Front Page Titles (by Subject) 5.: Pleasures differ according to the activities The standard is the good man. - The Nicomachean Ethics
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
5.: Pleasures differ according to the activities The standard is the good man. - Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics 
The Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle, trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. 5th edition (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Truebner & Co., 1893).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
Pleasures differ according to the activities The standard is the good man.
And from this it seems to follow that pleasures differ in kind, since specifically different things we believe to be completed by specifically different things. For this seems to be the case with the products both of nature and of art, as animals and trees, paintings, sculptures, houses, and furniture. Similarly, then, we believe that exercises of faculty which differ in kind are completed by things different in kind.
But the exercises of the intellectual faculties are specifically different from the exercises of the senses, and the several kinds of each from one another; therefore the pleasures which complete them are also different.
The same conclusion would seem to follow from the close connection that exists between each pleasure and the exercise of faculty which it completes. For the exercise is increased by its proper pleasure; e.g. people are more likely to understand any matter, and to go to the bottom of it, if the exercise is pleasant to them. Thus, those who delight in geometry become geometricians, and understand all the propositions better than others; and similarly, those who are fond of music, or of architecture, or of anything else, make progress in that kind of work, because they delight in it. The pleasures, then, help to increase the exercise; but that which helps to increase it must be closely connected with it: but when things are specifically different from one another, the things that are closely connected with them must also be specifically different.
The same conclusion follows perhaps still more clearly from the fact that the exercise of one faculty is impeded by the pleasure proper to another; e.g. a lover of the flute is unable to attend to an argument if he hears a man playing, since he takes more delight in flute-playing than in his present business; the pleasure of the flute-player, therefore, hinders the exercise of the reason.
The same result follows in other cases, too, whenever a man is exercising his faculties on two things at a time; the pleasanter business thwarts the other, and, if the difference in pleasantness be great, thwarts it more and more, even to the extent of suppressing it altogether. Thus, when anything gives us intense delight, we cannot do anything else at all, and when we do a second thing, we do not very much care about the first; and so people who eat sweetmeats in the theatre do this most of all when the actors are bad.
Since its proper pleasure heightens the exercise of a faculty, making it both more prolonged and better, while pleasure from another source spoils it, it is evident that there is a great difference between these two pleasures. Indeed, pleasure from another source has almost the same effect as pain from the activity itself. For the exercise of a faculty is spoilt by pain arising from it; as happens, for instance, when a man finds it disagreeable and painful to write or to calculate; for he stops writing in the one case and calculating in the other, since the exercise is painful. The exercise of a faculty, then, is affected in opposite ways by its proper pleasure and its proper pain; and by “proper” I mean that which is occasioned by the exercise itself. But pleasure from another source, we have already said, has almost the same effect as its proper pain; i.e. it interferes with the exercise of the faculty, though not to the same extent.
Again, as the exercises of our faculties differ in goodness and badness, and some are to be desired and some to be shunned, while some are indifferent, so do the several pleasures differ; for each exercise has its proper pleasure. The pleasure which is proper to a good activity, then, is good, and that which is proper to one that is not good is bad: for the desire of noble things is laudable, and the desire of base things is blamable; but the pleasures which accompany the exercises of our faculties belong to them even more than the desires do, since the latter are distinct both in time and in nature, while the former are almost coincident in time, and so hard to distinguish from them that it is a matter of debate whether the exercise be not identical with the pleasure.
It seems, however, that the pleasure is not the same as the act of thinking or of feeling; that is impossible: but the fact that the two are inseparable makes some people fancy that they are identical.
As, then, the exercises of the faculties vary, so do their respective pleasures. Sight is purer than touch, hearing and smell than taste* : there is a corresponding difference, therefore, between their pleasures; and the pleasures of the intellect are purer than these pleasures of sense, and some of each kind are purer than others.
Each kind of being, again, seems to have its proper pleasure, as it has its proper function,—viz. the pleasure which accompanies the exercise of its faculties or the realization of its nature. And a separate consideration of the several kinds of animals will confirm this: the pleasures of a horse, a dog, and a man are all different—as Heraclitus says, a donkey would prefer hay to gold; for there is more pleasure in fodder than in gold to a donkey.
The pleasures of specifically different beings, then, are specifically different; and we might naturally suppose that there would be no specific difference between the pleasures of beings of the same species. And yet there is no small difference, in the pleasures of men at least: what pleases this man pains that; what is grievous and hateful to one is pleasant and lovable to another. This occurs in the case of sweet things, too: a man in a fever has a different notion of what is sweet from a man in health; and a feeble man’s notion of what is hot is different from that of a robust man. And the like occurs in other matters also.
But in all matters of this kind we hold that things are what they appear to be to the perfect man.
Now, if this opinion is correct, as we hold it to be—if, that is, in every case the test is virtue, or the good man as such—then what appears to him to be pleasure will be pleasure, and what he delights in will be pleasant.
If what is disagreeable to him appears pleasant to another, we need not be astonished; for there are many ways in which men are corrupted and perverted: such things, however, are not pleasant, but only pleasant to these men with their disposition. It is plain, then, that we must not allow the confessedly base pleasures to be pleasures at all, except to corrupt men.
But of the pleasures that are considered good, which or what kind are to be called the proper pleasures of man? We cannot be in doubt if we know what are the proper exercises of his faculties; for the proper pleasures are their accompaniments. Whether, then, the exercise of faculties proper to the complete and happy man be one or many, the pleasures that complete that exercise will be called pleasures of man in the full meaning of the words, and the others in a secondary sense and with a fraction of that meaning, just as is the case with the exercises of the faculties.
[* ]Sight and touch are classed together on the one hand, and hearing, smell, and taste on the other, because, while the announcements of all the senses are, in the first instance, of secondary qualities (colours, sounds, etc.), it is mainly from the announcements of sight and touch that we advance to the knowledge of the mathematical properties or primary qualities (number, figure, motion, etc.).