Torquatus on the Highest Good - from "On Ends" by Cicero


To begin with what is easiest, let us first pass in review the system of Epicurus, which to most men is the best known of any. Our exposition of it, as you shall see, will be as accurate as any usually given even by the professed adherents of his school. For our object is to discover truth, not to refute an opponent. An elaborate defence of the hedonistic theory of Epicurus was once delivered by Lucius Torquatus, a scholar of consummate erudition. To him I replied, with Gaius Triarius, a youth of remarkable learning and seriousness of character, assisting at the discussion. Both of these gentlemen had called to pay me their respects at my place at Cumae. We first exchanged a few remarks about literature, of which both are enthusiastic students.

Then Torquatus said, "As we have for once found you at leisure, I am resolved to hear the reason why you regard my master Epicurus, not indeed with hatred, as do most of those who do not share his views, but at all events with disapproval. I myself consider him as the one person who has discerned the truth, and who has delivered men from the gravest errors and imparted to them all there is to know about right conduct and happiness. The fact is, I think that you are like our friend Triarius, and dislike Epicurus because he has neglected the graces of style that you find in your Plato, Aristotle and Theophrastus. For I can scarcely bring myself to believe that you think his opinions untrue."

“Let me assure you, Torquatus," said I, "that you are entirely mistaken. With your master's style I have no fault to find. He expresses his meaning adequately, and gives me a plain intelligible statement. Not that I despise eloquence in a philosopher if he has it to offer, but I should not greatly insist on it if he has not. But his matter I do not find so satisfastory, and that in more points than one. However, 'many men, many minds' so it is possible that I am mistaken..”

“What is it, pray," he said, to which you take exception? For I recognize you as a just critic, provided you really know what his doctrines are. “

"Oh," said I, I know the whole of Epicurus's opinions well enough, unless you think that Phaedrus or Zeno did not tell me the truth. I have heard both of them lecture, though to be sure they convinced me of nothing but their own devotion to the system. Indeed, I regularly attended those professors, in company with our friend Atticus, who for his part had an admiration for them both, and a positive affection for Phaedrus. Every day we used to discuss together in private what we had heard at lecture, and there was never any dispute as to what I could understand. The question was, what I could accept as true?"

“Well then, what is the point ?" said he; "I should very much like to know what it is that you disagree with."

“Let me begin,” I replied, “with the subject of natural philosophy, which is Epicurus' particular boast. Here, in the first place, he is entirely second-handed. His doctrines are those of Deomcritus, with a very few modifications. And as for the latter, where he attempts to improve upon his original, in my opinion he only succeeds in making things worse. Democritus believes in certain things which he terms 'atoms,' that is, bodies so solid as to be indivisible, moving about in a vacuum of infinite extent, which has neither top,bottom nor middle, neither centre nor circumference. The motion of these atoms is such that they collide and so cohere together; and from this process result the whole of the things that exist and that we see. Moreover, this movement of the atoms must not be conceived as starting from a beginning, but as having gone on from all eternity.”

“Epicurus for his part, where he follows Democritus, makes no serious blunders. Still, there is a great deal in each of them with which I do not agree, and especially this: In the study of Nature there are two questions to be asked, first, what is the matter out of which each thing is made, second, what is the force by which it is made. Now Democritus and Epicurus have discussed the question of matter, but they have not considered the question of force or the efficient cause. But this is a defect shared by both; I now come to the lapses peculiar to Epicurus. He believes that these same indivisible solid bodies are borne by their own weight perpendicularly downward, which he holds is the natural motion of all bodies. But then, in the very same breath, being sharp enough to recollect that if they all travelled downwards in a straight line, and, as I said, perpendicularly, no one atom would ever be able to overtake any other atom, he consequently introduced an idea of his own invention: He said that the atom makes a very tiny swerve, the smallest divergence possible, and so are produced entanglements and combinations and cohesions of atoms with atoms, which result in the creation of the world and all its parts, and of all that in them is. Now not only is the whole of this affair a piece of childish fancy, but it does not even achieve the result that its author desires. The swerving is itself an arbitrary fiction, for Epicurus says the atoms swerve without a cause. Yet this is the capital offence in a natural philosopher, to speak of something taking place uncaused.”

