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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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The concepts of happiness and pleasure have a rich
and varied history, and have functioned on diverse
fronts in human life and thought. Occasionally, as in
psychology, they have been made objects of direct
study. More often they have been put to work. Their
use in ethics has, of course, been central. In religion,
they are found within conceptions of salvation and
damnation. In aesthetics, the concept of aesthetic
pleasure is one of the foci of the field. In medicine,
pain is a major starting-point in both practical concern
and the development of the concept of health. In
psychology, the concepts of pleasure and pain have an
important, if not always dominant, place in motiva-
tional theory. In politics, the changing place of the
pursuit of happiness among the tasks of organized
society is a key to basic shifts in theoretical orientation.
In economics, ideas of maximizing satisfactions or
preferences became tied into the formulations of major
schools. In sociology, moral attitudes to pleasure and
pain, as in the traditional puritan morality and its
residues, impinge on the analysis of social treatment
of sex, of work and play, of success and failure. In
education, similar attitudes enter into the theory of
discipline, of motivation, of learning, and of educa-
tional design. In conceptions of social reform generally,
whether in the shape of wholesale creation of utopias,
or specific workaday policies concerning poverty and
welfare, or justifications in city planning and architec-
tural mainlines, concepts of happiness often have an
immediate place.

In ethics, both happiness and pleasure are early
found as candidates for the good. Pleasure is sometimes,
however, portrayed as a villain; pain is overwhelmingly
so considered. In ethical systems in which they do not
play such roles, happiness and pleasure and pain be-
come cast in neutral fashion as psychological phenom-
ena, to be evaluated in the ethical system itself.

When the concepts are used in an ethical way, they
function with a certain value-orientation. (1) They
usually impart a this-worldly character to the ethical
view, but not always, for an otherworldly concept of
blessedness may be invoked. (2) They steer ethics to-
ward individualism. For happiness and pleasure are
basically properties of the individual person and the
individual consciousness. Even when the ethics deals
with general or community happiness, there is a dis-
tributive reference to the aggregate of individuals. (3)
In modern uses of the concept, there enters an element
of measuring or ordering and a spur toward maximiza-
An ethics of happiness or a pleasure-pain ethics
tends to be an optimizing ethics. (4) Again, happiness
and pleasure, in an ethical system, are usually regarded
as intrinsic values. Only rarely are we urged to be


happy as a means—because some divine figure com-
mands it, or (as on occasion with Kant) as insurance lest
unhappiness tempt us into immorality. The analysis of
these concepts is thus involved with the basic com-
plexities that attend the difficult conception of intrinsic
value itself. (5) In the ethical uses, happiness, when
distinguished from pleasure, carries the notion of
well-being (Aristotle's eudaimonia) as a more total (or
sometimes totalling) phenomenon; or it is identified
with a background or pervasive mood (contentment),
or is more concerned with criteria for relating wholes
and parts of life.

There are a number of central problems in the phil-
osophical analysis of these concepts. (1) There is the
initial methodological question of explicating the
meaning of these notions and furnishing their modes
of identification
—for example, whether they are to be
seen as phenomena of consciousness (and in the
dualistic tradition, therefore, as subjective), or whether
they can be identified in a deeper analysis of what is
going on in the human being. Here occur the problems,
too, of the mutual comparison of the phenomena and
the inspection of the differing properties of pleasure
and pain. (2) As a consequence of such distinctions and
of diverse epistemological outlooks, questions arise
about possible distinctions in this domain between real
and apparent or illusory pleasures; and comparably for
happiness and pain. These issues are sometimes formu-
lated in metaphysical terms. (3) Questions of compari-
son constantly arise in terms of both qualitative differ-
ences and measurement of amounts. Here the logical
investigation of the nature of measurement in the
human domain impinges directly on the issues. (4)
Scientific questions are perennial about the relation of
these concepts to psychological and biological phe-
nomena—for example, of pleasure to desire, or to
bodily tension and organic needs. (5) It was early
realized that the language of happiness and pleasure
and pain is richer than these three terms alone. How
far we are dealing with a whole family of concepts
of which these are only a conceptual elite, whether
the linguistic variety can be related to scientific differ-
entiations, have been long-standing questions. As men
became more conscious of their language as a system
of practices, and studied its finer shades, the whole
impact of such language study on the understanding
of pleasure and pain and happiness acquired a greater
philosophical importance.

