On "Happiness" As An Abstraction / "Pleasure" As a Feeling

  • [Admin note 1/11/21 - Something has happened the image from the autarkist blog referenced below. I'll try to rconstruct what the image was, but in the meantime the article referred to is probably this one.]



    Some time ago Hiram pointed to a book by Lampe entitled "The Birth of Hedonism" and made this statement on his Autarkist blog:




    I have been wanting to track that down and finally today I found the page which is being referenced here:




    This is another situation where words can be used in different ways, and it is necessary to be precise. Lampe's reference here does a good job of clarifying the issue being discussed. He is talking about the Cyreniacs, but if we just step back and think about the topic in general, then this passage makes clear a distinction between the words "happiness" and "pleasure," and probably explains why Epicurus used both words in different contexts.


    In general and most frequently, it seems to me that when people use the word "happiness" in philosophical discussion it is very difficult to be sure what they mean, and how to unpack the definition. On the other hand, again generally, "pleasure" or "pleasing" generally refers to a "feeling" for which this statement from Torquatus applies:


    We are inquiring, then, what is the final and ultimate Good, which as all philosophers are agreed must be of such a nature as to be the End to which all other things are means, while it is not itself a means to anything else. This Epicurus finds in pleasure; pleasure he holds to be the Chief Good, pain the Chief Evil. This he sets out to prove as follows: Every animal, as soon as it is born, seeks for pleasure, and delights in it as the Chief Good, while it recoils from pain as the Chief Evil, and so far as possible avoids it. This it does as long as it remains unperverted, at the prompting of Nature's own unbiased and honest verdict.


    Hence Epicurus refuses to admit any necessity for argument or discussion to prove that pleasure is desirable and pain to be avoided. These facts, be thinks, are perceived by the senses, as that fire is hot, snow white, honey sweet, none of which things need be proved by elaborate argument: it is enough merely to draw attention to them. (For there is a difference, he holds, between formal syllogistic proof of a thing and a mere notice or reminder: the former is the method for discovering abstruse and recondite truths, the latter for indicating facts that are obvious and evident.) Strip mankind of sensation, and nothing remains; it follows that Nature herself is the judge of that which is in accordance with or contrary to nature.


    What does Nature perceive or what does she judge of, beside pleasure and pain, to guide her actions of desire and of avoidance?


    _____________


    All of which is not to be negative about "happiness" being an abstraction, because abstractions are incredibly useful. But in order to be clear as to what we mean we have to be very precise, and there are huge variations in opinion as to what makes a person "happy."

  • [ADMIN NOTE: This is an very important discussion that needs to be findable in the future, so I clipped the next several posts from another thread and pasted them here, in an older thread directly on point]



    I get where you're coming from. I do have a question:

    My position is this...pleasure is the goal. Happiness is the goal.

    Which is it? Technically, those are two goals. You can't run both ways down the field. ;)

  • I would reply: On the tried and true observations of nature made by myself with my own senses and further bolstered by the testimonies of others who have spent their lives studying nature.


    If the narrative of those who study nature (scientists) rapidly and unanimously shifts into a contrary model. More than just "adapting" some new ideas to ancient ones, to where doubt is raised to whether Nothing comes from Nothing or whether the Universe is infinite, then that might be a time where we need to reevaluate some things, but I believe as it stands currently the materialist model of the universe appears to be fairly consistent. Even with new discoveries.


    If scientists are going to unanimously start preaching pantheism and creationism etc. presumably they will come bearing significant evidence? More so than anecdotal evidence from religionists.


    But that hasn't happened yet, not as a unanimously agreed upon concept.

  • Hahaha Don you have a sharp eye, I'll have to watch myself...yes they are one in the same. You can't be happy without pleasure, you cannot have pleasure and not be happy.


    PLEASURE IS THE GOAL. :P:D

  • I'll have to watch myself...yes they are one in the same.

    Is it? ;) I think that's actually one of the subtexts that we are discussing. Are they really "one and the same"? I would say that we likely have to view them differently -- pleasure is a feeling which we know without logical analysis; happiness may also be thought of as feeling, but seems to be a higher-level construction that contains mental operations beyond just feeling. Of course the word "pleasure" is not itself a feeling, but a word that denominates a feeling.


    I guess this is why Epicurus was wise to refer more centrally to pleasure than to "happiness," but more than that, it's probably an important part of Epicurean philosophy to explain this point and prevent people from being confused in their own minds about this.


    And that's where we get back to the issues of science and theories etc -- we can point to the feeling of pleasure and observe instances of it, but don't we also want to be able to explain in words to other people what we're talking about? So we have to move not only from observation of instances to a systematized explanation that people can understand, and that's not altogether easy to do.

  • I didn't mean to get into the weeds with this... but my "happiness" is entirely dependent on my pleasurable living.


