Principal Doctrine 4

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Continuous physical pain does not last long. Instead, extreme pain lasts only a very short time, and even less-extreme pain does not last for many days at once. Even protracted diseases allow periods of physical comfort that exceed feelings of pain.


People overestimate pain, argues Epicurus; it is, in fact, not as terrible as it is believed to be. Taking again the body as a subsequent paradigm for the soul, Epicurus observes that:

a. The acutest pain lasts for the shortest time, e.g. one does not break a limb over time, but in one, brief, sharply painful instant.

b. Even the pain that exceeds pleasure does not last "many days", e.g. only while one is recuperating, still aching, with the broken limb in a cast.

c. Finally, even in the case of chronic impairments of one's health, pleasure gradually surpasses pain, e.g. one enjoys whatever ambulatory abilities one can, even if the healing process was incomplete and the damage lasting "many years".

In this and other Doctrines, Epicurus systematically undermines the popular overestimation of pain, which makes it appear to most people unduly dreadful. Symmetrically, as it were, he undermines the overestimation of pleasure (Cf. Principal Doctrine 3), which makes it appear to most people unduly difficult to attain. This lowering of both, opposite standards is the main logical mechanism behind Epicurus' revisionary examination of human life, and his systematic redefinition of both means and ends.

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