Nate Garden Bard
  • Member since Jan 9th 2018

Posts by Nate

    isn't determinism rejected by Epicurus? How can Epicureanism and determinism co-exist in Onfray's mind?

    Link to the video

    You are correct that Epicurus rejected strict determinism. A primary point of contention Epicurus had with Democritean atomism was his determinism. If you have not come across it yet, I recommend reading Karl Marx's doctoral dissertation "The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature" which addresses this point:

    Full text of "Marx, Karl Doctoral Thesis The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature"

    (Marx gets a few things wrong, but it is an interesting and somewhat surprising read)

    Onfray positions himself in a long line of hedonists and materialists in general, but is not necessarily an Epicureanism in particular. However, based on your description, Onfray is not arguing for strict determinism, but rather, what we might call a compatibilist proposition, wherein determinism and indeterminism are not seen as being mutually exclusive.

    While I try to avoid placing Epicurus within the buckets on modern philosophical categories, compatibilism might be the appropriate bucket in which to place him. Onfray seems to agree with Epicurus that "some [events] [...] happen by necessity and some by chance, and some are within our control" (Letter to Menoikeus).

    Regarding "free will", we tend to look upon the concept with scorn, not because of the proposition of indeterminism, but because the concept of "free will" is a Christian form of (pseudo-)indeterminism that is contextualized within the domain of a Creator deity. The term "free will" is problematic for materialists, but not indeterminism, itself.

    I always reflect that Epicurus wrote that "Pleasure is the Greatest Good", not "Painlessness", nor "Tranquility", nor "Indifference", nor "Emptiness", nor any facsimile of "Mokṣa", "Nirvāṇa", "Samādhi", "Satori", or "Kenshō". He had the vocabulary to express the proposition that "Painlessness is the Greatest Good", but he never, ever did so.

    Pleasure IS the Greatest Good. We do not need to apologize for Pleasure as though it is a bad word that needs to be replaced with a euphemism to make it more palatable to the sensibilities of the masses.

    Epicurus never wrote that The Greatest Good is the Removal of Pain. He always identifies The Greatest Good as Pleasure. I think the concept of Removal of Pain is really only relevant with regards to the "limit" of Pleasure, and how to measure it. But anti-Pain is not the goal, just a measuring stick. Pleasure is the goal, and sometimes pain is necessary for a greater pleasure. Focusing on the Removal of Pain as a person's goal might lead them to miss out on rewarding challenges.

    I like this definition of “god” as “(the being) the best among beings”. I’ve recently come to see how functional and non-abstract the word “god” can be employed in our casual vernacular. If I ask you whom the “God of Rock” or “God of Pop” is, we’ll probably come up with a few similar answer. We experienced the “Lord of the Dance” without being confused into believing that Michael Flatley was a Creator-deity. If a person walks by and someone remarks, “he is a god” or “she is a goddess”, we know they are commenting on some semblence of physical perfection. Similarly, the “God [of a human]” would be that human's prototype of the perfect person, thus, being a reflection of our inner ideals.

    I am partial to an idea expressed by Xenophanes: “Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black; Thracians that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired […] But if horses or oxen or lion had hands or could draw with their hands and accomplish such works as men, horses would draw the figures of the gods as similar to horses, and they would make the bodies of the sort which each of them had”. Unsurprisingly, then, the god of the poor is a martyr, the god of the monarchs is kingly, the god of the pacifists is peaceful, and the god of the warriors is sacrificial (or some fascile thereof).

    I am coming to appreciate how insightful Epicurus' observation was. There is a preconception of “god” because we can employ the phrase so easily with common language to express “the perfect version [of]”. Prior to getting subsumed by the theological rabbit hole, we already know what a “god” is and are comfortable assigning people we find extraordinarily skilled or admirable the designation of “[a] god” or “goddess”. For the sake of prudence and practical wisdom, it would be dysfunctional, or at least linguistically odd to assume that “[a] god” could be something other than “perfect”. How could the God of Rock make mistakes on a guitar? Why would the God of Dance trip over their own feet? Why would the God of Living Beings incite trouble or death that would threaten the lives of other beings? If there were a Creator that occasionally destroyed its creations, why would we identify that being as a "god"? That's just a bad Creator.

    I have only found references to "faith" as ΠIΣTIΣ (pístis)—as it is usually found in the Christian Gospels—or ΠIΣTΩMA (pístōma) within the Epicurean context of social stability, having "faith" in one's friends, having "confidence" in one's safety, and having the "guarantee" of a pleasant life. The word ΠIΣTΩMA is employed by Epicurus in his final Key Doctrine and is also rendered by our English translators as "conviction", "assurance", "confirmation", "a pledge", or "warrant".

    Epicurus' approach reminds me of an anthropology class I took a decade ago. Our textbook was called Supernatural as Natural: A Biocultural Approach to Religion by Michael Winkelman and John R. Baker. Among other things, the authors explored non-human animals' behaviors that anticipate human rituals. For example, monkeys intentionally eat fermented fruits to become intoxicated. Chipmanzees have been observed to enter "trance" states. Psychedelic chemicals are found throughout the natural world. Wolves howl without being sure that they will receive a response.

    There is also a social basis underlying ritualistic behaviors. Fasting might seem abnormal, unless you contextualize it within periods of drought and food scarcity. Self-mutilation is cringe-worthy, however, bleeding a person was (until very recently) considered to be an effective medical procedure. The earliest Hebrew commandments were dietary and health restrictions based on their understanding of hygiene. All of these things come from a natural evolution.

    Given all of this, let me say, of course knowledge of "the gods" is manifest (not "the gods" as in "what color is Zeus' beard" but "the gods" as in "the Persians also venerate idols in their minds"). Look to the abundance of ritualistic social behavior, psychedelic episodes, and experimental behavior found in non-human animals. Religiosity is, in some sense, universal to the natural world, beyond the perception that Religion is an isolated monolith that was uniquely invented by humans. The patterns of religious behavior seem to be grounded in our psycho-social evolution.