“Then also he gratuitously deprives the atoms of what he himself declared to be the natural motion of all heavy bodies, namely, movement in a straight line downwards, and yet he does not attain the object for the sake of which this fiction was devised. For, if all the atoms swerve, none will ever come to cohere together; or if some swerve while others travel in a straight line, at their own will and pleasure. In the first place, this is tantamount to assigning to the atoms their different spheres of authority, some to travel straight and some sideways. Secondly (and this is a weak point with Democritus also) this riotous hurly-burly of atoms could not possibly result in the ordered beauty of the world we know. Again, it is unworthy of a natural philosopher to deny the infinite divisibility of matter; an error that assuredly Epicurus would have avoided, if he had been willing to let his friend Polyaenus teach him geometry instead of making Polyaenus himself unlearn it.”

Democritus, being an educated man and well versed in geometry, thinks the sun is of vast size. Epicurus considers it perhaps a foot in diameter, for he pronounces it to be exactly as large as it appears, or a little larger or smaller.”

Thus where Epicurus alters the doctrines of Democritus, he alters them for the worse; while for those ideas which he adopts, the credit belongs entirely to Democritus. The atoms, the void, the images ( or as they call them, eidola), whose impact is the cause not only of vision but also of thought; the very conception of infinite space (apeiria as they term it) -- both are entirely derived from Democritus, as is the idea of the countless numbers of worlds that come into existence and pass out of existence every day. For my own part I reject these doctrines altogether; but neverthless I would still prefer that Democritus, whom every one else applauds, had not been vilified by Epicurus, who took him as his sole guide.”

. . . . . .

I had spoken rather with the intention of drawing out Torquatus than of delivering a discourse of my own. But Triarius interposed, with a smile:

“Why, you have practically expelled Epicurus from the philosophic choir. What have your left to him except that, whatever his style may be, you find his meaning intelligible? His doctrines in Natural Philosophy were second-hand, and in your opinion unsound at that; and his attempts to improve on his authority only made things worse. Dialectic he had none. His identification of the Chief Good with pleasure in the first place was in itself an error, and secondly this also was not original; for it had been said before, and said better, by Aristippus. To crown all you added that Epicurus was a person of no education."

“Well, Triarius," I rejoined, "When one disagrees with a man, it is essential to say what it is that one objects to in his views. What should prevent me from being an Epicurean, if I accepted the doctrines of Epicurus? Especially as the system is an exceedingly easy one to master. You must not find fault with members of opposing schools for criticizing each other's opinions ; though I always feel that insult and abuse, or ill-tempered wrangling and bitter, obstinate controversy are beneath the dignity of philosophy."

“I am quite of your mind,” said Torquatus, "it is impossible to debate without criticizing, but it is equally impossible to debate properly with ill-temper or obstinacy. But I have something I should like to say in reply to all this, if it will not weary you.”

“Do you suppose,” said I, “that I should have said what I have, unless I wanted to hear you?”

“Then would you like me to make a rapid review of the whole of Epicurus's system, or to discuss the single topic of pleasure which is the one main subject of dispute?”

”Oh,”I said, “that must be for you to decide.”

“Very well then,” said he, “this is what I will do: I will expound a single topic, and that the most important. Natural Philosophy we will postpone -- though I will undertake to prove to you both your swerve of the atoms and size of the sun, and also that very many errors of Democritus were criticized and corrected by Epicurus. But on the present occasion I will speak about pleasure -- not that I have anything original to contribute, yet I am confident that what I say will command even your acceptance.”

“Be assured,” I said, “that I shall not be obstinate, but will gladly own myself convinced if you can prove your case to my satisfaction.”

“I shall do so,” he rejoined, “provided you are as fair-minded as you promise. But I prefer to employ continuous discourse rather than question and answer.”

”As you please,” said I. So he began:

“I will start then," he said, “in the manner approved by the author of the system himself -- by settling what is the essence and quality of the thing that is the object of our inquiry. Not that I suppose you to be ignorant of it, but because this is the logical method of procedure. We are inquiring, then, what is the final and ultimate Good, which as all philosophers are agreed must be of such a nature as to be the End to which all other things are means, while it is not itself a means to anything else. This Epicurus finds in pleasure -- pleasure he holds to be the Chief Good, pain the Chief Evil.

“This he sets out to prove as follows: Every animal, as soon as it is born, seeks for pleasure, and delights in it as the Chief Good, while it recoils from pain as the Chief Evil, and so far as possible avoids it. This it does as long as it remains unperverted, and at the prompting of Nature's own unbiased and honest verdict. Hence Epicurus refuses to admit any necessity for argument or discussion to prove that pleasure is desirable and pain to be avoided. These facts, he thinks, are perceived by the senses, as that fire is hot, snow is white, honey is sweet. None of these things need be proved by elaborate argument -- it is enough merely to draw attention to them. For there is a difference, he holds, between formal syllogistic proof of a thing and a mere notice or reminder. The former is the method for discovering abstruse and recondite truths, the latter for indicating facts that are obvious and evident.”

