Dialogue on Katastematic Pleasure

  • It was great pleasure reading your exchange (all of you) but while you are focusing on ciceros interpretation and critique, which is in itself important, you fail to take into consideration central epicurean text about ethics. And in light of these passages katastematic\kinetic distinction should be debated. Even wenham seems to make the same mistake when he rushes to ciceros interpretation without introduction based on the letter.

    From letter to menoeceus:


    The steady contemplation of \different desires\ 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. Our every action is done so that we will not be in pain or fear. As soon as we achieve this, the soul is released from every storm, since an animal has no other need and must seek nothing else to complete the goodness of body and soul. Thus we need pleasure only when we are in pain caused by its absence; but when we are not in pain then we have no need of pleasure.

    And later he adds:


    when we say that pleasure is the goal, \we mean\ to be free from bodily pain and mental disturbance. For a pleasant life is produced (...) by sober reasoning, searching out the cause of everything we accept or reject, and driving out opinions that cause the greatest trouble in the soul.

    Yes. Epicurus says this himself. When he says that pleasure is the goal he means freedom of pain and anxiety. All context is here. Period.

  • Thank you both so far for posting. I will reply further to both but here is what I posted as preliminary thoughts:

    Thanks for all the work you put into this Hiram. I have been busy and even now have not been able to read closely through this or the associated article on the standard interpretation of static pleasure. I have skimmed but will do go over this in much more detail as soon as possible and comment further. However based on what I have read this is the expected framework of my reaction:

    Pleasure is an experience of life, and experiences of life occur only through mental and bodily feeling. Total absence of feeling is death. Because pleasures are feelings, and not reasonings or concepts, pleasures have no existence apart from our experience of them. It is not even possible to convey more than the sketchiest experience of feelings in words, much less it is possible through reasoning to fully describe pleasures. Pleasures therefore cannot be reduced to concepts, and even the most intelligent computer can never experience feelings through logical circuitry.

    Cicero's argument against Epicurus is effective because most people understand that pleasures are feelings, just as Epicurus said. Most people also know the reverse - that there is no pleasure (or anything else) in non-feeling. Standing alone, a statement that says or implies that "absence of pain" equals "the highest pleasure" is nonsensical and absurd. That is because absent the Epicurean premises about nature of all feelings being either pleasure or pain, such a statement says nothing about what IS being felt. To most people, the statement "absence of pain" conveys nothing about what is being felt, and by implication implies that NOTHING is being felt. This is again an absurdity since total absence of feeling is death, not the highest pleasure. If all pleasure is feeling, the greatest pleasure cannot come through non-feeling.

    Cicero would never have had an argument, and we would not be discussing this, but for the widespread implication that "katastematic pleasure" or "absence of pain" is not only non-feeling, but it is also different in kind and superior to other forms of pleasure. That was the general implication of the words then, and it is the general implication of them today. But since all pleasures of any kind come only through the experience of feeling, terms like "absence of pain" and "katastematic" create cognitive dissonance - obvious contradictions which cannot be reconciled.

    I'll defer this to another discussion, but I also think discussing "the highest pleasure" is on its face a nonsensical position in Epicurean terms. There is no single category or description of pleasure that is higher than all others **other than** as a measure of "quantity" or "purity," which is the way I believe this discussion was intended, as a technical response to Platonic arguments about quantity and purity. The pleasure that comes when we escape near death, which is the best description we have from Epicurus as to "the good," seems to me to be a statement of tremendous intensity of feeling, the furthest thing possible from what is conveyed by "absence of pain" or "katastematic pleasure."

  • As for Maciej's posts, definitely those passages cited need to be considered in the analysis, and my view of them is the same as the rest. Epicurus has stated as a preliminary observation that death is absence of sensation, which means that all life - especially pleasure - comes through sensation. Given that there are only two "feelings" - pleasure and pain - then when we are not feeling pain we are necessarily feeling pleasures, and there is no neutral state. So under that analysis we are either feeling ordinary pleasures, or we are feeling ordinary pains, and while it would not be necessary for Epicurus to add the word 'ordinary' given his clear statements as to the nature of pleasure, that has now become the battleground, because "absence of pain" means nothing in the modern context except a nullity.

    Once we accept that we would not know pleasures except through sensation of them - through the normal feelings of good food, good drink, smooth motion, sex, and all the other innumerable examples - this passage gives us no problem. But leaving those out and refusing to define the state of absence of pain as ordinary pleasure in a way that people can immediately understand it is simply, in my view, to fall over and over again into the trap used by Cicero of isolating a single passage and acting as if it has no relationship to the rest of the philosophy.

  • Yes. Epicurus says this himself. When he says that pleasure is the goal he means freedom of pain and anxiety. All context is here. Period.


