Morality and Pleasure: A Meditation

Imlac's Journal

According to the Epicurean philosophers, their “Wise Man… is always happy: his desires are kept within bounds.” This is a point brought out in Cicero’s dialogue, De Finibus, which presents a debate between representatives of three major schools: Epicureanism, Stoicism and Platonism. The first spokesman, Torquatus, dismisses the idea that the Epicurean is a mere sybarite or undisciplined hedonist. One should seek the “highest bodily and mental pleasures,” with the latter being a superior form of enjoyment. According to Epicurus, “no one can live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably and justly.”

Now in one sense, Torquatus is right, if we speak in terms of “well-being.” What most Greco-Roman systems have in common is that they are eudaimonistic—proper ethical conduct leads the individual to “happiness.” Of course pleasure and happiness are not interchangeable. Even the Epicureans are willing to concede this point. Too much food and drink can lead…

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