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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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In most ancient writings about man there is in the
background a happiness-like concept of well-being, of
faring well or doing well, of prospering, of things
working out well, and of course the opposite. In the
Old Testament or in Homer we see who prospers and
who is cast down. Hesiod describes the sad condition
of the peasantry, and Herodotus tells of Solon's warning
that no man—so precarious is the state of well-being—
should be judged happy until he has died. Such a state
of well-being is just as likely to be conceptualized in
terms of the good as in terms of happiness. To fashion
an explicit concept of happiness for a theoretic role
requires more specialized deliberation about the human

In ancient Greek ethics, the transition seems tied
with the growth of individualism, which is already
apparent among the Sophists. While Protagoras thinks
chiefly of survival of the group, maintenance of justice
and order, and the requisite qualities of man, more
power-oriented Sophists like Thrasymachus or Cal-
licles, as portrayed by Plato, have an explicit notion
of the good as lying in the individual's satisfaction of
his desires by using political power as the instrument.
Into such controversies Socrates introduces the logical
dimension: it now becomes important to decide
whether pleasure and good mean the same thing, or
whether some pleasures are good and others not. In
Plato's Protagoras, Socrates talks as if he were a
hedonist, identifying pleasure and the good, but this
is in a context in which he is trying to show that no
man voluntarily chooses evil, thereby rejecting the
greater pleasure for the smaller pleasure. In Plato's
Gorgias, where the uninhibited tyrant has been praised
as the happiest of men, Socrates maintains that a good
man is happy and an evil man unhappy; here there
is an explicit refutation of hedonism.

Major opposing views were held by Socratic disci-
ples other than Plato. Antisthenes, founder of Cyni-
cism, took pleasure to be an evil in its upsetting of
reason, exalted independence of spirit, and condemned
both indulgence of appetite beyond necessity and irra-
tional conformity to custom. Aristippus, founder of the
Cyrenaic school, saw pleasure as the good which all
living things naturally seek, exalted the bodily pleasures
as most intense, and inclined to a view of wisdom as
an ability to make the most out of the present in
pleasure and avoidance of pain, though not without
thought of the similar consequences of present action.

In Plato, happiness, while not yet the keystone con-
cept of ethics, plays a major part in formulating the
chief ethical questions, and in justifying the choice
among alternative theories. Thus, in the Republic, the
central problem is to show that justice and morality


are more advantageous and profitable than injustice
and immorality, in the sense of making men happy
rather than miserable; Socrates assumes his argument
to be complete when he has shown that the much-
admired, unscrupulous, all-powerful tyrant is the un-
happiest of men. Three kinds of lives are candidates
for the highest form of happiness, each with its typical
goals and each related to a different part of the human
makeup. The intellectual life expresses the rational part
in us, and its goal is knowledge as ultimate vision of
the real; the life of ambition and success expresses the
spirited part, and its goal is honor or prestige; the
pursuit of wealth expresses our appetites, and its goal
is bodily comforts and pleasures. These three parts of
the soul are symbolized by the human, the lion, and
the dragon, and the happy life is to be found in the
rule of justice or order in which the human, assisted
by the lion, keeps the insatiable dragon in his place.
(The social analogue is control exercised by the intel-
lectual elite, assisted by the executive army, in keeping
the mass of the people from participation in social
policy.) Appetite thus has no inner principle of control
and seeks immediate release of its tensions.

In the treatment of pleasure—chiefly in the Republic
and the Philebus—Plato achieves a breadth rarely
equalled before the present century. Especially striking
is the variety of methods unified in his inquiry. In
contrast to the later subjectivist tradition, he refuses
to regard pleasure as simply a subjective phenomenon
whose character and reality are wholly open to the
subject in whose consciousness it occurs and to him
alone. Plato's account of pleasure probes to its func-
tioning in the parts of the human makeup, in a fashion
very similar to what we should today call depth psy-
chology. Yet so far from neglecting phenomenal analy-
sis, he engages in a minute search for interpretive
elements in the experience. And he adds attempts at
physical explanation. His achievement is somewhat
obscured by the dichotomy that his metaphysics of the
eternal introduces into pleasure so that the experience
is cut asunder and set against itself; and even more
by the authoritarian strain which, in his fear of the
dragon, leads him to depreciate the integrity of the
individual's consciousness.

