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

  • I believe the Stoics are looking for Eudaimonia, Ataraxia is much more Epicurean.I

    I agree Charles, although I think what we're really saying is what words are associated with those schools today. Eusdaimonia definitely sounds Aristotelian today (as does "flourishing), and ataraxia is alleged to be Epicurean, but I perceived there's lots of crossover. And come to think of it I am not sure WHAT word is associated with Stoicism other than words maybe like glory that refer to their goal of virtue.

  • Mike on this issue of ataraxia as the alleged highest pleasure I have summarized my research into the cites in THIS article: The Full Cup / Fullness of Pleasure Model


    I have accumulated the cites that I have found that make clear that Epicurus was referring to pleasure in the same way we ordinarily understand that word, and I also point to links to the works of Plato which I believe explain why Epicurus developed the absence of pain terminology, as a means of logical refutation of the Platonic argument that pleasure cannot be the goal of life because pleasure allegedly is insatiable (has no limit): The Full Cup / Fullness of Pleasure Model


    Several of the most clear text cites are this from Epicurus himself:


    “It is observed too that in his treatise On the Ethical End he writes in these terms : “I know not how to conceive the good, apart from the pleasures of taste, of sex, of sound, and the pleasures of beautiful form.”

    – Diogenes Laertius, Book X


    and this from Torquatus, which makes clear that the best life is one surrounded by numerous and vivid pleasures:


    The truth of the position that pleasure is the ultimate good will most readily appear from the following illustration. Let us imagine a man living in the continuous enjoyment of numerous and vivid pleasures alike of body and of mind, undisturbed either by the presence or by the prospect of pain: what possible state of existence could we describe as being more excellent or more desirable? One so situated must possess in the first place a strength of mind that is proof against all fear of death or of pain; he will know that death means complete unconsciousness, and that pain is generally light if long and short if strong, so that its intensity is compensated by brief duration and its continuance by diminishing severity. Let such a man moreover have no dread of any supernatural power; let him never suffer the pleasures of the past to fade away, but constantly renew their enjoyment in recollection, and his lot will be one which will not admit of further improvement.


    and this from Cicero himself, which shows how you can easily and logically link tranquility to ordinary vivid pleasures without any contradiction:


    Cicero, In defense of Publius Sestius, 10.23: “He {Publius Clodius} praised those most who are said to be above all others the teachers and eulogists of pleasure {the Epicureans}. … He added that these same men were quite right in saying that the wise do everything for their own interests; that no sane man should engage in public affairs; that nothing was preferable to a life of tranquility crammed full of pleasures.

  • Quick question Cassius

    Why is it that we often cite Cicero? He was a Stoic and he absolutely loathed the Epicureans to no end. Is it because he wrote against them so prolifically? Or is it instead that in his refutations he presented the original ideas and opinions of the Epicureans that have otherwise been lost to history?

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

  • Or is it instead that in his refutations he presented the original ideas and opinions of the Epicureans that have otherwise been lost to history?

    I think the answer is almost exclusively this aspect - he is the best source for otherwise unpreserved material. We know also that Cicero was very good friends with Atticus, who was a very strong Epicurean, so I think it is fair to say that Cicero had some degree of restraint on him that he could not misrepresent Epicurus too strongly lest he lose credibility with Atticus and others of his friends, as Epicurus was very popular then.


    Also Charles I highly recommend reading the full book of "On Ends." I think it is pretty well documented and accepted by the experts that Cicero was not himself a Stoic, but in fact a neo-Platonist, and he disliked Stoicism almost as much as Epicurus. And as much or more of "On Ends" is devoted to refuting the Stoics than to the Epicureans. In fact I think you will find that Cicero's anti-Stoic argument is probably at least as intense, and perhaps even more vicious (and effective), than his anti-Epicurean argument.


    Cicero was a smart guy and probably quoting directly from Epicurean texts in order to make is compilation work manageable. But you are correct he was very antiEpicurean so that slant has to be kept in mind.


    And yes other than Lucretius, the Torquatus narrative in On Ends, and the Velleius narrative in "On the Nature of the Gods, are the most extensive surviving texts on Epicurean positions other than the letters of Epicurus in Diogenes Laertius, and the wall of Diogenes of Oinoanda, which has not been as accessible over the centuries as has been the work of Cicero, which has possibly been more accessible even than Diogenes Laertius.


    Which to some extent explains how this part of On Ends is now preserved as the Lorem Ipsum filler text.

  • 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.

    This makes more sense to me now. I know that pleasure is produced by the absence of pain as what I already discussed lately in the other thread. Now, at that very state of tranquility right before the production of pleasure, there is surely no pleasure yet but a plain painlessness, and it's strange to say that painlessness means pleasure. I think that pleasure begins when you start enjoying a particular desire that has no more corresponding pain like your example of dancing. I want to dance because it's fun, but it is only fun if I do not encounter distractions. Otherwise, it's not pure dancing. And if I die, I will never be happy even if there is no more pain at all. The painlessness of death will not provide me with happiness since I am already devoid of sensation. Therefore, pleasure (and happiness) is not simply produced by the absence of pain but out of a particular desire that demands no pain at all.

