On Pleasure and Pain
From The Republic, Book 9
Socrates: “The third victory [of the just man] now, as at the Olympic games, is sacred to Olympic Jupiter, the saviour; for consider, that the pleasure of the others [non-philosophers] is not every way genuine, but that of the wise man is: nor are they pure, but somehow shadowed over, as I appear to myself to have heard from one of the wise men. And this truly would be the greatest and most complete downfall of the unjust.”
Glauco: “Extremely so. But how do you mean?”
“I shall thus trace it out,” said I, “whilst in searching you answer my questions.”
“Ask then,” said he.
“Tell me then,” replied I, “do we not say that pain is opposite to pleasure?”
“And do we not say likewise, that to feel neither pleasure nor pain is somewhat?”
“We say it is.”
“That being in the middle of both these, it is a certain tranquillity of the soul with reference to them. Do you not thus understand it?”
“Thus,” replied he.
“Do you not remember,” said I, “the speeches of the diseased, which they utter in their sickness.”
“How that nothing is more pleasant than health, but that it escaped their notice before they became sick, that it was the most pleasant.”
“I remember it,” said he.
“And are you not wont to hear those who are under any acute pain say, that there is nothing more pleasant than a cessation from pain?”
“I am wont to hear them.”
“And you may perceive in men, I imagine, the same thing, when they are in many other such like circumstances, where, when in pain, they extol a freedom from pain, and the tranquillity of such a state, as being the most pleasant, and do not extol that of feeling joy.”
“Because this, it is likely,” said he, “becomes at that time pleasant and desirable tranquillity.”
“And when any one ceaseth,” said I, “to feel joy, this tranquillity from pleasure will be painful.”
“It is likely,” said he.
“This tranquillity, then, which we just now said was between the two, will at times become each of these, pain and pleasure.”
“It appears so.”
“But is it truly possible, that what is neither of the two should become both?”
“It does not appear to me that it is.”
“And surely at least, when any thing pleasant or any thing painful is in the soul, both sensations are a certain motion; are they not?”
“But did not that which is neither painful nor pleasant appear just now to be tranquillity and in the middle of these two?”
“It appears so, indeed.”
“How is it right then, to deem it pleasant not to be in pain, or painful not to enjoy pleasure?”
“It is by no means right.”
“In these cases, then, tranquillity is not really so,” said I, “but it appears pleasant in respect of the painful, and painful in respect of the pleasant. And there is nothing genuine in these appearances as to the truth of pleasure, but a certain magical delusion.”
“As our reasoning shows,” said he.
“Consider then,” said I, “the pleasures which do not arise from the cessation of pains, that you may not frequently in the present discourse suppose that these two naturally thus subsist, viz. that pleasure is the cessation of pain, and pain the cessation of pleasure.”
“How,” said he, “and which pleasures do you mean?”
“There are many others,” said I, “but chiefly if you wish to consider the pleasures from smells; for these, without any preceding pain, are on a sudden immensely great, and, when they cease, they leave no pain behind them.”
“Most true,” said he.
“Let us not then be persuaded that pure pleasure is the removal of pain, or pain the removal of pleasure.”
“Let us not.”
“But yet,” said I, “those which extend through the body to the soul, and which are called pleasures, the greatest part of them almost, and the most considerable, are of this species, certain cessations of pain.”
“They are so.”
“And are not the preconceptions of pleasure and pain, which arise in the mind from the expectation of these things, of the same kind?”
“Of the same.”
“Do you know then,” said I, “what kind they are of, and what they chiefly resemble?”
“What?” said he.
“Do you reckon,” said I, “there is any such thing in nature as this, the above, the below, and the middle?”
“Do you think then that any one, when he is brought from the below to the middle, imagines any thing else than that he is brought to the above? and when he stands in the middle, and looks down whence he was brought, will he imagine he is any where else than above, whilst yet he has not seen the true above?”
“By Jupiter,” said he, “I do not think that such an one will imagine otherwise.”
“But if he should again,” said I, “be carried to the below, he would conjecture he was carried to the below, and would conjecture according to truth.”
“How should he not?”
“Would he not be affected in all these respects, from his not having experience in what is really above, and in the middle, and below?”
“It is plain.”
“Would you wonder then, that whilst men are inexperienced in the truth, they have unsound opinions about many other things,—and that as to pleasure and pain, and what is between these, they are likewise affected in this same manner? So that, even when they are brought to what is painful, they imagine truly, and are truly pained; but when from pain they are brought to the middle, they strongly imagine that they are arrived at fullness of pleasure. In the same manner as those who along with the black colour look at the gray, through inexperience of the white, are deceived; so those who consider pain along with a freedom from pain, are deceived through inexperience of pleasure.”
“By Jupiter,” said he, “I should not wonder, but much rather if it were not so.”