Nikolsky: "Epicurus On Pleasure" - Revising Our View of the Katastematic / Kinetic Question

  • Boris Nikolsky - Epicurus on Pleasure

    Boris Nikolsky - Epicurus on Pleasure - ABSTRACT: The paper deals with the question of the attribution to Epicurus of the classification of pleasures into 'kinetic' and 'static'. This classification, usually regarded as authentic, confronts us with a number of problems and contradictions. Besides, it is only mentioned in a few sources that are not the most reliable. Following Gosling and Taylor, I believe that the authenticity of the classification may be called in question.

    The analysis of the ancient evidence concerning Epicurus' concept of pleasure is made according to the following principle: first, I consider the sources that do not mention the distinction between 'kinetic' and 'static' pleasures, and only then do I compare them with the other group of texts which comprises reports by Cicero, Diogenes Laertius and Athenaeus. From the former group of texts there emerges a concept of pleasure as a single and not twofold notion, while such terms as 'motion' and 'state' describe not two different phenomena but only two characteristics of the same phenomenon. On the other hand, the reports comprising the latter group appear to derive from one and the same doxographical tradition, and to be connected with the classification of ethical doctrines put forward by the Middle Academy and known as the divisio Carneadea. In conclusion, I argue that the idea of Epicurus' classification of pleasures is based on a misinterpretation of Epicurus' concept in Academic doxography, which tended to contrapose it to doctrines of other schools, above all to the Cyrenaics' views.

  • What happens when you go down the path of separating static and active pleasure, and concluding that static pleasure is the goal of life? You end up concluding things that are totally counterintuitive like "Epicurus does not consider joy to be a kind of pleasure," as did Jeffrey S. Purinton, Phronesis, Vol. 38, No. 3 (1993), pp. 281-320:

  • Here is another conclusion from the same source (Purinton) that seems equally absurd to me, and which also results from the fixation on katastematic as the goal. Purinton suggests that even though Epicurus held katastematic pleasure to be the primary aim, we do so "with the understanding that we will also sometimes enjoy kinetic pleasures as well." If you find this kind of conclusion satisfying then more power to you, but the better course in my view is to accept the clear meaning of the Lucretius passages which Purinton cites, follow Nikolsky, and reject the view that Epicurus considered the static/active distinction to be different types of pleasure. That way neither you nor Epicurus falls into the trap of hair-splitting like this: