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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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Biopsychological Disciplines. In biology, psychol-
ogy, and medicine, pleasure and pain maintained their
most literal sense. They were certain conscious experi-
ences that had to be located, explored, and related to
other processes. The direction taken reflected in large
measure the underlying theory of body-mind relations,
which went through a succession of phases in the nine
teenth and twentieth centuries. First there was the
sharp separation, heritage of dualism, in which con-
sciousness was explored on its own, introspectively, usu-
ally in terms of its elements and their association. Here
pleasure was either a separate element or a quality of
sensory experiences. On the physical side, some corre-
lation was assumed, such as the excitation of the nerve
endings. As the weight of investigation inclined more
heavily to the organic, and specific physiological bases
were sought for the emotions and feelings, the con-
scious experiences were often identified as a cognitive
awareness of some pinpointed physiological process.
Especially when the epiphenomenalism of the end of
the nineteenth century emerged, the mental side re-
ceived proportionately less attention.

Differences of approach about the physiological basis
centered on a number of issues. Some looked to
peripheral processes of the sense-organs, others to cen-
tral visceral or brain processes. As to type of process,
one trend took pleasure to go with adequate or abun-
dant expression, another with proper balance as against
an overstrained or repressed exertion, another with
greater systematization, another with achievement of
equilibrium or stability. Distinctions emerged between
unpleasantness and pain, and between pleasantness
as a tonal quality and pleasure as sensory. Wilhelm
Wundt worked out three necessary dimensions for
feeling: pleasantness-unpleasantness, excitement-de-
pression, tension-relaxation; and he sought specific
bodily changes to correlate with each.

In some twentieth-century psychological schools,
pleasure and pain as conscious experiences were almost
dismissed from scientific inquiry. In the behaviorist
school of J. B. Watson, while emotion was taken to
be a visceral phenomenon, feelings involved primarily
seeking and avoidance, and so could be bypassed in
favor of such behavioral description. William
McDougall, while recognizing that pleasure and pain
strengthen or weaken paths of striving, saw them as
themselves determined by success or failure in striving;
hence the intermediate pleasure-pain phenomena could
be left out in exploring motivation. Dewey, too, in-
sisted on seeing pleasure and pain in the full context
of action; as noted above, he took the utilitarian use
of pleasure to be really a treatment of preference as
choice in conduct. Nevertheless, in contemporary
learning theory, which is a contemporary form of
behaviorism, it is possible to hold that the theory of
reinforcement is a pleasure-pain principle in disguise.
For there being no natural tendencies postulated, there
might seem to be required some vehicle by which
particular experiences have negative or positive effect.

Attempts to revive a direct study of consciousness
apart from the whole physiological inquiry are found


in Gestalt and phenomenological approaches. They
differ from the older introspectionism in concentrating
on the total field of awareness and its sensitive explora-
tion. Gestalt treatment of the visual field and its
properties has served as a paradigm for extending the
method to value fields. Phenomenological psychiatry
has stressed trying to see the world as the patient sees
it rather than directing his attention inward to probe
his feelings. Accordingly, Gestalt theory has tried to
broaden the concept of motivation to reach beyond
the range of egoistic pleasure and pain.

Another way of studying pleasure and pain which
avoids their simple physiological reduction or their
behavioristic omission is to focus more explicitly on
the genesis and functions of consciousness in a broader
study on several levels. This approach was prompted
by the evolutionary outlook in the nineteenth century,
and was omitted in the narrower vista of the body-mind
theories sketched above. It can be illustrated from
Herbert Spencer and from Freudian depth psychology.

