Book 10: Pleasure.
Again, even though pleasure is not a quality, it does not follow that it is not a good thing. The exercise of virtue, happiness itself, is not a quality.
It is objected, again, that the good is determinate, while pleasure is indeterminate, because it admits of a more and a less.
Now, if they say this because one may be more or less pleased, then the same thing may be said of justice and the other virtues; for it is plain that, with regard to them, we speak of people as being and showing themselves more or less virtuous: some men are more just and more brave than others, and it is possible to act more or less justly and temperately.
But if they mean that one pleasure may be more or less of a pleasure than another, I suspect that they miss the real reason when they say it is because some are pure and some are mixed. Why should it not be the same with pleasure as with health, which, though something determinate, yet allows of more and less? For the due proportion of elements [which constitutes health] is not the same for all, nor always the same for the same person, but may vary within certain limits without losing its character, being now more and now less truly health. And it may be the same with pleasure.
Again, assuming that the good is complete, while motion and coming into being are incomplete, they try to show that pleasure is a motion and a coming into being.
But they do not seem to be right even in saying that it is a motion: for every motion seems necessarily to be quick or slow, either absolutely, as the motion of the universe, or relatively; but pleasure is neither quick nor slow. It is, indeed, possible to be quickly pleased, as to be quickly angered; the feeling, however, cannot be quick, even relatively, as can walking and growing, etc. The passage to a state of pleasure, then, may be quick or slow, but the exercise of the power, i.e. the feeling of pleasure, cannot be quick.
Again, how can pleasure be a coming into being?
It seems that it is not possible for anything to come out of just anything, but what a thing comes out of, that it is resolved into. Pain, then, must be the dissolution of that whose coming into being is pleasure. Accordingly, they maintain that pain is falling short of the normal state, pleasure its replenishment.
But these are bodily processes. If, then, pleasure be the replenishment of the normal state, that in which the replenishment takes place, i.e. the body, must be that which is pleased. But this does not seem to be the case. Pleasure, therefore, is not a replenishment, but while the process of replenishment is going on we may be pleased, and while the process of exhaustion is going on we may be pained.
This view of pleasure seems to have been suggested by the pleasures and pains connected with nutrition; for there it is true that we come into a state of want, and, after previous pain, find pleasure in replenishment. But this is not the case with all pleasures; for there is no previous pain involved in the pleasures of the mathematician, nor among the sensuous pleasures in those of smell, nor, again, in many kinds of sights and sounds, nor in memories and hopes. What is there, then, of which these pleasures are the becoming? Here there is nothing lacking that can be replenished.
To those, again, who [in order to show that pleasure is not good] adduce the disgraceful kinds of pleasure we might reply that these things are not pleasant. Though they be pleasant to ill-conditioned persons, we must not therefore hold them to be pleasant except to them; just as we do not hold that to be wholesome, or sweet, or bitter, which is wholesome, sweet, or bitter to the sick man, or that to be white which appears white to a man with ophthalmia.
Or, again, we might reply that these pleasures are desirable, but not when derived from these sources, just as it is desirable to be rich, but not at the cost of treachery, and desirable to be in health, but not at the cost of eating any kind of abominable food.
Or we might say that the pleasures are specifically different. The pleasures derived from noble sources are different from those derived from base sources, and it is impossible to feel the just man’s pleasure without being just, or the musical man’s pleasure without being musical, and so on with the rest.
The distinction drawn between the true friend and the flatterer seems to show either that pleasure is not good, or else that pleasures differ in kind. For the former in his intercourse is thought to have the good in view, the latter pleasure; and while we blame the latter, we praise the former as having a different aim in his intercourse.
Again, no one would choose to live on condition of having a child’s intellect all his life, though he were to enjoy in the highest possible degree all the pleasures of a child; nor choose to gain enjoyment by the performance of some extremely disgraceful act, though he were never to feel pain.
There are many things, too, which we should care for, even though they brought no pleasure, as sight, memory, knowledge, moral and intellectual excellence. Even if we grant that pleasure necessarily accompanies them, this does not affect the question; for we should choose them even if no pleasure resulted from them.
It seems to be evident, then, that pleasure is not the good, nor are all pleasures desirable, but that some are desirable, differing in kind, or in their sources, from those that are not desirable. Let this be taken then as a sufficient account of the current opinions about pleasure and pain.