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The Role Of Pleasure In The Happy Life

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2070 words Published: 18th Apr 2017

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Choose two philosophers covered so far and use their work to discuss the role of “pleasure” in the happy life. 

I choose to pick Epicurus as one of the philosophers to be discussed because he is one of the most important figures in philosophy to be discussing on the topic of pleasure, it is interesting to discover just which category does Epicurus belong to. Was he just an ethical hedonist? Asserting merely that human action’s ultimate purpose is to bring us happiness and that should be the only purpose or goal we serve or to achieve while adhering to doing good in the process .Or is he something else, something more profound?

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Epicurus is without a doubt, a hedonist, however he is somewhat of a different kind of hedonist, he draws a distinction between intense physical pleasure, and he also states that if one engages in intense physical debauchery too much, it’s going to end up hurting you. Epicurus promotes the idea of ataraxic that is: “having the peace of mind, free from stress or turmoil”, he proposes that physical indulgences in eating ,drinking, or sex orgies, can bring more negative consequences than pleasure, but mental pleasures, like listening to music, discussing philosophy with your friends etc, can last for as long as you want to with no negative consequences.For Epicurus, mental pleasure carries a greater pleasure and value than physical pleasure, he also further classifies active pleasure and passive pleasure. For example, you want to eat because you are hungry or drink because you are thirsty and then the passive pleasure, such as freedom from anxiety and pain. Epicurus thought passive pleasure was more important than indulging in active pleasure, for example, a true epicurean delight would not be having an orgy, but instead researching scientific questions, perhaps.

“Epicurus concept of pleasure was twofold: in the opinion of researchers, Epicurus distinguished two kinds of pleasure- a static pleasure or a pleasure in a state of rest and a kinetic pleasure or a pleasure in motion…an Epicurean by the name of Lucius Torquatus, gives a definition of two different kinds of pleasure, one of which suavitate aliqua naturam ipsam movet et iucundi-tate quadam percipitur sensibus, thus being a pleasure in motion, while the other, static pleasure, percipitur omni dolore detracto. Here Torquatus draws a distinction between two different states to either of which, in his opinion, the notion of pleasure can be applied – firstly, a state presupposing active stimulation of pleasant sensations and secondly, a state negatively defined as the absence of pain and suffering. Epicurus referred to as kinetic those pleasures which accompany the process of satisfying one’s desires and regarded as static pleasure the state experienced when the desires are satisfied. “In another place he gives a quotation from Epicurus about pleasures accompanying gustatory, auditory and visual sensations, and this time he regards these pleasures as pleasures in motion, speaking now about physical motions in the sensory organs. Besides, the traditional interpretation of kinetic pleasure contradicts Epicurus’ idea that it is impossible simultaneously to experience pleasure and pain; for example, if a man is feeling pleasure while satisfying his hunger, then, apparently, at the same moment pleasure has to be accompanied by pain from hunger that has not yet been fully satisfied.” (Nikolsky, 2001)

Epicurus believed we can all find a way to be happy, the problem is simply we are looking at the wrong place, unlike many philosophers, Epicurus idea of happiness actually sounds rather fun, he didn’t think we should feel guilty about wanting to feel a pleasurable and enjoyable life, we seem to be thinking the key to happiness is really pretty easy, that is having a lot of money. But before we reach for our wallets, Epicurus wants us to stop and think.Epicurus was committed to a life of happiness, he likes sex, laughter and beauty but he points out that happiness is rather a tricky issue and a philosopher might help you find it than a credit card ever could.

Epicurus was in favor of pleasure at all, short of many of his many Greek contemporaries, his philosophy became synonymous with a luxurious eating lifestyle. Epicurus said that pleasure was the most important thing in life, but if we analyze Epicurus we actually found that he lived simple, far from a luxurious life, having survived on breads and plain water as a way of life,

Epicurus thought we don’t really know what we need and so forth prey forth to many substitute desires, such as spending lavishly on a shopping spree. But often according to Epicurus, the key to pleasure comes pretty cheap, the first one is friendship, he stated that friendship is a major source of happiness, but in order to achieve that, one needs to live with his friends at all times, the second thing Epicurus thought we need is freedom, Epicurus left Athens with his friends and started a commune, according to Epicurus, we must free ourselves from the prison from everyday life politics, their lives were simple, but at least they enjoyed their freedom in their self-sufficient ways. The last ingredient is an analyzed life by which he meant a life in which we take time off to reflect on our worries, to analyze what was troubling us, our anxieties can be diminished if we give us time to think things through, and to do that ,we need to take a step back from the noisy commercial world.