Spencer's treatment of pleasure and pain shows
clearly the new turn that evolutionary theory had given
to the understanding of consciousness, in directing
attention to genetic and functional inquiry and in
supplying the test of survival through natural selection.
In ethics, Spencer starts out as ostensibly a utilitarian:
he compares pleasure as a necessary form of moral
intuition to space as a necessary form of intellectual
intuition. Now since pleasure is a feeling we seek to
bring into consciousness and retain there, and pain
correspondingly what we seek to keep out, it follows
that if pleasures were correlative to acts injurious to
the organism, that organism would not survive. Hence
natural selection brings about the coincidence of
pleasure and what is conducive to health and survival.
From here Spencer moves in many directions—to
physiology, psychology, sociology. Physiologically, he
relies on stimulation of the nervous system to explain
elation and depression (due, respectively, to a high
pressure and a low pressure). Local pleasures and pains
are directly (peripherally) aroused by special stimuli.
Psychologically, he is interested in showing how the
development of man matures the moral feelings in the
attempt to set up regulative processes in men's pursuit
of satisfactions, and how the pleasures and pains origi-
nating in the moral sentiments become incentives and
deterrents adjusted to human needs. And he adds the
sociological view in a similar spirit, showing the lines
of change to be expected in men's attitudes as evolution
proceeds. Whatever the defects in Spencer's specific
theories on each level, his general view of the scope
of exploration required for consciousness is highly so-

Freudian treatment of pleasure and pain is only
slightly more restricted, but in turn much richer in
specific content. The hedonistic element is central in
the Freudian notion of the pleasure principle, not in
the conscious calculative sense but as the tendency of
the organism toward gratification by the release of
tension built up by instinctual energies. The accumula-
tion of excitation is felt as pain and the diminution
as pleasure. The “reality principle” arises as experience
builds the ability to defer gratification in the light of
conditions of life and familial-interpersonal relations.
The contrast of pleasure and reality principles plays
an almost defining role in the structural picture of the
id and the ego, supplemented by the superego which
involves diversion of energy from the id to set up an
internalized regulatory procedure. In Freud's explora-
tion of the operation of the principles and this struc-
ture, the scope of pleasure and pain is both extended
and deepened. Pain is seen under definite conditions
to beget anxiety, and anxiety again under specific con-
ditions is differentiated into realistic or objective,
neurotic, and moral or guilt forms. Similarly, pleasure,
in the whole range of the uses of the Freudian appara-
tus in depth psychology, was tracked down in its re-
pressed as well as overt forms, and with the specific
quality it had and in its admixtures with anxiety in
varieties of neurotic conditions. For example, phenom-
ena of masochism and sadism were thus analyzed into
components in relation to the internal economy of the
person, in a spirit reminiscent of Plato's early depth
probing, though of course with altered theory and
greater scope of evidence. Unlike Plato, Freud's view
does not make possible metaphysical judgments of the
unreality of some pleasures, but it does have an impact
on evaluation when, for example, the Don Juan is
analyzed as a man fearful of his masculinity rather than
as having a strongly positive pleasure in his conquests.

In his later speculations, Freud gave primacy to the
death instinct as a tendency of the complex organism
to move to a lower level, a reinstatement of earlier
simpler conditions. Offered as an explanation of such
phenomena as repetition-compulsion, it became tied
with the idea that aggression had to be expressed
outwardly to avoid its turning inward. The pleasure
principle was reduced to serving the death instinct by
lowering tension. These conceptions were carried by
Freud into the social domain. Seeing the growth of
civilization as demanding the increase of libidinal ties
over an increasingly wider range, Freud pessimistically
viewed the increased repression involved as bound to
yield accumulated aggression and occasional violent

In general, Freud's influence invigorated the study
of pleasure and pain. Even on the purely descriptive
and conceptual level the impact of its depth analysis


was to underscore the variety of the phenomena, en-
couraging thereby a greater conceptual complexity.
Erich Fromm, for example, in his Man For Himself
(1947), distinguishes: satisfaction of physiological
needs, irrational pleasures as rooted in insatiable and
anxiety-driven desires, joy as rooted in psychological
abundance rather than psychological scarcity, happi-
ness as an integrated experience of joy reflecting an
inner productiveness, gratification as the pleasure of
accomplishment, and finally pleasure as the feeling
resulting from relaxation.