The treatment of pleasure in the Republic is many-
sided involving both psychological analysis and moral
evaluation, as well as tracing its relations to many
aspects of human life. In Book IX, Plato distinguishes
the three states of positive pleasure, positive pain, and
a neutral restful one between them. The transition from
pain to rest, as from sickness to health, is mistakenly
felt as pleasure, whereas it is really removal of pain
or release of tension. Plato extends this to the bodily
pleasures: these, he finds, usually occur where there
has been depletion and repletion, and so they are
essentially feelings of release from tension in the proc-
ess of restoring a normal state. (In the Timaeus, he
offers a supplementary physical explanation in which
a violent or intense change from the natural state
accounts for pain, and a similar restoration accounts
for pleasure; where the dislocation is gradual there is
no pain, but the restoration being rapid may bring
pleasure; and conversely.) Positive pleasures do not
arise from pains; Plato offers the example of a pleasant
smell, but he chiefly emphasizes intellectual pleasures
which have a cumulative and deepening character. He
interprets bodily pleasures, as he has understood them,
to be somehow less real, the additional premisses to
secure this degree of reality being metaphysical: the
intellect is concerned with the eternal, the bodily
senses with the changing; the eternal is more real than
the changing; hence intellectual pleasures share more
in the real than do bodily ones.

In spite of this separation of the different types of
pleasure, Plato's moral evaluation of pleasure tends
generally to be negative. He regards it as a lure to
evil, denies that perfect beings such as gods feel pleas-
ure, compares the life of uninhibited pleasure to the
attempt to fill a sieve with water. In general, one has
to conquer pleasure to be happy. In the treatment of
the virtue of courage in the Republic he emphasizes
resistance to pain, but later in the Laws he sees pleas-
ure as the more formidable danger—it is not to be
simply avoided, but one has to learn to take it under
controlled conditions to make possible resistance to it.
No phase of life with educative impact is spared his
criticism; he even rejects the common view that the
value of music lies in the pleasure it affords the soul,
and his treatment of tragedy looks not to a particular
aesthetic pleasure, but to the fear of rousing the emo-
tions and awakening the dragon.

In the Philebus, which is thought to be a late work,
Plato achieves a more definitive reckoning by analyz-
ing more minutely the place of pleasure in the good
of man. Pleasure is pinned down and isolated, so that
to be pleased does not even involve a consciousness
of being pleased, nor a recollection of having been
pleased. Such awareness and memory constitute sepa-
rate phenomena of the intellect. Plato reckons with
pleasures and pains of anticipation, distinctions of
mixed and pure types, elements of interpretation that
enter into the experience and make possible judgments
of truth or falsity of pleasures, and other questions in
the psychology and phenomenology of pleasure. The
criteria employed initially for the human good are its
completeness or perfection, its adequacy or sufficiency,
and the fact that it is sought by all who know about
it. Pleasure by itself fails to pass these tests, but it is


an ingredient to be mixed with the intellectual element.
However, with pleasure so narrowed, the intellect
assumes a dominant role in giving pleasure any value.
Plato here regards pleasure as an indeterminate entity
which, left to itself, is without form or measure or
beauty or truth, but which rises to a place in the good
when infused with our vision of the eternal. It is the
same contrast as in his psychology of insatiable appetite
bound by reason.

Aristotle's metaphysics to some degree heals the
breach and enables him to give a unified account of
pleasure. Also, his psychology is more naturalistic than
Plato's and he conceives of the soul as the form or
actuality of the organic body; hence he does not look
to pleasure for metaphysically different types, and the
differences among pleasures are seen as the differences
among the appropriate activities they accompany.
Again, Aristotle does not have a dragonian view of
human nature, regarding it rather as the raw material
for fashioning of human character.

Aristotle envisages all processes in nature as the
actualization of specific potentialities, in which the
projected goal or end guides the development. But he
distinguishes sharply between changes which have a
time-span and in which the goal is approached in steps,
and actualities or activities in which the end is fully
embodied at every moment. The rise of a building takes
time for completion, but the activity of the builder
when he is building is going on fully at every moment.
So too, seeing and thinking and being pleased are not
processes, but actualities. But pleasure is not an inde-
pendent activity like sensing; it accompanies the
activity of a sense organ that is in sound condition,
perfecting and supervening on the activity, says Aris-
totle, like the bloom in those who are at the flower
of their youth.

