Book 10: Pleasure.
Our next business, I think, should be to treat of pleasure. For pleasure seems, more than anything else, to have an intimate connection with our nature; which is the reason why, in educating the young, we use pleasure and pain as the rudders of their course. Moreover, delight in what we ought to delight in, and hatred of what we ought to hate, seem to be of the utmost importance in the formation of a virtuous character; for these feelings pervade the whole of life, and have power to draw a man to virtue and happiness, as we choose what pleases, and shun what pains us.
And it would seem that the discussion of these matters is especially incumbent on us, since there is much dispute about them. There are people who say that the good is pleasure, and there are people who say, on the contrary, that pleasure is altogether bad—some, perhaps, in the conviction that it is really so, others because they think it has a good effect on men’s lives to assert that pleasure is a bad thing, even though it be not; for the generality of men, they say, incline this way, and are slaves to their pleasures, so that they ought to be pulled in the opposite direction: for thus they will be brought into the middle course.
But I cannot think that it is right to speak thus. For assertions about matters of feeling and conduct carry less weight than actions; and so, when assertions are found to be at variance with palpable facts, they fall into contempt, and bring the truth also into discredit. Thus, when a man who speaks ill of pleasure is seen at times to desire it himself, he is thought to show by the fact of being attracted by it that he really considers all pleasure desirable; for the generality of men are not able to draw fine distinctions. It seems, then, that true statements are the most useful, for practice as well as for theory; for, being in harmony with facts, they gain credence, and so incline those who understand them to regulate their lives by them. But enough of this: let us now go through the current opinions about pleasure.