The Fullness of Pleasure Model

“It is observed too that in his treatise On the Ethical End he writes in these terms : “I know not how to conceive the good, apart from the pleasures of taste, of sex, of sound, and the pleasures of beautiful form.”

– Diogenes Laertius, Book X

Note: This article contains many important citations, but it has never been edited properly into final form.

Full Cup - Fullness of Pleasure Model


There are many challenges in interpreting Epicurean philosophy relate to the proper interpretation of Epicurus’ view of pleasure as the goal of life. When Epicureans used the term “pleasure,” did they mean “pleasure” as ordinary people define that term, or did they mean something else? There are at least three closely-related aspects to this question: (1) how to interpret the “painlessness” references, (2) whether we should pursue only “necessary” pleasures, and (3) how to interpret the katastematic and kinetic pleasure references.

I have recently come across another good way of stating the question. An acquaintance on Facebook stated: “But for Epicurus “hedone” (pleasure) is a kind of “zero state” describing a condition where man doesn’t need anything (f.ex. doesn’t suffer from hunger which is pain in Epicurean words). “Zero state” is an excellent term for describing the position that I admit is held by probably the majority of modern commentators, but which I do not believe to be correct. This majority seeks to avoid pain at all cost, despite clear passages to the contrary, which support a “net pleasure is the goal” analysis, such as “It is better to endure particular pains which produce greater satisfactions that we may enjoy. It is well to abstain from particular pleasures which produce more severe pains so that we may not suffer them.” Bailey Fragment 62//

The interpretation advocated by this page is summarized in the graphic above. In my view, the majority/”orthodox” interpretations have become popular because they bring Epicurus more in line with Stoic sensibilities, and make his positions more palatable to orthodox philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. In addition to the “zero-state” terminology, see here for an example of an essay stating a Stoic-friendly viewpoint.

The “orthodox” interpretation sees Epicurus as focusing primarily on avoiding pain, pursuing only “necessary” pleasures, and pursuing kinetic pleasures only for the sake of achieving a katastematic state (whatever that is, but it is generally implied to mean painlessness). Such people advocate a view of Epicurus who is essentially a Stoic /Ascetic, but who for some reason wanted to label of a life emotionlessness and asceticism as “pleasurable.” It is easy to see why this interpretation appeals to Stoics, but not so easy to explain why, if this is what Epicurus really advocated, the ancient Stoics and Academics denounced Epicurus with such venom.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible to interpret the Epicurean texts which touch on these issues in a way that is consistent with a common-sense approach to vital living, focused on what ordinary people understand to be pleasure, and brings the entire corpus of credible Epicurean texts into harmony without any word games or paradoxes involved.

In sum, this view of interpreting Epicurus gives effect to the “leaky vessel” analogy at the opening of Lucretius Book VI, and entails:

1) That the “painlessness” analysis by Epicurus is simply a discussion of measuring the purity of pleasures. This was a response to Plato, who had argued that pleasure could not be the goal of life because it has no limit. Epicurus therefore identified this “limit” of pleasure as the point where all pain had been excised and we experience all our pleasures in a pure state with no mixture of pain. A human life can experience only so many pleasures during a lifetime, and the goal is to experience all the pleasures possible within that natural limit, while excluding as much pain as possible.

2) That the “necessary and natural” analysis was intended only as a guideline for how much pain to expect from a given activity. We are by no means to limit ourselves to “necessary” pleasures, but we should live intelligently to maximize our experience of all pleasures within our natural limits.

3) That the “kinetic / katastematic” labelling, to the extent Epicurus referred to it at all, is simply a Platonic means of categorizing pleasures, useful mainly for discussion of technical details of philosophy on Platonist terms (which we should avoid doing). It has been emphasized in Epicurean analysis not by core supportive Epicureans, but mainly by Cicero and others influenced by Platonist models, and it is of little use in a framework where all pleasures are good. More importantly, it is extremely confusing, misleading, and dangerous when used to imply (as it often is) that there is a category of something called “katastematic pleasure” which is superior to any other type of pleasure, and for which all other (active) pleasures are simply a means to that end. That is the road to reading “joy and delight” out of Epicurean philosophy and is certainly not what Epicurus intended. For evidence of what Epicurus intended, see Diogenes Laertius: “He [Epicurus] differs from the Cyrenaics with regard to pleasure. They do not include under the term the pleasure which is a state of rest, but only that which consists in motion. Epicurus admits both; also pleasure of mind as well as of body, as he states in his work On Choice and Avoidance and in that On the Ethical End, and in the first book of his work On Human Life and in the epistle to his philosopher friends in Mytilene. So also Diogenes in the seventeenth book of his Epilecta, and Metrodorus in his Timocrates, whose actual words are: “Thus Pleasure being conceived both as that species which consists in motion and that which is a state of rest.” The words of Epicurus in his work On Choice are : “Peace of mind and freedom from pain are pleasures which imply a state of rest; joy and delight are seen to consist in motion and activity.” And compare this to a literal translation of VS14: “We were born once and it is not possible to be born twice after death; one must for all eternity no longer exist; and yet you while not being master of tomorrow postpone joy ; life is wasted by postponement and each of us dies busy.” In this passage, what is being postponed is chairon/joy, not pleasures of a “state of rest.”

Plato's Philebus

The Platonic argument against pleasure based on “limits” is important enough that it needs to be referenced immediately. Unfortunately this topic would consume a long discussion in itself, but here is an excerpt from Philebus as a finding aid to the full discussion where the argument can be researched:

SOCRATES: I omit ten thousand other things, such as beauty and health and strength, and the many beauties and high perfections of the soul: O my beautiful Philebus, the goddess, methinks, seeing the universal wantonness and wickedness of all things, and that there was in them no limit to pleasures and self-indulgence, devised the limit of law and order, whereby, as you say, Philebus, she torments, or as I maintain, delivers the soul. — What think you, Protarchus?

SOCRATES: Have pleasure and pain a limit, or do they belong to the class which admits of more and less?

PHILEBUS: They belong to the class which admits of more, Socrates; for pleasure would not be perfectly good if she were not infinite in quantity and degree.

