Book 7.5: Of Pleasure.

Chapter 12: Answers to arguments against goodness of pleasure. Ambiguity of good and pleasant. Pleasure not a transition, but unimpeded activity.

But that these arguments do not prove that pleasure is not good, or even the highest good, may be shown as follows.

In the first place, since “good” is used in two senses (“good in itself” and “relatively good”), natures and faculties will be called good in two senses, and so also will motions and processes: and when they are called bad, this sometimes means that they are bad in themselves, though for particular persons not bad but desirable; sometimes that they are not desirable even for particular persons, but desirable occasionally and for a little time, though in themselves not desirable; while some of them are not even pleasures, though they seem to be—I mean those that involve pain and are used medicinally, such as those of sick people.

In the second place, since the term good may be applied both to activities and to faculties, those activities that restore us to our natural faculties [or state] are accidentally pleasant.

But in the satisfaction of the animal appetites that which is active is not that part of our faculties or of our nature which is in want, but that part which is in its normal state; for there are pleasures which involve no previous pain or appetite, such as those of philosophic study, wherein our nature is not conscious of any want.

This is corroborated by the fact that while our natural wants are being filled we do not take delight in the same things which delight us when that process has been completed: when the want has been filled we take delight in things that are pleasant in themselves, while it is being filled in their opposites; for we then take delight in sharp and bitter things, none of which are naturally pleasant or pleasant in themselves. The pleasures, then, which these things give are not real pleasures; for pleasures are related to one another as the things that produce them.

Again, it does not necessarily follow, as some maintain, that there is something else better than pleasure, as the end is better than the process or transition to the end: for a pleasure is not a transition, nor does it always even imply a transition; but it is an activity [or exercise of faculty], and itself an end: further, it is not in becoming something, but in doing something that we feel pleasure: and, lastly, the end is not always something different from the process or transition, but it is only when something is being brought to the completion of its nature that this is the case.

For these reasons it is not proper to say that pleasure is a felt transition, but rather that it is an exercise of faculties that are in their natural state, substituting “unimpeded” for “felt.”

Some people, indeed, think that pleasure is a transition, just because it is in the full sense good, supposing that the exercise of faculty is a transition; but it is in fact something different.

But to say that pleasures are bad because some pleasant things are unhealthy, is like saying that health is bad because some healthy things are bad for money-making. Both are bad in this respect, but that does not make them bad: even philosophic study is sometimes injurious to health.

As to pleasure being an impediment to thinking, the fact is that neither prudence nor any other faculty is impeded by the pleasure proper to its exercise, but by other pleasures; the pleasure derived from study and learning will make us study and learn more.

That there should be no art devoted to the production of any kind of pleasure, is but natural; for art never produces an activity, but only makes it possible: the arts of perfumery and cookery, however, are usually considered to be arts of pleasure.

As to the arguments that the temperate man avoids pleasure, that the prudent man pursues the painless life, and that children and brutes pursue pleasure, they may all be met in the same way, viz. thus:—

As we have already explained in what sense all pleasures are to be called good in themselves, and in what sense not good, we need only say that pleasures of a certain kind are pursued by brutes and by children, and that freedom from the corresponding pains in pursued by the prudent man—the pleasures, namely, that involve appetite and pain, i.e. the bodily pleasures (for these do so), and excess in them, the deliberate pursuit of which constitutes the profligate. These pleasures, then, the temperate man avoids; but he has pleasures of his own.


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