“Strip mankind of sensation, and nothing remains. It follows that Nature herself is the judge of that which is in accordance with or contrary to nature. What does Nature perceive or what does she judge of, beside pleasure and pain, to guide her actions of desire and of avoidance?”

“Some members of our school however would refine upon this doctrine. These say that it is not enough for the judgment of good and evil to rest with the senses. The facts that pleasure is in and for itself desirable and pain in and for itself to be avoided can also be grasped by the intellect and the reason. Accordingly, they declare that the perception that the one is to be sought after and the other avoided is a natural and innate idea of the mind. Others again, with whom I agree, observing that a great many philosophers advance a vast array of reasons to prove why pleasure should not be counted as a good nor pain as an evil, consider that we had better not be too confident of our case. In their view, it requires elaborate and reasoned argument, and abstruse theoretical discussion of the nature of pleasure and pain.

"But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of reprobating pleasure and extolling pain arose. To do so, I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness.”

“No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?”

“On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of the pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee the pain and trouble that are bound to ensue. Equal blame belongs to those who fail in their duty through weakness of will, which is the same as saying through shrinking from toil and pain. These cases are perfectly simple and easy to distinguish. In a free hour, when our power of choice is untrammelled and when nothing prevents our being able to do what we like best, every pleasure is to be welcomed and every pain avoided. But in certain circumstances and owing to the claims of duty or the obligations of business it will frequently occur that pleasures have to be repudiated and annoyances accepted. The wise man therefore always holds in these matters to this principle of selection: he rejects pleasures to secure other greater pleasures, or else he endures pains to avoid worse pains.”

“This being the theory I hold, why need I be afraid of not being able to reconcile it with the case of the Torquati my ancestors? Your references to them just now were historically correct, and also showed your kind and friendly feeling towards me. But all the same I am not to be bribed by your flattery of my family, and you will not find me a less resolute opponent.”

“Tell me, pray, what explanation do you put upon their actions? Do you really believe that they charged an armed enemy, or treated their children, their own flesh and blood, so cruelly, without a thought for their own interest or advantage? Why, even wild animals do not act in that way -- they do not run amok so blindly that we cannot discern any purpose in their movements and their onslaughts. Can you then suppose that those heroic men performed their famous deeds without any motive at all?”

“What their motive was, I will consider in a moment: for the present I will confidently assert, that if they had a motive for those undoubtedly glorious exploits, that motive was not a love of virtue in and for itself.

“He wrested the necklet from his foe?” “Yes, and saved himself from death.” “But he braved great danger?” “Yes, before the eyes of an army.” “What did he get by it?” “Honour and esteem, the strongest guarantees of security in life. ”He sentenced his own son to death?” “If from no motive, I am sorry to be the descendant of anyone so savage and inhuman; but if his purpose was by inflicting pain upon himself to establish his authority as a commander, and to tighten the reins of discipline during a very serious war by holding over his army the fear of punishment, then his action aimed at ensuring the safety of his fellow-citizens, upon which he knew his own depended.”

And this is a principle of wide application. People of your school, and especially yourself, who are so diligent a student of history, have found a favourite field for the display of your eloquence in recalling the stories of brave and famous men of old, and in praising their actions, not on grounds that those actions were useful, but on account of the splendour of abstract moral worth. But all of this falls to the ground if the principle of selection that I have just mentioned be established -- the principle of forgoing pleasures for the purpose of getting greater pleasures, and enduring pins for the sake of escaping greater pains.”

“But enough has been said at this stage about the glorious exploits and achievements of the heroes of renown. The tendency of all of the virtues to produce pleasure is a topic that will be treated in its own place later on. At present I shall proceed to expound the essence and the quality of pleasure itself, and I shall endeavour to remove the misconceptions of ignorance and to make you realize how serious, how temperate, how austere is the school that is supposed to be sensual, lax and luxurious.”

“The pleasure we pursue is not that kind alone which affects our physical being with a definite delightful feeling - a positively agreeable perception of the senses. On the contrary, the greatest pleasure according to us is that which is experienced as a result of the complete removal of pain. When we are released from pain, the mere sensation of complete emancipation and relief from uneasiness is in itself a source of gratification. But everything that causes gratification is a pleasure, just as everything that causes annoyance is a pain. Therefore the complete removal of pain has correctly been termed a pleasure. For example, when hunger and thirst are banished by food and drink, the mere fact of getting rid of uneasiness brings a resultant pleasure in its train. So generally, the removal of pain causes pleasure to take its place.”