Aristotle is thus able to defend pleasure against most
of the traditional attacks. It can be good, though some
pleasures are not good because their activities are not.
Pleasure as such does not impede noble activities;
interfering activities do this, but the pleasure of the
noble activity itself is of help. Yet there is no point
in abstracting pleasure to see it as the good; that in-
volves the more complex concept of happiness. Never-
theless, Aristotle traces the role of pleasure at numer-
ous points and in many areas. In the development of
virtue, the fact that good acts are done with pleasure
rather than pain is the mark of an achieved good
character. In the specific virtue of self-control or
temperance, the very materials of the virtue are the
pleasures of touch and taste. Pleasure and pain are also
studied in phenomena of continence and incontinence,
especially at the point of yielding to temptation to do
what is wrong in spite of knowing the good. Pleasure
is distinguished from utility and love of the good, as
one of three types of motivations in friendship, and
the character of the sort of friendship based on pleasure
is explored in detail. There are comments on the place
of pleasure in the family, in aesthetic contexts, in
education; and there is the assignment of a lofty status
to pleasure when Aristotle insists that the gods, so far
from feeling no pleasure, have continually the highest
of pleasures, that of intellectual contemplation.

With respect to happiness, Aristotle builds it into
a systematic concept out of the general idea of well-
being referred to earlier. It emerges as the successful
candidate in his identification of the good. For the good
is the ultimate object of human striving, complete and
self-sufficient, and happiness alone satisfies this. In the
Rhetoric, where he is summarizing popular concep-
tions, he lists such characteristics of happiness as pros-
perity combined with virtue, secure enjoyment of
maximum pleasure, good condition of body and prop-
erty and the power of preserving and using them, and
so on; and he itemizes constituents of happiness ranging
from good birth and friends, strength and stature, chil-
dren and wealth, to honor with state burial and statues!
In the Nicomachean Ethics, he sees happiness as lying
in activity, not in merely the potentiality that character
furnishes; as requiring a whole life-span, not merely
intense short-range feeling; as having need of external
goods and other people as friends. Conceptually, hap-
piness is then a life of activity in accordance with
complete virtue (in which reason plays a large part).
In this sense, the whole of the ethics is an exploration
of the nature and requirements of happiness, set in a
full view of the nature of man as a bio-social being.
And though Aristotle concludes that supreme happiness
is found in the isolated act of contemplation, still, man
is a social animal; even the happiness of good men
involves friends, and in any case the greater part of
human life is the life of social practice.

Aristotle's Politics is continuous with his Ethics, and
since happiness is the good, the great use that he makes
of the good in analyzing political and institutional con-
cepts is translatable directly into the terms of the
conditions of a happy life for men. This is obvious
enough when he discusses the ideal state and gives
priority to basic goals of peace over war, leisure over
business, or plans a healthful city or an education which
will make men critical participants in politics and
culture. But it enters even into his definition and classi-
fication of political forms, for example, when he uses
aiming at the common welfare as a criterion of good
as against bad constitutions, or at the very outset in
his definition of the state itself as an association aiming
at the highest good. He even declares that a city has
really ceased to be a city and has become just an


alliance of men who happen to be living close by when
the pursuit of a common welfare is abandoned. In short,
the communal pursuit of happiness is a central and
integral part of Aristotle's conception of the polis.

In the Hellenistic shift to an individualistically
oriented ethics there is an obvious retreat from the
social conception of a communal welfare. The ideal
of peace of mind, internal tranquillity, and individual
independence, that in different forms is shared by Stoic
and Epicurean, functions as a surrogate for happiness.
But in the detail of the theories there are opposing
attitudes to pleasure. The Stoics see it as contrary to
nature, with its impulse as a disturbing movement in
the soul and so basically irrational. Joy, however, is
distinguished as a rational elation of the mind. Most
of the objects of human desire are put into the category
of indifferent things. The Epicureans see pleasure as
proper to the nature of man, but pain as contrary to
it. In their theory, pleasure occupies the central posi-
tion of the good. But whereas Aristippus had held all
pleasures to consist in motion, Epicurus distinguishes
those of motion from those of rest. He also points out
that though bodily pains are more acute, they are
transient; while in the pleasures and pains of the mind,
memory and anticipation extend the scope. Epicurus
makes it clear that the pursuit of pleasure recom-
mended is not sensuality or revelry, but that inherent
in a virtuous life. It is rather by moderating desires
than by multiplying and pursuing them that a happy
life is maintained. The garden of Epicurus is, on the
whole, a refuge from pain and turbulence, devoted to
simple joys and friendships, with little place for politics
or for energetic attempts to control nature.

