From Epicurus Wiki

Jump to: navigation, search

For Epicurus and his followers, pleasure is axiomatic; it is, in fact, the one and only axiom on which the entire philosophical system rests: every living being strives for pleasure, untaught, unguided, and unaided by any other, external agent; it has always been so, and will always be so.

Epicureans frequently refer to the behavior of infants as a paradigm of pleasure as a natural attribute: while ignorant of virtually everything, even newborns instinctively enjoy pleasure (e.g. warmth) while abhorring pain (e.g. cold). Epicureans argued that adults, often under the injurious influence of society, frequently misunderstand natural pleasure, which is the proper object of the natural desires.

Epicurus made a further, and crucial distinction in the experience of pleasure: there is kinematic pleasure (i.e. "pleasure in motion"), which is experienced as one is in transition from a painful state (e.g. acute thirst) to a pleasant one, in the course of the "remedial" action (e.g. drinking fresh water); there is also katastematic pleasure ("pleasure at rest"), which is experienced as the state in which no pain is present (e.g. when one is not thirsty in the first place).

In this respect, Epicurus and his followers differ from Cyrenaic hedonists, who discarded the latter type of pleasure as nonexistent, or too static to be called pleasure at all. Katastematic pleasure was ridiculed by the Cyrenaics as "the state of a corpse". In this, they (willingly, perhaps) neglected to observe that living humans can demostrably feel well when they are not thirsty (e.g. having had enough water to drink), while dead ones can obviously feel no such comfort or contentment.

Also in contrast to the Cyrenaics, Epicurus believed that the pleasures of the soul are greater than those of the body, because bodily experience is limited to the present, whereas the soul, by its powers of recollection and anticipation, can also experience pleasure (or, similarly, pain) from events past or expected in the future. We can, for example, experience the pleasure of drinking fresh water at the moment we are thirsty; it would be, however, hard to argue that we take pleasure in remembering quenching our thirst a year ago, or in looking forward to doing so a year ahead. On the contrary, we take pleasure in the company of our friends at present; we fondly recollect good times from the past (even, as Epicurus pointed out, when those dear friends are deceased); and we look forward to spending more, pleasant hours in the company of our friends. Thus the pleasure of the soul is "supra-temporal".

Epicurus did not allow for any "maximizing principle" in his conception of pleasure (e.g. unlike modern-era, "economic" Utilitarians). Once reached, Epicurean pleasure is notably finite: it cannot exceed satiety, and can only be varied (e.g. by drinking orange-juice instead of water). According to Epicurus, more is not better, and could quite possibly be worse (e.g. if a quart of water is enough to quench one's thirst, a gallon would give no greater pleasure, and probably cause considerable discomfort).

Although decidedly modest, Epicurean pleasure is more often than not misunderstood as love of luxury, and has been assaulted across the millennia (e.g. by rival philosophical schools and early Christians) for what it is not. Epicurus, however, makes his position against extravagance quite clear in Principal Doctrine 10.

Personal tools