With the tremendous impact of twentieth-century
anthropology on psychological studies of personality
development, the question has arisen whether even
apparently elementary reactions of pleasure and pain
may not be infused with cultural content and exhibit
variation. This may even extend to rudimentary physi-
ological reactions, not merely to variations in affective
response to visual and auditory experiences. Indeed,
even pain itself may have varying meanings in different
cultural traditions; to some it is simply something to
be gotten rid of, while to others it is a sign of something
wrong in the organism so that cessation of pain does
not itself mean an end of concern.

The many-sided character of the study of pleasure
and pain does not preclude the possibility of success
in the dominant tradition of the search for simple
physiological correlates. For example, in the 1960's,
the work of James Olds and his associates—implanting
electrodes in the limbic system of the brain and so
arranging it that the electric current could be turned
on by the experimental animals, who turned out to give
greater preference to this self-stimulation over the
usual rewards—has seemed to some to strengthen the
view of a pleasure center in the brain. Such determi-
nation, if it be successfully maintained, would rather
broaden the area of work to be done in establishing
the systematic relations between such facts and the
whole form of development on the other levels.

Insufficient attention, as a source of theoretical in-
sight, has probably been paid to medicine, which is
increasingly facing problems of pleasure and pain.
Pain, together with inability to function, was doubtless
the starting-point for the notion of ill-health. Medicine
has by now developed a complex concrete conception
of health, but at its growing points problems of forms
of pain are still relevant. The justification for treating
mental health as a form of health lies in the depth-
psychological theory of the origins of anxiety in its
pathological forms. In addition, medicine has direct
problems with several contexts of pain and pain-
reduction. The older issue of the use of anesthetics in
birth processes, although obscured by claims of the
natural role of birth pangs for the mother, raised issues
of the medical and psychological functions of pain and
of the consciousness in which it occurs. Similarly, the
development of tranquilizers has raised both moral
issues, where they are used to avoid working through
a basic situation, and psychological-medical issues
concerned with the actual character of ataractic
processes in the inner workings of the person. In some
contexts, such as the dying patient, there is still insuffi-
cient knowledge about the fear of death to guide treat-
ment during the process of dying. In the rapid advances
of medicine we may expect fresh materials to deepen
our understanding of pain and its roles in conscious

Political Economy. The concern with well-being or
general welfare has been in one sense indigenous to
political economy. Its relations to utilitarianism and
the concept of pleasure have, however, been even more
direct. This is especially true of the concept of utility
and the theory of welfare economics.

The hedonistic affiliation of the concept of utility
in economic usage is related to the shift in the theory
of value from classical economics to doctrines of mar-
ginal utility, especially in the work of W. S. Jevons.
In the earlier, value was dependent on some objective
quality such as embodied labor, in the second it re-
ferred to the production of pleasure or prevention of
pain in an individual whose wants and demands would
thus be operative in economic transactions. While for
a time some shared the Benthamite faith in the cardinal
measurability of pleasure and so of utility, this did not
long remain. Ordinal measurability, in which an indi-
vidual's needs are arranged on a scale of preference,
was found to be a sufficient basis for complex theoret-
ical constructions in economics.

A central difficulty from the outset was that of inter-
personal comparison of utility. Especially with the
replacement of cardinal utility by ordinal utility, the
effective elements are individual preferences as ordered
by the individual himself. If there is no way to compare
individual preferences, there would appear to be no
ready formulation of a concept of social welfare. This
problem is central to welfare economics since it re-
quires a basis for judging among alternative economic
proposals, in the light of their contribution to social
welfare. One possibility is to assume that competition
of individuals constitutes an optimizing process, but
this raises issues of differences in starting-point with
respect to money and power. A theoretical formulation
of optimality was offered by Pareto, according to
which a situation is socially optimal if no change can
be made which does not make at least one individual
worse off (by his own preference scale). Subsequent
modifications introduce the idea of compensation for
the losers.