SOCRATES: Nor would pain, Philebus, be perfectly evil. And therefore the infinite cannot be that element which imparts to pleasure some degree of good. But now — admitting, if you like, that pleasure is of the nature of the infinite — in which of the aforesaid classes, O Protarchus and Philebus, can we without irreverence place wisdom and knowledge and mind? And let us be careful, for I think that the danger will be very serious if we err on this point.

PHILEBUS: You magnify, Socrates, the importance of your favourite god.

SOCRATES: And you, my friend, are also magnifying your favourite goddess; but still I must beg you to answer the question.

SOCRATES: And whence comes that soul, my dear Protarchus, unless the body of the universe, which contains elements like those in our bodies but in every way fairer, had also a soul? Can there be another source?

PROTARCHUS: Clearly, Socrates, that is the only source.

SOCRATES: Why, yes, Protarchus; for surely we cannot imagine that of the four classes, the finite, the infinite, the composition of the two, and the cause, the fourth, which enters into all things, giving to our bodies souls, and the art of self-management, and of healing disease, and operating in other ways to heal and organize, having too all the attributes of wisdom; — we cannot, I say, imagine that whereas the self-same elements exist, both in the entire heaven and in great provinces of the heaven, only fairer and purer, this last should not also in that higher sphere have designed the noblest and fairest things?

PROTARCHUS: Such a supposition is quite unreasonable.

SOCRATES: Then if this be denied, should we not be wise in adopting the other view and maintaining that there is in the universe a mighty infinite and an adequate limit, of which we have often spoken, as well as a presiding cause of no mean power, which orders and arranges years and seasons and months, and may be justly called wisdom and mind?

PROTARCHUS: Most justly.

Seneca's Quotations

We can find the same point made by Seneca in the following letters:

Quote Seneca’s Letters – Book I – Letter XVI: This also is a saying of Epicurus: “If you live according to nature, you will never be poor; if you live according to opinion, you will never be rich.” Nature’s wants are slight; the demands of opinion are boundless. Suppose that the property of many millionaires is heaped up in your possession. Assume that fortune carries you far beyond the limits of a private income, decks you with gold, clothes you in purple, and brings you to such a degree of luxury and wealth that you can bury the earth under your marble floors; that you may not only possess, but tread upon, riches. Add statues, paintings, and whatever any art has devised for the luxury; you will only learn from such things to crave still greater. Natural desires are limited; but those which spring from false opinion can have no stopping point. The false has no limits.

Quote Seneca’s Letters – To Lucilius – 66.45: “What can be added to that which is perfect? Nothing otherwise that was not perfect to which something has been added. Nor can anything be added to virtue, either, for if anything can be added thereto, it must have contained a defect. Honour, also, permits of no addition; for it is honourable because of the very qualities which I have mentioned.[5] What then? Do you think that propriety, justice, lawfulness, do not also belong to the same type, and that they are kept within fixed limits? The ability to increase is proof that a thing is still imperfect.”“THE ABILITY TO INCREASE IS PROOF THAT A THING IS IMPERFECT.”

In addition to the above on “limits,” you have the closely related issue of “purity.” Here is another excerpt from Philebus that deals with the purity issue. If you take the following sentence, and instead of “whiteness” you read “pleasure,” you see some immediate implications for why Epicurus was concerned about the purity of pleasure, and why it is very important to discuss pleasure unmixed with any pain whatsoever.

Take this sentence and try that: SOCRATES: True, Protarchus; and so the purest white, and not the greatest or largest in quantity, is to be deemed truest and most beautiful? PROTARCHUS: Right.

To me you get almost a direct reflect of the first part of PD3 when you do that; “PD3. The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain.”

Here is more context to give you the background:

SOCRATES: And now, having fairly separated the pure pleasures and those which may be rightly termed impure, let us further add to our description of them, that the pleasures which are in excess have no measure, but that those which are not in excess have measure; the great, the excessive, whether more or less frequent, we shall be right in referring to the class of the infinite, and of the more and less, which pours through body and soul alike; and the others we shall refer to the class which has measure.

PROTARCHUS: Quite right, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Still there is something more to be considered about pleasures.

PROTARCHUS: What is it?

SOCRATES: When you speak of purity and clearness, or of excess, abundance, greatness and sufficiency, in what relation do these terms stand to truth?

PROTARCHUS: Why do you ask, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Because, Protarchus, I should wish to test pleasure and knowledge in every possible way, in order that if there be a pure and impure element in either of them, I may present the pure element for judgment, and then they will be more easily judged of by you and by me and by all of us.

PROTARCHUS: Most true.

SOCRATES: Let us investigate all the pure kinds; first selecting for consideration a single instance.

PROTARCHUS: What instance shall we select?

SOCRATES: Suppose that we first of all take whiteness.

PROTARCHUS: Very good.

SOCRATES: How can there be purity in whiteness, and what purity? Is that purest which is greatest or most in quantity, or that which is most unadulterated and freest from any admixture of other colours?

PROTARCHUS: Clearly that which is most unadulterated.

SOCRATES: True, Protarchus; and so the purest white, and not the greatest or largest in quantity, is to be deemed truest and most beautiful?


We can do the same substitution exercise with this example from Socrates: “How can there be purity in [pleasure/whiteness], and what purity? Is that purest which is greatest or most in quantity, or that which is most unadulterated and freest from any admixture of [pain/ other colours]? Answer: “clearly, that which is most unadulterated.”

So the implication of the analogy is that the purest/highest pleasure is not that which is the greatest quantity, but that which is unadulterated with pain, just as the purest white is not the most quantity of white, but that which is not mixed with other colors.

This has tremendous implications and certainly seems to me to be what Epicurus was wanting to deal with in discussing painlessness and pure pleasure.

Unfortunately, the mainstream commentary on Epicurus available on the internet, including much of Wikipedia, focuses on the Neo-Stoic interpretation, and largely ignores the arguments about “limits” and “purity” which are essential to understand Epicurus’ context. If you rely solely on the internet sources you will not even know that the limit argument, or another interpretation of Epicurean pleasure that comports with real life, exists. And if you follow those views you will come away with the same views of Epicurus as held by Lactantius: Divine Institutes, III.8.10: “To think that the highest good is the absence of pain is surely not characteristic of the Peripatetics or Stoics but of the bedridden philosophers. For who would not understand that this is the point discussed by the sick and those placed in some state of pain? What is so ridiculous as to consider that which a physician can give, as the highest good.”