    In my view the best way to advance this discussion is to address the contradiction that Cicero exploited from the point of view of those who he knows will agree with him - normal people who normally define pleasure in terms of feeling. If you contend that "freedom from pain and anxiety" is the full context of the description of the goal, please describe what you are **feeling** when you are free from pain.

  • Absence of pain or freedom from pain or health of the body means what it sounds. The same thing in modern and ancient context. Who understands this is unimpressed by arguments in cicero.

    For epicurus it was full context. You can ask me to describe whiteness of the snow i can only point to something white and say: "like this". We had this discussion. Do you remember when you was in pain? I am assuming that you do. But now you are not? Ok then compare one state with the other and you find what you are looking for.

  • Yes Maciej we continue to disagree on this and I expect we always will, but the discussion is helpful nevertheless. I certainly know what if feels like to have had a fever, and not to have it any more. Is that difference pleasurable? Certainly. Is that difference a complete description of what Epicurus meant by the greatest possible pleasure? Is that difference stated alone an example of the "full context" of pleasure given by Epicurus? I maintain it most certainly is not. So we will continue to respectfully disagree .

  • LOL - Either will be interesting interactions ;)

    Mostly because I do believe it is not just a matter of words.

    I believe it translations into a basic assessment of how we should be oriented to life - are we primarily reacting to outside impacts from pain? Clearly in many cases people find themselves in situation where that is and should be their primary goal, such as when they are sick, or oppressed from some force that demands their constant attention.

    But I do not consider that to be the primary point of view from which we should analyze life. As Epicurus says in the letter to Menoeceus, (Bailey) - "(He thinks that with us lies the chief power in determining events, some of which happen by necessity) and some by chance, and some are within our control; for while necessity cannot be called to account, he sees that chance is inconstant, but that which is in our control is subject to no master, and to it are naturally attached praise and blame.")

    If we have either the "chief power" or even only significant power, to have influence over our lives, then it is up to us to choose the type of actions and pleasures which we choose to pursue, and how we identify those pleasures, and how we think about them, is going to be highly important. And while I am not going so far as to say that I do and you don't, or that either of us should, I believe it is fair to say that a significant number of people can and do legitimately take the position that "ending pain" is an essentially negative approach toward life which is not justified by the underlying analysis of nature which Epicurus taught. (And that as a result, that Epicurus saw the same thing and did not in fact teach that.)

    But we will go round and round on this probably as long as we live, as such points are not "solvable" in the way of a physics question. ;)

  • Epicurus precisely say and let me 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.

    So please find and let us know those fragments that will enlighten us. Or let be enlighten by us by pointing to you what is evident to everybody.

  • I don't quite understand that last comment Maciej, can you explain? Cicero (a very bright guy, though not Epicurean) believed that there was a contradiction in "absence of pain" and "the highest pleasure" despite his very thorough knowledge and background in Epicurean theory. Had he thought the answer was "evident" he would presumably have not bothered to make the argument. Within the context of the argument that Cicero presented, what is so clear to you that was not to Cicero?

    A subset of that question is: "Do you contend Cicero was simply obtuse, or was he intentionally misrepresenting Epicurean philosophy?"

  • I do not think than cicero was bright guy. Or maybe that no matter as bright he could have been his republican patriotism made him blind.

  • Ok well we will chalk that up to another disagreement. I think Cicero was a bright guy, and that his attack was chosen astutely to inflict maximum damage. You're essentially defending Torquatus' response, which Cicero knew would not make sense to the majority of people reading "On Ends." From here it's just up to each one of us to come to our own conclusion as to whether Torquatus' response is the one Epicurus would have given had he been there to reply to Cicero.

  • As I think about this further and compare positions I would predict that Hiram would not defend Torquatus' response as you do, Maciej. If I read Hiram's position correctly, Hiram is equating the 'absence of pain' position to an attitudinal emotional experience which Hiram would also consider to be a positive pleasurable feeling in the normal sense of those words, rather than follow Torquatus' line to leave the answer as something that can only be defined as the absence of some prior pain.

    I don't know that Hiram has stated how he would consider either "absence of pain" or "katastematic pleasure" to be the highest possible pleasure, however, so I am not sure how to predict on that.

    (In writing this post I was reviewing book 2 of "On Ends" and one thing I am sure of: there is a LOT of important material in Book 2 that we have not been discussing over the years at the Facebook group. The applicable answer here is that it is possible I missed something, but it does not appear that Cicero allowed Torquatus to explain any further the meaning of "absence of pain" so we are left uncertain as to whether he had any more explanation to give.)