    This, I think, might be an effective approach to understand Epicurus' position. He naturalized the religious experience in a way that is similar to the American pragmatist William James (specifically, I am thinking of his book The Varieties of Religious Experience). Epicurus observed the various civilizations (absorbed by Alexander) had similar rituals, social bonding mechanisms, and wisdom traditions (without invoking the adventures of the Olympians), so there must be some part of the natural world that encourages animals to engage in rituals, speculation, and devotion.

    My letter at the beginning of my Doxai contains an attempt at linking the ideas together fluidly:

    Dear Stranger,

    Your Best Life is an existence of uninterruptible satisfaction. Never let fear disrupt your Best Life. Remember, pleasure peaks when your pain has been relieved. All pain is temporary, and the worst pain is the most brief.

    Living a full life requires sense, dignity, and decency. Make choices based on their consequences, not ideology. Know that fame is no guarantee of your Best Life.

    Keep pleasure as your goal, even though pleasurable things sometimes cause pain. Things are “good” when they relieve pain and “evil” when they increase pain. Ignorance of “good” and “evil” leads to even more pain; knowing that pleasure is good dispels fear.

    Defense against others is pointless if you live in fear of the unknown. Real security means knowledge, discretion, and privacy, not wealth and power. The best things in life are free; luxuries always come with added stress. Minimize the impact of “bad luck” by making wise decisions. Be honest to enjoy your freest life; cheating leads to angst.

    Physical pleasure is painlessness; mental pleasure is fearlessness. There is no greater joy than pure pleasure. The Good Life is available to everyone, no matter how long they live. There is no need to compete for happiness; Nature provides it abundantly.

    Reconcile your opinions with evidence. If you doubt your eyes, you'll never be able to see clearly. Listen carefully, but don't believe everything you hear.

    Always make decisions with your Best Life in mind. Rest assured, wants are easier to forget than needs; needs are easier to satisfy. Friendship is our greatest source of pleasure, and also , our greatest source of security. Some desires are needs, some, wants , and some, unhealthy obsessions. Commit to healthy priorities to live your Best Life.

    Justice is just a natural peace. Anything incapable of peace is incapable of justice. Universal laws are not real; only natural peace is real. Therefore, violating the law is not evil; what is evil is the pain of spending your life looking over your shoulder. Violating the peace of nature, however, is always unjust. Even so, justice is not the same for everyone. Violating the law can be just, when the law, itself becomes unjust.

    At your best, form genuine friendships and spread cheer. At your worst, avoid making enemies. Cultivate a true circle of loved ones to help you live your Best Life.

    May you cultivate true happiness,


    Some reflections on the link between Epicurus and nominalism:

    “When [Epicurus] says ‘unreasonably’ this is more than mere derision; it is a fundamental doctrine. Since the only real existences are atoms and void, it follows that no abstractions exist; ‘justice is nothing by itself’; form cannot exist apart from subnstance, quality apart from thing, virtue apart from action. This results in a sort of nominalism; virtue becomes an empty name, corresponding to no reality” (De Witt, Epicurus and His Philosophy 247)

    “But against Plato, the Epicureans think that universal ideas or concepts refer to a class of similar objects or concrete particular things, but the universal ideas are neither independent of these concrete particular, nor are they in things. They are merely verbal marks to enabel us to think about the class of particular things. Hence, Epicureans foreshadowed medieval nominalism and also modern empiricism.” (Masih, A Critical History of Western Philosophy 127)

    “We saw William Euvrie propose Epicurus as the ultimate founder of the nominalist movement—a connection he seems to have picked up from a contemporary arts master at Paris, Johannes de Nova Domo. Pedro Fonseca still sees a link between nominalism and Epicuranism in the later sixteenth century.” (Pasnau, Metaphysicsal Themes 1274-1671, 90)

    “The reference to Epicurus as the spiritual father of nominalism was often repeated in the writings of late medieval realists. Besides Johannes de Nova Domo, the most important defender of this doxographical claim was Heymericus de Campo.” (Friedman and Nielsen, The Medieval Heritage in Early Modern Metaphysics and Modal Theory, 1400-1700)

    To answer the original question, ABSOLUTELY, pigs feel the guiding relief of stable pleasure that is the enjoyment of having had one's natural needs satisfied. That statement goes for other animals as well, and not just the "intelligent" ones. Pleasure and pain seems to me to be a language of life. Katastematic pleasure is not limited to the intellect of philosophers. Pure pleasure is accessible to all lifeforms that operate according to the barometer of pleasure and pain.

    I have a feeling that this question (depending on who's reading it) might beg a Platonic or Stoic answer, one that might say, "Katastematic pleasure (i.e. supreme mental tranquility) is the only pleasure that matters, it is unrelated to physical sensations, it is so superior to the body's sensations that physical pleasure can be ignored completely, and that only philosophically-minded human beings are capable of interfacing with this otherworldly pleasure."

    Contrary to Plato, the goal is neither otherworldly, nor limited to the privileged few. Contrary to the Stoics, achieving the goal does not yield an unaffected state of indifference, but rather, a positive feeling of pleasure.

    De Witt seems to think that this distinction (between "static" and "kinetic" pleasure) was profound:


    It was the discovery of static pleasure, without which continuity of pleasure was impossible, that resulted in the division of pleasures into static and kinetic. There was no call for such a division until the name of pleasure had been extended to denote the possession of health. On this point, however, as on many others, greater precision is possible. The modern use of the word static as opposed to kinetic is Aristotelian in origin. The Epicurean word is katastematikos, from katastema, explained in the lexicon as 'stable condition.’ It connotes, moreover, change of state, from action to rest. To Epicurus it denotes a normal state of pleasure to which the individual returns after kinetic pleasure, which is activity. For example, it is the comfortable feeling that follows after the satisfaction of hunger and thirst, the relaxed condition that follows after attending the theater, a public festival or a banquet. Exceptionally, it describes the return to normal after the joy of escape from peril of life.

