NYU Stern

PLEASURE

 

“These two springs of pleasures and pains flow forth by nature, and he who draws from the right one, at the right time, and in the right amount, is happy; the same holds for a city and for a private individual and for every animate thing. But he who does so without knowledge and at the wrong time lives a life that is just the opposite.” Plato, Laws 636E

“By nature, the human consists above all in pleasures and pains and desires. To these every mortal animal is, as it were, inextricably attached and bound in the most serious ways.” Plato, Laws 732E

“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

“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

“The chief spring or actuating principle of the human mind is pleasure or pain; and when these sensations are removed, both from our thought and feeling, we are, in a great measure, incapable of passion or action, of desire or volition.” Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part III, section I

“Pleasure and pain are the only springs of action in beings endowed with sensibility.” Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishments, chapter VI

“In fact, if the desire of pleasure be the true principle of all our thoughts, and of all our actions, if all men really tend towards their true or apparent happiness, it will follow, that all our wills are no more than the effect of this tendency.” Helvetius, De L’Esprit Essay I, chapter 4

“He [God] seems also to have said to man, I endow thee with sensibility *** I place thee under the guardianship of pleasure and pain: both shall watch over thy thoughts, and thy actions; they [pleasure and pain] …shall one day discover to thee the simple principles, on the unfolding of which depends the order and happiness of the moral world.” Helvetius, De L’Esprit Essay III, chapter 9

“Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it. In words a man may pretend to abjure their empire: but in reality he will remain subject to it all the while.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter I, par. 1

“Now, pleasure is in itself a good: nay, even setting aside immunity from pain, the only good: pain is in itself an evil; and, indeed, without exception, the only evil; or else the words good and evil have no meaning. And this is alike true of every sort of pain, and of every sort of pleasure.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter X, par. 10

“To a person considered by himself, the value of a pleasure or pain considered by itself, will be greater or less, according to the four following circumstances: 1. Its intensity. 2. Its duration. 3. Its certainty or uncertainty. 4. Its propinquity or remoteness. These are the circumstances which are to be considered in estimating a pleasure or a pain considered each of them by itself. But when the value of any pleasure or pain is considered for the purpose of estimating the tendency of any act by which it is produced, there are two other circumstances to be taken into the account; these are, 5. Its fecundity, or the chance it has of being followed by sensations of the same kind: that is, pleasures, if it be a pleasure: pains, if it be a pain. 6. Its purity, or the chance it has of not being followed by sensations of the opposite kind: that is, pains, if it be a pleasure: pleasures, if it be a pain. These two last, however, are in strictness scarcely to be deemed properties of the pleasure or the pain itself; they are not, therefore, in strictness to be taken into the account of the value of that pleasure or that pain. They are in strictness to be deemed properties only of the act, or other event, by which such pleasure or pain has been produced.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter IV, par. 2-3

“Pain and pleasure are produced in men's minds by the action of certain causes. But the quantity of pleasure and pain runs not uniformly in proportion to the cause; in other words, to the quantity of force exerted by such cause. *** The disposition which any one has to feel such or such a quantity of pleasure or pain, upon the application of a cause of given force, is what we term the degree or quantum of his sensibility. *** But in the same mind such and such causes of pain or pleasure will produce more pain or pleasure than such or such other causes of pain or pleasure: and this proportion will in different minds be different.” Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter VI, par. 1-3

“Against the pleasures of sense, over and above such objections as are in some cases drawn from the topic of religion, there are these grand heads of objection, that in the pursuit they are apt to lead into courses injurious to others, and, by the obstruction they occasion to necessary business, as well as by the loss of reputation, to a man’s self, and that, through satiety, the consequence of full indulgence in them, they are apt to end in ennui – a pain for which they have left no cure.” Bentham, Chrestomathia, Notes to Table I

“[T]he greater the variety of the shapes in which pleasures of an intellectual nature are made to present themselves to view, and consequently the greater the degree of success and perfection with which the mind is prepared for the reception of intellectual pleasures, the greater the chance afforded of security from the pains by which sensual pleasures are encompassed.” Bentham, Chrestomathia, Notes to Table I

“But there is no known Epicurean theory of life which does not assign to the pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a much higher value as pleasures than to those of mere sensation. It must be admitted, however, that utilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, etc., of the former — that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature. And on all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case; but they might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, higher ground, with entire consistency. It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognize the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others.” Mill, Utilitarianism, chapter 2


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