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

  • Yes, in my sarcasm I am referring to Cicero stating that the philosophy of Epicurus is better suited to an animal than a human. That's a cite I don't recall to mind readily enough, but I will eventually find it and paste it here. Possibly from On Ends but perhaps Tusculan Disputations (or maybe even another work)

  • Cicero stating that the philosophy of Epicurus is better suited to an animal than a human.

    Lol. Nietzsche would surely tell him the opposite. I guess he would say that a Platonic reasoning is indeed for animals or for humans with herd mentality. :D

    "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."

  • Cicero's comment presupposes that pleasure is irrational which is contrary to what Torquatus explains about the use of virtue for pleasure. I think it is just an argumentative device he made in order to insert the popular notion of pleasure as against that of Epicureans. Cicero loves teasing for an argument to come out as opposed to Socrates who loves interrogation.

    "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."

  • Well, we certainly can and should use reason to achieve pleasure, and we can take pleasure in our reasoning, but in fact pleasure itself IS irrational, is it not? And Epicurus' lowering of the "rank" of reason, and not including it in the canon of truth, is indication of the secondary place "reason" holds in the Epicurean estimation.

  • 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).

    For the record, this is Cassius' view and is not shared by all. The sources that use ataraxia include Letter to Menoeceus:


    Quote

    The steady contemplation of these facts enables you to understand everything that you accept or reject in terms of the health of the body and the serenity of the soul — since that is the goal of a completely happy life.

    τούτων γὰρ ἀπλανὴς θεωρία πᾶσαν αἵρεσιν καὶ φυγὴν ἐπανάγειν οἶδεν ἐπὶ τὴν τοῦ σώματος ὑγίειαν καὶ τὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἀταραξίαν, ἐπεὶ τοῦτο τοῦ μακαρίως ζῆν ἐστι τέλος


    (where ἀταραξίαν/ataraxian is translated as "serenity of the soul"). And so this term is used in LMenoeceus by Epicurus, where it is offered as a criterion for choices and avoidances.


    Also, in Diogenes' Wall, we find this, where we are able to contrast ataraxia versus the ills of the soul that it's meant to heal: the perturbances of the soul:

    https://theautarkist.wordpress…es-wall-on-the-pleasures/


    Quote

    Let us now [investigate] how life is to be made pleasant for us both in states and in actions.

    Let us first discuss states, keeping an eye on the point that, when the emotions which disturb the soul are removed, those which produce pleasure enter into it to take their place.

    Well, what are the disturbing emotions? [They are] fears —of the gods, of death, and of [pains]— and, besides [these], desires that [outrun] the limits fixed by nature. These are the roots of all evils, and, [unless] we cut them off, [a multitude] of evils will grow [upon] us.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • For the record, this is Cassius' view and is not shared by all. The sources that use ataraxia include Letter to Menoeceus:

    There is no doubt that the term ataraxia is used occasionally and in certain contexts; that is not the issue. The issue is whether we should draw the conclusion that "ataraxia" is correctly identified as equivalent to a specific type of pleasure, or as a unique "highest pleasure," which I contend is not the case, nor do those cites establish that point. The goal of life stated over and over again by Epicurus and others is pleasure, not "ataraxia." Pleasure is the overriding ultimate term, ataraxia is a subordinate concept just like aponia.


    This is true even in the letter to Menoeceus - all of these references here are to "pleasure," not to "ataraxia":


    "And for this cause we call pleasure the beginning and end of the blessed life. For we recognize pleasure as the first good innate in us, and from pleasure we begin every act of choice and avoidance, and to pleasure we return again, using the feeling as the standard by which we judge every good. And since pleasure is the first good and natural to us, for this very reason we do not choose every pleasure, but sometimes we pass over many pleasures, when greater discomfort accrues to us as the result of them: and similarly we think many pains better than pleasures, since a greater pleasure comes to us when we have endured pains for a long time. Every pleasure then because of its natural kinship to us is good, yet not every pleasure is to be chosen: even as every pain also is an evil, yet not all are always of a nature to be avoided."

  • There is no doubt that the term ataraxia is used occasionally and in certain contexts; that is not the issue. The issue is whether we should draw the conclusion that "ataraxia" is correctly identified as equivalent to a specific type of pleasure, or as a unique "highest pleasure," which I contend is not the case, nor do those cites establish that point. The goal of life stated over and over again by Epicurus and others is pleasure, not "ataraxia." Pleasure is the overriding ultimate term, ataraxia is a subordinate concept.