    Since this innovation was, as it were, the keystone of the new hedonism, it is not surprising to learn that it was expounded in the letter addressed to the philosophers in Mytilene, which is rightly regarded as having been written in Lampsacus, nor that it was emphasized in other major writings and kept in the forefront by successors. That it was an innovation is made clear by a sound paragraph of Laertius. Discussing the divergence from Cyrenaic doctrine he quotes a phrase of Metrodorus: ‘Pleasure being thought of both as associated with motion and as static.’ Epicurus is quoted at slightly greater length: 'Serenity of mind and freedom from bodily pain are static pleasures, but joy and delight are seen to be associated with motion, that is, activity.' In both these passages modern usage calls for the adjective static; the Greek would demand catastematic. Static and kinetic would apply to the state of a stone, now lying on the ground, now sent hurtling through the air. Catastematic and kinetic would apply to the pleasure of a healthy Epicurean, now enjoying a quiet evening at home, now having a rollicking time at one of the monthly banquets.” (De Witt, Epicurus and His Philosophy 242-43)

    So, for De Witt, Kinetic pleasure is a rolling stone and Katastematic pleasure is a mossy stone?

    I am gravitating toward privileging the idea that "Epicurean texts mention both mental and bodily kinetic pleasures, and mental and bodily katastematic pleasures", which creates more of a spectrum than a strict duality:

    Kata Kinêsin HêdonêKatastêmatikê Hêdonê

    Others seem to argue for a horizontal division:

    Kata KinêsinKatastêmatikê

    Others advance this into a vertical hierarchy:

    1.Katastêmatikê Hêdonê
    2.Kata Kinêsin Hêdonê

    Others seem to propose an equivalency between desires and types of pleasure:

    1.KatastêmatikêPhysikaì kai ànagkaîai (natural and necessary)
    2. Kata Kinêsin
    Physikaì kai oyk ànagkaîai (natural and not necessary)

    There seems to be a further suggestion that the division between katastematic and kinetic pleasures was as a response (or perhaps re-formulation) of the Cyrenaic proposition of a neutral state:

    Epicurean PathēCyrenaic Pathē
    Moving PleasureMoving Pleasure
    Stable Pleasure
    Neutral State

    With all of these typologies, I continue to wonder if these words were just general adjectives used to describe the diversity of pleasure, or whether they were strict technical categories. I am reminded that "no pleasure is an evil in itself" (KD 8 ) and that "pleasures would never differ from one another" (KD 9), so any hierarchy seems to diminish the unconditional proposition that "Pleasure is The Greatest Good" (not "Stable Pleasure is The Greatest Good to which Moving Pleasure is Subordinate"). Still ... there must be a significant reason this description exists.

    An excerpt from “Epicureans on Pleasure, Desire, and Happiness” by B. A. Rider:

    “Epicurus’ second important distinction between types of pleasure was more original and

    challenging, and its interpretation remains controversial. Epicurus evidently distinguished

    between kinetic pleasures—those involving some kind of “movement [kinesis]”—and

    katastematic (or static) pleasures (from “katastema” referring to a condition of equilibrium)—

    those arising from the healthy state of the body and mind, free from pain and

    disturbance. This distinction cuts across the previous one. Epicurean texts mention both

    mental and bodily kinetic pleasures, and mental and bodily katastematic pleasures (see, e.g.,

    DL 10.136).

    This distinction was important because, Epicurus argues, the pleasures that matter for

    eudaimonia are katastematic ones: the health and painless state of the body [aponia] and

    the tranquility of the mind (ataraxia—literally “freedom from disturbance [tarache]”) (Ep.

    Men. 128; KD 3, 18). Epicurus uses this idea to argue that pleasure has a limit. Once your

    body and mind are in a good state, the quality of your experience of life cannot be

    improved—it is as good as it can get. At this point, there is no need for more food, luxury,

    or indulgence, because adding more cannot make your life any better, and it may even

    damage your ability to experience health and tranquility in the long term.


    Later, Cicero contends that the arguments supporting Epicureanism depend on a fallacy of

    equivocation, using “pleasure” ambiguously to make their position appear more attractive

    than it is. He criticizes Epicurus’ appeal to the behavior of infants:

    What sort of pleasure, static [katastematic] or kinetic […] will the bawling infant

    use to determine the supreme good and evil? If static, then clearly its natural

    instinct is for self-preservation, which I accept. If kinetic, as you in fact claim, then

    there will be no pleasure too foul to be experienced. Moreover, our new-born

    creature will not be starting from the highest pleasure, which you regard as the

    absence of pain.

    Admittedly, infants and uncorrupted animals want to feel good; they desire sensory stimulation,

    kinetic pleasure. But if so, how can the baby’s behavior be evidence that katastematic

    pleasure is the highest good? By conflating two very different kinds of experience

    and calling both “pleasure,” Cicero believes, Epicurus seeks illicitly to combine the crude

    enticements of indulgent hedonism with the moderation and order of a theory that aims for

    satisfied painlessness. Cicero suggests that while such a bait-and-switch sales pitch appeals

    to the shallow minded, it fails as a coherent and livable ethical theory.

    Is Cicero’s criticism fair? In part, the issue turns on how exactly we are meant to

    understand the distinction between kinetic and katastematic pleasures, and what precisely

    Epicureans had in mind in identifying aponia and ataraxia as the highest good. Unfortunately,

    on this point the surviving texts are especially fragmentary and contradictory, leaving

    open a variety of interpretations.

    Since Cicero’s On Moral Ends has the most detailed description of the doctrine, many

    interpreters use it as a starting point (including Long and Sedley 1987; Mitsis 1988; Woolf

    2009). According to Cicero, Epicureans classify any pleasure that actively stimulates the

    senses as kinetic, involving a “movement” in sensation (De Fin. 2.10, 2.16). These sensory,

    kinetic pleasures include both appetite satisfactions that fill deficiencies like hunger (what

    we might call “restorative” pleasures) and pleasant sensations that do not fill a deficiency,

    such as the pleasures of hearing beautiful music or seeing a beautiful statue (“non-restorative”).

    This breakdown leaves katastematic pleasure as simply the state of being free from

    pain or mental disturbance. This state does not in itself “stimulate the senses” (which would

    make it kinetic); but we recognize that it is good because of the relief we receive when pain

    or distress abates (1.37).