  • Quote from torquatus that corroborates Epicurus exposition in menoceus


    The pleasure we pursue is not that kind alone which directly affects our physical being with a delightful feeling—a positively agreeable perception of the senses; on the contrary, the greatest pleasure according to us is that which is experienced as a result of the complete removal of pain. When we are released from pain, the mere sensation of complete emancipation and relief from uneasiness is in itself a source of gratification. But everything that causes gratification is a pleasure (just as everything that causes annoyance is a pain). Therefore the complete removal of pain has correctly been termed a pleasure. For example, when hunger and thirst are banished by food and drink, the mere fact of getting rid of uneasiness brings a resultant pleasure in its train.

  • Several comments, while keeping in mind that this is a translation so it's unclear how far precise word choice is correct:

    (1) "not that kind ALONE" of course endorses feelings of delight without giving any indication that Epicurus held this to be an inferior kind of pleasure.

    (2) Yes, that is where Torquatus (as written by Cicero) claims that "the greatest pleasure" is a result of the complete removal of pain. The rest of the statement is nothing more than a statement that removal of pain is a pleasure, with which of course I agree. The key controverted issue we are discussing is whether and how "complete removal of pain" constitutes a complete description of "the greatest pleasure" which is what I reject as clearly false and intentionally misleading by Cicero. From the respect of "quantity" or "purity" yes, but from the respect of a positive statement of what is being experienced, I say clearly no. And the fact that this deficiency in explanation and apparent contradiction is so clear, on its face, is what makes Cicero's argument so compelling.

    Lawyers do not state their opponent's cases as their opponents want them stated. They state their opponent's cases by drawing and quartering the opponent's position into segments, and taking isolated statements to logical extremes which the opponent's full case would never embrace or reach due to other factors they state in their full case.

    As Cicero points out here through Torquatus, Epicurus grounded pleasure in "positive agreeable perception of the senses," because in fact he had previously laid the foundation that absence of sensation is death. Going further, I am not sure that a case can be made that Epicurus endorsed ANY notion of pleasure that is not defined within a "positive agreeable perception of the senses."

    All the rest of the exposition is simply to note that just like any other "positive agreeable perception of the senses," relief from hunger, thirst, or other pain is ALSO perceived as a "positive agreeable perception of the senses." None of that establishes a definition of a state which is the "highest pleasure" except in one sense alone: that all pain has been driven away, and therefore the other "positive agreeable perceptions of the senses" are felt in their most intense, most delightful, undiluted form.

    Though we disagree this exchange is highly helpful, because I know at least in my case that I have given far too little time to reading and expanding Book 2.

  • Also, I want to repeat the essence of my position, which is to accept as fundamental the statement that is given in PD3, here in the Bailey version:

    "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."

    "Absence of pain" is extremely significant for precisely the reason stated here: it is the "limit of quantity in pleasures." "Absence of pain" is a term that describes "the limit of quantity" of pleasure; it is not a complete description of those pleasures that are being experienced while all pain is removed.

    No complete description of those pleasures being experienced by any individual when all pain is gone is in fact possible, because no complete description of the list of ordinary mental and physical pleasures is possible. There are innumerable ordinary mental and physical pleasures of the innumerable types, but the one thing we can say about ALL pleasures is that they are "positive agreeable perceptions of the senses," with "senses" being interpreted broadly to include mental pleasures, which can be more intense than physical ones.

  • Ad1. It kind of does indicate this. We can paraphrase torquatus and say that a positively agreeable perception of the senses is not the kind of pleasure that we pursue alone. Epicurus warns about this in pd10. if we would pursue this kind of p!easures alone then we would not only loose the greatest pleasure but also those pleasures will be spoiled by fear that one day we will loose them and sickness or addiction or boredom caused by not knowing limits of our desires. Look at pd10 and menoceus again.

    Ad2. So you do not feel in torquatus words sensation of complete emancipation and relief from uneasiness? Is this what you are firmly convinced is false and you are rejecting it?

    Ad. Lawyers...

    I am not threatened by lawyers sophisms and tricks. I look at secondary source whitch is torquatus speach and compare it with primary source which is letter to menoeceus. Where torquatus confirms epicurus or elaborates on his basis then i have no reason to exlude him. There is no reason to fear torquatus or any souRce for that matter. Fear leads to overcriticism and overcriticism leads to misunderstanding.

    Ad. As cicero...

    There is nothing in this fragment about death so i do not know what you are talkin about. Of course there is another kind of pleasure than agreeable perception of the senses which epicurus endorses in quoted fragments in menoeceus and in pd.10 for example. I urge you not to forget about evidence that was presented already.

    Ad all the rest...

    Memory of past pleasures, hopes of future ones and meditations of philosophy are not felt by senses. When you are relieved from fear in what sense organ you feel positive agreement? In your eye or tongue?