Discussion of Article: "On Pleasure, Pain and Happiness"

  • Elayne, please if you would like make the statement that [aponia] and [ataraxia] are words that give the description of the magnitude of the limits of pleasure, and for making more clear the description, make a reference of the PD3, as it was translated in my above text.

    PD 3 on the limits of pleasure serves as the cornerstone for all further elaborations on the Epicurean understanding of pleasure and pain: the limit of the various, particular pleasures is the relief of the respective, corresponding "pains". For this, epicureans do not speak about "moderation" and "golden rule", but they always speak about limits, that are personal.

    For the epicurean understanding of both, what is meant here is neither the ecstasy of delight nor the agony of torture, but the natural everyday activities of our personal experiences. For example, once one has eaten enough, one is no longer hungry. Logically, for as long as one continues to feel full, one is not hungry; nor, of course, can one feel both sated and hungry all at once. Since there is a graduation for this of our bodily procedure. Epicurus closes the argument snugly with a glaring reduction ad absurdum.

    As well as, he goes on a crucial tangent, saying that this very same principle applies not only to pain in the strictly physical sense, but also to "that which causes sadness", or mental/emotional distress. This analogy between e.g. the "pain" of hunger and the "pain-trouble" of anxiety, or stress, or grief, has momentous ramifications in Epicurean ethics. Since, for Epicurus, the body/mind/soul is one and the same thing.

    Epicurus' says that pleasure is as easily attainable as satiety in the course of attending to our everyday, natural needs: we can "fill" ourselves with ongoing emotional wellness just as easily as (and provided that) we can satisfy our hunger, thirst, and need of shelter and safety on a daily basis. The main core of this doctrine is that - through our sober reasoning - when we banish mere opinions and empty beliefs to which are due to the greatest disturbance of our mind/soul, so then, it's easy to understand consciously what makes us feel pleased and bliss.

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • AND HERE IS THE WHOLE ISSUE : We have to understand what were the issues that Epicurus had confronted, in his era, - and not only in his era, but what issues we have to confront in our era too - and we have to realize also that the following is only a small excerpt of what Epicurus had heard and read about philosophical issues.

    Here is a small excerpt by Aristotle's Eudemia that is taught by theologians and philologists inside the greek schools, till today (sick).

    "It is said that the virtue of temperance concerns pleasures and sorrows, but it is actually limited to the first (pleasures). Initially, the pleasures of the intellect are excluded, for the people who become slaves of them they are never characterized as profligates/punishable (my note : WOW and thrice WOW). Also, the pleasures of vision, hearing, and smell are excluded. The virtue of temperance concerns only those sensations that provide direct enjoyment to both inferior animals and humans, namely touch and taste. Besides, not all the pleasures of touch and taste are included, but only the purely of inferior animal ones (my note: oh, my goodness, here Aristotle separates the senses of touch and taste in lower and upper level !!!), and those are the pleasures from food, drink and aphrodisiacs (my note lower are the pleasures for food, drink and aphrodisiacs, so you are going straight to asceticism).

    The only sorrows that are concerned with the temperance are those due to the unfulfilled desire for these pleasures. The ideal life, according to Aristotle, lies in the action that corresponds to the virtue of wisdom: ":«ὡστ' εἴη ἀν ἡ εὐδαιμονία θεωρία τις» and that means : that the goal of eudeamonia is for theorizing on the view (contemplation) of the Absolute Truth about the eternal being (THE GOD). (My note : ABSOLUTE TRUTH, JUSTICE, and GOD only in their stupid head had existed, exists and will exist).

    After the reference in the above, the teacher inside the schools makes the parallelism with the following excerpt by saint Maximos. And here we the epicureans understand the root of the decadence that is followed by the stoicism and its evolution the christianism.

