Happy Twentieth of September!
For today’s Twentieth, here is a passage from the letter of Cosma Raimondi to remind us that the pursuit of pleasure is not an “addiction” or a “poison” (as referenced in a recent editorial at theguardian.com) but the motivating force of all that we do in life:
“The passions and activities of mankind themselves make plain that everything is done for the sake of pleasure. Why on earth should we spend anxious nights and days involved in such great struggles to find and keep what we need for daily life unless we were sustained by the hope that some day we should be able to live a life of pleasure and enjoyment? If that hope were gone, our minds would be decidedly less inclined to take those pains and less keen and steadfast in enduring them. Why are scholarship and the disciplines of arts and letters thought so desirable unless there is some special natural enjoyment in acquiring them, besides the help they afford in gaining the wherewithal to pass our lives in pleasure? Nor should we be so keen on honours and glory, on kingdoms and empires, to acquire and defend which great battles and disputes often arise, if these were not objects of the utmost delight. Decisions on war and peace alike are taken on the basis of keeping, protecting and increasing those things by which we live and in which we take pleasure.
Virtue, finally, is both the cause and guide of pleasure: it constrains us and warns us that we should pursue each thing within those same limits by which virtue itself is circumscribed. Why then should virtue be desired if not to allow us to lead an enjoyable life by avoiding those pleasures we should not seek and seeking those should? If virtue brings no pleasure or delight, why should we want it or make much of it? But if it does, why not concede that the greatest of all goods — what should seek above all — is that for the sake of which virtue itself is desirable? We see that man’s whole constitution is geared towards the perception of pleasure, that nature carries us towards it, that a great many important things exist for the sake of pleasure, that all our actions are measured against its standard so that in the end lives may be free of care, in short that everything is desired purely on account of pleasure it will give us. In these circumstances, now that Epicurus’s case has conclusively proved by these rigorous and convincing arguments, who could still so hostile to him as not to assent to his doctrine and admit that the highest felicity will be found in pleasure?”
As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!
And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.”