    Notice that Cicero’s way of drawing the distinction plays directly into his criticisms—if

    only kinetic pleasures involve sensory stimulation, it becomes puzzling why katastematic

    pleasure is pleasure and why we should think of it as being the goal. Moreover, Epicurus

    clearly places great importance on sensory pleasure. As quoted above, he claims that he

    “cannot conceive of anything as good” without the pleasures of taste, sight, sound, and

    sex (Cicero, Tusc. III.18.41 = LS 21L1). But if Cicero’s interpretation of the distinction

    between kinetic and katastematic pleasures is right, these are kinetic pleasures, and why

    would he care so much about inferior, kinetic pleasures? If the mere state of being free

    from pain itself represents the highest limit of quality experience, why would an Epicurean

    need them?

    For this reason, many scholars look for other ways to interpret the distinction. The debate

    about this topic has produced a dizzying array of interpretations. For the purposes of this

    chapter, I will describe just a few of the most prominent proposals.

    An early attempt to reconsider the distinction between kinetic and katastematic pleasures

    was made first by Diano 1935 and later by Rist 1972; Wolfsdorf 2009 defended this

    interpretation more recently. This interpretation accepts that all sensory pleasures are

    kinetic—they are “events in which the perceptual or rational faculties are smoothly or

    gently stimulated or activated” (252). But, on this interpretation, katastematic pleasure—

    the well-balanced state of body and mind—is the necessary precondition for any kinetic

    pleasure. A person cannot experience kinetic pleasures in a part of himself unless that part

    is in a pain- and disturbance-free state. Wolfsdorf explains, “perceptual pleasures [which

    are kinetic] reveal katastematic pleasures […] because perceptual pleasures depend on

    katastematic pleasures. The smooth functioning of the perceptual faculties indicates the

    correlative katastematic conditions” (245). Proponents of this interpretation focus on

    passages like Principal Doctrine 3, where Epicurus states, “As long as pleasure is present,

    so long as it is present, there is no pain, either of body or soul or both at once”

    (Wolfsdorf’s translation, 246). This interpretation allows for aponia and ataraxia to be

    fundamental (you can’t have any pleasure without them), while still taking into account

    Epicurus’ statements about the importance of sensory pleasures (since we need sensory

    pleasures to “reveal” the healthy state).

    As an illustration, consider someone who is hungry. He is hungry, Lucretius explains

    (DRN 2.963–72), because certain parts of his body are disturbed and out of place and

    require replenishment to restore their integrity and functioning. So he eats. As he eats, he

    feels pleasure on his palate and throat (from tasting and swallowing the food) but that is

    only because these parts aren’t disrupted. As the atoms from the food are absorbed into the

    body and the deficiency is remedied, the pain of hunger recedes. Wolfsdorf argues that the

    recession of hunger is not itself pleasurable, but it leaves us in a state that is free from pain

    and therefore capable of (kinetic) pleasure (252).

    On this picture, then, katastematic pleasure is a state of healthy functioning, and it is a

    precondition for any pleasurable stimulation. Kinetic pleasure occurs when healthy, painfree

    parts are “moved” and stimulated. What I’ve called “restorative pleasures,” however,

    don’t exist, because there can be no pleasure while parts being restored are still in pain.

    This interpretation has a possible problem—since it assumes, with Cicero, that all sensory

    pleasures are kinetic, it suffers some of the same objections: If only kinetic pleasures

    have a sensory quality, what is attractive about the katastematic pleasure in itself? On the

    Diano-Rist-Wolfsdorf picture, it starts to look like we seek a well-balanced state merely as

    means to experience kinetic pleasures. Moreover, why call the katastematic state “pleasure”?

    Finally, Epicurus insists that all good and bad occur in sensation (Ep. Men. 124), so

    how do we perceive the goodness of aponia and ataraxia, if they have no sensory quality

    of their own? For these reasons, Gosling and Taylor 1982 argue for a different interpretation.

    They contend that, actually, aponia and ataraxia are states of sensory pleasure:

    Aponia is a condition of having sensory pleasures but with no accompanying pain,

    and ataraxia is the state of confidence that one may acquire such sensory pleasures

    with complete absence of pain. This confidence is itself a positive state.…What is

    important is to get a life of sensory pleasure untainted by pain.

    When a person is conscious in a healthy, well-balanced state, Gosling and Taylor explain,

    she naturally experiences a wide variety of positive sensations: she feels warm and comfortable;

    tastes foods; hears sounds; enjoys the sights of things around herself. These

    experiences are not kinetic, as Cicero or Wolfsdorf assume, but are themselves manifestations

    of katastematic pleasure. Distinctively kinetic pleasures, on their view, are merely the

    subset of sensory pleasures involved in restoration or replenishment (373). In fact, Gosling

    and Taylor believe that, for Epicureans themselves, the distinction between kinetic and

    katastematic pleasures wasn’t really that important. It does not mark two vastly different

    kinds of pleasures, since both are sensory. The categorization has more to do with a pleasure’s

    functional role than its inherent qualities (374).

    Arenson’s recent book on Epicurean pleasure (Arenson 2019) updates and adds additional

    nuance to Gosling and Taylor’s approach. She agrees that the Epicureans’ main

    concern was with healthy functioning, and she traces Epicurus’ ideas to debates in Plato’s

    Academy, including Eudoxus and Aristotle, about the role of pleasure and healthy functioning

    in a good human life. Plato takes a strong anti-hedonist position: In the Philebus,

    Plato’s Socrates argues that pleasure cannot be the good, because pleasure occurs only in

    the process of filling a deficiency (53c-55c). Therefore, pleasure itself isn’t the good, but

    instead a means to a good end: healthy functioning.