    Saint Maximos ("his holly grace"), he directly inspired by the Socratic-Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, argues that: in

    order to succeed the knowledge of God and virtue, there are many that are demanded, such as discharge from passions/emotions, patience in temptations, virtues logoi (my note : virtues logoi are the mere opinions, empty beliefs to which are due to the greatest disturbance of our mind/soul), realization of modes of salvation, disconnection of the mood of the soul from the flesh, alienation of feeling from its relation to the senses, perfect departure of the mind from all creations and generally all that contribute to abstaining from evil and ignorance, since without the synergy of Grace of God, the virtues lose their true meaning, but without the consent of the believer, the grace of God remains fruitless.

    (My note : I have anything more to say, I remain shocking and speechless !!!)8o8o

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • "We have to understand what were the issues that Epicurus had confronted, in his era, - and not only in his era, but what issues we have to confront in our era too "

    How would you summarize the issue in a few words?

    That there is an effort to convince everyone that there is a goal higher than pleasure, and that that pleasure is mental contemplation, which is a food in itself? And that the attempt to focus on absence or pain or other ambiguous mental concepts is an attempt to nudge / restrain us in that direction?

    We need multiple ways of saying this but it is essential that it be brief and understandable.

  • I am pretty sure my term "fancy pleasure", as I explained it, takes care of the idea that there is something other than regular pleasure.

    But I will revise the ataraxia part as Elli suggested and probably put in another section-- I think in my own words, I have described exactly the situation of ataraxia/ aponia elsewhere, but I see why it is a good idea to have a specific section to cover it.

    Not sure I will have time to get to this until Saturday, but I will do it before next week for sure!

  • This task could consume all our attention so we have to make a decisions on how far to go and how not to go.

    Also: I am not sure how much reading Elli has put into Philebus, so she may know more about this than I do, but I am going to try to absorb at least the commentary on Philebus that starts the standard English translation, by Benjamin Jowett. I copied the Gutenberg version and placed it here.

    Already I see this point below ,which I think is related to what we have been discussing as the target which PD3 and "absence of pain" are intended to address. But this observation from Jowett lends more specificity.

    The point made here is that when we see the ancient Greeks discussing the issue of "infinite" or "something which has no limit," we should be thinking not wholly in terms of extent, but in terms of "definiteness." If Jowett is correct, Plato's problem with pleasure being infinite is not so much (or not only) that it can never be quenched in extent, but that it is INDEFINITE; UNTHINKABLE; UNKNOWABLE; OF WHICH NOTHING CAN BE AFFIRMED; CHAOTIC;..... The very act of placing Pleasure in the category of those things of which there are lesser or greater amounts paints it with all sorts of negative implications which could not possibly be consistent with the ultimate good of life.

    That would mean that in asserting that pleasure has a limit (the full extent of the individual's experience) then Epicurus is saying that pleasure as a goal is "definite," "thinkable," "knowable," "capable of being affirmed," "ordered," etc.

    This is fully consistent, but a deeper slant, with the idea that the vessel can be filled in quantity. This would go further and affirm that pleasure is something that is not only attainable, but definite enough to be understood, at least in terms of it serving as the goal / guide of life.


    The first of Plato's categories or elements is the infinite. This is the negative of measure or limit; the unthinkable, the unknowable; of which nothing can be affirmed; the mixture or chaos which preceded distinct kinds in the creation of the world; the first vague impression of sense; the more or less which refuses to be reduced to rule, having certain affinities with evil, with pleasure, with ignorance, and which in the scale of being is farthest removed from the beautiful and good. To a Greek of the age of Plato, the idea of an infinite mind would have been an absurdity. He would have insisted that 'the good is of the nature of the finite,' and that the infinite is a mere negative, which is on the level of sensation, and not of thought. He was aware that there was a distinction between the infinitely great and the infinitely small, but he would have equally denied the claim of either to true existence. Of that positive infinity, or infinite reality, which we attribute to God, he had no conception.