A quite different possibility, less committed to the
existent distribution pattern, is to have a welfare con-
ception enter economic processes from outside. This
might come from a political determination of social
goals by a democratic process. Or it might come from
a moral conception of welfare distinct from the prefer-
ence picture, and used to criticize the latter; for exam-
ple, it might determine priorities such as a floor of
human necessities to be first satisfied, or a set of human
opportunities to be furnished to everyone (such as em-
ployment or education). Such a path would, of course,
be abandoning the directly hedonistic basis—from
which in any case welfare economics had moved in
the use of preferences—and going back to the more
general notion of happiness and its conditions noted

Sociology, Social Policy, and Practical Disciplines.
Sociological analysis of contemporary society, and
policy proposals both for the shape of life itself and
for practical fields such as law and education, show
numerous points at which the conception of happiness
and theories of the role of pleasure and pain are either
quite explicit or else implicit in the operations of the

Most prominent is the passing of the traditional
“puritan morality.” With the expansion of technology
and the increased productivity, the older emphasis on
work as against leisure is well on the way to being
reversed. Thrift is replaced by conspicuous consump-
tion and installment buying on credit. The pursuit of
happiness is held up as within the reach of all, and
self-denial is increasingly seen to have been the reflex
of scarcity. This permeates theory as well as attitudes
and practice. Thus it is a commonplace to point to
the crippling effect of undue guilt feeling upon men's
capacity for happiness. Different psychological out-
looks here flow into a common stream. Thus the
psychological school that stresses self-actualization, as
in the writings of G. W. Allport and Abraham Maslow,
sets a freer and a broader range for men's development.

Again, Herbert Marcuse, in his Eros and Civilization
(1955), argues that the prevalent repression of instincts
was not really so much a necessity for accomplishment
or performance in human life as it was a consequence
of social domination; accordingly he looks to gradual
decontrolling of instinctual development, in short, a
freer operation of the pleasure principle. In practice,
the signs of a growing positive concern with satis-
faction have long been manifest in many ways. The
psychology of sex has combined with literature to make
sexual satisfaction an almost respectable goal of female
as well as male striving. The fantasy world of advertis-
ing ties every incidental gadget to the promise of
splendor, pleasure, and ecstasy. In revolts against the
Establishment—with its traditional goals of work,
postponement of gratification, competition, and
success—the “hippie” philosophy counterposes enjoy-
ment, deeper inner experience, direct affiliative rela-
tions, and doing “one's thing.”

Only occasionally in the general acknowledgment
of happiness do we find a note of reservation. Martha
Wolfenstein, in a paper on “Fun Morality: An Analysis
of Recent American Child-Training Literature” (1951),
traces the transformation in the view of the child from
dangerous impulses to benign inclinations and the cor-
responding shift from repression to encouraged expres-
sion, yet she points out the lurking puritanical quality
in the feeling that it is a duty to have fun with one's
child. And Moritz Schlick earlier, in his Problems of
(1939), replaces the Kantian principle of duty
with the moral principle of “Be ready for happiness,”
a principle which he finds much more tangible than
the greatest happiness of the greatest number, since
it turns concrete attention not to pleasure but to
definite human capacities; yet he makes clear that
much is involved in the cultivation of spirit that enables
one to share in happiness when it presents itself.

To consider the use of pleasure and pain in the
diverse institutions that seek to regulate or cultivate
men would be here too extensive a task. A brief refer-
ence to law and education will indicate the kinds of
problems involved and how their treatment responds
to men's attitudes toward pleasure and pain. In law
the dominant sanction has been some form of pain.
The types of pain involved in punishment have been
gradually reduced, and we have come to realize how
limited is the accomplishment of the theory of punish-
ment in achieving the ends toward which it is directed;
thus ideas of reform and prevention have made inroads
on retaliatory and even deterrent conceptions. On the
whole, rewards have been little employed in the law,
apart from reduction of punishment for cause.

In education, the issues have not seemed directly
concerned with pleasure and pain, except in the realm
of maintaining discipline. But this appearance is
deceptive. In the wider sense, the whole controversy
over modes of teaching, as epitomized most sharply
in the contrast of traditional and progressive education,
is a question of the educative role of pleasure. For the
advances that stressed concern with the child's inter-
ests, with stimulating the child's abilities, are in effect
pursuing those paths in which joy or satisfaction in
endeavor will promote education more effectively than
merely repetitive exercise or at best trusting obedience.
In the same way, sanctions and motivations that un-
derlie any significant human institution, when brought
to explicit attention, will raise comparative questions
about the role of pleasure, pain, and happiness.