But Lactantius was wrong in his caricature of Epicurean philosophy. Epicurean philosophy can indeed profit the bedridden, but it is a philosophy for everyone, young and old, from the most infirm to the most strong and energetic. Even the crafty Cicero was brought to admit – though briefly – his surprise at its vigor, when hewrote to Cassius Longinus, during the fight to save the Roman Republic which Cassius was leading – “Why, in that very school you have selected I apprehend there is more vitality than I should have supposed, if only because it has your approval.”

On this website and a few others you will find access to interpretations of Epicurus which seek to give full body to his doctrines. This alternative interprets Epicurus in a way much more likely to have been the reason that Epicurean philosophy enjoyed such great success in the ancient world. And despite what you might read on Wikipedia, there are recognized commentators whose work supports this interpretation. [I do not mean to imply that any of the references cited here completely agree with the interpretation in the graphic, only that they make important points against the orthodox view, and that those points are crucial to the argument presented here.]

It will be the goal of this page to bring together links and analysis of these sources. For now, here is a list, in chronological order from most recent to oldest, which provide support to some or all of the interpretations taken here. Again: any error in this website’s interpretation is not the responsibility of these authors, and you should not conclude that these references agree with the above chart in every respect. The analysis provided in these sources, however, is essential to a full understanding of the issues involved.

Modern Commentary

* * * * * * *

1) Raphael Woolf, “Pleasure and Desire”, Cambridge Companion to Epicureanism**, 2009It would, then, be a poignant historical irony if the figure of the Epicurean as lover of luxury should be so far removed from actual Epicurean doctrine, if this sets as a condition of the good life that one abstain from luxury and aim to satisfy only one’s basic needs. Fortunately, it is a mistake to read Epicurus in quite this way. His attitude towards luxury turns out to be rather different from outright rejection, and a closer examination of this feature of his ethical stance may shed some broader light on his view of pleasure, its relation to desire, and its role in our lives.”

… “Luxury, according to Epicurus, is in fact to be welcomed, just so long as its possession does not detract from the maintenance or attainment of a pain and trouble free state; and it need not do this, he holds, so long as one has the right attitude towards luxury: namely, that it is to be enjoyed if present, but not missed if absent.”

… “Epicurus is said to have written that, content with bread and water, a bit of cheese would enable him to ‘live luxuriously’ (poluteleusasthai, DL 10.11). While certainly emphasizing his own self-sufficiency, Epicurus does not seek to restrict the scope of ‘luxury’ to such modest items (as Ep. Men. 132 on the luxuries of the table makes clear), which would threaten to trivialize his remarks on the relation between luxury and need.”

… “Absence of anxiety being a main part of the goal, we are not to strive for that which is difficult to obtain. If we do, then our beliefs are misguided, and we are in need of Epicurean therapy. But we are not told to confine ourselves to the occasional bout of luxury, as if our task is to fend off all those other luxurious opportunities that are likely to befall us. Rather, luxury is not the sort of thing that tends to come our way at all; if it does, this will most likely be only occasional. Similarly, getting accustomed to a simple life is not a matter of going out of our way to ensure that, say, some suitably high proportion of our meals consists of plain fare. The latter is what nature provides whether or not we are prepared to compromise peace of mind by striving for what is not readily at hand.”

… “That we have a critique of a thoughtless approach rather than a type of pleasure (‘luxurious’) as such is borne out by the contrast Epicurus draws with sober reasoning as that which, by seeking out the proper bases of choice and avoidance, generates the pleasant life (Ep. Men. 131). It is worth noting in this regard that Epicurus could in principle have made the contrast between any kind of pleasure, simple included, on the one hand, and reasoning on the other. Labelling the reasoning ‘sober’ lays stress on thoughtfulness, and we get a rhetorically more vivid contrast with drinking-bouts than we would with sips of plain water, but Epicurus does not say that it is sober pleasures as opposed to luxurious ones that generate the pleasant life. Reason and pleasure are the elements of the contrast, not pleasures of different kinds.”

… “In the light of this, it seems right to take Epicurus’ point to be advocacy of the thoughtful approach to pleasure, not the lauding of simple pleasures (which are unmentioned here) over luxurious ones. And this chimes well with his earlier description of the workings of a calculus of pleasure and pain in decision-making, such that one rejects pleasures that bring greater pains in their wake, and chooses pains that will result in greater pleasures (Ep. Men. 129). The decision procedure is described quite neutrally, without reference to simplicity or luxury, let alone to the former trumping the latter.15”

…. “Mention of the calculus does, however, strengthen the thought that an Epicurean would be expected to choose luxury over simplicity (say business class over economy) so long as equanimity were not thereby compromised. Doubtless part of the consideration would be whether this particular experience of luxury was indeed likely to cause, say, some degree of desire for it in its absence, which of course would be unhealthy on Epicurean terms. But there is no evidence that, as far as Epicurus is concerned, one who has accepted the simple life as nature’s way – one who has accepted, thus, that luxury is not necessary for contentment – is liable to have that view changed by the mere fact of experiencing luxury. On the contrary he is clear, as we have seen, that to have accepted this is precisely to be in a position then to gain the maximum enjoyment of luxury. At this point, Epicurus has no wish to deny the obvious, that, subject to the details of the given case, sober reasoning might be expected to declare that luxury promises a greater quantum of pleasure than simplicity, and is thereby to be chosen.”

… “Again, one should not read Epicurus back to front. He is starting from a situation in which people will experience their share of kinetic pleasure in the ordinary course of life, but will have failed to attain freedom from pain and distress. In saying that the latter is the goal, he has no reason to concern himself with a wholly artificial scenario in which such freedom had been won but kinetic pleasures were mysteriously absent. If he is inclined to regard the good life as one in which the subject will continue to enjoy a range of kinetic pleasures, that is no more than one would expect in any real-life situation.”

