Book 7.5: Of Pleasure.

Chapter 13: Pleasure is good, and the pleasure that consists in the highest activity is the good. All admit that happiness is pleasant. Bodily pleasures not the only pleasures.

But all admit that pain is a bad thing and undesirable; partly bad in itself, partly bad as in some sort an impediment to activity. But that which is opposed to what is undesirable, in that respect in which it is undesirable and bad, is good. It follows, then, that pleasure is a good thing. And this argument cannot be met, as Speusippus tried to meet it, by the analogy of the greater which is opposed to the equal as well as to the less; for no one would say that pleasure is essentially a bad thing.

Moreover, there is no reason why a certain kind of pleasure should not be the supreme good, even though some kinds be bad, just as there is no reason why a certain kind of knowledge should not be, though some kinds be bad. Nay, perhaps we ought rather to say that since every formed faculty admits of unimpeded exercise, it follows that, whether happiness be the exercise of all these faculties, or of some one of them, that exercise must necessarily be most desirable when unimpeded: but unimpeded exercise of faculty is pleasure: a certain kind of pleasure, therefore, will be the supreme good, even though most pleasures should turn out to be bad in themselves.

And on this account all men suppose that the happy life is a pleasant one, and that happiness involves pleasure: and the supposition is reasonable; for no exercise of a faculty is complete if it be impeded; but happiness we reckon among complete things; and so, if he is to be happy, a man must have the goods of the body and external goods and good fortune, in order that the exercise of his faculties may not be impeded. And those who say that though a man be put to the rack and overwhelmed by misfortune, he is happy if only he be good, whether they know it or not, talk nonsense.

Because fortune is a necessary condition, some people consider good fortune to be identical with happiness; but it is not really so, for good fortune itself, if excessive, is an impediment, and is then, perhaps, no longer to be called good fortune; for good fortune can only be defined by its relation to happiness.

Again, the fact that all animals and men pursue pleasure is some indication that it is in some way the highest good:

“Not wholly lost can e’er that saying be

Which many peoples share.”

But as the nature of man and the best development of his faculties neither are nor are thought to be the same for all, so the pleasure which men pursue is not always the same, though all pursue pleasure. Yet, perhaps, they do in fact pursue a pleasure different from that which they fancy they pursue and would say they pursue—a pleasure which is one and the same for all. For all beings have something divine implanted in them by nature.

But bodily pleasures have come to be regarded as the sole claimants to the title of pleasure, because they are oftenest attained and are shared by all; these then, as the only pleasures they know, men fancy to be the only pleasures that are.

But it is plain that unless pleasure—that is, unimpeded exercise of the faculties—be good, we can no longer say that the happy man leads a pleasant life; for why should he need it if it be not good? Nay, he may just as well lead a painful life: for pain is neither bad nor good, if pleasure be neither; so why should he avoid pain? The life of the good man, then, would be no pleasanter than others unless the exercise of his faculties were pleasanter.


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