The exposition of the roles which our concepts have
played, the properties they have exhibited, and the
problems they have involved, can best be set in a brief
historical sketch in which, while ethics is the guiding
thread, each concept finds its place at the points
and times at which it became a matter of reflective


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.


In the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century revolu-
tions of life and thought, there are marked changes
in the exploration and uses of the conceptions of hap-
piness and pleasure. The end point is, of course, the
utilitarian philosophy which raised these concepts to
the pinnacle of ethical theory by the beginning of the
nineteenth century, which identified happiness with
pleasure and which made maximum surplus of pleasure
over pain the human goal. To see these centuries in
this light is to look for the intellectual movement which
made happiness into utility, utility into pleasure, de-
tached pleasure from other ends and relations and left
it theoretically supreme—only then to find itself un-
certain about its identity. In this account, what hap-
pened to happiness is the overall story; what happened
to pleasure inner detail.

The concept of happiness became increasingly at-
tached to the growing liberalism with its secular and
worldly mood, its intense individualism, its scientific
orientation, and its libertarian social outlook. The
secular characterized especially the content of happi-
ness, associating the concept with worldly success,
pursuit of wealth, power, and prestige. The scientific
orientation strengthened the critical mood in the
breakdown of traditions, and made room for the hope
of progress. The libertarian element released individual
energies. But it was the whole individualist foundation
in the economic and social relations that had the
strongest impact in political and ethical theory. The
social contract theory for understanding the basis and
function of government is only an extreme instance
of the increasingly prevalent view that an individual
is bound only by that to which he has directly or
indirectly consented. Institutions thus came increas-
ingly to be regarded as instruments for the individual's
well-being as reckoned by individual judgment and
determined by individual will.

Nevertheless, the nation state as it emerged was not
given the task of providing for the happiness of its
citizens. This goal, which Aristotle had assigned for
political organization, had long receded. In the inter-
vening centuries the conception of man as sunk in
original sin put earthly happiness out of reach, and
at best the laws of a society could keep human nature
in check sufficiently to maintain some social order.
Then the rise of the new political theory, as in
Machiavelli, substituted power for the good in tradi-
tional ethics, as the characteristic aim of the state. This
was indeed its impact from the point of view of the
rulers. But from the perspective of the ruled, the aim
is better seen in Hobbes, where emphasis falls on the
need of individuals for peace and order and the neces-
sary conditions for the pursuit of their individual aims.
These conditions, including protection of life and
property, guarantee of contract performance, and so
on, are seen as natural laws which reason leads men
to accept. Nevertheless, as states achieved greater
stability and economic advance brought greater pros-
perity, and as the growth of scientific knowledge en-
hanced men's hope of greater control of their environ-
ment and their lives, the aims of organized society
themselves advanced in theory from minimal condi-
tions of order to ensuring conditions of progress and
the pursuit of happiness. If Locke in the seventeenth
century assumed that the protection of property was
equivalent to securing the common good, Jefferson in
the late eighteenth century replaced it with the pursuit
of happiness as an inalienable right in the Declaration
of Independence. And though it did not get into the
federal constitution, it yet retained some occasional
hold in legal decisions to strike down restraints and to
preserve freedom of contract and freedom to labor.
In general, the idea of progress itself, soon entrenched
in the Western liberal outlook, carried the implication
of greater instrumentalities and greater human sensi-
tivity productive of more general happiness.

The curve of rising expectations can be traced also
in the imaginative projection of the good society found
in the succession of utopias—from Thomas More's
Utopia (1516) and Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (1624)


to the early nineteenth-century visions of Fourier,
Robert Owen, and Saint-Simon. Utopias generally
embody a conception of the happy life, whether it is
a fixed pattern, as in the earlier forms, or whether it
has internal room for change, as the later ones do.
Utopias also pinpoint the miseries of the time against
which they are directed, as More laments the state of
the dispossessed peasantry; or they rebel against a
perennial repression, as many a utopia does in depict-
ing sexual liberation. Equally significant for the period
we are considering was the general rise of the idea
of progress, replacing older conceptions of decline
from an original paradise into increasing corruption.
Eventually, given the acceleration of social change and
the recognition that reality often moves faster than
dreams, the pursuit of happiness takes the form of
direct political programs, such as for governmental
intervention to alleviate miseries or develop educa-
tional institutions.

