The Relationship Between Virtue and Pleasure

Excerpt from Torquatus in Cicero's "On Ends":

“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.”

Last Words of Brutus, From Plutarch"

Plutarch also reports the last words of Brutus, quoted by a Greek tragedy "O wretched Virtue, thou wert but a name, and yet I worshipped thee as real indeed; but now, it seems, thou were but fortune's slave." Wikipedia: Batle of Philippi

Comparison Chart Between Stoics and Epicureans

Comparison Chart.