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The Epicurean concept of pain is broader than what is meant by this term in common parlance e.g. headache, toothache, etc. Natural needs and desires, e.g. hunger for food, thirst for drink, and need of warmth, are all classified under "pain" in the Epicurean system, and placed on a clear-cut continuum with pleasure. Thus pleasure comes to complement them rather snugly: modest, basic alimentation relieves the pain of hunger, plain water is ample relief of thirst, etc.

Beyond accepting the natural need to relieve such "pains", Epicurean teachings tend to downgrade everything else to "choice", or "variety"-- and therefore no pain at all. One cannot, argues Epicurus, feel any real such pain, if one has e.g. no fur coat. Real pain enters only when one is cold, shivering, and perhaps at imminent risk of hypothermia; the fur coat is definitely the object of a "2nd catergory" desire, natural but unnecessary. And certainly there is no pain in losing an election for political office, as the ambition to run in the first place was a "3rd category" desire, both unnatural and unnecessary; besides, even had one actually won the election, the fruit of one's labors might have been more painful (e.g. dealing with a disgruntled, vociferous, perhaps even violent citizenry) than pleasant.

Yet even pain in the everyday sense of the word, argued Epicurus, is not as bad as it is taken to be; this is explained in detail in Principal Doctrine 4, where the duration and intensity of pain are presented as inversely proportional, and both "discounted", relative to popular beliefs on the subject of pain.

Unlike the Stoics, Epicurus placed little emphasis on pain on the "grander" scale of physical torture or grave psychological torment. His argument, presumably, would have been that one should not have reached that extreme point of anguish to begin with: one should not e.g. have served under the brutal dictator who put one on the rack, or fallen madly in love with the perfidious lover who walked away, leaving one incurably broken-hearted. This comes near the highly controversial, Existentialist notion that "there are no innocent victims".

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