In Lucretius' poem, On the Nature of Things, we
see how central to the Epicurean this-worldly outlook
in ethics is their general view of nature and man.
Epicurus had adopted the atomic physics of
Democritus and (except for a chance swerve of the
atoms absent from Democritus' more complete deter-
minism) the philosophical concepts that went with
it—a reduction of large-scale phenomena to physical
terms and a causal as against a teleological mode of
explanation. This removed the pains that come from
fears and superstitions about death and the afterlife;
death is simply the separation of the organism into its
particles and there are no rewards and punishments.
The impact of Epicureanism among its contemporaries
was thus that of a rigorous philosophical materialism.

The growing religious thought, from biblical through
medieval times, added two distinctively religious ele-
ments to the shape that the concepts of happiness and
pleasure were taking in the Greek tradition: the depic-
tion of blessedness as supreme happiness, and the con-
cept of damnation. There are also, of course, to be
found purely philosophical developments in the reli-
gious thinkers, as, for example, Augustine's treatment
of desire and joy as volition of consent to the things
we wish, thus giving a voluntaristic core to pleasure
rather than simply a reactive-affective one.

In the Old Testament, the happiness that is bestowed
by God and sought by man is still what was referred
to above as well-being. Job after his tribulations is
rewarded with the same kind of worldly goods and
relations that had characterized his pretrial prosperity.
Yet there are occasional emphases moving away from
the outer world and the temporal to the inner other-
worldly and, if not the eternal, at least the everlasting.
There is also the strong sense of being at one with God
in one's intent and abiding faith, and, in the book of
Ecclesiastes, there is the declaration that all life is
vanity, precisely on the ground that it does not last
and only the everlasting could fully satisfy the spirit.
The Sermon on the Mount, steering men away from
the worldly, clearly sets the path to and through in-
wardness, to God as the paternal source of each soul.

The chief nonworldly or otherworldly tendency
among the concepts of happiness is to be found in this
religious concept of blessedness. It emerges also in the
Greco-Roman philosophical tradition, especially in
Neo-Platonism. Thus for Plotinus, the whole world is
an emanation of God or the One, who is beyond all
being and all thought. The soul seeks to return to this
source, and happiness is found in the perfecting of life
by appropriate abstinence and pursuit of wisdom,
catharsis of spirit, till at the utmost limit one stands
on the verge of the mystic experience. The unity in
which one is absorbed in the divine is quite literally
ecstatic in that one stands outside of oneself; it is
ineffable because it is true unity whereas discourse
involves the duality of thought and its object. The
mystic experience of blessedness colors the whole
being, reinforces detachment from earthly pleasures,
and bends the striving totally toward the One.

In Christian mysticism—both in the medieval Cath-
olic form and in later Protestant forms—the same type
of quest characterizes the striving of the soul for unity
with God, and successful culmination is found in the
experience itself, achieved only intermittently in life
but remaining as a promise of blessedness in the here-
after. Various mystics differ chiefly in two respects—
the attempted description of the experience and the
stages of preparation for it. Some accounts present it
as a beholding or illumination, a concentrated vision;
some as being overcome in a kind of merging; some
as an identity with rather than in; some as a blaze of
intense active being; and so on. In all, there is agree-
ment that in some sense time disappears, that the
distinction of subject and object is gone, that the sense


of total good is wholly present. Metaphors of union
with the beloved abound. As for stages of approach,
they differ widely, some stressing turning away from
the sensible and achievement of deeper knowledge,
some the growth of love, some the diminution of self-
orientation, and there are differences in the degree to
which grace is invoked. Saint Bonaventura is a good
example: his The Mind's Road to God has six stages
followed by the sabbath of perfect ecstasy.

Just as the essence of blessedness is found in the
closeness to a union with God, so the essence of dam-
nation in Christian theory is found in the separateness
from God. Damnation does not lie in pain and torture
alone; there is the basic distinction between pain and
moral evil, physical and moral suffering. Hell is there-
fore not a purely external sanction. The moral evil lies
in the abandonment of God by the will, manifested
in disobedience, and in the whole array of sins; the
gravity of their punishment, as in Dante's depiction
in the Inferno, is almost directly proportional to the
distance from God that is manifest in the act. The
blessedness of salvation and the hell of damnation are
thus not two separate questions but opposite extremes
in the one basic relation.