2) Mathew Wenham On Cicero’s Interpretation of Katastematic Pleasure in Epicurus. ** 2007 “The standard interpretation of the concept of katastematic pleasure in Epicurus has it referring to “static” states from which feeling is absent. We owe the prevalence of this interpretation to Cicero’s account of Epicureanism in his De Finibus Bonorum Et Malorum. Cicero’s account, in turn, is based on the Platonic theory of pleasure. The standard interpretation, when applied to principles of Epicurean hedonism, leads to fundamental contradictions in his theory. I claim that it is not Epicurus, but the standard interpretation that generates these errors because the latter construes pleasure in Epicurus according to an attitudinal theoretical framework, whilst the account of pleasure that emerges from Epicurean epistemology sees it as experiential.”

2) Boris Nikolsky, “Epicurus on Pleasure.”** 2001 (“The paper deals with the question of the attribution to Epicurus of the classification of pleasures into ‘kinetic’ and ‘static’. This classification, usually regarded as authentic, confronts us with a number of problems and contradictions. Besides, it is only mentioned in a few sources that are not the most reliable. Following Gosling and Taylor, I believe that the authenticity of the classification may be called in question. The analysis of the ancient evidence concerning Epicurus’ concept of pleasure is made according to the following principle: first, I consider the sources that do not mention the distinction between ‘kinetic’ and ‘static’ pleasures, and only then do I compare them with the other group of texts which comprises reports by Cicero, Diogenes Laertius and Athenaeus. From the former group of texts there emerges a concept of pleasure as a single and not twofold notion, while such terms as ‘motion’ and ‘state’ describe not two different phenomena but only two characteristics of the same phenomenon. On the other hand, the reports comprising the latter group appear to derive from one and the same doxographical tradition, and to be connected with the classification of ethical docrines put forward by the Middle Academy and known as the divisio Carneadea. In conclusion, I argue that the idea of Epicurus’ classification of pleasures is based on a misinterpretation of Epicurus’ concept in Academic doxography, which tended to contrapose it to doctrines of other schools, above all to the Cyrenaics’ views.“)

3) Gosling & Taylor, “The Greeks on Pleasure**.” 1982. See Chapter 19, “Katastematic and Kinetic Pleasures” (Also :“Plato’s and Aristotle’s intellectual feats can only win one’s admiration, but a cool look at the results enables one to understand how Epicurus might have seemed more in contact with the subject. For if we are right, Epicurus was not advocating the pursuit of some passionless state which could only be called one of pleasure in order to defend a paradox. Rather he was advocating a life where pain is excluded and we are left with familiar physical pleasures. The resultant life may be simple, but it is straightforwardly pleasant.”)

4) Norman DeWitt, “Epicurus and His Philosophy.** 1954 Chapter 12, the New Hedonism (e.g.: Even at the present day the same objection is raised. For instance, a modern Platonist, ill informed on the true intent of Epicurus, has this to say: “What, in a word, is to be said of a philosophy that begins by regarding pleasure as the only positive good and ends by emptying pleasure of all positive content?” This ignores the fact that this was but one of the definitions of pleasure offered by Epicurus, that he recognized kinetic as well as static pleasures. It ignores also the fact that Epicurus took personal pleasure in public festivals and encouraged his disciples to attend them and that regular banquets were a part of the ritual of the sect. Neither does it take account of the fact that in the judgment of Epicurus those who feel the least need of luxury enjoy it most and that intervals of abstinence enhance the enjoyment of luxury. Thus the Platonic objector puts upon himself the necessity of denying that the moderation of the rest of the year furnishes additional zest to the enjoyment of the Christmas dinner; he has failed to become aware of the Epicurean zeal for “condensing pleasure.”)

5) Frances Wright**– A Few Days In Athens. See the discussion in Chapter Two about the furnishings of the house of Epicurus, and the discussion in Chapter Nine about the musical and art activities of the participants in the Garden. [Note: I need to look further but so far as I can recall Wright did not find the katastematic/kinetic distinction worthy of mention at all in the book. If anyone who sees this comment reviews the book and finds out otherwise, please let me know.]

6) Pierre Gassendi, Life and Doctrine of Epicurus**. From Page 232 of Thomas Stanley’s translation: [Some criticize the Epicurean view of pleasure, and] [s]ome laugh hereat: They object, that this pleasure is like the condition of one that sleeps, and accuse us of sloath, never considering that this constitution of ours is not a meer stupidity, but rather a state wherein all actions of life are performed pleasantly and sweetly. For, as we would not have the life of a wise man to be like a torrent or rapid stream, so we would not it should be like a standing dead-pool: but rather like a river gliding on silently and quietly. We therefore hold his pleasure is not unactive, but that which reason makes firm to him.

Quote From page 239 of Thomas Stanley’s translation:

I advise that every man should examine his own genius, and advise with himself, that he may apply himself to that which is proper for him; because otherwise, nothing can be more miserable, and more at a distance with tranquility, than to be engaged in a course of life for which nature hath rendered thee unfit. For neither is an active life to be undertaken by an unactive person, nor an unactive life by an active person. To one, rest is quiet, and action is labour; to the other, rest is labour, and action quiet. A timorous and soft person must avoid the military life; a bold and impatient, the easie; for one cannot brook war, nor the other peace. The same it is in all the rest. So that nothing can be more safe than to undertake that course only which though canst run through, without any reluctance or repugnance of nature. I shall only add this: That every man, as far as lies in his power, to the end the state of life which he chooseth may be the more secure and quiet, ought to choose it mean, neither very eminent nor very abject. For it behooves him to live in a civil society, neither as a Lion, nor as a Gnat, lest, resembling the one, he be cast out; the other, caught in a snare.

Other Ancient Sources:

Epicurus – Last Will and Testament** In this document Epicurus listed extensive property, including more than few household servants, indicating that he did not limit himself to a strict “necessaries only” lifestyle.

Diogenes of Oinoanda: “These medicines we have put [fully] to the test; for we have dispelled the fears [that grip] us without justification, and, as for pains, those that are groundless we have completely excised, while those that are natural we have reduced to an absolute minimum, making their magnitude minute.”

Also: “Having already reached the sunset of my life (being almost on the verge of departure from the world on account of old age), I wanted, before being overtaken by death, to compose a [fine] anthem [to celebrate the] fullness [of pleasure] and so to help now those who are well-constituted.”