“Epicurus consequently maintained that there is no such thing as a neutral state of feeling intermediate between pleasure and pain. This is because the state supposed by some thinkers to be neutral, being characterized as it is by entire absence of pain, is itself, he held, a pleasure, and, what is more, a pleasure of the highest order.”

“A man who is conscious of his condition at all must necessarily feel either pleasure or pain. But complete absence of pain Epicurus considers to be the limit and highest point of pleasure. Beyond this point pleasure may vary in kind, but it cannot vary in intensity or degree. Yet at Athens, so my father used to tell me when he wanted to air his wit at the expense of the Stoics, in the Ceramicus there is actually a statue of Chrysippus seated and holding out one hand, the gesture being intended to indicate the delight which he used to take in the following little syllogism:

”Does your hand want anything, while it is in its present condition?' "No, nothing." ”But if pleasure were a good, it would want pleasure.” ”Yes, I suppose it would.” ”Therefore pleasure is not a good.”

This is an argument, as my father declared, which not even a statue would employ, if a statue could speak, because though it is cogent enough as an objection to the Cyrenaics, it does not touch Epicurus. For if the only kind of pleasure were that which, so to speak, tickles the senses, an influence permeating them with a feeling of delight, neither the hand nor any other member could be satisfied with the absence of pain unaccompanied by an agreeable and active sensation of pleasure. If, however, as Epicurus holds, the highest pleasure is to feel no pain, Chrysippus's interlocutor, though justified in making his first admission, that his hand in that condition wanted nothing, was not justified in his second admission, that if pleasure were a good, his hand would have wanted it. And the reason why the hand would not have wanted pleasure is that to be without pain is itself to be in a state of pleasure.”

"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.”

“Suppose on the other hand a person crushed beneath the heaviest load of mental and of bodily anguish to which humanity is liable. Grant him no prospect of ultimate relief in view; let him neither have nor hope to have a gleam of pleasure. Can one describe or imagine a more pitiable state? If then a life full of pain is the thing most to be avoided, it follows that to live in pain is the highest evil; and this position implies that a life of pleasure is the ultimate good. In fact, the mind possesses nothing in itself upon which it can rest as final. Every fear, every sorrow can be traced back to pain -- there is no other thing besides pain which is of its own nature capable of causing either anxiety or distress.

“Pleasure and pain moreover supply the motives of pleasure and of the principles of desire and of avoidance, and the springs of conduct generally. This being so, it clearly follows that actions are right and praiseworthy only as being a means to the attainment of a life of pleasure. But that which is not itself a means to anything else, but to which all else is a means, is what the Greeks term the Telos, the highest, ultimate or final Good. It must therefore be admitted that the Chief Good is to live agreeably.

“Those who place the Chief Good in virtue alone are beguiled by the glamour of a name, and do not understand the true demands of nature. If they will consent to listen to Epicurus, they will be delivered from the grossest error. Your school dilates on the transcendent beauty of the virtues. But were they not productive of pleasure, who would deem them either praiseworthy or desirable?”

“We esteem the art of medicine not for its interest as a science but for its conduciveness to health. The art of navigation is commended for its practical and not its scientific value, because it conveys the rules for sailing a ship with success. So also Wisdom, which must be considered as the art of living, if it effected no result would not be desired. As it is, however, it is desired, because it is the artificer that procures and produces pleasure. The meaning that I attach to pleasure must by this time be clear to you, and you must not be biased against my argument owing to the discretable associates of the term.”

“The great disturbing factor in man's life is ignorance of good and evil; mistaken ideas about these frequently rob us of our greatest pleasures, and torment us with the most cruel pain of mind. Hence we need the aid of Wisdom to rid us of our fears and appetites, to root out all our errors and prejudices, and to serve as our infallible guide to the attainment of pleasure.”

“Wisdom alone can banish sorrow from our hearts and protect us from alarm and apprehension. Put yourself to school with her, and you may live in peace, and quench the glowing flames of desire. For the desires are incapable of satisfaction -- they ruin not only individuals but whole families, nay, often shake the very foundations of the state. It is they that are the source of hatred, quarrelling, and strife, of sedition and of war. Nor do they only flaunt themselves abroad, or turn their blind onslaughts solely against others. Even when imprisoned within the heart they quarrel and fall out among themselves, and this cannot but render the whole of life embittered.”

