Episode One Hundred Thirty Eight - Letter to Menoeceus 5 - Pleasure Part One

  • I'm inclined to think of hope and desire as degrees of the same thing. For a pop culture reference, consider the Ted Lasso episode "The Hope That Kills You". Any sports fan hopes that their team wins, but isn't that really a desire? And in that case, even a vain desire as they have no control over the outcome.

    Likewise, do I desire world peace or hope for it?

  • Here may be an interesting paper:

    Emotions in Plato and Aristotle
    Emotions in Plato and Aristotle

    Sigh... It seems it may be instructive to read Aristotle's 2 Ethics: Nichomachean and Eudemian. It may need interesting to see how he categorized the pathē and what subdivisions he came up with. Even if Epicurus didn't agree with him in all things, Aristotle and Plato had a huge impact on Greek thought.

  • Just for clarity the correct link to post number 36 is: RE: Episode One Hundred Thirty Eight - Letter to Menoeceus 5 - Pleasure Part One

    It's not obvious how to do that.... to get the direct link click on the post number at the top right, and you get a popup box. One of the entries is "permalink" and you can click on the "copy" icon to copy the link directly into your clipboard, where it is then easy to paste.

  • We know there aren't streams of atoms being generated as films impacting our minds. I'm pretty confident saying "know" there, too.

    I am less confident, and think that we may eventually find particles flows that we don't currently know about, but I don't intend to get distracted on trying to explore that. I have enough to do exploring for intelligent space "gods" ;)

  • do I desire world peace or hope for it?

    Excellent question! Hmmm...

    I guess I would ask if you actually expect world peace to happen. Do you have an expectation that will actually occur? Or do you want it to happen with no real expectation that it will occur? If the former, I would call that hope/expectation/confidence. If the latter, I would call that a desire.

  • This is a really interesting topic and basically I agree with everything Joshua says here. I think "desire" must be a lack of something good (or at least something I perceive as good), and given that we're using pretty broad definitions of "pleasure" and "pain" here, that any lack must be a pain.

    Hunger is a desire for food, and I think it is clearly a pain, even though it's one so easily satisfied for me that I rarely get to the point of actually registering the lack as pain.

    I am interested to look more into the neuro side of things though. There is some neurological overlap between the experience of physical and emotional pain (and of course emotional pain can be manifested as physical symptoms) but I'm not sure how desire might register. I would also expect hope to be entirely different, but I'm interested to see if any studies have been done looking into any of these things

    Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said that all emotions derive from fear and love. I'm wondering if gratitude might be an inverse of fear. Instead of pain from worrying about how things are, it's a pleasure from appreciating how things are.

    Also I just saw there's a few more pages so sorry if I'm repeating others!

  • I think "desire" must be a lack of something good (or at least something I perceive as good), and given that we're using pretty broad definitions of "pleasure" and "pain" here, that any lack must be a pain.

    Reneliza would you say that your sentence there boils down to "all desire is painful?" Would that cause you any issue to embrace that as a sweeping general statement?

  • I think "desire" must be a lack of something good (or at least something I perceive as good), and given that we're using pretty broad definitions of "pleasure" and "pain" here, that any lack must be a pain.

    Reneliza would you say that your sentence there boils down to "all desire is painful?" Would that cause you any issue to embrace that as a sweeping general statement?

    Yes, I would agree with that, but with the understanding that some desires are painful at the level of noon-time hunger after a 9AM breakfast, and some are painful like losing a limb.

    However - I do think I'm defining "desire" here as I do in everyday English, and it seems to likely be different than what Epicurus meant. At the same time, I'm defining pleasure and pain as I understand them from a broad Epicurean point of view and that mix-and-match may be complicating things. I don't have a desire for needs that are already met, only for things I'm lacking, and I'm not sure that's what he meant for this concept. I don't desire housing because I already have it. But if I was outside in a downpour, I would have a desire for shelter.

  • Maybe we ought to be considering the dictionary definitions of "desire" today, and also follow Don's lead and take a position on what we think the word meant exactly to Epicurus. Otherwise we are likely to never gain much clarity.


    well we crossposted but yes this corresponds well with my last post. I did also consult m-w.com before I posted haha

  • Having again consulted Merriam Webster, I think I view Epicurean "desire" as more closely akin to "concern" or "consideration" or even "interest" (noting that "concern" obviously has a negative connotation in most people's minds as a type of worry so it wouldn't be best for communication)

    The difference to me is that a desire must necessarily be unmet. Once it's met, the desire goes away. But a consideration doesn't go away when it's met, it just isn't really at the forefront anymore. There are other considerations that are more important or interesting at the moment, due to being unmet.


    1.b. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/interest


    1a: a feeling that accompanies or causes special attention to something or someone : CONCERN
    b: something or someone that arouses such attention


    2.a. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/consideration


    2a: a matter weighed or taken into account when formulating an opinion or plan

  • In reading the last few posts on desire being associated with pain, I personally find it disturbing to think my life would be motivated by pain. Desires are motivating factors. Maybe not the only ones and I admit I need to think about this more. But desires motivate us to take action. If desires are initiated by pain, then is my life motivated by pain?