    According to Arenson, Epicurus introduces the distinction between kinetic and katastematic

    pleasures in part to address these kinds of anti-hedonistic argument. Plato was right

    that some pleasures—kinetic pleasures—occur in the process of restoration, and these

    pleasures are indeed merely a means to a greater end. But, against the anti-hedonists, Epicurus

    argues that other pleasures—katastematic pleasures—arise from the healthy functioning

    itself. Arenson goes on to argue that katastematic pleasure itself has two

    manifestations: First, a general pleasurable quality of experience from having body and

    mind in a good state—a sort of non-specific pleasure of being alive, conscious, and healthy

    (Chapter 6). Second, there are pleasures that arise from specific activities of healthy faculties,

    including pleasures of seeing, hearing, and tasting. Arenson calls these “non-restorative

    pleasures,” because while they involve active stimulation, they do not restore deficiencies,

    as happens when we eat while hungry or drink while thirsty (Chapter 8). Now, these two

    manifestations of katastematic pleasure are not really distinct; rather, in line with Epicurus’

    doctrine that the highest pleasure has a limit, the non-restorative pleasures merely “vary”

    but do not add to the general quality of life (KD 18).


    I would suggest that the Epicureans understood this lesson, and that by defining the best

    experience of life as aponia and ataraxia, they aimed to capture something like this idea.

    Haybron’s attunement dimension corresponds most closely to Epicurean katastematic pleasure:

    both refer to a fundamental state of healthy functioning, security, and freedom from

    disturbance that makes other kinds of enjoyment possible. Epicurus realized that when a

    person’s mind and body are in a healthy, well-balanced state, it becomes possible for them

    to become engrossed in and enjoy a variety of different kinds of activities and experiences

    as expressions of that healthy state. Far from being ad hoc, then, Epicurus’ idiosyncratic

    form of hedonism may simply have been the right way to think about what makes for a

    good experience of life.”

    (Rider, B. A.. “Epicureans on Pleasure, Desire, and Happiness”. The Routledge Handbook of Hellenistic Philosophy, edited by Kelly Arenson. Routledge, 2020, 286-91)

    An excerpt from “Epicureans, Earlier Atomists, and Cyrenaics” by Stefano Maso:

    “According to Epicurus this is happiness, technically the katastematic pleasure:

    the well-established condition or state of the body in which pleasure does not change (On

    the Goal, fr. 22.3 Arrighetti).


    It is crucial to note that natural but non-necessary desires are based on the varying of the

    perceptual experience.

    These various forms of desire are precisely what enable Epicurus to develop a conception

    of pleasure that distinguishes between kinetic pleasure [kata kinêsin hêdonê] and static or

    katastematic pleasure [katastêmatikê hêdonê]. The kind of pleasure that varies constitutes

    the explicit foundation of Cyrenaic thought: Cyrenaics do not admit katastematic pleasure.

    By contrast, Epicurus accepts both kinds of pleasure and assures his readers that freedom

    from disturbance [ataraxia] and absence of pain [aponia] are static pleasure; but joy

    [chara] and delight [euphrosunê] are regarded as kinetic activities (DL 10.137).

    It seems as though the unbridled physical enjoyment of pleasure constitutes the heart of

    the Cyrenaics’ hedonistic ethics. The pursuit of pleasure thus translates, in their view, into

    the experiencing of a pleasure that varies in terms of both quality and intensity. The corollary

    to this is that, precisely because there is no limit to the quality and intensity of

    pleasure, the pleasure of the Cyrenaics proves disappointing, since it endlessly defers the

    possibility of satisfaction.

    According to the Cyrenaics, we can distinguish three states: one in which we are in pain,

    and which is like a storm at sea; a second one in which we experience pleasure, and which

    is like a gentle swell—for pleasure is a smooth movement; and a third, intermediate state in

    which we feel neither pain nor pleasure, and which is like a flat calm (PE 14.18.32 = IVB5

    Giannantoni). Man seems to perceive these three states alone; moreover, from the Cyrenaics’

    perspective, it is pointless to carry the enquiry any further, for example by searching

    for the cause of these different states.

    By contrast—and evidently in polemical opposition to the Cyrenaics—the Epicureans

    believe that pleasure is pleasure, and pain is pain and that there can be no intermediate state

    between them. Pleasure is found where there is and for as long as there is no pain, just as

    pain is found where there is no pleasure and as long as there is no pleasure: the removal of

    all pain is the limit of the magnitude of pleasures (KD 3–4; LS 21C). Moreover, every

    pleasure qua pleasure is good, and every pain qua pain is bad (Ep. Men. 129; LS 21B3).

    But how is it possible to deny the existence of an intermediate state, a state that everyday

    human experience seems to entail? Why does Epicurus choose to go down this route?

    We can try to answer by relying on the interpretation Cicero gives us of the controversy

    between Democritus, Cyrenaics and Epicureans. While this interpretation clearly derives

    from doxographical contributions, there is no doubt it reflects a historical and persistent

    rivalry between the different schools.

    Cicero—a critical yet attentive reader of Epicurean texts—tackles the issue we have

    posed directly, especially in Book 2 of De finibus and Book 3 of the Tusculanae disputationes.

    18 First of all, Cicero believes that Epicurus contradicts himself, because in his

    view the philosopher believes not so much that the absence of pain can accompany the

    absence of pleasure, but rather that pleasure and the absence of pain de facto coincide,

    constituting a sort of analgesic hedonism (cf. Tusc. 3.47 = KD 18). Therefore, the ultimate

    good would simultaneously coincide with the absence of pain and the highest degree of

    pleasure. Furthermore, Cicero emphasizes that, in his approach to ethics, Epicurus has

    separated the highest good (which coincides with pleasure) from virtue. In doing so, he has

    created an unbridgeable gulf between the physical and the spiritual dimension. Cicero’s

    ultimate thesis is the diametric opposite: “Pleasure is one thing, absence from suffering

    quite another [aliud est voluptas, aliud non dolere].”19 In other words, suffering is the

    opposite of its own absence, and not the opposite of pleasure (De Fin. 2.28). Cicero here is

    adopting the thesis of Hieronymus of Rhodes, the Peripatetic philosopher (third century

    BCE), according to whom the experience of pleasure and the absence of pain are two different things (De Fin. 2.9).