    Correct, the end of the calculus of pleasure vs. pain is net pleasure. But we should not dismiss ataraxia itself for this reason.


    As for "higher pleasure", the closest thing to that is in Diogenes of Oenoanda, where we find the argument that pleasures and pains of the mind are more intense and of longer duration than those of the body - https://theautarkist.wordpress…on-principal-doctrine-20/


    Putting aside the telos, Ataraxia and aponia are themselves important criteria when it comes to carrying out choices and avoidances, says LMenoeceus. We must refer our choices and avoidances to them. This is in line with Metrodorus' teaching that we should acquire the confident expectation that we will be able to secure our natural and necessary desires (if we worry about where our next meal will come from, or where we are going to sleep, we can't live pleasantly). We study nature to avoid perturbations (the -tarax- portion of ataraxia) about natural phenomena, etc.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • So Hiram, do you contend that "ataraxia" was the goal of life for Epicurus rather than pleasure?

    No. But I do contend that in the sources, nowhere is this being said. To speak of ataraxia does not constitute its replacement instead of pleasure. I contend that ataraxia is an important part of the anatomy of pleasure, as understood by the Epicureans, and that it's hard to connect theory with practice without it.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • No one is saying that absence of pain or absence of disturbance are irrelevant. The issue is the clear, correct, and well-articulated identity of the goal of life to avoid confusion for those who study Epicurus:


    I will start then in the manner approved by the author of the system himself, by settling what are the essence and qualities of the thing that is the object of our inquiry; not that I suppose you to be ignorant of it, but because this is the logical method of procedure. 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.


    So to be clear, Hiram, you agree that "pleasure," and not "ataraxia," is the goal of life articulated by Epicurus?

  • So to be clear, Hiram, you agree that "pleasure," and not "ataraxia," is the goal of life articulated by Epicurus?

    Correct, plesure is the end.


    That ataraxia is the end has never been stated by anyone in Epicurean philosophy :) "Pleasure is the end".


    But as someone who has embraced the idea of the teaching mission of the Epicurean Gardens, I don't think it's healthy to shun the word "ataraxia" without, later, re-visiting the word within its proper context and with its proper proportion and place in the doctrine. If we dismiss ataraxia without discussing what it is and what its role is, that does not serve the teaching mission.


    Yes pleasure is the end, but how do we go about living pleasantly in the real, contextual, complicated reality that we inhabit? To dismiss ataraxia is to impede our teaching from being contextualized and lived. Right now the world is being shaken by earthquakes and volcanoes (Puerto Rico, Indonesia, Philippines, New York, Delaware, and now Alaska) and there are priests everywhere inviting people to get on their knees and turn themselves over to a deity that is imagined as a cosmic Saddam Hussein. You can't live pleasantly if you don't study nature enough to understand that this is unnecessary. So ataraxia, the demeanor and disposition of someone who is without apprehensions about natural phenomena, someone who is confident to get the natural and necessary goods, is necessary to live pleasantly. THIS TOO is part of the doctrine, and without it you can't connect theory and practice as an Epicurean.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • If we dismiss ataraxia without discussing what it is and what its role is, that does not serve the teaching mission.

    I agree that we cannot dismiss ataraxia and leave it alone, because 98% of people studying Epicurus are confusing it for the end, and we must disabuse them of that notion if they are to understand that the goal is pleasure and not something else.



    To dismiss ataraxia is to impede our teaching from being contextualized and lived.

    I would say this differently, and would say that "ataraxia as it is generally understood" is what impedes teaching Epicurus correctly as properly contextualized and lived.


    You can't live pleasantly if you don't study nature enough to understand that this is unnecessary. So ataraxia, the demeanor and disposition of someone who is without apprehensions about natural phenomena

    This is an example of the problem. You are talking about ataraxia as if it is somehow outside the framework of pleasure as the goal. It is INSIDE the framework, and pleasure is not a threat to ataraxia properly understood. By backing away from pleasure you are implying that the framework is not solid and needs reworking.

  • We humans are animals (apparently this truth makes Texans especially uncomfortable). But it's also true that we humans are unique, in many respects, relative to the rest of life -- for the better and for the worse!