In ethical theory, the concept of happiness played
an increasingly prominent role. In Hobbes, happiness
is frankly equated with the satisfaction of appetite
whose direction identifies the good; and in Locke there
are the beginnings of a hedonism. Even more signifi-
cant, however, is the role happiness plays in the very
theories that are fighting a Hobbesian egoism by trying
to show a natural basis in man for sympathy. For here
too—in Shaftesbury or Butler or Hutcheson—the moral
field tends to get divided between self-love and benev-
olence. Self-love, as Butler describes it, is admittedly
concerned with the individual's well-being, the long-
range harmony of his desires. And benevolence, though
the moralist's eye is on justifying it to the individual,
is itself a concern for other people's happiness or their
rescue from misery. Even such rationalists as the
Cambridge Platonists include the duty of beneficence
among the moral axioms.

The moralistic objection to happiness has rarely been
to making others happy, only to limiting the happiness
effort to oneself. Kant, whose insight in such detail is
impeccable, points out that it is our duty to seek our
own perfection and others' happiness, not our happi-
ness and others' perfection. Again, moral philosophers,
having established to their own satisfaction that sym-
pathy is a spontaneous reaction in terms of which our
conception of virtue can be understood, began to look
for its underlying laws of movement—analogous to the
gravitational principle in the Newtonian model. Hume
and Adam Smith, rendering explicit what had been
emerging over the century, fixed on the notion of
utility: though men did not calculate utility in making
their moral judgments, the underlying principle was
the general conduciveness to happiness of the action
sympathized with or approved.

Utilitarian suggestions and developments had already
been numerous. Cumberland had talked of the com-
mon good in a utilitarian way as the supreme law;
Hutcheson used the phrase, “the greatest happiness of
the greatest numbers” in treating of the goodness of
actions; Gay had invoked the happiness of mankind
as a criterion of God's will, itself the criterion of virtue
(a path that Paley's utilitarianism was later to take).
And Priestley, whom Bentham acknowledged as a
source for the utility principle, in fact had a well-
developed theory of individual socialization so as to
identify his interest with a common good, effected by
natural sanctions set in the context of an ever-
improving environment including improving institu-
tions. In France, too, there had been a rapid rise of
happiness theory in ethics. Locke's hedonism had a
strong and direct influence there. Helvétius accounted
for moral standards by tracing their development out
of experiences of pleasure and pain, and Holbach's
theory of ethics started from the individual's pursuit
of his own happiness, and developed into a full utili-
tarianism. In Italy, Beccaria's influential analysis of
punishment rested squarely on utilitarian premisses.

To make Bentham's utilitarianism possible, happiness
had to be equated with pleasure or else to be built
out of pleasant experiences in some manner; pleasure
itself had also to be detached from its traditional inter-
relations with appetite and desire and action so as to
be able to serve as an isolable goal of human striving.
The first of these was readily accomplished. Since the
community was treated as a sum of individuals, every
statement about the common good or the general wel-
fare was in principle translatable into statements about
the happiness of individuals. Moreover, if happiness
meant anything more for the individual than pleasure
and the absence of pain, it would be a complex built
up by pleasurable and painful associations; this psy-
chological principle was adopted by the utilitarians
from David Hartley's formulation of association. The
second requirement—the detachment of pleasure so
that it could serve as an isolated goal—was the out-
come of a long scientific-philosophical development
beginning with Descartes.

Aristotle had regarded pleasure as completing or
perfecting an activity. The question facing the subse-
quent tradition was the more minute one of what this
completing consisted in. Aristotle saw it in almost
aesthetic-decorative terms, though he also gives it oc-
casionally an enhancing effect. Augustine, as noted
above, gave it the active role of the will consenting
to the course of action. Hobbes, when he distinguishes
pleasure from appetite as other than expected termi-
nus, regards it as an inner motion continuing and
helping vital action, and pain as frustrating or hinder-


ing it; in any case, pleasure and pain are intimately
related to appetitive and aversive processes. For
Leibniz and for Wolff, pleasure and pain are a direct
awareness of perfection or imperfection, that is, of
well-being or ill-being. In all of these, pleasure is still
tied to some process in relation to which it performs
a service of some kind and that service is its defining

