Aristotle On Pleasure

.. e not as being of the essence of youth but as following from a favorable condition of the causes of youth. Likewise pleasure follows from a favorable condition of the causes of the activity. (Aquinas, p86-7) After making clear his earlier points, Aristotle then goes on to discuss the properties of pleasure. First he looks at the duration of pleasure and acknowledges that it can not go on continuously because “nothing human is capable of continuous activity, and hence, no continuous pleasure arises either, since pleasure is a consequence of activity”(1175a5). Because humans would grow tired of whatever activity was bringing them pleasure, eventually they would have to stop.

Were someone to keep dancing, if this were the activity that brought that person pleasure, there would come a point when physical exhaustion would take over, and that would stop the activity from being pleasurable. Although it is the initial pleasure that is derived from any activity that continues the quest for it. The next discussion begins with the idea that pleasures differ in kind. He then reiterates that the species of pleasures seem to be different. Since he has established that and established that pleasure completes an activity, it would then seem the next step to say that: Activities that differ in species are also completed by things that differ in species.

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Activities of thought differ in species from activities of the faculties of perception, and so do these from each other; so also, then, do the pleasures that complete them (1175a25-30). When an activity that has a proper pleasure that is present it will improve their proper function. If, for example, the proper pleasure of (according to some religions) sexual intercourse is procreation, then the pleasure received from the act is the proper pleasure. The activity has a formal pleasure in that it is going to create life, and the people involved are seeking that end. Because there is physical pleasure that is involved as, although completely unnecessary for procreation, the act becomes best by this.

Alien pleasure, conversely, does the opposite. If a “proper pleasure makes an activity more exact, longer and better, while an alien pleasure damages it, clearly the two pleasures differ widely”(1175b15). Using the same example, as with the proper pleasures case for sexual intercourse for procreation, using birth control of any sort, or homosexual sex would be an alien pleasure since it stops the proper function of the activity. The formal pleasure is gone because there is no desire for a child, but the alien, physical pleasure remains and becomes the focus of the activity. Alien pleasure is not the same as proper pain, though the effects are similar in destroying an activity.

So then the question is asked as to which pleasures are good? Because of the degrees of decency and badness, there are activities that are choiceworthy and there are activities that should be avoided. From 1175b 25-30, Aristotle explains how this also applies to pleasure, since the activity has a specific proper pleasure. This is explained in that “the pleasure proper to an excellent activity is decent, and the one proper to a base activity is vicious; for similarly, appetites for fine things are praiseworthy and appetites for shameful things are blameworthy.” The pleasure is more proper that the desire for an activity because desire is so close that there is often conflict over whether or not the two are separate concepts. So pleasures differ as activities do, and as Aristotle points out next, “each kind of animal seems to have its own proper function; for the proper pleasure will be the one that corresponds to its activity”(1176a1-5). As with animals, different kinds of humans also differ.

Things that bring pleasure to some cause pain to others. So the proper pleasure for humans should be measured against the excellent person. If what the excellent person calls disgraceful is what another calls pleasant, it is because humans differ in goodness. Because it is a corrupt person calling an objectionable thing pleasant, however, it should be noticed that it is shameful and is only pleasant to the corrupt person. At this point in the text, Aristotle moves from pleasure to happiness.

After commenting that he has discussed virtue, friendship and pleasure, he goes on to happiness that is the next important thing to understand, since it is what humans aim at as an end. He recapitulates from earlier comments that happiness is not a state, but rather an activity, and that some activities are necessary and that it should be counted as an activity that is choiceworthy in itself. This, claims Aristotle is the character of actions expressing virtue; “for doing fine and excellent things is choiceworthy for itself”(1176b5-8). Next, Aristotle remarks on the nature of amusement, clarifying that amusement and happiness are not the same thing. Simply because people who hold supreme power spend time on activities of amusement, they merely appear to have happiness.

At 1176b20, Aristotle is dedicated to the acknowledgement that people who hold the power do not have virtue and understanding. Because of their power, they are unaware of pure pleasure and resort to bodily pleasures instead. Aristotle reminds us again that things that are choiceworthy to decent people are different from things that are choiceworthy to base people. Happiness is not amusement, for, as Aristotle says at 1186b30, “it would be absurd if the end were amusement, and our lifelong efforts and sufferings aimed at amusing ourselves”. Indeed it would seem like a cruel cosmic joke were that the case. Besides that, the expression of virtue is a lifelong enterprise in itself. Beyond the necessity of the search for happiness, amusement takes the form of bodily pleasures and “anyone at all, even a slave, no less the best person, might enjoy bodily pleasures; but no one would allow that a slave share in happiness, if one does not [also allow that a slave shares in the sort of] life [needed for happiness]”(1177a8-10). If then, bodily pleasures bring amusement, what is it that brings happiness? Aristotle suggests at 1177a7, that the virtue of the best thing, actively expressed is happiness. And since Aristotle claims at 1177a15-20 that “the best is understanding .. Hence complete happiness will be its activity expressing its proper virtue; and we have said that this activity is the activity of study.” The activity of theoretical study is the best because it is supreme and the objects of understanding are the supreme objects of knowledge.

Moreover, it is continuous because continuous study is more easily done than any sort of continuous action since all actions must come to a stop at some point. Not only is it continuous, but also the pleasantest, the most self-sufficient, aims at no end beyond itself and involves leisure. But it is the self-sufficiency that Aristotle focuses on as the most important. His claim is that all virtuous people need the good things for life, and even when these things are supplied, the just person needs other people to be just to. The wise person in comparison does not need any other person, because he is able to study without anyone (1177a30).