Contemporary Philosophical Treatments. In the
1960's many of the traditional problems about our
concepts find new form in discussions of value, both
in general value theory and in such special fields as
aesthetics. For the most part, the issues that have been
traced above are repeated. For example, some value
theorists go directly to phenomena of pleasurable ex-
perience or satisfaction, characterize value by it, and
trace its different forms in art, religion, intellectual
activity, social relations, and so on. Other value the-
orists tend rather to identify value by the context, by
appetition or purpose, or by a complex problem-
situation, and regard the structure of the context rather
than the quality of the consummation alone to be of
central relevance to theoretical formulations. In aes-
thetics, the issue is sometimes sharp, between the for-
mer, who look to the spectator and his enjoyment and
try to pinpoint a special aesthetic pleasure, and the
latter who stress the productive process of the artist
and the spectator's appreciation of the problems in the

While considerable advances have been made in the
explorations of value theory, perhaps the most striking
philosophical contributions in the 1950's and 1960's
to the analysis of pleasure and pain have come through
the linguistic approach. Ordinary language analysis has
been especially employed in dealing with pleasure, and
it has brought to the task the kind of assumptions that
have characterized the method generally. Essentially,
of course, it consists in analyzing the use of the term
“pleasure” and related terms, in the varied contexts
in which we employ them; this is contrasted with
locating a phenomenon and doing a scientific investi-
gation of it. Yet it is thought that sensing the fine
texture of use brings us beyond language to a kind of
phenomenological awareness. Again, the contexts being
quite varied, there is no assumption of any inherent
unity among them. Yet for each mode of use there is
taken to be in the language a definite pattern of what
is permissible, and this pattern constitutes a kind of
informal logic of the term. In addition, there is a
respect for ordinary language as expressing the ac-
cumulation of experience under the hard conditions
of communication for centuries, as contrasted with
technical language which, though essential to the
developed sciences, may in other fields express fairly
arbitrary notions. Accordingly, confusions are taken to
come from using technical terms along inappropriate
models, and clarification from tracing and analyzing
the pattern of ordinary language.

Even the mere suggestion that we consult the dic-
tionary brings fruitful insights. For the synonyms and
related terms for “pleasure” pile up: for example,
“contentment,” “gladness,” “joy,” “satisfaction,” “ec-
stasy,” “rapture,” as well as, of course, “happiness,”
and “blessedness.” To round out “pain” there are
“displeasure,” “sorrow,” “suffering,” “misery,” “sad-
ness,” “unhappiness,” “frustration,” “anxiety,” and so
on. Fresh uses are pointed to when we employ some
of these in the plural, and speak of “pleasures” or
“sorrows.” Nor are we limited to nouns. There are
verbs like “thrive,” “prosper,” “flourish,” “please,”
“gladden,” some of them transitive, some intransitive.
And prepositions enter the picture when we think of
the difference between being “pleased at,” “pleased
by,” “pleased about.” All this indicates but a small part
of the pasture at which analysis can nibble.