    The Greek conception of the infinite would be more truly described, in our way of speaking, as the indefinite. To us, the notion of infinity is subsequent rather than prior to the finite, expressing not absolute vacancy or negation, but only the removal of limit or restraint, which we suppose to exist not before but after we have already set bounds to thought and matter, and divided them after their kinds. From different points of view, either the finite or infinite may be looked upon respectively both as positive and negative (compare 'Omnis determinatio est negatio')' and the conception of the one determines that of the other. The Greeks and the moderns seem to be nearly at the opposite poles in their manner of regarding them. And both are surprised when they make the discovery, as Plato has done in the Sophist, how large an element negation forms in the framework of their thoughts.

    Jowett raises lots of issues and problems contained in Philebus which I don't begin to understand, and I haven't even read through his commentary once. But all this fits in the category that I would loosely refer to as "Why is Ataraxia/Aponia Important?" / "Why are Limits Important?" / "Why Talk in Terms of Absence of Pain Rather than Positive Pleasures?" / "Why PD3 and Related Comments Do Not Make Epicurus an Ascetic" /

    It also helps fit PD3 and PD4 in the same category of "antidotes" such as PD1 and PD2 which help us understand the context of enemies Epicurus was facing:

    (1) Why would one be concerned about false doctrines of divinity unless false priests were spreading mischief? And what is the doctrine that serves as the antidote to all such allegations? The true nature of divinity as perfection and self-sufficient)

    (2) Why would one be concerned about what happens after death unless false priests were spreading mischief about a heaven and hell? And what is the doctrine that serves as the antidote to all such allegations? Death is the end of sensation and all evil must come through sensation.

    (3) Why would one be concerned about whether pleasure has a "limit," or about defining pleasure as "absence of pain," unless false philosophers where spreading mischief that (1) pleasure is unlimited and therefore indefinite and insatiable and not competent to be the highest good, and (2) that pleasures can be divided up and ranked and categorized so that we can through reason alone decide which are worthy of choice? And what is the antidote to all such allegations? That the feeling of pleasure has a definite end-point which we can understand (A. that we can fill our experience with pleasure, after which we have no further need of MORE pleasure, and B. that there is a unity of pleasure in that all pleasure is pleasing, so we can choose any activities (and not just those deemed "worthy," which to us seem pleasurable as a way to fill up our vessel / expel all pain.)

  • Ok, I have inserted a section on Aponia and Ataraxia. I had actually already referenced PD 3 just prior to where I inserted the new section, so I have removed that reference to consolidate things and replaced it with PD 3 in the new section. Happily for me, this meant I didn't have to re-order my end notes!

    This results in hitting on the "only two" aspect several times in different sections, but I think this is such a critical point that it is better to repeat it in different ways.

    So you don't have to go back and hunt for that section, here it is below. Elli, what do you think?

    Ataraxia and Aponia

    I have mentioned ataraxia as a word commonly misunderstood by neo-Epicureans. Some neo-Epicureans make the mistake of thinking ataraxia is a “fancy pleasure”, and they put this new interpretation of Epicurus' words as their goal instead of the real life pleasure he recommended. Because Buddhism has become a fad for many Westerners, I have seen some conflate detachment – part of the way Buddhists see tranquility—with ataraxia. This leads neo-Epicureans to think that they should not seek pleasure but just take a detached perspective on life and not get ruffled. They may think this is “fancy pleasure”. It is not pleasure—it is a disconnection from reality which leads to pain.

    So what is ataraxia? What are those neo-Epicureans missing? Ataraxia is the Greek word for "without agitation", and agitation is pain of the mind. Ataraxia is paired with aponia, "without pain" of the body. If you apply these descriptions, without pain of body and mind, to your cup of feelings, it should be clear by now that you will be left with only pleasure of body and mind, not some alternative to pleasure or pain. Remember, there are only two options, pleasure and pain-- not three options, pleasure, absence of pain, and pain.

    A person with ataraxia and aponia is enjoying the full wellbeing of pleasure, the most pleasure humanly possible, in their entire body and mind! And this wonderful feeling is available to us during the course of many ordinary days in an ordinary human life, if we plan wisely.

    From now on, when you read commentary saying Epicurus wasn't advising actual pleasure but just to be untroubled, as if there is even the possibility of freedom from pain and agitation which is not wholly pleasurable, you will know that writer has completely and thoroughly misunderstood Epicurus.