    I was thinking about this very point earlier today. Once again I think precision is key. If by "unique" would be meant some kind of bright dividing line by which humans are of a different essential nature, or that humans have some kind of divine spark that ants (for example) do not, then I think that would be incorrect. I think the proper view would be that life exists on a spectrum, with humans occupying the most sophisticated intellectual role that we are currently aware of, but that there is no chasm/bright line/ difference in nature between humans and higher animals, all of which are on the same spectrum of "life." What do you think of that way of phrasing it?


    The idea that humans are of some kind of unique higher nature that makes it cosmically special is inherent in Cicero's argument, and I think that argument must be held to fail.

  • I am beginning to see that pleasure and happiness are two different things, and it seems that happiness is a somewhat remote state as compared to mental pleasure. It appears to me that happiness is a circumstance while pleasure is a kind of feeling. Torquatus said that the greatest pleasure of the mind is a contributor to happiness. This implies a connection of two different things.


    In the last paragraph of part XVII of Book 1 of On Ends, Torquatus said "This is now entirely evident, that the very greatest pleasure or annoyance of the mind contributes more to making life happy or miserable..."


    And with regard to my previous comment that the absence of pain does not necessarily mean pleasure, Torquatus has the same explanation when he said in the same paragraph that "...we affirm that men do rejoice at getting rid of pain even if no pleasure, which can affect the senses, succeeds."


    In other words, pleasure and happiness are not the same thing while pleasure and the absence of pain are two different states as well.

    "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 think you are spot on with differentiating the two. I would add that it is possible that we'll understand how the mind (our brain) undergoes pleasure and I think the absence of pain isn't the full story. We are hungry, so we eat, and then we are satiated. IMO, pleasure can start by thinking about what you want to eat and with whom you want to dine with.

    Yes. That's exactly the point. Like what I argued yesterday here, death will guarantee the removal of all pains, but it will never give us pleasure since the dead are already devoid of sensation, hence they could never want or be satisfied.

    "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."

  • actually, on second thought, a rocking chair can probably induce ataraxia, no need to wait :P

    That's mostly a joke more than a precise philosophical statement but I "liked" it anyway ;-) Jokes are good! ;-)

    In other words, pleasure and happiness are not the same thing while pleasure and the absence of pain are two different states as well.

    I agree that these words are not describing identical things. Whether one or more of them is a "state" however may be a different question ;-)

    I don't view life along a spectrum or continuum and I caution anyone against that notion, because such notions impeded the development of biology for millennia; formally known as the chain of being.

    Maybe it would be helpful to explain that statement. All I meant by being on a spectrum is the lack of a bright line difference that distinguishes them into some kind of ideal categories, so I presume you are making another point(?)

  • Whether one or more of them is a "state" however may be a different question ;-)

    Again, like what I mentioned to you yesterday, I do not believe in anything static or a certain kind of state. We just can't help using the term for the sake of analysis. The fact that the absence of pain produces pleasure simply explains they are different from each other. When I produce a meal, the meal is not me. ;)

    "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."

  • Can you clarify the difference between happiness and pleasure.

    That is exactly the point under discussion and it is not easy. What is clear is that (1) Epicurus stated that "pleasure" (using hedone or other Greek words) is the goal, not "happiness" (eudaimonia). Perhaps we should ask the Greeks what the difference is :-) For now, the main point for philosophical discussion is that pleasure is a feeling, and happiness would be desirable because it is a type of pleasurable feeling, otherwise happiness would not be desirable. I do not think it would be appropriate to do the reverse, and describe pleasure as a type of happiness feeling. Nor would it be appropriate to attempt to define happiness as an abstraction which is the single goal of everyone's life, as Aristotle tried to do by defining precise requirements for happiness. Nature gave us only feelings to help us determine how to choose and to avoid, and did not define particular goals or give faculties other than pleasure and pain.

    It seems a lot of people are seeking happiness, how would you convince them that happiness is not the goal of life, that pleasure is the ultimate goal/chief good in life?

    Same answer as above, for the moment: Pleasure is a feeling, and happiness would be desirable because it is a type of pleasurable feeling, otherwise happiness would not be desirable. I do not think it would be appropriate to do the reverse, and describe pleasure as a type of happiness feeling. Nor would it be appropriate to attempt to define happiness as an abstraction which is the single goal of everyone's life, as Aristotle tried to do by defining precise requirements for happiness.

    Nature gave us only feelings to help us determine how to choose and to avoid, and did not define particular goals or give faculties other than pleasure and pain.