The basic treatment of pleasure along these new
lines was carried out by Gilbert Ryle, first in the con-
text of a general reanalysis of mental terms, in his The
Concept of Mind
(1949; see the chapter on “Emotion”),
then in an essay on “Pleasure” in his Dilemmas (1956).
His analysis is rich in the variety of terms invoked;
for example, he tells us that by “feelings” he has in
mind what people may describe as thrills, twinges,
pangs, throbs, wrenches, itches, prickings, and so on.
In addition to “feelings” he distinguishes classes of
“inclinations,” “moods,” “agitations.” The general
supposition that “pleasure” always signifies feelings is
rejected as a mistaken belief in internal episodes. In-
stead, “pleasure” is found to have two distinct senses.
In the one sense, “pleasure” simply refers to enjoying
some activity; thus in a man who enjoys digging, dig-
ging is not a vehicle of his pleasure but his pleasure
itself. In the other sense, “pleasure,” like “delight” or
“joy,” signifies moods. In the essay on “Pleasure,” Ryle
denies that pleasure is a sensation at all, and points
out the difficulties in regarding pleasure and pain as
counterparts. He further traces the problems that arise
when “pleasure” is made into a technical term. This
represents the hope of using pleasure as a mental force
in terms of which one could employ a mechanical
model and find equivalents to physical notions of pres-
sure and attraction, friction and acceleration, and es-
tablish a system of human dynamics. Rejecting this and
other models as misleading, Ryle concludes that for
contexts of everyday discourse we can get along very
well with such verbs as “enjoy,” “dislike,” and “hurt.”

Various aspects in the vista thus opened up have been
explored subsequently in the analytic movement. There
have been critical reevaluations of Ryle's arguments,
but often enough ending with similar conclusions.
There is an intensive probing of many related issues,
which cross into familiar epistemological problems. For
example, knowledge of pain has been dealt with con-
siderably, both one's knowledge that others are in pain


and one's awareness of one's own pain, with special
concern about the privacy of such phenomena and the
need or possibility of evidence. Questions too have
been raised about the role of belief in pleasure, the
extent to which pleasure generally involves some belief,
and the implications of such facts as that one can be
pleased by what he believes to be the case, though
the belief itself is false. This raises the further issue
whether we can intelligibly speak of false pleasures,
or whether such modes of speech refer rather to the
justification of specific pleasures, the extent to which
they may be unfounded, as well as the question
whether a person may deceive himself into thinking
he is enjoying something he is not. A further topic of
considerable concern for morality is how far the fact
that one is pleased by or likes a certain action is a
reasonable ground or adequate justification for doing
it, and under what conditions it is or is clearly not

It is perhaps too early to evaluate the contributions
of the linguistic approach as a whole in this field, in
comparison to traditional approaches. Certainly it has
broadened the area of data for the study of pleasure
and pain and exhibited subtle varied patterns. On the
other hand, its rejection of the scientific tradition in
the study of these phenomena makes a sharp cleavage
between the ordinary-life concepts and the scientific
concepts. One cannot help thinking of the time in the
history of physics when the rich variety of phenomena
was also presented in ordinary-life concepts. Thus the
ancient account of motion, as in Aristotle, differenti-
ated rolling and sliding and pushing and pulling and
falling, and so on; similarly, classification into basic
types was in ordinary language terms—growth and
diminution, coming-into-being and passing-away,
qualitative alteration, and locomotion. In physics the
ordinary account came early, and the discovery that
a unifying account was possible in micro-terms and
laws relating those terms came much later. Perhaps
the trouble in the history of pleasure and pain is that
the variety of phenomena was neglected in the hope
of a quick theoretical formulation. The current em-
phasis on the varieties of phenomena need not then
be hostile, as it tends to be, to scientific theory; it may
rather be preparing us for a better theory to come.
In addition, the reaction has been against a dualistic
(Cartesian) philosophy of mind and body; this, as noted
above, also influenced scientific developments in a
special way along perhaps a blind alley. The criticism
has thus been of a special scientific theory, and should
not entail rejecting the possibility of fruitful scientific
study of pleasure and pain.

Indeed, the variety of approaches to pleasure and
happiness in the historical career of the concepts makes
isolation to any one perspective no longer plausible.
The linguistic-analytic study brings a greater appreci-
ation of the complexity of the phenomena, but must
not stand in the way of the scientific study of the
phenomena so revealed. And a full scientific study can
no longer limit itself to physiological bases, but must
now embrace genetic and functional aspects on all
levels. These in turn are enriched by a view of the
variety of applications in diverse fields of human life
and social practice. Out of such investigations we may
expect a more developed and more integrated concep-
tion of happiness as a guide to individual and commu-
nal well-being.