Epicurus on Pleasure
In ordinary usage, to be an Epicurean means to indulge in the pleasures of the body. And yet, this is not what Epicurus seems to have taught. Here are some key passages on his conception of pleasures.
"Luxurious food and drinks, in no way protect you from harm. Wealth beyond what is natural, is no more use than an overflowing container. Real value is not generated by theaters, and baths, perfumes or ointments, but by philosophy."
"It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life."
"No pleasure is in itself evil, but the things which produce certain pleasures entail annoyances many times greater than the pleasures themselves."
"Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship."
Utilitarians on Pleasure
Consequentalists take on the good rest on the idea that the ethical worth of an action is based on its consequences. Utilitarianism, in particular, claims that the measure of the ethical worth of an action is given by the amount of pleasure it succeeds in bringing about, when balanced out with the pleasure it takes away and the displeasure it brings about. Yet, how should pleasure be understood? Here are some suggestions of notable Utilitarianists.
Jeremy Bentham, considered one the founders of Utilitarianism: "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."
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859): "A person who shows rashness, obstinacy, self-conceit — who cannot live within moderate means — who cannot restrain himself from hurtful indulgences — who pursues animal pleasures at the expense of those of feeling and intellect — must expect to be lowered in the opinion of others, and to have a less share of their favourable sentiments."
John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism(1861): "The art of music is good, for the reason, among others, that it produces pleasure; but what proof is it possible to give that pleasure is good? If, then, it is asserted that there is a comprehensive formula, including all things which are in themselves good, and that whatever else is good, is not so as an end, but as a mean, the formula may be accepted or rejected, but is not a subject of what is commonly understood by proof."
George Edward Moore, Principia Ethica (1903): "By far the most valuable things, which we know or can imagine, are certain states of consciousness, which may roughly be described as the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful objects. No one, probably, who has asked himself the question, has ever doubted that personal affection and the appreciation of what is beautiful in Art of Nature, are good in themselves; nor, if we consider strictly what things are worth having purely for their own sakes, does it appear probable that any one will think that anything else has nearly so much value as the things which are included under these two heads."