NYU Stern

EPICURUS (341 – 270 BCE)

“For we are in need of pleasure only when we are in pain because of the absence of pleasure, and when we are not in pain, then we no longer need pleasure. And this is why we say that pleasure is the starting point and goal of living a happy life. For we recognized this as our first innate good, and this is our starting point for every choice and avoidance and we come to this by judging every good by the criterion of feeling. And it is just because this is the first innate good that we do not choose every pleasure; but sometimes we pass up many pleasures when we get a larger amount of what is uncongenial from them. And we believe many pains to be better than pleasures when a greater pleasure follows for a long while if we endure the pains.” Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, 128 – 129

“So every pleasure is a good thing, since it has a nature congenial [to us], but not every pleasure is to be chosen. Just as every pain too is a bad thing, but not every pain is such as to be always avoided. It is, however, appropriate to make all these decisions by comparative measurement and an examination of the advantages and disadvantages.” Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, 129 – 130

“So when we say that pleasure is the goal we do not mean the pleasures of the profligate or the pleasures of sensuality, as some believe, either from ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. For it is not drinking-bouts and continuous partying, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; but it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing the opinions through which the greatest disturbances take possession of the soul.” Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, 131 – 132

“Prudence is the principle of all these things and is the greatest good. For this reason prudence is more valuable than the other virtues. For prudence is the source of all the other virtues, teaching that it is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently, honorably, and justly; and impossible to live prudently, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly. For the virtues have grown into one with the pleasant life, and the pleasant life is inseparable from them.” Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, 132

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living prudently, honorably, and justly; and it is impossible to live prudently, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly.” Epicurus, Principal Doctrines, V

“No pleasure is a bad thing in itself. But the things which produce certain pleasures bring troubles many times greater than the pleasures.” Epicurus, Principal Doctrines, VIII

“As soon as the feeling of pain produced by want is removed, pleasure in the body will not increase but is only varied. But the limit of mental pleasures is produced by a reasoning out of these very bodily pleasures and of the things related to these, which used to cause the greatest fears in the intellect.” Epicurus, Principal Doctrines, XVIII


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