Also: “I shall discuss folly shortly, the virtues and pleasure now. If, gentlemen, the point at issue between these people and us involved inquiry into ‘what is the means of happiness?’ and they wanted to say ‘the virtues’ (which would actually be true), it would be unnecessary to take any other step than to agree with them about this, without more ado. But since, as I say, the issue is not ‘what is the means of happiness?’ but ‘what is happiness and what is the ultimate goal of our nature?’, I say both now and always, shouting out loudly to all Greeks and non-Greeks, that pleasure is the end of the best mode of life, while the virtues, which are inopportunely messed about by these people (being transferred from the place of the means to that of the end), are in no way an end, but the means to the end. Let us therefore now state that this is true, making it our starting-point.”

Lucretius Book III – “Away from this time forth with thy tears, rascal; a truce to thy complaining: thou decayest after full enjoyment of all the prizes of life. But because thou ever yearnest for what is not present, and despisest what is, life has slipped from thy grasp unfinished and unsatisfying, and or ever thou thoughtest, death has taken his stand at thy pillow, before thou canst take thy departure sated and filled with good things.”

Lucretius Book III – “Then to be ever feeding the thankless nature of the mind, and never to fill it full and sate it with good things, as the seasons of the year do for us, when they come round and bring their fruits and varied delights, though after all we are never filled with the enjoyments of life, this methinks is to do what is told of the maidens in the flower of their age, to keep pouring water into a perforated vessel which in spite of all can never be filled full.”

Lucretius Book V: “In the beginning the earth gave forth all kinds of herbage and verdant sheen about the hills and overall the plains; the flowery meadows glittered with the bright green hue, and next in order to the different trees was given a strong and emulous desire of growing up into the air with full unbridled powers.”

Cicero, In defense of Publius Sestius, 10.23: “He {Publius Clodius} praised those most who are said to be above all others the teachers and eulogists of pleasure {the Epicureans}. … He added that these same men were quite right in saying that the wise do everything for their own interests; that no sane man should engage in public affairs; that nothing was preferable to a life of tranquility crammed full of pleasures. But those who said that men should aim at an honorable position, should consult the public interest, should think of duty throughout life not of self-interest, should face danger for their country, receive wounds, welcome death – these he called visionaries and madmen.” Note: Here is a link to Perseus where the Latin and translation of this can be compared. The Latin is: “nihil esse praestabilius otiosa vita, plena et conferta voluptatibus.” See also here for word translations.

Cicero, On End-Goals, Good and Bad, II.17.55: “According to your {Epicurean} school, it is right to try to get money even at some risk; for money procures many very delightful pleasures.”

Plutarch, That Epicurus actually makes a pleasant life impossible , 3, p. 1088C: Epicurus has imposed a limit on pleasures that applies to all of them alike: the removal of all pain. For he believes that our nature adds to pleasure only up to the point where pain is abolished and does not allow it any further increase in magnitude (although the pleasure, when the state of painlessness is reached, admits of certain unessential variations). But to proceed to this point, accompanied by desire, is our stint of pleasure, and the journey is indeed short and quick. Hence it is that becoming aware of the poverty here they transfer their final good from the body, as from an unproductive piece of land, to the soul, persuaded that there they will find pastures and meadows lush with pleasures.

Plutarch, That Epicurus actually makes a pleasant life impossible , 7, p. 1091A: Not only is the basis that they assume for the pleasurable life untrustworthy and insecure, it is quite trivial and paltry as well, inasmuch as their “thing delighted” – their good – is an escape from ills, and they say that they can conceive of no other, and indeed that our nature has no place at all in which to put its good except the place left when its evil is expelled. … Epicurus too makes a similar statement to the effect that the good is a thing that arises out of your very escape from evil and from your memory and reflection and gratitude that this has happened to you. His words are these: “That which produces a jubilation unsurpassed is the nature of good, if you apply your mind rightly and then stand firm and do not stroll about {a jibe at the Peripatetics}, prating meaninglessly about the good.”

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, XII p. 546E: Not only Aristippus and his followers, but also Epicurus and his welcomed kinetic pleasure; I will mention what follows, to avoid speaking of the “storms” {of passion} and the “delicacies” which Epicurus often cites, and the “stimuli” which he mentions in his On the End-Goal. For he says “For I at least do not even know what I should conceive the good to be, if I eliminate the pleasures of taste, and eliminate the pleasures of sex, and eliminate the pleasures of listening, and eliminate the pleasant motions caused in our vision by a visible form.

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, III.18.41: Why do we shirk the question, Epicurus, and why do we not confess that we mean by pleasure what you habitually say it is, when you have thrown off all sense of shame? Are these your words or not? For instance, in that book which embraces all your teaching (for I shall now play the part of translator, so no one may think I am inventing) you say this: “For my part I find no meaning which I can attach to what is termed good, if I take away from it the pleasures obtained by taste, if I take away the pleasures which come from listening to music, if I take away too the charm derived by the eyes from the sight of figures in movement, or other pleasures by any of the senses in the whole man. Nor indeed is it possible to make such a statement as this – that it is joy of the mind which is alone to be reckoned as a good; for I understand by a mind in a state of joy, that it is so, when it has the hope of all the pleasures I have named – that is to say the hope that nature will be free to enjoy them without any blending of pain.” And this much he says in the words I have quoted, so that anyone you please may realize what Epicurus understands by pleasure.

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, III.20.46: For he has not only used the term pleasure, but stated clearly what he meant by it. “Taste,” he says, “and embraces and spectacles and music and the shapes of objects fitted to give a pleasant impression to the eyes.”