“Hence only the Wise Man, who prunes away all the rank growth of vanity and error, can possibly live untroubled by sorrow and by fear, content within the bounds that nature has set.”

“Nothing could be more instructive, more helpful to right living, than Epicurus's doctrine as to the different classes of the desires. One kind he classified as both natural and necessary, a second as natural without being necessary, and a third neither natural nor necessary. The principle of classification is that the necessary desires are gratified with little trouble or expense. The natural desires also require but little, since nature's own riches, which suffice to content her, are both easily procured and limited in amount. In contrast, for the imaginary desires no bound or limit can be discovered.”

“If then we observe that ignorance and error reduce the whole of life to confusion, while Wisdom alone is able to protect us from the onslaughts of appetite and the menaces of fear, teaching us to bear even the affronts of fortune with moderation, and showing us all the paths that lead to calmness and to peace, why should we hesitate to avow that Wisdom is to be desired for the sake of the pleasure it brings, and Folly to be avoided because of its injurious consequences?”

“The same principle will lead us to pronounce that Temperance also is not desirable for its own sake, but because it bestows peace of mind, and soothes the heart with a tranquilizing sense of harmony. For it is temperance that warns us to be guided by reason in what we desire and avoid. Nor is it enough to judge what it is right to do or leave undone, we also need to abide by our judgment.”

“Most men, however, lack tenacity of purpose. Their resolution weakens and succumbs as soon as the fair form of pleasure meets their gaze, and they surrender themselves prisoners to their passions, failing to foresee the inevitable result. Thus for the sake of a pleasure at once small in amount and unnecessary, and one which they might have procured by other means or even denied themselves altogether without pain, they incur serious disease, or loss of fortune, or disgrace, and not infrequently become liable to the penalties of the law and of the courts of justice. Those, on the other hand, who are resolved so to enjoy their pleasures as to avoid all painful consequences therefrom, and who retain their faculty of judgment and avoid being seduced by pleasure into courses that they perceive to be wrong, reap the very highest pleasure by forgoing pleasure. Similarly, they often also voluntarily endure pain to avoid incurring greater pain by not doing so. This clearly proves that Intemperance is not undesirable for its own sake, while Temperance is desirable not because it renounces pleasures, but because it procures greater pleasures.

The same account will be found to hold good of Courage. The performance of labours and the endurance of pains are not in themselves attractive. Neither are patience, industry, watchfulness, or yet that much lauded virtue, perseverance, or even courage. Instead, we aim at these virtues in order to live without anxiety and fear and, so far as possible, to be free from pain of mind and body.”

“The fear of death plays havoc with the calm and even tenor of life, and to bow the head to pain and bear it abjectly and feebly is a pitiable thing. Such weakness has caused many men to betray their parents or their friends, some their country, and very many utterly to ruin themselves. So, on the other hand, a strong and lofty spirit is entirely free from anxiety and sorrow. It makes light of death, for the dead are only as they were before they were born. It is schooled to encounter pain by recollecting that pains of great severity are ended by death, and slight ones have frequent intervals of respite; while those of medium intensity lie within our own control. Such pains we can bear if they are endurable, or if they are not, we may serenely quit life's theatre when the play has ceased to please us.”

“These considerations prove that timidity and cowardice are not to be blamed, nor courage and endurance praised, on their own account. The former are rejected because they bring pain, and the latter are coveted because they produce pleasure.”

“It remains to speak of Justice to complete the list of the virtues. But this admits of practically the same treatment as the others. Wisdom, Temperance and Courage I have shown to be so closely linked with Pleasure that they cannot possibly be severed or sundered from it. The same must be deemed to be the case with Justice. Not only does Justice never cause anyone harm, but on the contrary it always brings some benefit, partly owing to its essentially tranquillizing influence upon the mind, and partly because of the hope that it warrants of a neverfailing supply of the things that uncorrupted nature really needs. And just as Rashness, Licence and Cowardice ever torment the mind, ever awaken trouble and discord, so Unrighteousness, when firmly rooted in the heart, causes restlessness by the mere fact of its presence. If unrighteosness once has found expression in some deed of wickedness, however secret the act, yet it can never feel assured that it will always remain undetected.”

“The usual consequences of crime are first suspicion, next gossip and rumor; After that comes the accuser, then the judge. Many wrongdoers have even turned evidence against themselves, as happened in your consulship. And even if any think themselves well fenced and fortified against detection by their fellow men, they still dread the eye of heaven, and fancy that the pangs of anxiety night and day gnawing at their hearts are sent by Providence to punish them.

