Principal Doctrine 3

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Pleasure reaches its maximum limit at the removal of all sources of pain. When such pleasure is present, for as long as it lasts, there is no cause of physical nor mental pain present – nor of both together.


This Doctrine serves as the cornerstone for all further elaborations on the Epicurean understanding of pleasure and pain: the limit of the various, particular pleasures is the relief of the respective, corresponding "pains".

In the modest, "low-grade" Epicurean understanding of both, what is meant here is neither the ecstasy of delight nor the agony of torture, but simple, quotidian, natural experiences. For example, once one has eaten enough, one is no longer hungry. Logically, for as long as one continues to feel full, one is not hungry; nor, of course, can one feel both sated and hungry all at once. Epicurus closes the argument snugly with a glaring reduction ad absurdum.

Epicurus goes on a crucial tangent, saying that this very same principle applies not only to pain in the strictly physical sense, but also to "that which causes sadness", or mental/emotional distress. This analogy between e.g. the "pain" of hunger and the "pain" of anxiety, or stress, or grief, has momentous ramifications in Epicurean ethics. Epicurus' claim is that happiness is as easily attainable as satiety in the course of attending to our everyday, natural needs: we can "fill" ourselves with ongoing emotional wellness just as easily as (and provided that) we can satisfy our hunger, thirst, and need of shelter and safety on a daily basis. The core moral of this doctrine: it is easy to be happy.

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