Cicero, On End-Goals, Good and Bad, II.3.7 (Torquatus to Cicero): “Does not Epicurus recognize pleasure in your sense?” (Cicero): “Not always,” said I, “now and then, I admit, he recognizes it only too fully, for he solemnly avows that he cannot even understand what good there can be or where it can be found, apart form that which is derived from food and drink, the delight of the ears, and the grosser forms of gratification. Do I misrepresent his words?” Ibid., II.7.20: In a number of passages where he is commending that real pleasure which all of us call by the same name, he goes so far as to say that he cannot even imagine any Good that is not connected with pleasure of the kind intended by Aristippus. Such is the language that he uses in the lecture dealing solely with the topic of the Chief Good. II.8.23: Men of taste and refinement, with first-rate chefs… the accompaniment of dramatic performances and their usual sequel – these are pleasures without which Epicurus, as he loudly proclaims, does not know what Good is. II.10.29: But fancy his failing to see how strong a proof it is that the sort of pleasure, without which he declares he has no idea at all what Good means (and he defines it in detail as the pleasure of the palate, of the ears, and subjoins the other kinds of pleasure, which cannot be specified without an apology). I.10.30: the kinetic sort of pleasure … he extols it so much that he tells us he is incapable even of imagining what other good there can be. II.20:64: … Nor did he forgo those other indulgences in the absence of which Epicurus declares that he cannot understand what good is.

Cicero, On End-Goals, Good and Bad: The truth of the position that pleasure is the ultimate good will most readily appear from the following illustration. Let us imagine a man living in the continuous enjoyment of numerous and vivid pleasures alike of body and of mind, undisturbed either by the presence or by the prospect of pain: what possible state of existence could we describe as being more excellent or more desirable? One so situated must possess in the first place a strength of mind that is proof against all fear of death or of pain; he will know that death means complete unconsciousness, and that pain is generally light if long and short if strong, so that its intensity is compensated by brief duration and its continuance by diminishing severity. Let such a man moreover have no dread of any supernatural power; let him never suffer the pleasures of the past to fade away, but constantly renew their enjoyment in recollection, and his lot will be one which will not admit of further improvement.

Plutarch, That Epicurus actually makes a pleasant life impossible , 4, p. 1089D: It is this, I believe, that has driven them, seeing for themselves the absurdities to which they were reduced, to take refuge in the “painlessness” and the “stable condition of the flesh,” supposing that the pleasurable life is found in thinking of this state as about to occur in people or as being achieved; for the “stable and settled condition of the flesh,” and the “trustworthy expectation” of this condition contain, they say, the highest and the most assured delight for men who are able to reflect. Now to begin with, observe their conduct here, how they keep decanting this “pleasure” or “painlessness” or “stable condition” of theirs back and forth, from body to mind and then once more from mind to body.

Saint Augustine, Against the Academicians, III.7.16, t. I, p. 281B [p. 53F Venice edition, 1719]: {Attributed to Cicero} “If Zeno or Chrysippus were asked who the wise man is, he’ll reply that the wise man is the one whom he himself has described. In return, Epicurus or another adversary will deny this and maintain instead that the wise man is the one most skilled at catching pleasures. And so the fight is on! The whole Porch is in an uproar! Zeno is shouting that man is naturally apt for nothing but virtue, which attracts mind to itself by its own grandeur without offering any extrinsic advantage and rewarded as a kind of enticement; Epicurus’ ‘pleasure’ is common only among brute animals, and to push man – and the wise man! – into an association with them is abominable. Epicurus, like Bacchus, has called together a drunken mob from his Gardens to aid him against this onslaught! The mob is searching for someone to tear to pieces with their long fingernails and savage fangs in their Bacchic fury. Elevating the name of pleasure as agreeableness and calm, with popular support, Epicurus passionately insists that without pleasure nobody could seem happy.

Varro, On Philosophy, by way of Saint Augustine, City of God, XIX.1: “There are four things that men naturally seek, without a master and without the support of any instruction, without effort and without any art of living … naturally, they seek pleasure, which is an agreeable activity of physical perception, or repose, the state in which the individual suffers no bodily discomfort, or both of these (which Epicurus calls by the single name of pleasure), or taking everything together, the primary wants of nature…”

Alexander of Aphrodisia, On the Soul, II.19 f. 154r: The Epicureans held that what is first congenial to us, without qualification, is pleasure. But they say that as we get older, this pleasure articulates itself in many ways.

Lucian, The Double Indictment, 21 (Epicurus portrayed as speaking): “{Suppose that Dionysius, the Apostate} ran away to Pleasure of his own free will, cutting the meshes of [Stoic] logic as if they were bonds, because he had the spirit of a human being, not of a dolt, and thought pain painful, as indeed it is, and pleasure pleasant…”

Stoa: Do you consider pain bad?

Epicurus: Yes.

Stoa: And pleasure good?

Epicurus: Certainly so!

Plotinus, Dissertations, 30 (Aeneids, II.9), 15: For there are two schools of thought about attaining the [ethical] end. One which puts forward the pleasure of the body as the end, and another which chooses nobility and virtue … Epicurus, who abolishes providence, exhorts to pursue all that remains: pleasure and its enjoyment

Antiochus of Ascalon, by way of Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies II.21 p. 178.46:Epicurus also says that the removal of pain is pleasure; and says that that is to be preferred, which first attracts from itself to itself, being, that is, wholly in motion

St. Augustine, Confessions, VI.16: I argued in those days with my friends Alypius and Nebridius concerning the limits of good and evil. Determining, in my judgment, that Epicurus should have won the garland, had I not verily believed that there remained a life for the soul after the body was dead, and the fruits of our deservings, which Epicurus would not believe. And so I put the question: suppose we were to be immortal, and were to live in perpetual enjoyment of bodily pleasures, and that without fear of losing – why should we not then be fully happy, and wherefore should we seek for any other thing?

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, XII p. 546F: And Epicurus says, “The principle and the root of all good is the pleasure of the stomach; even wisdom and culture must be referred to this.”

Metrodorus, Letter to his Brother Timocrates, fr. 13 [p. 51 Duen.], by way of Plutarch, That Epicurus actually makes a pleasant life impossible , 16, p. 1098D: {We are not called to save the nation or get crowned by it for wisdom; what is called for, my dear Timocrates, is to eat and to drink wine, gratifying the belly without harming it.} … It made me both happy and confident to have learned from Epicurus how to gratify the belly properly. … {The belly, Timocrates, my man of wisdom, is the region that contains the highest end.}

Cf. Plutarch, Against Colotes , 30, p. 1125A: For it is the men who look with contempt on all these things as old wives’ tales, and think that our good is to be found in the belly and the other passages by which pleasure makes her entry… Ibid., 2, p. 1108C: …by those who keep shouting that the good is to be found in the belly…

Plutarch, That Epicurus actually makes a pleasant life impossible , 17, p. 1098D: Indeed these people, you might say, describing a circle with the belly as center and radius, circumscribe within it the whole area of pleasure…

Cicero, Against Lucius Calpurnius Piso, 27.66: It is his habit in all his discussions to attach higher value to the pleasures of the belly than to the delights of the eye and the ear.