“So what effect can wickedness contribute toward lessening the annoyances of life that is commensurate with its effect in increasing those annoyances, owing to the burden of a guilty conscience, and to the penalties of the law and a hatred of one's fellows?”

“Yet nevertheless some men indulge without limit their avarice, ambition and love of power, lust, gluttony and those other desires, which ill-gotten gains can never diminish but rather must inflame the more, so much so that they appear proper subjects for restraint rather than for reformation. Men of sound natures, therefore, are summoned by the voice of true reason to justice, equity and honesty. For one without eloquence or resources, dishonesty is not good policy, since it is difficult for such a man to succeed in his designs, or to make good his success when once achieved. On the other hand, for the rich and clever, generous conduct seems more in keeping, and liberality wins them affection and good will, the surest means to a life of peace. This is especially true as there really is no motive for transgressing, since the desires that spring from nature are easily gratified without doing any man wrong, while those that are imaginary ought to be resisted. For the imaginary desires set their affections upon nothing that is really wanted, and there is more loss inherent in injustice than there is profit in the gains it brings.”

“Hence Justice also cannot correctly be said to be desirable in and for itself. It is desirable because it is so highly productive of gratification. For esteem and affection are gratifying because they render life safer and fuller of pleasure. Hence we hold that Unrighteousness is to be avoided not simply on account of the disadvantages that result from being unrighteous, but even far more because when it dwells in a man's heart it never suffers him to breathe freely or know a moment's rest.”

“If, then, even the glory of the Virtues, on which all the other philosophers love to expatiate so eloquently, has in the last resort no meaning unless it be based on pleasure, whereas pleasure is the only thing that is intrinsically attractive and alluring, it cannot be doubted that pleasure is the one supreme and final Good, and that a life of happiness is nothing else than a life of pleasure.”

"The doctrine thus firmly established has corollaries which I will briefly expound:

(1) The Ends of Goods and Evils themselves, that is, pleasure and pain, are not open to mistake. Where people go wrong is in not knowing what things are productive of pleasure and pain.

(2) Again, we aver that mental pleasures and pains arise out of bodily ones (and therefore I allow your contention that any Epicureans who think otherwise put themselves out of court. I am aware that many do, but not those who can speak with authority). But although men do experience mental pleasure that is agreeable and mental pain that is annoying, yet both of these we assert arise out of and are based upon bodily sensations.

(3) Regardless of this, we maintain that this does not preclude mental pleasures and pains from being much more intense than those of the body; since the body can feel only what is present to it at the moment, whereas the mind is also cognizant of the past and of the future. For, even granting that pain of body is equally painful, yet our sensation of pain can be enormously increased by the belief that some evil of unlimited magnitude and duration threatens to befall us hereafter. And the same consideration may be transferred to pleasure -- a pleasure is greater if not accompanied by any apprehension of evil. It therefore clearly appears that intense mental pleasure or distress contributes more to our happiness or misery than a bodily pleasure or pain of equal duration.

(4) But we do not agree that when pleasure is withdrawn uneasiness at once ensues, unless the pleasure happens to have been replaced by a pain. In contrast, one is glad to lose a pain even though no active sensation of pleasure comes in its place. This fact that serves to show how great a pleasure is the mere absence of pain.

(5) But just as we are elated by the anticipation of good things, so we are delighted by their recollection. Fools are tormented by the remembrance of former evils. To wise men, memory is a pleasure - by it they renew the goods of the past. We have the power, if we will, both to obliterate our misfortunes by a sort of permanent forgetfulness and to summon up pleasant and agreeable memories of our successes. When we concentrate our mental vision closely on the events of the past, then sorrow or gladness ensues according as these were evil or good.

“Here is indeed a royal road to happiness -- open, simple, and direct! For clearly man can have no greater good than complete freedom from pain and sorrow coupled with the enjoyment of the highest bodily and mental pleasures. Notice then how the theory embraces every possible enhancement of life, every aid to the attainment of that Chief Good which is our object. Epicurus, the man whom you denounce as a voluptuary, cries aloud that no one can live pleasantly without living wisely, honourably and justly, and no one can live wisely, honourably and justly without living pleasantly.”

“For a city rent by faction cannot prosper, nor a house whose masters are at strife. Much less then can a mind divided against itself and filled with inward discord taste any particle of pure and liberal pleasure. One who is perpetually swayed by conflicting and incompatible counsels and desires can know no peace or calm.”