    "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."

  • "Pleasure is the absence of pain" and that "pleasure is a feeling when desires are satisfied" (ie a more hedonistic pleasure)

    I think my comment just above is the appropriate reply for this.

    "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."

  • Why is it that we often cite Cicero? He was a Stoic and he absolutely loathed the Epicureans to no end. Is it because he wrote against them so prolifically? Or is it instead that in his refutations he presented the original ideas and opinions of the Epicureans that have otherwise been lost to history?

    Cicero is a Skeptic (skeptic). I don't know how others view him, but I used to be a skeptic, and I modeled my skepticism partly from him and partly from Socrates. When I was a skeptic, I was honest to myself when presenting an opposing view. I presented it as correctly as possible so I could find the most appropriate rebuttal. I wouldn't fake myself with untrue negation of an untrue position since my aim was also tranquility by suspending my judgment. When I would present an opposing position, I would make sure I understood it correctly so that my criticism would be valid.


    I am sure Cicero had the same attitude. I am confident that he presented Epicurean philosophy correctly in the character of Torquatus. I can't find any reason for Cicero to fake the Roman public since he is not a Sophist. Therefore, the Book 1 in which Torquatus presents Epicurean philosophy on behalf of Epicureans can be considered authoritative.

    "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."

  • Therefore, pleasure (and happiness) is not simply produced by the absence of pain but out of a particular desire that demands no pain at all.

    Mike I can see why you would say "no pain" because of the point that the two feelings are separate and distinct. But in terms of 'demanding no pain at all' you would also keep in mind that we sometimes choose pain in order to produce pleasure, so while they are not the same feeling, a pleasure that is purchased at the cost of a particular pain might be a pleasure that we would choose, despite the cost in pain, would it not?

  • The metaphor that makes the most sense to me is the filling of a vessel, for example with a liquid. You fill the tank of your car with gasoline, and in doing so the air is expelled. The maximum that the tank can hold is when all the air is expelled. This is the point of maximum gasoline, and minimum air. But the nature of the gasoline is not changed when it reaches the maximum point of being filled.


    Thus so, a life of pleasure has reached its height when it is filled with the experience of ordinary pleasures, of whatever type, and when the experience of your life has no further component of pain.


    But there is nothing magic about the expelling of the last ounce of pain. The dancing and eating and drinking and appreciation of art and thinking and friends etc is just the same at the point of maximum pleasure as it is all along the way in the course of being filled -- the only difference is at the point of maximum pleasure there is no longer any distraction whatsoever from pain or turbulence.


    in Cicero's words, nothing is better than a life of tranquility, crammed full of pleasures. That is the description of the moment when the person's experiences nothing but pleasures, and nothing can be better than that because the feeling - the experience - of the person is completely consumed with pleasures, and there is no room left -- no ability to experience anything else - beyond that.

  • Mike I can see why you would say "no pain" because of the point that the two feelings are separate and distinct. But in terms of 'demanding no pain at all' you would also keep in mind that we sometimes choose pain in order to produce pleasure, so while they are not the same feeling, a pleasure that is purchased at the cost of a particular pain might be a pleasure that we would choose, despite the cost in pain, would it not?

    Yes. We choose pain (and skip some immediate pleasures) to achieve greater pleasure. I am referring to static pleasure that is produced by the absence of pain. If the absence of pain is the only definition of pleasure, then the stoic ataraxia must be pleasure, too. And I don't think they will agree in that case. Just like my example before, my stomach pain will not be painless at the same time, yet, when it is no longer painful, it does not mean pleasure because that state of painlessness must be different from pleasure as well. If my stomach is not any more painful, the pleasure there is when I enjoy walking which I couldn't do when I was in pain.

    "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."

  • Mike I will be interested in your comments if / when you are able to read the Nikolsky article, and the section of Gosling and Taylor on katestematic pleasure, and the Wenham article...


    I am referring to static pleasure that is produced by the absence of pain.

    ... because i am not at all sure that such as think as this exists. If there is a change in state, as in removal of pain, then there is some action going on that explains the source of the pleasure. I do not believe that "absence of pain" alone is an activity, any more than "calmly" expresses an activity. As per the argument in these articles, especailly Wenham perhaps on this particular point, all pleasure comes through sensation, and absence of sensation is death. If you are sensing pleasure, you are sensing "something' -- even if your mind is merely contemplating, which you find enjoyable. The pleasure in that moment is from your mind contemplating, a positive action, not an "absence of" anything. i think it ends up being a non-sequitur, and essentially a sophisticated attack on the feeling of pleasure itself, to talk in terms of "absence of" as describing the positive experience of pleasure.


    That's why this entire issue of katastematic pleasure is so important, and why Nikolsky and gosling and taylor and Wenham write to refute it. As Nikolsky state most explicitly, the entire issue of "static pleasure" was likely invented by a later stoic (Carneades) as part of their categorization obsession, and it seems to me very likely that Epicurus would have rejected the classification if he himself had been asked about it.