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, 92.6: The second kind of pleasure is simply animalistic. We are but adding the irrational to the rational, the dishonorable to the honorable. A pleasant physical sensation affects this life of ours; why therefore, do you hesitate to say that all is well with a man just because all is well with his appetite? And do you rate, I will not say among heroes, but among men, the person whose Supreme Good is a matter of flavors and colors and sounds? {cf. U67**}

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, XII p. 546E: {Aristippus and his followers were not alone} in welcoming kinetic pleasure … Epicurus and his followers did the same. And not to enter on account of his “tempests” and his “transportations,” all of which Epicurus cites many times, also the “titillations” and “stimulations” …

Cf. Plutarch, That Epicurus actually makes a pleasant life impossible , 5, p. 1090B: {the future, like the weather, is always uncertain} so the mind that has stowed the ultimate good in a body that is in a stable condition and in expectations for the body cannot continue to the end without fear and the prospect of tempestuous weather

Alciphron, Letters , III.55.8 (Autocletus to Hetoemaristus {“Gatecrasher” to “Prompt-to-breakfast”}): Zenocrates the Epicurean took the harp-girls in his arms, gazing upon them from half-closed eyes with a languishing and melting look, and saying that this was “tranquility of the flesh” and “the full intensity of pleasure.”

Cf. Zeno the Epicurean (Zeno of Sidon), by way of Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, III.17.38:“Blessed is he who has the enjoyment of present pleasure and the assurance that he would have enjoyment either throughout life or for a great part of life without the intervention of pain, or should pain come, that it would be short-lived if extreme, but if prolonged it would still allow more that was pleasant than evil.”

Antiochus of Ascalon, by way of Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies II.21 p. 178.43: For of those that are ruled by pleasure are the Cyrenaics and Epicurus; for these expressly said that to live pleasantly was the chief end, and that pleasure was the only perfect good. Epicurus also says that the removal of pain is pleasure.

Lactantius, Divine Institutes, III.7.7: Epicurus thinks that the highest good is in the pleasure of the mind. Aristippus holds that it is in the pleasure of the body.

Lactantius, Divine Institutes , III.17.38: [Epicurus says, in effect:] “Let us serve pleasure, then, in whatever way we can, for in a short time we will be nothing whatsoever. Let us suffer no day, therefore, no point of time to flow by for us without pleasure, lest, since we ourselves are at sometime to perish, the very fact that we live may perish.” Although he does not say this in so many words, however, he teaches this is fact.

Porphyry, On Abstinence, I.53: Epicurus rightly surmised that we should beware of food which we want to enjoy and which we pursue, but find disagreeable once we get it. All rich, heavy food is like this, and when people are carried away by wanting it, they land in expense, illness, glut, or worry. For this reason we should guard against excess even of simple things, and in all cases we must examine what happens as a result of enjoyment or possession, how big a thing it is, and whether it relieves any trouble of body or soul. Otherwise, in every case, tension, such as life engenders, will arise from gratification. We must not go beyond the bounds, but keep within the boundary and measure that applies to such things.

Plutarch, On Peace of Mind, 2 p. 465F (Johannes Stobaeus, Anthology, 29.79): For this reason not even Epicurus believes that men who are eager for honor and glory should lead an inactive life, but that they should fulfill their natures by engaging in politics and entering public life, on the ground that, because of their natural dispositions, they are more likely to be disturbed and harmed by inactivity if they do not obtain what they desire.

Plutarch, That Epicurus actually makes a pleasant life impossible , 4, p. 1089A: Whether the other set {i.e., the Epicureans, in contrast with the Cyrenaics} who hold that the superiority of the Sage lies above all in this: vividly remembering and keeping intact in himself the sights and feelings and movements associated with pleasure – are thus recommending a practice unworthy of the name of wisdom by allowing the slops of pleasure to remain in the soul of the Sage as in the house of a spendthrift, let us not say.

Cicero, On End-Goals, Good and Bad, II.27.88: Isn’t pleasure more desirable the longer it lasts? On what ground then does Epicurus speak of a deity (for so he always does) as happy and immortal? Take away his everlasting life, and Jove is no happier than Epicurus. Each of them enjoys the Chief Good, that is to say, pleasure. Wherein then is he inferior to a god, except that a god lives forever?

Cites from Philodemus, On Property Management, To Be Added.

Addendum 06/12/16:


(Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, 66.45)

“We find mentioned in the works of Epicurus two goods, of which his Supreme Good, or blessedness, is composed, namely, a body free from pain and a soul free from disturbance. These goods, if they are complete, do not increase; for how can that which is complete increase? The body is, let us suppose, free from pain; what increase can there be to this absence of pain? The soul is composed and calm; what increase can there be to this tranquility? Just as fair weather, purified into the purest brilliancy, does not admit of a still greater degree of clearness, so too, when a man takes care of his body and of his soul, weaving the texture of his good from both, his condition is perfect, and he has found the consummation of his prayers, if there is no commotion in his soul or pain in his body. Whatever delights fall to his lot over and above these two things do not increase his Supreme Good; they merely season it, so to speak, and add spice to it. For the absolute good of man’s nature is satisfied with peace in the body and peace in the soul.”


Cassius Amicus“The body is, let us suppose, free from pain; what increase can there be to this absence of pain? The soul is composed and calm; what increase can there be to this tranquility?” But what are the body and the soul DOING, darn it, Seneca!!!! Or are you playing one of the “mouse is a syllable” and “syllables eat cheese” word games you profess to detest? Yes, 100% cannot be increased, and 0% cannot be decreased. Is that supposed to be profound, standing alone?