“Why, if the pleasantness of life is diminished by the more serious bodily diseases, how much more must it be diminished by the diseases of the mind! But extravagant and imaginary desires, for riches, fame, power, and also for licentious pleasures, are nothing but mental diseases. Then, too, there are grief, trouble and sorrow, which gnaw the heart and consume it with anxiety if men fail to realize that the mind need feel no pain unconnected with some pain of body, present or to come. Yet there is no foolish man but is afflicted by some one of these diseases -- therefore there is no foolish man who is not unhappy.”

“Moreover, there is death, the stone of Tantalus ever hanging over men's heads, and superstition that poisons and destroys all peace of mind. Besides, they do not recollect their past nor enjoy their present blessings - they only look forward to those of the future, and as those are of necessity uncertain, they are consumed with agony and terror. And the climax of their torment is when they perceive too late that all their dreams of wealth or station, power or fame, have come to nothing. For they never attain any of those pleasures, the hope for which inspired them to undergo all their arduous toils.”

“Or look again at men who are petty, narrow-minded, confirmed pessimists, or others who are spiteful, envious, ill-tempered creatures, unsociable, abusive, cantankerous; others who are enslaved to the follies of love, impudent or reckless, wanton, headstrong and yet irresolute, always changing their minds. Such failings render their lives one unbroken round of misery. The conclusion is that no foolish man can be happy, nor any wise man fail to be happy. This is a truth that we establish far more conclusively than do the Stoics. For they maintain that nothing is good save that vague phantom which they entitle “Moral Worth,” a title more splendid than substantial; and they say that Virtue resting on this Moral Worth has no need of pleasure, but is herself her own sufficient happiness.”

“At the same time, this Stoic doctrine can be stated in a form which we do not object to, and indeed ourselves endorse. For Epicurus thus represents the Wise Man as always happy: his desires are kept within bounds; death he disregards; he has a true conception, untainted by fear, of the Divine nature; if it be expedient to depart from life, he does not hesitate to do so. Thus equipped he enjoys perpetual pleasure, for there is no moment when the pleasures he experiences do not outbalance the pains, since he remembers the past with delight, grasps the present with a full realization of its pleasantness, and does not rely upon the future. He looks forward to it, but finds his true enjoyment in the present. Also, he is entirely free from the vices that I referenced a few moments ago, and he derives no inconsiderable pleasure from comparing his own existence with the life of the foolish. Moreover, any pains that the Wise Man may encounter are never so severe but that he has more cause for gladness than for sorrow.”

“Again, it is a fine saying of Epicurus that “The Wise Man is but little interfered with by fortune: the great concerns of life, the things that matter, are controlled by his own wisdom and reason.” Also "No greater pleasure could be derived from a life of infinite duration than is actually afforded by this existence which we know to be finite.”

“Logic, on which your school lays such stress, he held to be of no effect either as a guide to conduct or as an aid to thought. Natural Philosophy he deemed all-important. This science explains to us the meaning of terms, the nature of predication, and the law of consistency and contradiction. Secondly, a thorough knowledge of the facts of nature relieves us of the burden of superstition, frees us from fear of death, and shields us against the disturbing effects of ignorance, which is often in itself a cause of terrifying apprehensions. Lastly, to learn what nature's real requirements are improves the moral character also. Besides, it is only by firmly grasping a well-established scientific system, observing the Rule or Canon that has fallen, as it were, from heaven to afford us a knowledge of the universe. Only by making that Canon the test of all our judgments that we can hope always to stand fast in our belief, unshaken by the eloquence of any man.”

“On the other hand, without a full understanding of the world of nature it is impossible to maintain the truth of our sense-perceptions. Further, every mental presentation has its origin in sensation, so that no knowledge or perception is possible unless all sensations are true, as the theory of Epicurus teaches that they are. Those who deny the validity of sensation and say that nothing can be perceived, having excluded the evidence of the senses, are unable even to expound their own argument. Besides, by abolishing knowledge and science they abolish all possibility of rational life and action. Thus Natural Philosophy supplies courage - to face the fear of death; resolution - to resist the terrors of religion; peace of mind - for it removes all ignorance of the mysteries of nature; self-control - for it explains the nature of the desires and distinguishes their different kinds. In addition, as I showed just now, the Canon or Criterion of Knowledge, which Epicurus also established, gives a method of discerning truth from falsehood.”