    But this is a deep subject where you need to expose yourself to the arguments that are stated in much more detail in these articles than I can do. If you have the time, I recommend Nikolsky first, then the Gosling and Taylor article (by which Nikolsky was inspired to write his) then followed by Wenham.

  • ... because i am not at all sure that such as think as this exists. If there is a change in state, as in removal of pain, then there is some action going on that explains the source of the pleasure. I do not believe that "absence of pain" alone is an activity, any more than "calmly" expresses an activity. As per the argument in these articles, especailly Wenham perhaps on this particular point, all pleasure comes through sensation, and absence of sensation is death. If you are sensing pleasure, you are sensing "something' -- even if your mind is merely contemplating, which you find enjoyable. i think it ends up being a non-sequitur, and essentially on the feeling of pleasure itself, to talk in terms of "absence of" as describing the positive experience of pleasure.


    That's why this entire issue of katastematic pleasure is so important, and why Nikolsky and gosling and taylor and Wenham write to refute it. As Nikolsky state most explicitly, the entire issue of "stastic pleasure" was likely invented by a later stoic as part of their categorization obsession, and it seems to me very likely that Epicurus would have rejected the classification if he himself had been asked about it.

    I agree. I don't believe in anything static as well. But for the sake of analysis, we can't help using the term since it is how we state pleasure that is not kinetic or moving. But anyways, my point is that pain and painlessness can not exist at the same place at the same moment the way the absence of pain and pleasure can not exist at the same place and at the same moment, too.

    "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 I am convinced that is the main point Mike. I know we are hitting you with a lot of material in terms of the DeWitt book and now these other articles such as Nikolsky, and I presume you have a life outside this philosophy work, plus you have to worry about a volcano!


    But over time I hope you will keep an eye on this particular issue. It's something we are going to face with every new person who comes down the road, because the mainline summaries of Epicurus are so focused on this point. It is the strategy they use to back up their argument that Epicurus was not REALLY a hedonist after all, because what he really advocated was this "fancy pleasure" which really isn't pleasure as ordinary people understand it at all.


    DeWitt actually does not deal with it a lot, primarily i think because - since he was so systematic in approaching first through the physics and the epistemology - he wasn't sidetracked on something that would never occur to a "normal person" to be an issue. When you are grounded first in the natural order of things, that pleasure guides all life, as illustrated in the opening of Lucetius, the person of common understanding would never naturally go off into exploring some ineffable "nothingness" as a legitimate form of pleasure, and certainly not the "highest pleasure."


    But the seeds of this argument were planted centuries ago, at least as far back as Cicero, and now it is the standard way used to explain what Epicurus was supposedly all about. The ancient Stoics and Epicureans didn't think that way, because they fought to the end, but the argument has gained a lot of steam in more recent centuries because Stoicism has achieved such a sweeping victory that people are afraid of emotion, afraid of pleasure, and do all they can to explain the viewpoint away. Such things are good enough to be the guide of all OTHER forms of life, but not humans -- no not humans! -- because we are the "rational animal" and we are "better" than that! (I am being sarcastic, of course)

  • I agree. I don't believe in anything static as well.

    And one reason that Epicurus himself wouldn't believe in anything static either is that one of the very first and most fundamental principles of his physics is that the atoms (and therefore everything, ultimately) is constantly in motion, and NOTHING is ever actually "static."


    That's the kind of observation deriving from physics that I am convinced shows how the ancient Epicureans would never have accepted such an argument. They were grounded, like Lucretius, from the beginning in the study of nature, and of atomism, and thus once they were taught that nothing exists for long periods of time without resolving back into their originating atoms, which are constantly in motion, the idea that there was something important that could be "static" in the sense of unmoving and unchanging would simply be "inconceivable."


    While, on the other hand, the notion of something as "static" perfectly fits the Platonic/Stoic notions of an unchanging "god" and his realm of "virtue" and similar ideals.


    "Static" has "Stoic" written all over it ;-)

  • Yes I am convinced that is the main point Mike. I know we are hitting you with a lot of material in terms of the DeWitt book and now these other articles such as Nikolsky, and I presume you have a life outside this philosophy work, plus you have to worry about a volcano!


    But over time I hope you will keep an eye on this particular issue. It's something we are going to face with every new person who comes down the road, because the mainline summaries of Epicurus are so focused on this point -- it is the strategy they use to back up their argument that Epicurus was not REALLY a hedonist after all, because what he really advocated was this "fancy pleaure" which really isn't pleasure as ordinary people understand it at all.

    Lol. Volcano is nothing to fear. :) Yes. I know that Epicurus is hedonistic. I don't think he promotes Taoism or Zen Budhism. This is why my strong argument is that death will guarantee the removal of all pains, but it will never provide us any 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."

  • And Epicurus wouldn't tell us to live with pleasure if only the removal of pain is the end.

    "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."

  • -- because we are the "rational animal" and we are "better" than that! (I am being sarcastic, of course)

    Yes. Epicurus has made it clear when he expressed repeatedly across his works that we should live a prudent life. Prudence is impossible without reason.

    "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."

  • But abstract general reasoning is no prudence at all. It's a different animal. :P

    "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."