    When you read PD 3 in this light, you will have an accurate understanding: "The limit of quantity in pleasures is the removal of all that is painful. Wherever pleasure is present, as long as it is there, there is neither pain of body nor of mind, nor of both at once"(6).

  • Elayne, frankly this is outstanding. Eύγε/Bravo and that is because you also give many examples which show how much rightly you have grasped and the concepts of greek words as ataraxia, aponia, autarkea, and eudaemonia that describe only the pleasure that is a feeling which springs from the inner self and can be preserved and feed back with the presence and the safety that we share with our friends. The first principle of friendship is the common benefit and through the empathy we are able to understand and to help/benefit each other in life.

    I promise that when I 'll have free time I translate it into greek language to become known among the greek epicurean friends. It is like to hear some of them saying : hooray, we found an epicurean lady who lives abroad and without knowing the language of gods, she understood perfectly what Epicurus had said. Yes, we found such an artist who knows the most important art that is: " to live like a goddess among men". And that's all folks http://pf.gy/0b9c5f

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • photofunky.gif

    There we go!!!! I inserted it with the "image" button -- and put the URL link in the pop-up box!

    [Elli added:]

    ...And if you change just the name in Epicuru's letter that is addressed to Leontion, you have : "O Lord Apollo, my dear Elayne, with what tumultuous applause we were inspired as we read your paper-work”.

  • On May 19, 2020, new user Jon M posted:

    Feelings and Kinds of Feelings

    Hello, I am new here and am not quite sure how to use this Forum. Never mind.

    I will introduce myself by making a comment on Elayne's excellent article 'On Pain, Pleasure, and Happiness'. I notice no one has commented on it for a while.

    I have a suggestion for a tweak in her terminology.

    Elayne, you quote Diogenes Laertius X.34 saying "the feelings are two, pleasure and pain" which is a literal translation, but Hicks translates "They [Epicureans] affirm that there are two states of feeling, pleasure and pain".

    My guess is that he says there are two 'states' of feeling because to say there are two feelings (only) is counter to normal usage. In everyday speech we have lots of feelings: I feel warm, I feel angry, I feel flu-like, and so on.

    Diogenes Laertius was a racy kind of tabloid-newspaper writer, and perhaps did not pick his words like a careful scholar. Also he is not saying Epicurus said this, only 'they' ie the Epicureans. So I feel happy, like Hicks, to tweak him.

    If you say that pleasure and pain are two kinds of feelings, then this gets you out of lots of issues.

    First it is more in keeping with normal English: I feel warm and it is pleasurable, ie pleasure is the kind of feeling it is. I feel angry and it is a painful kind of feeling.

    More importantly, it allows you to talk about neutral feelings, which you and Cassius had some discussion about.

    What I think you are saying, using my language, is that there is no third kind of feeling, often called 'neutral', neither pleasure nor pain.

    I can agree that there is no third kind of feeling, while accepting the neutrality of my having no particular feelings about something. Certainly I will have no conscious feelings attached to the large number of inputs to my senses every second that I am not conscious of. And surely there are lots of things in the periphery of my consciousness that I am neutral about. I don't care one way or the other about that cup that my eyes have just glanced over.

    But if my brain decides that any experience is salient enough to be picked out and focused on, then I will have one or more feelings about it, and of all the feelings I might have about that thing they will be divided into two kinds: pleasurable and painful.

    I agree completely then that it is not productive to focus on the neutral or to try and be neutral. To blank out all feelings and remain conscious is impossible, and to attempt to find a third kind of feeling that is neutral, (adukkham-asukhā, as the Buddhists say, neither painful nor pleasurable), is what you call a 'fancy pleasure', a dead-end street leading to pain and quite counter to Epicurus.

    This has become a long first post, but thanks to you and Cassius for maintaining a splendid website. It is good to see such high-quality writing about Epicurus all in one place.

    -- Jon M