    I would rather think my life is motivated by an appetite to move toward pleasure. I realize that could simply be rephrased as "to move away from pain" to me it's a matter of emphasis and/or perspective. Am I concentrated on the pleasure or the pain?

    All that said, Epicurus did write:

    By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul.

    I'm still not convinced that desire (epithymia/ orexis) necessarily involves pain but I'm not saying I have a cogent alternative at this point.

  • Don has articulated my concern very well. To consider all desire to be intrinsically linked to pain has to be overbroad. It cannot be true both that all pleasure is good but that all desire for pleasure not currently in our possession is bad.

    Looking for additional text references I see this fragment below from Diogenes of Oinoanda. Check the underlined part: which implies to me that the focus - the "roots of all evil" - are not "desires in general" but only those which "outrun the limits fixed by nature."

    I think most all of us are already in agreement that desires for things prohibited by nature (eternal life for example) are desires that are by nature harmful. But desiring those pleasures that do not exceed the limits fixed by nature leaves a huge freeway for a spectrum of desires for pleasure which are not only beneficial but also either not intrinsically painful or are well worth the pain they require. To consider for example the excitement of children waiting for Christmas morning to receive their presents to be a state in which they are in pain would I think a highly inverted way of looking at the ultimate reality.

    "Outrunning the limits fixed by nature" is a good phrase that helps shift the focus away from the simple observation that we do not yet have the object of our desire to a focus on what we would naturally expect a practical person like Epicurus to focus on: whether the desire is ultimately obtainable, and at what (if any) cost in pain.

    Fr. 34

    ... reasoning ... [of happiness] ................... [is ... hope, after selection of these], and cure of erring emotions. So where, I say, the danger is great, so also is the fruit. Here we must turn aside these fallacious arguments on the grounds that they are insidious and insulting and contrived, by means of terminological ambiguity, to [lead] wretched human beings [astray] ....................... [let us] not [avoid every pain that is present, and let us not choose every pleasure, as the many always do. Each person must employ reasoning,] since he [will not always achieve immediate success: just as] exertion (?) [often] involves one [gain at the beginning and] certain [others as time passes by], so it is also with [experiencing pleasure;] for sowings of seeds do [not] bring [the same benefit] to the sower but we see some seeds very quickly germinating [and bearing fruit and others taking longer] ............... of pleasures and [pains] ........ [pleasure].

    And so the .......... [are] ....... If .................. [prudence.]

    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.

  • I'd like to propose again that a desire is not a pain, but it may produce pain or be a response to a pain.

    To test a somewhat muddled analogy: fire is not a pain, but if you put your hand in it, it will lead to pain. Moving on from the analogy: if you keep your hand in the fire, you will have a desire (in this case a response to pain) to remove your hand from the fire. If someone offered you a large sum of money to keep your hand in the fire, the natural desire to remove your hand will be fighting with the (vain? depends on the circumstances) desire to get the money (choices and avoidances: which resultant pleasure/pain leads toward a better outcome?).

    If desire is a pain, then per PD03 the limit of the magnitude of pleasure would include the removal of all desire. Is this what Epicurus had in mind? Then why would he describe natural and necessary desires? Does he say somewhere that gods have no desires?

    Can we even experience pleasure without desire? Certainly we can by stumbling into something pleasurable. But Epicurus is very clear that prudence is of critical importance; this is how we live our lives with intention and not by chance.

    As I recall from an experiment described in the book Dopamine Nation, rats with their dopamine blocked would starve to death. They weren't motivated by the pleasure of food or by the removal of the pain of hunger, but by dopamine. So if dopamine equates to desire (does it?) then it would clearly not be a pain or a pleasure. Desire would be a stimulus to action as opposed to pleasure and pain, which serve as guides to action and results of action. (OK I'm mixing modern and ancient here)

  • The concluding paragraph from the paper that Don posted previously in this thread:

    "Without separating off emotions as such, Plato and Aristotle alert us to their compositional intricacy, which involves body and mind, cognition and desire, perception and feeling. Even the differences of interpretation to which scholars are resigned focus our minds upon the complexity of the phenomena, and their resistance to over-unitary definitions. Emotions, after all, are things that we feel; at the same time, emotionally is how we often think. Discarding too simple a Socratic focus upon contents of thought, Plato and Aristotle embrace the interconnections, within the emotions, of body and soul, and of perception, imagination, feeling, and thinking. Theirs was not the last word; but, after them, there was no going back to first words. We should still read them, for the reason that what demands clarification in them demands clarification in itself. The questions that they bring alive for us are our questions."

    In other words, we've happened upon a very juicy topic ^^

  • PD 26 says "All desires that do not lead to pain when they remain unsatisfied are unnecessary, but the desire is

    easily got rid of, when the thing desired is difficult to obtain or the desires seem likely to produce harm."

    So not all desires produce pain, so Epicurus concept of desire was not quite so black and white.