“There remains a topic that is pre-eminently germane to this discussion, I mean the subject of Friendship. Your school maintains that if pleasure be the Chief Good, friendship will cease to exist. Now Epicurus's pronouncement about friendship is that of all the means to happiness that wisdom has devised, none is greater, none more fruitful, none more delightful than this. Nor did he only commend this doctrine by his eloquence, but far more by the example of his life and conduct. How great a thing such friendship is, is shown by the mythical stories of antiquity. Review the legends from the remotest ages, and, copious and varied as they are, you will barely find in them three pairs of friends, beginning with Theseus and ending with Orestes. Yet Epicurus in a single house (and that a small one) maintained a whole company of friends, united by the closest sympathy and affection, and this still goes on in the Epicurean school.”

“But to return to our subject, for there is no need of personal instances: I notice that the topic of friendship has been treated by Epicureans in three ways:”

(1) Some have denied that pleasures affecting our friends are in themselves to be desired by us in the same degree as we desire our own pleasures. This doctrine is thought by some critics to undermine the foundations of friendship; however, its supporters defend their position, and in my opinion have no difficulty in making good their case. They argue that friendship can no more be sundered from pleasure than can the virtues, which we have discussed already. A solitary, friendless life must be beset by secret dangers and alarms. Hence reason itself advises the acquisition of friends; their possession gives confidence and a firmly rooted hope of winning pleasure. And just as hatred, jealousy and contempt are hindrances to pleasure, so friendship is the most trustworthy preserver and also creator of pleasure alike for our friends and for ourselves. It affords us enjoyment in the present, and it inspires us with hopes for the near and distant future. Thus it is not possible to secure uninterrupted gratification in life without friendship, nor yet to preserve friendship itself unless we love our friends as much as ourselves. Hence this unselfishness does occur in friendship, while also friendship is closely linked with pleasure. For we rejoice in our friends' joy as much as in our own, and are equally pained by their sorrows. Therefore the Wise Man will feel exactly the same towards his friend as he does towards himself, and will exert himself as much for his friend's pleasure as he would for his own. All that has been said about the essential connexion of the virtues with pleasure must be repeated about friendship. Epicurus well said (I give almost his exact words): "The same creed that has given us courage to overcome all fear of everlasting or long-enduring evil hereafter has discerned that friendship is our strongest safeguard in this present term of life.”

(2) Other Epicureans, though by no means lacking in insight, are a little less courageous in defying the opprobrious criticisms of the Academy. They fear that if we hold friendship to be desirable only for the pleasure that it affords to ourselves, it will be thought that it is crippled altogether. They therefore say that the first advances and overtures, and the original inclination to form an attachment, are prompted by the desire for pleasure, but that when the progress of intercourse has led to intimacy, the relationship blossoms into an affection strong enough to make us love our friends for their own sake, even though no practical advantage accrues from their friendship. Does not familiarity endear to us localities, temples, cities, gymnasia and playinggrounds, horses and hounds, games and field-sports? Then how much more natural and reasonable that it should have the same result in the case of our intercourse with our fellow-men!

(3) The third view is that wise men have made a sort of compact to love their friends no less than themselves. We can understand the possibility of this, and indeed we often see it happen. Clearly no more effective means to happiness could be found than such an alliance.

All these considerations go to prove not only that the rationale of friendship is not impaired by the identification of the Chief Good with pleasure, but also that without this no foundation for friendship whatsoever can be found.”

“If then the theory I have set forth is clearer and more luminous than daylight itself; if it is derived entirely from Nature's source; if my whole discourse relies throughout for confirmation on the unbiased and unimpeachable evidence of the senses; if lisping infants, nay even dumb animals, prompted by Nature's teaching, almost find voice to proclaim that there is no welfare but pleasure, no hardship but pain - and their judgment in these matters is neither sophisticated nor biased - ought we not to feel the greatest gratitude to him who listened to this utterance of Nature's voice, and grasped its import so firmly and so fully that he has guided all sane-minded men into the paths of peace and happiness, calmness and repose?”

You are pleased to think him uneducated. The reason is that he refused to consider any education worth the name that did not help to school us in happiness. Was he to spend his time, as you encourage Triarius and me to do, in perusing poets, who give us nothing solid and useful, but merely childish amusement? Was he to occupy himself, like Plato, with music and geometry, arithmetic and astronomy, which starting from false premises cannot be true, and which moreover, if they were true, would contribute nothing to make our lives pleasanter and therefore better?”

“Was he, I say, to study arts like these, and neglect the master art, so difficult and correspondingly so fruitful, the art of living? No! Epicurus was not uneducated: the truly uneducated are those who ask us to go on studying til old age the subjects that we ought to be ashamed not to have learnt in boyhood!”


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