Ronna Burger, in her essay “Aristotle’s ‘Exclusive’ Account of Happiness: Contemplative Wisdom as a Guise of the Political Philosopher” comments on his claim of self-sufficiency: The self-sufficiency that was supposed to belong to happiness as a final good is the criterion, above all, that makes the thesis of the tenth book so unconvincing: if the self-sufficient is that which on its own makes life choiceworthy and lacking nothing, how could contemplation by itself possibly fulfill that demand? But no such claim is in fact made in the tenth book. What is said to belong “most of all” to theoretical activity is “so-called self-sufficiency”(X.7 1177a26-28), and this no longer means the capacity of an activity by itself to make life complete, but only the capacity for that activity to be carried on independently of necessary conditions (Ronna Burger, p89) It’s superiority lies in that “a human being’s complete happiness will be this activity, if it receives a complete span of life, since nothing incomplete is proper to happiness”(1175b25). This possible achievement of happiness would maintain a divine element to it. Living this sort of life is more a god-like life and allows humans to get closer to the gods. Aristotle remarks that one should not follow the proverb to “think mortal because you are mortal”, but to attempt at every chance to go further since it alone surpasses everything (11787a1). In theorizing about the actions of the gods, Aristotle comments on the doubt that the gods are not inclined to be bothered with just, brave, or generous actions, since these are actions that make sense in a human world. Without base appetites or vulgar desires, there is no need for temperance, and the earthly virtues would seem trivial to the gods.

Because the gods are presumed alive and there is no required action or production, the only thing left for the gods to do is study. And since it is the activities that are most like the gods’ that should be emulated, it appears obvious that studying is the human activity that is most like the gods. The natural conclusion to draw from this then is that “happiness will be some kind of study” (1178b30). Aristotle does not however forget that humans are not gods, and because they are not, there are still earthly and external needs that require fulfillment. Study alone cannot allow a human to survive, for he needs nourishment for his body and other external goods. What is important to realize however, is that “self-sufficiency and action do not depend on excess ..

for even from moderate resources we can do the actions expressing virtue”(1179a1-5). Why then would humans spend this time and energy on study and moderation? The reasons that Aristotle gives in his conclusion to the section on happiness are twofold. The first is that he claims that the gods, if they pay attention to the humans, will love those who are most akin to them, and will benefit them most. Since it is the wise person who is most akin to the gods, they will love him best. Within that, it is also assumed that the wise person too will be happiest (1179a25-30). In the final part of Book X, Aristotle moves from pleasure and happiness to ethics, moral education and into politics.

His first acknowledgment is that the aim of studies should be to act on them, despite earlier claims that it is the theorizing rather than the acting that is better. His thought here is that knowing is not enough; virtue must be acted upon. Virtue, he claims, is something that is possessed by the few. The many behave because they are driven to obey by fear rather than shame. These people avoid the base activities because they fear the penalties rather than embracing the proper pleasures.

They are ignorant of the things that are fine. The problem then lies in the method of reformation of people living this vulgar life into those who desire the pure and the fine (1179b10-15). Nature, habit and teaching are the three things that are most thought of as ways to educate on morality. A reliance on nature to produce moral beings is foolish because it is beyond the control of humans. Those who are thought to be blessed by divinity are fortunate. Those who are not blessed, however, must be taught as students and habits reinforced throughout life. Morality is difficult to teach if immoral adults bring up a child.

At 1179b30, Aristotle explains that by the time the teaching has begun we “must already in some way have a character suitable for virtue, fond of what is fine and objecting to what is shameful”. This description of what is needed is made clear at this point. J. A. Stewart says that this is the “really potent influence in moral training that is exerted by the rules, written and unwritten, and the institutions of the State as a whole”(J A.

Stewart, p 462). It is because of this that both adults and children need moral laws. There is no assurance on how a child will be brought up, so if the state could be responsible instead, there would be a greater chance for broader success. Through this method of state imposed morality laws, those who are decent will obey the laws because it is a part of their character. Those who disobey the laws would be penalized and corrected. Those who are incurable would simply be expelled from society, which would not matter since they are not decent and could not properly contribute.

Because law has reason on its side, it would be a far superior educator than a father who is an individual and far more easy to ignore. Since states do not take it upon themselves to legislate morality, it ends up being left to the father though. The problem is, is that no matter which party, the state or the individual, there is a necessity for legislative science to be used. It is possible for either system to work, because the individual can have a case created especially for him, but it would far more effective if universal laws governed him. Amelie Rorty comments on the reason for the insertion of the political ideas at the conclusion of a book of ethics in his essay “The Place of Contemplation in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics”. His thought is that “the discussion of politics which follows the discussion of contemplation in Book X is meant to show that one of the aims of a statesman is the reconciliation of the contemplative and the practical lives”(Amelie Rorty, 378). The primary problem with teaching universal morality as well as legislative science is who the teachers should be.

There seems to be a need for a middle ground between theory and practical experience. Politicians are of no use because some, like “the sophists who advertise that they teach politics [do not] practice it” (1181a1). Those that do practice it do not necessarily use thought in their actions. The right approach seems to be somewhere between these two ideas. If it is contemplation that is the highest form of happiness, and action that comes from this contemplation can come to exist, then perhaps there is some validity to this final thought.

Instead of trying quickly to answer it though, Aristotle closes off the Nicomachean Ethics, and opens the door for The Politics. Pleasure and happiness and moral thought and action all have conjoining ideas that can tie them into one another. Aristotle was able to see that, and while he was aware that the art of politics or statesmanship could not be taught, but the concept is there. And while this was written over two millennia ago, there are concepts that could easily be brought to the present. The problem seems to be that there remains a fear of the philosopher that cannot be overcome. Plato may have had something with the Philosopher Kings. Philosophy.