contemplative and mental and physical pleasures - all types, and we all understand that this is the goal. And if we accept that premise, then we don't care for additional pleasures past that point, because indeed our experience is full and anything above that would be simply variation - and not expanding our full experience of pleasure. IF, unfortunately, we don't accept the meaning of "freedom from pain" to be "pleasure" and "complete freedom from pain" to be "full pleasure," or if we are talking to non-Epicureans, then the terminology is probably dangerous and confusing. (And to be honest, even here with the three of us talking, I am not sure whether we are agreed on the fundamental point.) So just as a comment, and not as a criticism, I think we have a real challenge here to decide how to communicate - even among ourselves, with sentences like that. I hate to think we have people who will come to the forum, read "I agree with you that Epicurus was not against having much, but I believe he was against actively toiling for more than is necessary for one's freedom from pain," and think that this is an instruction to lie on a cot in a cave with a supply of bread and water. ;-) Tell me what you think of my concern - unnecessary, overblown, or in fact that we don't agree on what is implied with "freedom from pain"?

  • Daniel: When you write "My claim is pleasure and pain are not defined as the lack of one another - they may both be present at the same time" I think you are right and that is proper phrasing. In our total experience, my head can be experiencing pleasure while my foot is in pain. In any moment we are experiencing multiple sensations, some of which are pleasurable and some painful. I write this only as a reminder of a point I made earlier that there is a very technical dispute in Plato about whether pain and pleasure can mix together to form a "third" feeling, and that if I understand correctly, Epicurus held that they do NOT mix in that way. Just keep that in mind for future reading - and I write this for others who might read the thread as much to you, Daniel, since I hope what we are doing in these threads is building discussions that will be useful for others to read for years to come!

    Oh - now I see why I wrote that. Daniel you wrote: ""more red does not undo green, but blends with green to make yellow". I have no idea how pleasure and pain blend. Maybe it is heterogeneous, like water and oil shaken together. Maybe it is homogeneous, like hydrogen and oxygen combining to make water." That's the terminology that concerns me, but as you say you are not taking a position on how or whether they "blend." That's the point to reserve for future reading and comparing to Plato's criticisms of pleasure in Philebus. If you admit that they "blend" to create a new third type of feeling, as I understand it that opens up a series of logical issues which Plato will exploit against you, primarily in terms of how you will require "reason" to un-blend them, at which point you are led down a rabbit trail that reason is more important than pleasure and pain, and ultimately replaces them as the goal/guide of life. Again, that's a topic for another time, and probably another thread.

  • Cassius: "If we are Epicureans who fully endorse and do not suppress pleasure, then we equate 'freedom from pain' with an experience full of active and ordinary and contemplative and mental and physical pleasures - all types, and we all understand that this is the goal."


    I am definitely on board with you there, up until when you say "all types."


    "IF, unfortunately, we don't accept the meaning of 'freedom from pain' to be 'pleasure' and 'complete freedom from pain' to be 'full pleasure,'"


    I would accept this!


    "I hate to think we have people who will come to the forum, read 'I agree with you that Epicurus was not against having much, but I believe he was against actively toiling for more than is necessary for one's freedom from pain,' and think that this is an instruction to lie on a cot in a cave with a supply of bread and water."


    Certainly not! It would be foolish to throw away those pleasures which you are fortunate enough to have in your life. It is enough that we may be contended with lying in a cot with a supply of only bread and water, and perhaps a pot of cheese. Isn't this among the most beautiful of Epicurus' doctrines? That in this seemingly lacking state we are more contented, even, then the Hollywood millionaire who chases fame, wealth, and fortune, the one who "flees himself, but he cannot, of course, escape the one he flees, but clings to him unwillingly and hates him because he is sick and does not understand the cause of his disease" (DRM 3.1068-1070).


    To be in constant pursuit of unnecessary pleasures results in pain. This in no way suppresses pleasure - it is the only way to attain complete freedom from pain, which is the limit of pleasure. That is why that I disagree that all pleasures must be sought. Fame, wealth, and immortality are pleasures, but you agree they should not be sought. In the same way, a lobster for dinner every day can be reasonably enjoyed if you become rich or fortune befalls you; however, if you were to eat a lobster for dinner every day you would eventually become accustomed to it and it would no longer become a pleasure!


    Those natural and unnecessary pleasures we should pursue in intervals. The newcomer may misinterpret this idea that "freedom from pain" should be pursued, instead falsely gleaning that Epicureanism means pursuing asceticism. And just as easily, a newcomer may misinterpret the idea that "all pleasure should be pursued," instead falsely believing that Epicureanism means pursuing empty pleasures such as wealth, fame, honor, immortality, and a host of others than one cannot begin to warn against.


    My interpretation is that one should not seek out the cot with bread and water if he is better off; however, if a misfortune befalls him and he is left in a cot with nothing but bread and water, he ought to find contentment, unless there is a pleasure which he is lacking that is necessary for him to be happy.

  • "That is why that I disagree that all pleasures must be sought." Yes as you state we are together on that. All pleasure is desirable by definition, but we certainly should not pursue those pleasures which will bring us pain that outweighs the reward.


    I think what we are striving toward here is precision and clarification of terminology so that we avoid as much confusion as possible.


    Eternal life, for example, is not possible for us, so to yearn after it brings pain that I cannot see to be worthwhile, and so we work to avoid that pain by study of nature and understanding of our natural limits.


    On the other hand, life is desirable, so we work to protect and enjoy our lives to the extent possible too.


    Both are at the same time true, and should be obvious, yet because of centuries of confusion and false religion and nihilism they are not obvious to many people. And those who are confused can turn out to be enemies and harm us, or simply be lost to us as friends who could otherwise have enhanced our happiness and theirs too.


    So it seems to me much of the benefit and purpose of Epicurus' work was to move in that direction and present a framework which people can understand and use productively. And one of the best ways we can do that is to talk among each other, sharpen our own presentations, and then enhance our own lives by extending that message to others (thus our recent exchange on graphic memes, blogging, etc.)


    That is one aspect of the usefulness of a forum like this - to serve as sort of a training camp where people can get basic ideas arranged in a proper foundation before they undertake their own "outreach" in their own local geographic area or circle of activity.