    To avoid possible misunderstandings, Cicero introduces an

    example: he asks whether the pleasure we feel when drinking is the same as that which we

    experience after having quenched our thirst. The answer is very important: according to

    Torquatus (the champion of the Epicurean thesis in Cicero’s dialogue), once our thirst has

    been quenched, we enjoy a stable pleasure; whereas during the actual act of quenching our

    thirst we experience an unstable pleasure, i.e. a pleasure in movement (De Fin. 2.9–10).

    However, this means assigning the same name, pleasure, to two different kinds of pleasure;

    and, according to Cicero, this is incorrect, as is the notion of “variation” [varietas] when it

    is introduced to deny the radical difference between stable pleasure and kinetic pleasure. It

    is untenable to argue that kinetic pleasure (i.e. pleasure that “varies”) must be added to and

    coincide with stable pleasure, which “does not vary” (i.e. “absence from suffering”).

    According to Cicero, Epicurus’ theory resembles an attempt to combine Hieronymus’

    theory with that of the Cyrenaic Aristippus (De Fin. 2.19)—an absurdity.

    By contrast, precisely the connection between “stability” and “perception” is key to

    explaining the reason the Epicureans theorized the absoluteness of “katastematic pleasure,”

    namely the kind of pleasure that does not vary. Epicurus himself would appear to

    have been the first to draw a distinction between the two kinds of pleasure (DL 10.136 =

    LS 21R), by emphasizing that only the former is perfect and lasting, whereas the latter is

    temporary. The instability of kinetic pleasure, and its reduction to a mere physical condition

    to be brought back to stability (which is to say, to katastematic pleasure), is the key

    to understanding the Epicurean position. Reason is what brings this “reduction” about: it

    rests on the realization that variation—which constitutes kinetic pleasure—is actually

    entirely superfluous, given that any experience of freedom from pain coincides with the

    highest good: “pleasure exists everywhere, and for the entire time it lasts, there is no

    suffering either of body or of mind or both” (KD 3). This implies that the intermediate

    state—the one which, according to Hieronymus and Cicero, makes the absence of pain

    different from the presence of pleasure, even though the two may go hand in hand—is

    meaningless, which is why Epicurus rejects it.

    It may be noted that the ancient atomists did not distinguish between the two kinds of

    pleasure. Rather, Democritus observed that the ultimate goal which man must set himself is

    contentment [euthymia]: only by finding satisfaction in what we have and what is proper to

    our nature, and by appreciating what befalls us, can we attain safety and absence of

    apprehension [athambia], and well-being (Stobaeus, Anthology 3.1.210, LM 27D226–231 =

    DK 68B3, 189, 191; A1, 167, 169. See 133.1–4, 152.1–4, 139.1, 137.1 Leszl). “Contentment”

    seems to foreshadow katastematic pleasure, insofar as it consists in the capacity to

    limit desire and pleasure. We can ask if a specific connotation distinguishes the denominations

    with which Clement of Alexandria20 labels the ultimate end [telos] that Democritus’

    successors identified. And whereas Democritus identifies telos with euthymia or euestô

    (contentment and feeling good), Nausyphanes (Epicurus’ teacher) uses the word akataplêxia

    (absence of fright). But according to Clement, the akataplêxia of Nausyphanes corresponds

    to the athambia (absence of apprehension) attributed to Democritus. Furthermore,

    Anaxarchus of Abdera, one of the first followers of Democritus, proposed the apatheia (the

    absence of passions) and the adiaphoria (the indifference to external things) as means to

    reach the eudaimonia (happiness). However, it is evident that only Democritus defines telos

    (the ultimate end/the purpose) positively: all the other words are qualified by the presence

    of the “privative alpha”—a prefix meant to indicate the negation of a word—and seem to

    allude to happiness as the result of a process of “reduction” in the human psycho-physical

    experience, the exact process that can also be recognized in the way Epicurus conceives of

    katastematic pleasure.

    The Cyrenaics’ interpretation of pleasure leads them instead to acknowledge the distinction

    between the two kinds of pleasure. However, this theory denies that it is de facto

    possible to grant katastematic pleasure. Given the varied and successive way in which we

    experience pleasures, we can grasp only kinetic pleasure or katastematic pleasure, either

    successively or not at all, and any increase in pleasure is kinetic.

    Unlike that of the Cyrenaics, Epicurus and Lucretius’s interpretation is intended as a

    renewed version of Democritus’ position. By introducing a distinction between two different

    kinds of pleasure, the Epicureans also reach another remarkable conclusion: the idea

    that contentment is already a katastematic pleasure in itself. Clearly, it is possible to grasp

    different facets of such pleasure, which present themselves as varietas and hence as kinetic

    pleasure. Epicurus and Lucretius are aware that it is the task of reason to process this varied

    sensory experience, in such a way that each specific detail may be positively appreciated

    and grasped in the most pregnant possible way [katapuknôsis]. Epicurus gives great weight

    to cogitation [logismos and phronesis] and, ultimately, reason (which is to say the mind,

    psuchê), demanding that they be capable of grasping and focusing on the pleasurable

    aspects of life, so that negative ones may be considered absent (and be de facto eliminated).

    But if the physical side of the experience of pleasure constitutes the point of departure, the

    point of arrival is the rational processing of this experience. In The Letter to Menoeceus

    (129–130 = LS 21B3) Epicurus writes:

    Every pleasure, because of its natural affinity, is something good, yet not every

    pleasure is choice worthy. Correspondingly, every pain is something bad, but not

    every pain is by nature to be avoided. However, we have to make our judgment on

    all these points by a calculation and survey of advantages and disadvantages. For

    at certain times we treat the good as bad and conversely the bad as good.

    Consequently, Epicurus—opposing the Cyrenaics—can argue that, even in the apparently

    most painful moments, the wise man is capable of being happy: for, if needs be, he knows

    how to concentrate on the sheer fact of being alive. At this point, “being alive” may be

    seen to coincide with katastematic pleasure. Epicurus states as much in a letter to his

    mother: “When we are alive, we experience a joy akin to that of the gods” (PHerc. 176 5

    X Vogliano = fr. 72.38–40 Arrighetti). Even his spiritual testament, which is to say the

    letter addressed to his friend Idomeneus and transmitted by Diogenes Laertius, bears

    witness to this. The philosopher maintains that the day in which he is dying is a blessed

    one, even though his bladder and bowl pains could hardly be more intense (Letter to

    Idomeneus = DL 10.22).