    Happiness is a fairly abstract concept that also loses a significant amount of meaning since it is over used. But my usage of it is describing my state of being while experiencing pleasure.


    But the general state of "happiness" would be dependent on if I am living pleasurably. To be specific...PLEASURE is the end, but my general state of having pleasure makes me "happy." For lack of a better word. Elated? Joyous? Content?


    I am "pleasured" by a "pleasurable experience" in a state of "pleasurable feeling"...

  • I personally understand the specifics, but I understand that it is necessary to differentiate for someone who might get confused by using both happiness and pleasure as the goal. When getting down to very specific details.


    In the end it's always best to say pleasure. I agree.


    One thing I will say is that the word "happiness" has a certain impact just in causal conversation, not necessarily splitting hairs in an analytical type discussion like we are having. I'm using it in a very casual sense. You all (I'm certain) understood what I meant.


    Like if I were to have a conversation with someone about what they want in life..."happiness" is very likely is going to be a word that is used in their response. Now that of course that opens the door into "how do we get there (to happiness)? And in that conversation we discuss how pleasure is the how you become happy.


    But the average person usually isn't going to outright say in conversation (unless they are a closet hedonist) that they desire pleasure, they will more likely say they desire "happiness"... ultimately we all know they mean pleasure and pleasurable living, but the replacement word is "happiness."

  • Is happiness considered a "state," whereas pleasure can be considered both an "instance" or a "state?" This drifts into the territory of katastematic and kinetic pleasure....

  • Thanks for your question Godfrey - it prompted me to move these comments under the thread started back in 2019. It's long past time to discuss this further!

  • Could happiness be another name for continuous pleasure? Maybe that depends on how one defines happiness. But happiness is quite pleasant. :) Anyway this would make happiness a feeling and not a concept.

  • I'm thinking happiness is more of a process or state or condition: the state of a continued subjective sense of well-being or contentment.

    "I am happy" has a spectrum of meaning.

    That's what I find so intriguing about the range of words translated as happy from the texts:

    makarios, eudaimonia, then types of happiness like euphrosyne and khara.

    "I am happy" has so many shades as to be almost open to meaning anything unless we say "I know it when I see it."

  • "That's what I find so intriguing about the range of words translated as happy from the texts: makarios, eudaimonia, then types of happiness like euphrosyne and khara."


    Don is it safe to presume that these words had different shades of meaning, so that using happiness in each case is almost certainly overbroad?

  • I did a poll once of my FB friends on whether happiness is a feeling or a concept. They said feeling except for one person. The songs "Don't worry, be happy", "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands"-- these are feeling songs. To use it abstractly is a philosophy attempt to denigrate feeling by saying your happy feeling isn't real happiness-- you should seek an abstract ideal instead. It's the ivory tower against the people, trying to make life esoteric 😂. That's Platonic, to make it abstract.


    I use it the way ordinary people do, as an expression of a pleasurable feeling.

  • "That's what I find so intriguing about the range of words translated as happy from the texts: makarios, eudaimonia, then types of happiness like euphrosyne and khara."


    Don is it safe to presume that these words had different shades of meaning, so that using happiness in each case is almost certainly overbroad?

    Yep :)

  • I did a poll once of my FB friends on whether happiness is a feeling or a concept. They said feeling except for one person. The songs "Don't worry, be happy", "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands"-- these are feeling songs. To use it abstractly is a philosophy attempt to denigrate feeling by saying your happy feeling isn't real happiness-- you should seek an abstract ideal instead. It's the ivory tower against the people, trying to make life esoteric 😂. That's Platonic, to make it abstract.


    I use it the way ordinary people do, as an expression of a pleasurable feeling.

    I don't agree. The feeling/reaction to a situation or stimulus is *pleasure.* "Being happy" is the cognitive response to that feeling of pleasure. "Happiness" is the state of being that you are aware of yourself being in when you experience sequential pleasurable sensations over a certain duration.

    If I say "I'm happy," one can ask "Why are you happy?" This thing and this thing and this event "make" me happy. Happiness can often be broken down into constituent parts.

    "If I say "Aaaaaaah" as i close my eyes and look up on a warm sunlit day, I'm experiencing pleasure. I may also think "I'm happy" at that moment but that comes after the actual sensation of pleasure.

  • Awareness of sequential pleasure would be nothing if not for the fact that such awareness itself is pleasure, and I am quite certain I myself experience it as a feeling 😃 and not a cognition.


    If a person felt guilty about pleasure, awareness of sequential pleasure wouldn't feel happy but painful.


    I do think Platonism has penetrated culture sufficiently that there are some people who define the word conceptually. But I stand by my assertion that most ordinary people, non academics, "feel happy" rather than "think happy."