Glossary - What is the Epicurean Definition of "Pleasure?"

  • Maybe a thread, or an inclusion in the thread concerning pleasure, we should note the "moving" and "static" definitions and how they're limited (as opposed to how much credit Neo-Epicureans give them).

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • In the last paragraph of the part XVI of Book 1 of On Ends, Torquatus said "...and that to live happily is nothing else except to live with pleasure.


    I"m not sure whether it has o double meaning or a problem in translation.

    "It is not the pretended but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed; for we do not need the appearance of good health but to enjoy it in truth."

  • Thanks Mike! Just as you were posting that comment I was pasting the same thing into an updated version. That is one of the most clear statements of the proposition that I am aware of.

  • I"m not sure whether it has o double meaning or a problem in translation.


    The past week I've been exploring this topic and the misconceptions that arise from it.

    The first paragraph of Chapter XI from Torquatus ends with a section that echoes a point established in L to M.

    "The pleasure we pursue is not that kind alone which directly affects our physical being with a delightful feeling,—a positively agreeable perception of the senses; on the contrary, the greatest pleasure according to us is that which is experienced as a result of the complete removal of pain. When we are released from pain, the mere sensation of complete emancipation and relief from uneasiness is in itself a source of gratification."

    It's definitely worth looking into, perhaps another translation can clarify. I'm of the opinion that the school held both (methods of arriving at pleasure) in high regard.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Yup. It's worth looking into. But I feel this happiness is not Eudaemonic as that of Aristotle's.

    "It is not the pretended but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed; for we do not need the appearance of good health but to enjoy it in truth."

    Edited 2 times, last by Mike Anyayahan ().

  • There are multiple sources that conflict with this, both from Epicurus and those later, maybe I should make a thread like mine with the obscure Epicurean books, detailing every slight mention of this dualistic statement (Pleasure is the feeling of desires satisfied & pleasure is the absence of pain)

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • I'm of the opinion that the school held both (methods of arriving at pleasure) in high regard.

    Charles yes that it is absolutely clear (that pleasure is both mental and bodily). I am not sure if you are making a point here that disagrees with the point that "a life of happiness is a life of pleasure" because I see no difference.... (?)

  • on the contrary, the greatest pleasure according to us is that which is experienced as a result of the complete removal of pain.

    If you are focusing on THIS part, then that is the old question that we debate continuously and would presumably relate to the quantity argument -- given that absence of one is presence of the other.


    But bottom line is that there is no contradiction.

  • If you are focusing on THIS part

    I'm focusing on it only to the extent in which it was quoted in Torquatus. I'm not looking into the merits of the argument, but the literary sources that espouse it.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Post by Cassius ().

    This post was deleted by the author themselves ().
  • Thanks Mike! Just as you were posting that comment I was pasting the same thing into an updated version. That is one of the most clear statements of the proposition that I am aware of.

    You're welcome Cassius. What makes me wonder is whether we pursue happiness for pleasure or pleasure for happiness...only if they are two different things. If they are just the same, I am curious why Torquatus had to emphasize that to live happily is nothing except to live with pleasure.

    "It is not the pretended but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed; for we do not need the appearance of good health but to enjoy it in truth."

  • I'm focusing on it only to the extent in which it was quoted in Torquatus. I'm not looking into the merits of the argument, but the literary sources that espouse it.

    Would you mean the definitions of both pleasure and pain or the differences between pleasure and happiness?

    "It is not the pretended but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed; for we do not need the appearance of good health but to enjoy it in truth."

    Edited once, last by Mike Anyayahan ().

  • I think Elayne's article makes a lot of good points on this. I also think that there are a lot of intricate side questions, starting with something as obvious as pointing out that "happiness" is not a Greek word and not the therefore not the exact word that Epicurus used, so we have to be careful of two thousand years of potential changes in shades of meaning, plus translation issues, at the very beginning.


    We've had extensive discussions about this in the past and we will probably be discussing these issues as long as we remain interested in philosophy. In the end we have to try to reduce the discussion to something workable, and we know that Epicurus held "pleasure" to be the guide of life, the alpha and omega, and all that, and he did not use the word "happiness" in that context.


    In trying to sum up conclusions about the relationship to happiness and pleasure it seems to me that that observation has to ultimately be the test by which we sum up Epicurean philosophy in an understandable outline.


    So we have to come to grips with why "pleasure" and not "happiness" occupies the central keystone role in Epicurean philosophy.

  • Cassius I also came across online lectures that say that the kind of pleasure Epicureans hold is ataraxia. Is there any truth in this? As far as I know ataraxia is what the Stoics are aiming. Does it mean the Epicurean meaning of tranquility is the same as that of Stoicism? It sounds odd. This makes me think that the absence of pain alone is not enough to define either pleasure or happiness.

    "It is not the pretended but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed; for we do not need the appearance of good health but to enjoy it in truth."

  • Yes that (the focus on tranquility / ataraxia / peace of mind as some unique kind of highest pleasure) is a common assertion that I reject, Mike, and I think you will find that Dewitt states it considerably differently. In fact I do not believe that either ataraxia or aponia are "kinds of pleasure." I believe they are adverbs that describe ways / contexts in which pleasure (ordinary pleasures of all kind) are experienced. In other words, the best way to experience any pleasure is "without distraction" (ataraxia) and "without pain" (aponia).


    An illustration I would give would be applicable to any pleasure, but let's just choose "dancing." The best way to experience dancing would be not to be distracted from dancing (don't fall, don't bump into others, don't get called away to do something else) and without any pain mixed in (don't be distracted thinking about painful thoughts) while you are dancing.


    I think that is the obvious and commonsensical interpretations of those words, and I think Epicurus was nothing if not common-sensical about the way he thought.


    These people who elevate "ataraxia" to something unique in itself are basically playing the katastematic pleasure game of suggesting there is something different and better than pleasure as ordinarily understood.


    If I recall correct this is where Elayne's article discusses "fancy pleasure."


    And this is related I think to DeWitt's discussion of the "unity of pleasure." All pleasure is unified in that it "feels pleasurable" which is what makes it pleasure. With such a sweeping definition there is no room for some kind of "special pleasure" which is so uniquely the best that it is of a different type than the rest of pleasure.


    Again, the unifying characteristic of all pleasure (and in fact the only common characteristic that describes all pleasures) is that it "feels good." So to repeat there's no unique experience of painlessness that has a feeling of it's on. Also on this point is the Wenham article, which focuses on pleasure as an "experience." So it is obvious and saying nothing new to say that pleasure is best experienced without interruptions, and without pain.