Pleasure: Aristotle and Epicurus Perspective

Yesaya Sandang

There is no doubt that we all want pleasure in our life. Until today we still can watch that in our daily life many people live to gain pleasure. This kind of living also known as hedonism. Hedonism refers from Greek word hedone, which means;pleasure, pleasant, enjoyable. This concept gives and equal understanding between “what is good” and “what is pleasant.” So human life must pursuit pleasure, because that will bring goodness. In other word we can say “what is good for human, is only pleasant thing.” But, the question is, what the meaning of pleasure itself? And how should we live a good life? The Greeks philosophers had already discussed about these problems. Two of the philosophers are Aristotle and Epicurus. Both of them give a different argument about pleasure and live a good life.

arisAristotle’s Pleasure

For Aristotle, the main idea is how to life good. And what is good for human life is eudaimonia or happiness. Happiness is the ultimate goal of human life. This is because in one side, if someone gains happiness they already fulfill and need nothing else, and in other side it is impossible to seek anything else when someone is happy enough. Happiness is something good within itself. Furthermore, Aristotle searched which way of living can bring us to happiness. In order to answer that question, Aristotle divided three ways of living. The first one is live to seek what is pleasantly, second live practically or politically, and the third is live contemplatively. The first life is well known as hedonism, and from here Aristotle discussed a lot about pleasure. For Aristotle, people who seek only pleasant thing, it is the same with animal, yet because human being is not an animal, live as an animal cannot be pleasant. Aristotle did not refuse pleasure at all, but pleasure cannot be the ultimate goal. Life which only pursuit pleasure cannot deliver the truly happiness. Happiness can be achieved trough action, “virtues act.” This virtues act must be done by human according to the rational part of them. For Aristotle, man who controls theirselves avoid pleasure, and man with practical wisdom not pursuit what is pleasant, but a condition without suffering, without pain. In other word we can say , even when some have a pleasure maybe that someone is not happy at all. But when someone maintains their happiness then that someone must be feeling pleasant.

Even more for Aristotle pleasure is an obstacle for our sensitivity concerning what is good. Because when someone had a pleasure moment their rational part is not working properly. Aristotle give an example, kids and animal are pursuing what is pleasant for them, in the meanwhile they do not know and understand what is good for them. So pursuing pleasure is not a virtues act. Pleasure is a side effect that comes from our virtues act. When we act virtuously, we become pleasant. And that is pleasure.

epicurusEpicurus’ Pleasure

For Epicurus, pleasure is the ultimate goal for our life. It is the nature of human being to seek whatever thing which is brings pleasure for them. So from here we can say that Epicure is hedonist. But for Epicurus steady pleasure not come by pursuing as many as possible the pleasure itself, but by maintain our body and soul in order to be free from restlessness. Excessive pleasure can make us feel restless, and if we just avoiding from what is painful for us, pleasant thing cannot be achieved. Although human body is the root of all pleasure, and the consequences is physical pleasure must be consider as the real pleasure, but Epicurus admitted there is pleasure beyond physical pleasure. For Epicurus who stands for pleasure as a purpose and goal in human life, the pleasant thing must be discovered on every aspect of our life.

In this matter, Epicurus divided three kinds of our desires. The first one is natural and necessary desire, second natural non-necessary desire, and the third is empty desire. Only the first desire must be fulfilled and the fulfillment in limited way, in order to gain ultimate pleasure. For Epicurus, we have to become wise if we want to life pleasantly. Wise man will make an effort to break free from all desire, and by doing that the wise man can reach tranquility.

In the matter of pleasure Aristotle and Epicurus had some differences. Aristotle not defined pleasure as human life goal, but for Epicurus pleasure is the goal of human life. For Aristotle, pleasure is the side effect when we finally reach happiness, and for Epicurus happiness can be reach if we can get pleasure. Pursuing pleasure has become one of dominant characteristics in our modern society. It is hard to deny such of thing, it is hypocrisy. Instead we curse pleasure, it is much better if we able to manage our ability to become pleasant. Pleasure is not something to refuse, but somehow we must be smart to “surf” in the distinction of pleasure. Distension between hold out and released the pleasure itself. The problem with it in hedonism is not in the matter of pleasure itself. But in the matter of restraint our desire. When desires become out of control it will be not pleasant any more.

-Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics book I, 7-13, book II, 3, Book 7, 11-14, book X, 1-7
-Epicurus, Letter to Menoceous, Principal Doctrines, Vatican Sayings
Morality of Happiness, Julia Annas, chapter 7, 11.2, 16


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