According to Epicurus, as long as you have enough money to sustain the basic sustenance, that is more than enough to have pleasure in a happy life, “Epicurus states that even bread and water can confer the highest possible pleasure when they are brought to hungry lips. Obviously, Epicurus means by this the state of satiety, but he does not in any way separate it from pleasure from eating and drinking that leads to this state.”( Nikolsky, 2001) so if we are so easily satisfied, why aren’t we happy? The answer is seductions in which our goal to become happy and live a pleasurable life become influenced. When we are quickly lured by bright lights and fancy clothing, our desires are subconsciously detoured in our search for pleasure.

“Thus, the Epicurean view of the physical nature of pleasure as a whole varies little from that of other philosophers: in Epicurus opinion, pleasure is experienced when the atoms of a human body, acted upon by a certain force, find themselves in their proper places, i.e.…when the organism attains its natural state under the effect of some influence. Epicurus links pleasure not only with the process but also with the result of restoration, i.e. with the natural state which the organism attains.” (Nikolsky, 2001)

Next, I would like to refer to a famous philosopher by the name of Aristotle as my second candidate.

For Aristotle however, the idea of pleasure and happiness comes from what is considered favorable, what is considered as good. The concept of virtue comes into place here, and we must have these virtues in order to achieve eudaimonia which is the Greek word of happiness .For Aristotle, a prime criterion to living a happy or pleasurable life is to find out what are the ultimate goal or purpose, and thus the way to be happy. Aristotle proposes 3 points, it has to be self-sufficient, it has to be a final goal and it has to be attainable. In this case, one has to develop the virtues in order to achieve a happy life, virtues are themselves the means to an end.

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“Aristotle clearly distinguishes himself from the hedonists when he claims that there is no such thing as undifferentiated pleasure. Pleasure cannot serve as the final goal of our actions because pleasure is not one thing, i.e., the word pleasure as applied to specific instances of pleasure is not univocal. Pleasures differ in nature just as the activities which they accompany differ in nature. The pleasure which we take in eating is simply the same kind of thing as the pleasure which we take in thinking. They are simply different kinds of pleasures and as such it seems that there can be no comparison between them as pleasures. Yet Aristotle clearly believes that such a comparison between different pleasures is possible. He speaks of contemplation as being the most pleasurable activity. But if Aristotle’s critique of hedonism rules out the possibility of saying that contemplation brings with it a greater amount of pleasure than does eating ( since these pleasures differ qualitatively and not quantitatively), what can he mean by saying that contemplation is the most pleasurable activity?” (Gonzalez, 1991)

According to Aristotle, our ultimate goal is happiness, that is our telos, and happiness is in itself the ultimate good, the ultimate thing we should strive for. In book 1 of Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle, he states that while happiness is self-sufficient in itself, there is varying degrees of happiness, if we indulge our senses in sensual pleasure, that is considered superficial and on the same level as animals, it is important to consider happiness as not as one brief moment but rather as a whole integral lifelong process. On a side note, Aristotle regards happiness as an activity rather as a state, in order to be happy and live well, one need to have the right virtues to incline towards a certain disposition, a certain lifestyle.

“In chapter 4 of book 10 Aristotle describes what constitutes a sensation which is most perfect or complete and therefore most pleasurable: ” there is a corresponding pleasure for every sensation and similarly for thought and contemplation: the most pleasurable activity will be the most complete and the most complete will be the one which takes place between a well-disposed subject and the best of those objects which are proper to it.Pleasure completes the activity…The activity of sensation will be most complete when its subjective and objective conditions are the best possible. It is important to recognize that the superlative here implies the possibility of degrees in the completeness and pleasure of an activity. Aristotle is not claiming that an activity can be complete and pleasurable only if it satisfies certain conditions; he is instead claiming that these conditions must be satisfied in order for the activity to be most complete and most pleasurable.” (Gonzalez, 1991)

For Aristotle, The question traces back to why we want to be happy, why we want to be virtuous? Why is happiness the ultimate telos? To illustrate, we spend our money on things which we fancy to get pleasure, it all boils down that all our daily activities focus on one and only one purpose, that is to be happy .But happiness itself is a rather intriguing and complex concept, and Aristotle states only through exercising our rational soul, through a life of contemplation as our activity, can happiness be found, and that is what distinguishes us from the animals.

In Book 10 of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle further goes into depth why he thinks contemplation is the ultimate rational answer to pleasure and happiness. The way Aristotle sees things is different, for example, when you encounter an object or entity, would you consider it in aspect of its purpose, or its functions or the process that the object undergoes?

Aristotle views everything as telos, he believes everything serve some kind of telos or purpose, he thinks the telos of a plant is to keep growing from the intake of nutrition, the telos of life, so what distinguishes us from plants and animals is in our ultimate telos to contemplate and behave accordingly, to employ the rational faculty of the soul, and this in turn consists of the study of modern day philosophy, as an example.

“The pleasures involved in the activities are more proper to them than the desires; for the latter are separated both in time and in nature, while the former are close to the activities, and so hard to distinguish from them that it admits of dispute whether the activity is not the same as pleasure.” (Manser ,1960)


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