Pleasure as a Synergy: A Critical Discussion of Ataraxia in Epicurean Ethics

  • At least on first glance I am not seeing much that advances the ball - this seems to be the standard academic analysis that separates ataraxia as some kind of "fancy pleasure" in Elayne 's term, or something distinct from ordinary pleasure:


    Epicureanism takes pleasure as inextricably tied to the attainment of virtue. Yet, it can be argued that pleasure is not the sole motivation of his ethical theory. One may argue that the real motivation and desirable end for the Epicurean is achieving ataraxia. Ataraxia is the state absent of physical pain and mental disturbance. This introduces a notable distinction from common interpretations of Epicurean ethics, insofar as one may argue that Epicurus’ theory advances the notion that one need not actively seek out pleasure if one is not suffering physical pain or mental anguish. But, if ataraxia is the desired end for the Epicurean, what role, then, does pleasure play in this framework? Furthermore, we must now ask if ataraxia is at all tied to virtue.

  • Even to make the suggestion that "ataraxia [is] a necessary condition to allow for the pursuit of pleasure" indicates to me that the article is way off base:


    However, if we look to Epicurus’ Principal Doctrines, the third fragment seems to indicate that ataraxia is more than just a means. The fragment reads –

    “3. The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain either of the body or of the mind or of both together.”

    One may interpret the fragment as clearly supporting ataraxia as a necessary condition to allow for the pursuit of pleasure. The fragment also seems to indicate that when pleasure is present and uninterrupted, one is free of physical pain and mental disturbance: one is in a state of ataraxia. Furthermore, the heights of pleasure can only be attained in absence of all pain, making ataraxia more than a mere state from which one can freely pursue pleasure. This creates an ambiguity around what the roles of both pleasure and ataraxia are in respect to virtue, both as distinct experiences, and, arguably, as a synergistic experience. What does this entail for the Epicurean?

  • Pretty much a waste of time - classic Okeefe-like analysis - "one need not pursue pleasure if one is not suffering from bodily pain and mental anguish."

    Although I am not sure I have seen even Okeefe go this far: "how it can be taken to convey the necessity of ataraxia in attaining the heights of pleasure."

    And in the same misguided line by all means let's be sure to cite "the rational Soul" as the key to tempering pleasure and achieving happiness: "one must use their rational soul to temper and moderate their desires. And that through doing this, one attains ataraxia, which then allows one to embark on the unimpeded pursuit of pleasure."

    I would say in regard to the final conclusion that the essay is effective in one thing: showing the dead end that Epicurean philosophy would be if the standard academic interpretation of it were correct - which is presumably exactly the result that Cicero wanted when he help launch this line of argument in the first place.

  • Arrgh. Yep, this article is a hot mess. Once you get into imaginary ideas like fancy pleasure or absence of pain which is _not_ pleasurable, in an reality-based sense of the word, everything that follows is nonsense. Biology is a sufficient argument against the false premise. There's no true zero state in a living, conscious human. Let him bring me a case. 😂