    Aristippus’ Hedonic Presentism and Epicurus’ Doctrine of Limits

    According to the Cyrenaic Aristippus, pleasure persists and has value only as long as we

    are experiencing it. His grandson, Aristippus the Younger, thinks that a “unitemporal”

    present pleasure constitutes de facto the happiness that every man must propose to himself

    as an end. No doubt that this experience of pleasure is, moreover, an essentially physical

    experience. We observe that there is a strong emphasis on the physical dimension and the

    instantaneousness of the perception of pleasure; it is a real limitation that aims to capture

    only the most obvious character of pleasure: intensity. The Cyrenaics renounce the lasting

    experience of pleasure because their focus is the intensity of the instant in which man

    experiences pleasure. The Cyrenaics focus on the search for an ever more intense and

    varied experience of pleasure in order to guarantee the intensity of the present perception

    and avoid the distraction involved in waiting for an uncertain future. Kinetic pleasure is the

    actual limit of the Cyrenaic ethics.

    By contrast, it is important to understand the ethical basis of Epicurus’ doctrine, and, in

    particular, its therapeutic proposal. Every Epicurean master and every reader of Epicurean

    texts considers the “fourfold cure” [tetrapharmakos] a crucial element in Epicurean doctrine.

    Lucretius himself, while not directly referring to this doctrine, no doubt bore it in

    mind when composing his poem. Cicero explicitly mentions the Key Doctrines in which

    Epicurus summed it up. Even Philodemus of Gadara explicitly mentions the theory.25 Epicurus

    pithily expressed it as follows: “Were we not upset by the worries that celestial

    phenomena and death might matter to us, and also by failure to appreciate the limits of

    pains and desires, we would have no need for natural philosophy” (KD 11 = LS 25.B.11;

    cfr. KD 1–4, 10, 20, and Ep. Men. 133).

    It is interesting to note that the tetrapharmakos also rests on a doctrine of the “limit”; this

    time, however, in an Epicurean version. This doctrine applies to everything that exists and

    is perceived within the cosmos. Take atoms: we have isolated atoms that eternally fall and

    never combine with others; but we also have atoms that combine into endless, more or less

    changeable structures. The gods constitute the ultimate “limit” of this changeability, for

    they are eternally stable atomic compounds. They never change because, by definition, they

    are intangible: they never collide with other atoms or other compounds. Take death: by

    definition, it never has anything to do with life. It constitutes the “limit” of life. Take pain

    and, in parallel, pleasure: each constitutes the other’s “limit.”

    Based on this doctrine of the “limit,” Epicurus infers that we must not fear the gods,

    because they are imperturbable and, hence, take no interest in us or interfere with other

    atomic compounds (Ep. Men. 123–124). We must not fear death, because when it exists, we

    do not; and as long as we are alive, we cannot perceive it (Ep. Men. 124–127). We must

    not fear pain, because it may be more or less intense: if it is light, it is so easily endurable

    that at its limit it can be perceived as pleasure; if it is extreme, a loss of sensibility occurs

    and we no longer feel it (KD 4). Finally, we must not fear pleasure, in the sense that we

    must not fear the dissatisfaction that affects those who give themselves over to the pursuit

    of the most intense and prolonged sort of kinetic pleasure, as did the Cyrenaics, for kinetic

    pleasure finds its limit in katastematic pleasure (Ep. Men. 131–132).

    This is exactly the opposite of what the Cyrenaics claim. Although both consider the

    “limit” as an inevitable psychophysical border, the experience of the limit leads the Cyrenaics

    to renounce katastematic pleasure, denying its reason; on the contrary, it leads Epicurus

    and the Epicureans to re-evaluate katastematic pleasure by reconsidering kinetic

    pleasure as an irrelevant variable.”

    (Maso, Stefano. “Epicureans, Earlier Atomists, and Cyrenaics”. The Routledge Handbook of Hellenistic Philosophy, edited by Kelly Arenson. Routledge, 2020, 60-65)


    Thanks for a very good list! By what criteria did you place each reference in each category? Someone reading your post casually might think that the cites themselves categorize the pleasure into the location you placed it, but I gather of course that that is not the case, and you are categorizing them yourself according to some criteria.

    Can you spell out as best you can how you organized the two lists?

    Aye, there's the rub. In general, my katastematic list includes pleasures that are enjoyed through the volitional activities of the mind (calculation, meditation, reflection, etc.) whereas my kinetic list includes pleasures that can be enjoyed without intellectual analysis and correction (hearing the sounds of birds in nature, being warmed by the sun, etc.).

    I am personally associating katastematic pleasures with "pleasures of the mind" and kinetic pleasures with "pleasures of the soul" (noting in Lucretian terms that the mind is the volitional part of the soul).

    I thought it might be helpful to compile a list of pleasures and then try to group them accordingly. This is by no means an authoritative list, and we may find plenty of areas of overlap or disagreement:

    Katastematic Pleasures:

    Understanding that neither God nor Death are to be feared (KD 1, 2)

    Reassurance that all pain is temporary and severe pain is brief (KD 3)

    Acceptance that heavenly events are non-sentient physical phenomena (KD 11)

    Dispelling ignorance and suspicion through a dedicated study of Nature (KD 12)

    Enjoying the peace acheived by withdrawing from the crowd (KD 14, Fragment 86, 87)

    Knowing the limit of pleasure through reasoned understanding (KD 18)

    Acknowledging that infinite time contains no great pleasure that limited time (KD 19)

    Appreciating that there is no need to live by the evil of necessity (VS 9)

    Understanding the value in knowing that we are only born once (VS 14)

    Overcoming the suffering of mental anxiety and physical pain (VS 24, Fragment 1)

    Reflecting when the body is neither hungry, nor thirsty, nor cold (VS 33)

