A Draft Epicurean Pleasure Maximization Worksheet

  • Feelings cannot be reduced to numbers, and there are important limitations in the use of a "worksheet" as an aid in evaluating choices and avoidances. However it may be helpful to some people to visualize an illustration of the weighing process that some term the "hedonic calculus." Here is a draft example for your consideration and comment. Scores included here are of course fictional and for example only. A version of the spreadsheet in xlsx format is attached for downloading.


    The point of "As a practical matter the two goals are not the same" is to emphasize this distinction:

    If one's overriding goal were truly minimizing the number of painful experiences in life, then one would never choose any activity (getting a shot from a doctor; going to the gym; fighting to protect oneself) which involved any element of pain whatsoever.

    The true goal is not avoiding pain at all cost, but maximum net pleasure, which is why Epicurus described the reasoning this way:


    And since pleasure is our first and native good, for that reason we do not choose every pleasure whatsoever, but will often pass over many pleasures when a greater annoyance ensues from them. And often we consider pains superior to pleasures when submission to the pains for a long time brings us as a consequence a greater pleasure. While therefore all pleasure because it is naturally akin to us is good, not all pleasure is should be chosen, just as all pain is an evil and yet not all pain is to be shunned. It is, however, by measuring one against another, and by looking at the conveniences and inconveniences, that all these matters must be judged. Sometimes we treat the good as an evil, and the evil, on the contrary, as a good.

    And it is important to emphasize the limitation stated in the heading: There Are No Absolute Scores, and Nature Provides No Authority Higher Than Your Own Feelings To Assign A Relative Score To Each Item

    Feelings cannot be reduced to numbers. A Worksheet can only serve as a primitive method of conceptualizing the relationships between them for our own personal reflection. There is no target maximum number of "maximum net pleasure" applicable to everyone. To the extent that thinking about feelings in terms of numbers is helpful at all, it is only to the extent that ranking their values to us might be of some help in organizing our activities to emphasize the ones that will in the end bring us the largest net benefit.

  • The Okeefe answer would be "But "absence of pain" is the highest pleasure, so if you simply breathe air, eat bread, and drink water, there will be no pain on the right side of the ledger, and the left side will be all 10's in every column!"

    Maybe some people can rationalize that as what Epicurus meant - but I haven't been able to do so, nor do I think most people of normal sensibilities would do so. And since I think that the Greco-Roman world of Epicurus and Lucretius was populated with pretty much the same kind of people alive today, I don't think that Epicurus' philosophy would ever have become popular if "minimal total pain" is what he really taught.

  • List of potential revisions:

    (1) It would not be correct to assume that an activity which has a +5 pleasure score and also a -5 pain score results in a "neutral state."

    Nor would it be correct to presume that totally offsetting pain and pleasure scores that resulted in a final score of 0 would represent a neutral state. This is a limitation of the abstraction of reality to numbers, and I will clarify the diagram to warn against that implication, probably as part of the caution that pleasure and pain cannot be reduced to numbers anyway.

    PD3. The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When such pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain either of body or of mind or of both together.

    I think this is a statement that pleasure and pain are discrete - a sensation of pleasure is very different from a sensation of pain. In total their quantities can be compared, but they do not blend together - they are like oil and water and stay separate.z

    But an activity can and generally will generate some pleasure and some pain as different aspects of a single activity.

    (2) It is possible that the "intensity / extent" column should be eliminated as this aspect is likely already incorporated in the present/future bodily/mental pleasure columns

  • I don't think it really matters if it is subjective or not it does make us think and feel differently when we write it down on paper according to research by David d. Burns M.D. Like when you feel depressed you can write down all the good things that happen that day because we have a tendency to ignore the positive. If I am interpreting subjective correctly in your posts on the other post.

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “An Epicurean Pleasure Maximization Worksheet” to “A Draft Epicurean Pleasure Maximization Worksheet”.
  • I have attached to the original post in this thread an xls / Libreoffice Calc version of the spreadsheet which should be usable in any spreadsheet software. I prepared it in the free Libreoffice format so that it would be accessible to the most people. I will see about uploading this back to Google docs as well.

    This should be the same document, in Google Sheets - https://docs.google.com/spread…b6dKqQAY/edit?usp=sharing