Cassius Amicus If he approached me with that paragraph, and that paragraph alone, I would ask Seneca to think about his own words:

“Why, then, do you frame for me such games as these? It is no occasion for jest; you are retained as counsel for unhappy men, sick and the needy, and those whose heads are under the poised axe. Whither are you straying? What are you doing? This friend, in whose company you are jesting, is in fear. Help him, and take the noose from about his neck. Men are stretching out imploring hands to you on all sides; lives ruined and in danger of ruin are begging for some assistance; men’s hopes, men’s resources, depend upon you. They ask that you deliver them from all their restlessness, that you reveal to them, scattered and wandering as they are, the clear light of truth. Tell them what nature has made necessary, and what superfluous; tell them how simple are the laws that she has laid down, how pleasant and unimpeded life is for those who follow these laws, but how bitter and perplexed it is for those who have put their trust in opinion rather than in nature.”

Cassius AmicusThe full letter from which this excerpt is taken is interesting reading and can be found at the link below. Even expanding the frame just a little shows that Seneca is contrasting Epicurus with the views of “our school”:

44. The same thing holds true, I assure you, concerning goods; you will find one amid circumstances of pure pleasure, another amid sorrow and bitterness. The one controls the favours of fortune; the other overcomes her onslaughts. Each is equally a good, although the one travels a level and easy road, and the other a rough road. And the end of them all is the same – they are goods, they are worthy of praise, they accompany virtue and reason. Virtue makes all the things that it acknowledges equal to one another. 45. You need not wonder that this is one of our principles; we find mentioned in the works of Epicurus[17] two goods, of which his Supreme Good, or blessedness, is composed, namely, a body free from pain and a soul free from disturbance. These goods, if they are complete, do not increase; for how can that which is complete increase? The body is, let us suppose, free from pain; what increase can there be to this absence of pain? The soul is composed and calm; what increase can there be to this tranquillity? 46. Just as fair weather, purified into the purest brilliancy, does not admit of a still greater degree of clearness; so, when a man takes care of his body and of his soul, weaving the texture of his good from both, his condition is perfect, and he has found the consummation of his prayers, if there is no commotion in his soul or pain in his body. Whatever delights fall to his lot over and above these two things do not increase his Supreme Good; they merely season it, so to speak, and add spice to it. For the absolute good of man’s nature is satisfied with peace in the body and peace in the soul. 47. I can show you at this moment in the writings of Epicurus[18] a graded list of goods just like that of our own school. For there are some things, he declares, which he prefers should fall to his lot, such as bodily rest free from all inconvenience, and relaxation of the soul as it takes delight in the contemplation of its own goods. And there are other things which, though he would prefer that they did not happen, he nevertheless praises and approves, for example, the kind of resignation, in times of ill-health and serious suffering, to which I alluded a moment ago, and which Epicurus displayed on that last and most blessed day of his life. For he tells us[19] that he had to endure excruciating agony from a diseased bladder and from an ulcerated stomach, so acute that it permitted no increase of pain; “and yet,” he says, “that day was none the less happy.” And no man can spend such a day in happiness unless he possesses the Supreme Good.

Cassius Amicus Reading the letter from the beginning shows what Seneca is devoted to, not pleasurable living, but “Virtue” as his “first good.” This is the kind of high-sounding but empty hymn to “virtue” that Francis Wright attacks so forcefully in “A Few Days In Athens.” It is fine-sounding and seductive but in the end it means absolutely nothing. From the opening of this same letter:

“If we would make distinctions among them, we had better return to the First Good, and consider what its nature is: the soul that gazes upon truth, that is skilled in what should be sought and what should be avoided, establishing standards of value not according to opinion, but according to nature, – the soul that penetrates the whole world and directs its contemplating gaze upon all its Phenomena, paying strict attention to thoughts and actions, equally great and forceful, superior alike to hardships and blandishments, yielding itself to neither extreme of fortune, rising above all blessings and tribulations, absolutely beautiful, perfectly equipped with grace as well as with strength, healthy and sinewy,[3] unruffled, undismayed, one which no violence can shatter, one which acts of chance can neither exalt nor depress, – a soul like this is virtue itself. 7. There you have its outward appearance, if it should ever come under a single view and show itself once in all its completeness. But there are many aspects of it. They unfold themselves according as life varies and as actions differ; but virtue itself does not become less or greater.[4] For the Supreme Good cannot diminish, nor may virtue retrograde; rather is it transformed, now into one quality and now into another, shaping itself according to the part which it is to play. 8. Whatever it has touched it brings into likeness with itself, and dyes with its own colour. It adorns our actions, our friendships, and sometimes entire households which it has entered and set in order. Whatever it has handled it forthwith makes lovable, notable, admirable. Therefore the power and the greatness of virtue cannot rise to greater heights, because increase is denied to that which is superlatively great. You will find nothing straighter than the straight, nothing truer than the truth, and nothing more temperate than that which is temperate.”

Cassius Amicus The following is is a VERY key passage, and it illustrates why Epicurus would have wanted to show that pure pleasure is measured by pleasure without any pain and turmoil – in other words, why pleasure is at its strongest absent turmoil (ataraxia) and absent pain (aponia). Here is the argument that is met by employing those terms, and by the statements in PD3 and PD18. Here is Seneca:

“What can be added to that which is perfect? Nothing otherwise that was not perfect to which something has been added. Nor can anything be added to virtue, either, for if anything can be added thereto, it must have contained a defect. Honour, also, permits of no addition; for it is honourable because of the very qualities which I have mentioned.[5] What then? Do you think that propriety, justice, lawfulness, do not also belong to the same type, and that they are kept within fixed limits? The ability to increase is proof that a thing is still imperfect.”“THE ABILITY TO INCREASE IS PROOF THAT A THING IS IMPERFECT.”How would an ancient Epicurean address this argument except by showing that the thing they had defined as the goal of life (pleasurable living, ordinary pleasurable living) cannot be made better by being longer? The direct answer is, we point out that life is like a vessel that is filled to capacity when it is full of pleasure and emptied of all pain. Aponia and ataraxia are not mystical states that are so esoteric that they can only be expressed in Greek words, and that turn into gibberish the Epicurean identification of pleasure as the guide of life. They are the simple and direct answer to Seneca’s argument that pleasurable living cannot be the definition of the greatest goal of life (which was Plato’s argument before it was Seneca’s).