    Eliminating regret knowing that the past cannot be changed (VS 55)

    Knowing that what is sufficient are simple pleasures (VS 68)

    Using reason to overcome hate, envy, and contempt (WMS 1)

    Accepting that prophecy does not exist and there is not fate (Fragment 2)

    Calculating the means to support the stable condition of the body (Fragment 11)

    Recollecting joyful memories against severe physical pain (Fragment 30)

    Committing to a love of true philosophy to reduce disturbance (Fragment 66)

    Focusing on the present moment instead of an uncertain future (Fragment 78)

    Kinetic Pleasures:

    Sharing pleasant interactions with friends and loved ones KD 27, VS 52, VS 61)

    Receiving assistance in the form of utility from friends (VS 23)

    Venerating the wise so as to emulate their blessed life (VS 32)

    Laughing and enjoying humor while practicing true philosophy (VS 41)

    Practice virtuous habits knowing that they produces pleasure (VS 46)

    Responsibly enjoying luxuries so as not to become a frugal ascetic (VS 63)

    Receiving praise from others, while not asking for it (VS 64)

    Being deeply moved by feeling while not succumbing to it (WMS 2)

    Showing gratitude by speaking well of one’s friends (WMS 3)

    Marry and have children if it can be done safely (WMS 12)

    Taking care of one’s property and possessions (WMS 21)

    Enjoying the sites and smells of the countryside (WMS 22)

    Embrace fortune and use it to diversify pleasures (WMS 23)

    Conversing about music and poetry (WMS 28)

    Jubilation while enjoying pleasures involving motion (Fragment 1)

    Enjoying the taste of a meal, maybe a pot of cheese (Fragment 10, 33)

    Exploring the spectrum of healthy sexual pleasures (Fragment 10)

    Listening to pleasant sounds and meaningful music (Fragment 10)

    Viewing beautiful forms as compelling visual art (Fragment 10)

    Cooling or warming oneself to a comfortable temperature (Fragment 44)

    I think it is important to re-state that the mind is a type of body, and that the satisfactions of the mind are, themselves, pleasures of the body. Regardless of any schema designed to organize the different pleasures into categories, all pleasures are pleasures of the body, require some type of energetic motion to instigate, and some of those active bodily pleasures are felt by the mental organ instead of the visual, auditory, chemical, kinesthetic, or thermal organs.

    I am very suspicious of the concept of katastematic pleasures in the first place because the related word katastēmatikós was elsewhere used to describe "sedation". If that were accurate, then the Cyrenaics would have a legitimate point about equating ataraxia with dreamless sleep. However, we know that all pleasures must be consciously experienced, so dreamless sleep is not a pleasure, nor are any other forms of sedation that limit our ability to experience.

    I just finished reading Dante and Epicurus: A Dualistic Vision of Secular and Spiritual Fulfillment by George Corbett and came across a number of interesting anecdotes (In particular, I am found of being called a "gastrimargi"):

    “The foremost channel for Dante’s second-hand reception of Epicurean theses was Cicero. From direct citations, we know that Dante certainly read De finibus, the first two books of which are devoted to Epicurean ethics, and De natura deorum in which Cicero creiticizes at greater length Epicurean natural science. Just these two Ciceronian works would have sufficed to provide Dante with a substantial, if biased, account of Epicurean ethics and natural philosophy.” (Corbett, Dante and Epicurus 9)

    A further potential influence on Dante’s understanding of Epicureanism emerges from the scholastic commentaries of the thirteenth century. As one might expect, the scholastics appear to have generally held the correct view with regard to Epicurean ethics. The followers of the flesh are humorously nicknamed, as Albert the Great notes, ‘gastrimargi’ [stomach-madmen]” (Ibid. 16)

    In line with Cicero’s treatment in De finibus, Dante elects the noble Roman Torquatus as the advocate for Epicureanism in his prose works, the Convivio and the Monarchia. Aside from the pagan Torquatus, Dante identifies four thirteenth-century magnates as ‘disciples’ of Epicurus in Inferno X: the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, the influential Ghibelline Cardinal Ottaviano degli Ubaldini, and the Florentine statesmen Farinata and Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti. To this list we may add Guido Cavalcanti who is indirectly associated with Epicureanism and named in the canto. All five of these thirteenth-century personages appear to have been accused of Epicureanism or of the denial of personal immortality during their lives and, by extension, of irreligion and a sceptical attitude towards Christian revelation.” (Ibid. 42)

    Pope Gregory IX accused Frederick II of gross impiety: ‘He said that the whole world has been taken in by three impostors: Jesus Christ, Moses, and Mohammen’. The Pope’s account is borne out by countless anecdotes about Frederick II’s religious scepticism. Cardinal Ottaviano was infamous for his Epicurean sympathies: […] [in his acts and his words he was an Epicurean]. His doubt of the soul’s immortality is illustrated by his self-damining epitaph: […] [who used to say frequently during his life: ‘if the soul exists’, speaking sceptically, ‘I have already lost it for the Ghibelline cause’]. Farinata and his wife Adaletta were posthumously condemned for heresy by Salomone da Lucca: ‘The sentence […] held them both guilty, and ordered the separation of their bones from those of the faithful, and the confiscation of their goods’. Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti, or so the early commentaries would have us believe, wholly followed the Epicurean sect and unceasingly persuaded others of his mortalist convictions […]. Guido Cavalcanti, as Dante implies in Inferno X, was infected by his father’s notorious Epicureanism” (Ibid. 42-43)

    The four Epicureans named in the course of the canto are Farinata (c. 1210-64), Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti (c. 1210-80), Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor (1194-1250), and the Ghibelline Cardinal, Ottaviano degli Ubaldini (c. 1210-73).” (Ibid. 70)

    He [Cavalcante] wholly followed the sect of the Epicureans, always believing and persuading others that the soul would die together with the body: therefore he often had on the tip of his tongue this saying of Solomon: ‘For the dissolution of man and of beast is one, and their condition the same’.” (Benvenuto da Imola, gloss to Inferno X. 52-54)