Descartes started pleasure on its path to inde-
pendence, because his dualism attempted to apportion
experience to either the body or the soul. Some experi-
ences in the soul arise from it, but passions, like sensible
experiences, are excited from without. Although
Descartes still sees a teleological role for the passions
in disposing the soul to will things nature requires, this
is an external relation; pleasure and pain are becoming
self-contained items in the life of the soul. Thus Locke
treats them as simple ideas, and Hume regards bodily
pleasures and pains as original impressions arising in
the soul without any antecedent perception. In
Condillac, pleasure and pain are already the sole mo-
tives of action. In addition, pleasure and pain shared
in the general atomicity which characterized the
treatment of ideas in Locke or impressions in Hume.
Each experience of pleasure or pain is a single isolated
event, telling its whole story within itself. This ap-
proach is found not only in phenomenalism, where it
is of course strongest, but also in materialist inquiry
into motions: Hartley looks to faint vibrations left as
traces by sensory experiences, and mental pleasures and
pains are thus the traces of sensory pleasures and pains
excited associatively by recurrent circumstances.

It is not surprising, then, that Bentham starts out
with a psychological hedonism in which pleasure is
both the goal of all purposive behavior and the sole
good in it. Nor is it surprising that Bentham sets as
a feasible project to work out a felicific calculus in
which the value of a given lot of pleasure or pain would
be reckoned by measuring each of its components for
intensity, duration, certainty or uncertainty, propin-
quity or remoteness, fecundity, purity, and (where
more than one person is concerned) the extent or
number of persons affected. And he had the hope, at
least for a long time, that subtle units would be found
to make such calculation more precise. His applications
of his calculus are sometimes direct, for example, in
comparing the pains of punishment on offenders of
different sensibility; often, they are indirect, such as
the legislator's assumption that a law which increases
people's wealth will increase their happiness. And large
social problems such as the desirable form of property-
system are worked out as pleasure-problems: property
is but a name for socially supported expectations of
pleasure, hence the type of system desirable is the one
that experience shows will yield the greatest hap-
piness. Bentham at times used different formulations
for his central idea—the greatest happiness, the great-
est happiness of all, the greatest happiness of the
greatest number. The last of these has the widest

The amazing thing about Bentham's pleasure-pain
theory is the vast spread of work that it is made to
do: utilitarianism at the hands of Bentham and J. S.
Mill drew conclusions for major social, legal, and po-
litical institutions; for most areas of personal life and
human relations. A glance at the topics of Mill's
writings—liberty, representative government, eco-
nomics, the position of women, and so forth—is suffi-
ciently indicative. The central critical question is
therefore how far pleasure-pain theory was really doing
the work, or how far it was simply a garb for more
effective though more hidden working premisses.

There is no unanimity among the nineteenth- and
twentieth-century critics of hedonistic utilitarianism.
Some stopped at the outset with the felicific calculus,
argued that pleasure was an evanescent phenomenon,
that it could not be added or summed up. F. H.
Bradley, in a famous chapter of his Ethical Studies
(1876), thus cleared the way for his own self-realiza-
tionist ethics. Others, more interested in what utilitari-
anism accomplished in spite of its pleasure orientation,
thrust the latter aside; John Dewey, for example, took
the pleasure language to be an historical accident, and
the effective ethical thrust to lie in the empirical ex-
amination of consequences of actions and policies, for
solving the problem-situations to which they were
addressed. In a precisely opposite direction, Marx took
the pleasure theory to be the most significant theoret-
ical feature of Benthamism. In The German Ideology
(written in 1846) he traces the development of the
philosophy of pleasure from the language of the
pleasure-loving court nobility to the official bourgeois
economic category of luxury. The bourgeoisie general-
ized pleasure, separated it from its specific contexts,
and analyzed all interpersonal relations as a process
of extracting pleasure. This reduction to utility Marx
sees as the ideological reflection of the bourgeois prac-
tice of exploitation, in which one aim, the increase of
money, becomes the measure of all value. Benthamism
is thus seen by Marx as the exaltation in ethics of a
view of private exploitation of the world.

Perhaps J. S. Mill too can be seen as a critic within
the utilitarian school itself of the pleasure theory. For
not only does he amend the calculus by insisting on
qualitative differences in pleasures, so that an intellec-
tual or aesthetic pleasure is not just quantitatively
equivalent to a large number of physical pleasures, but
he also broadens the conception of happiness. His


statement in Chapter II of his Utilitarianism (1863)
is worth quoting at length:

If by happiness be meant a continuity of highly pleasurable
excitement, it is evident enough that this is impossible. A
state of exalted pleasure lasts only moments, or in some
cases, and with some intermissions, hours or days, and is
the occasional brilliant flash of enjoyment, not its permanent
and steady flame. Of this the philosophers who have taught
that happiness is the end of life were as fully aware as those
who taunt them. The happiness which they meant was not
a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made
up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures,
with a decided predominance of the active over the passive,
and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect
more from life than it is capable of bestowing. A life thus
composed, to those who have been fortunate enough to
obtain it, has always appeared worthy of the name of hap-
piness. And such an existence is even now the lot of many,
during some considerable portion of their lives. The present
wretched education, and wretched social arrangements, are
the only real hindrance to its being attainable by almost

Mill's statement shows also the dominantly reformist
aims of the utilitarians, just as in other contexts his
recognition that happiness can come by association to
include virtuous activity as a constituent, not merely
as a means, shows his basic educational orientation.

It seems most likely that if the specific theory of
pleasure cannot bear the burden of all the work the
utilitarians expected of it, nevertheless the major his-
torical properties of pleasure—the secular and worldly
character, the individualistic emphasis, the rational
ordering tendency in the comparison of activities, the
critical aspect in the demand for a reckoning of policy
in terms of happiness whatever precisely it be—all
together supported effectively the variety of appli-
cations. But if this be so, the concept of pleasure,
precisely at its theoretical peak, loses its firm identity
and dissolves into a whole family of indices going
perhaps in different directions and generating different
enterprises. From this point on in the nineteenth cen-
tury and into the twentieth, the career of pleasure is
best studied in the variety of disciplines in which it
was varyingly used and interpreted.


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.


Sources on individual philosophers referred to are to be
found in the bibliography of the article on “Right and
Good.” See also V. J. McGill, The Idea of Happiness (New
York, 1967). Howard Mumford Jones, The Pursuit of Happi-
(Cambridge, Mass., 1953; Ithaca, 1966), deals with
American legal and social uses of the concept of happiness.
For psychological trends, see H. M. Gardner, Ruth Clark
Metcalf, and John G. Beebe-Center, Feeling and Emotion,
A History of Theories
(New York, 1937); for political philos-
ophy, George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory (New
York, 1937); for economics, Eric Roll, A History of Economic
revised and enlarged ed. (New York, 1946). Recent
analytical treatments of pleasure are discussed in David L.
Perry, The Concept of Pleasure (The Hague, 1967).

For references cited and further references: David
Braybrooke, Three Tests for Democracy: Personal Rights,
Human Welfare, Collective Preference
(New York, 1968).
Erich Fromm, Man for Himself (New York, 1947), Ch. IV.
Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization (Boston, 1955). Karl
Marx, The German Ideology, is the English title given to
the work which was first printed in full in the marx-Engels
12 vols. (Moscow, 1927-35), Abt. I, Bd. 5.
A relevant excerpt of Part II appears as Appendix III in
Sidney Hook, From Hegel to Marx (New York and London,
1936; reprint 1950). Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind
(London, 1949), Ch. IV; Dilemmas (Cambridge, 1956), Ch.
IV. Moritz Schlick, Problems of Ethics, trans. David Rynin
(New York, 1939), Ch. VIII. Herbert Spencer, The Principles
of Ethics,
2 vols. (New York, 1896), Vol. I, Chs. I-VIII.
G. H. von Wright, The Varieties of Goodness (London, 1963),
Chs. III-V. Martha Wolfenstein, “Fun Morality: An Analysis
of Recent American Child-Training Literature,” Journal of
Social Issues,
7, 4 (1951), 15-25, reprinted in Childhood in
Contemporary Cultures,
ed. Margaret Mead and Martha
Wolfenstein (Chicago, 1963), Part III.


[See also Cynicism; Epicureanism; Platonism; Progress;
Right and Good; Social Welfare; Stoicism; Utilitarianism;