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The concept of "pleasure" has always bulked large in thought about human motivation and human values and standards. It seems clear to most people that pleasure and enjoyment are preeminent among the things worth having and that when someone gets pleasure out of something, he develops a desire for it. Moreover, from the time of Plato much of the discussion of the topics of motivation and value has consisted in arguments for and against the doctrines of psychological hedonism (only pleasure is desired for its own sake) and ethical hedonism (only pleasure is desirable for its own sake). One can make an intelligent judgment on these doctrines only to the extent that he has a well-worked-out view as to the nature of pleasure. Otherwise he will be unable to settle such questions as whether a putative counterexample, for instance, a desire for the welfare of one's children, is or is not a genuine example of desiring something other than pleasure for its own sake.

Demarcation of the Topic

Pleasure and pain have usually been regarded as opposite parts of a single continuum. As pain diminishes, it tends toward a neutral point; by continuing in the same "direction" we move toward increasing intensities of pleasure. Thus Jeremy Bentham regarded amounts of pain as negative quantities to be algebraically summated with amounts of pleasure in computing the total hedonic consequences of an action or a piece of legislation. This was in accordance with the utilitarian principle that an action is justified to the extent that it tends to produce pleasure and the diminution of pain. Since pain is most commonly used as a term for a kind of bodily sensation, it is natural to think of pleasure as having the same status. And indeed there are uses of the term pleasure in which it seems to stand for a kind of bodily sensation. Thus we speak of "pleasures of the stomach" and thrills of pleasure. But as hedonists have often insisted, in any sense of the term in which psychological or ethical hedonism is at all plausible, the term pleasure must be used so as to embrace more than certain kinds of localized bodily sensations. When someone maintains that pleasure is the only thing which is desirable for its own sake, he certainly means to include states of the following sort:

  1. Enjoying (taking pleasure in) doing something, such as playing tennis.
  2. Getting satisfaction out of something, such as seeing an enemy humiliated.
  3. Having a pleasant evening; hearing pleasant sounds.
  4. Feeling good, having a sense of well-being.
  5. Feeling contented being.

It seems clear that phenomena of these sorts do not consist in localized bodily sensations of the same type as headaches, except for being of an opposite quality. When someone has enjoyed playing tennis, it makes no sense to ask where (in his body) he enjoyed it. Nor does it make sense to wonder whether the pleasure he got from the tennis came and went in brief flashes, or whether it was steady and continuous; but these would be sensible questions if getting pleasure from playing tennis were a localized bodily sensation like a headache. This is not to deny that various localized sensations might be involved in his enjoyment of the game, such as a swelling in his chest after making a good shot, or a sinking sensation in his stomach after muffing a shot. The point is that his enjoyment of the game cannot be identified with such sensations, for he could be enjoying the game throughout its duration, even though such sensations cropped up only from time to time.

In fact we are confronted with two distinguishable positive-negative dimensions. There is the pleasure-pain dimension, a dimension of bodily sensations ranging from intense pains to intense localizable pleasures of the sort experienced in sexual orgasm. To specify the other dimension we need a terminological convention. We shall use the term getting pleasure as a general designation for an experience like those specified in the above list. Thus, enjoying listening to music and feeling good on arising in the morning are special forms of "getting pleasure." Getting pleasure can, then, be thought of as the positive segment of a dimension, the negative segment of which will be termed getting displeasure and will include such things as feeling bad, feeling discontented, having a miserable time, being uncomfortable, being displeased by someone's action, being "pained" or distressed at the sight of something, and so on. We have variations of degree in this "pleasure-displeasure" dimension, as well as in the "pleasure-pain" dimension. One can enjoy oneself more or less and be displeased at something more or less. Moreover, it would seem that there is an intermediate neutral point at which one is neither pleased nor displeased at what is happening, neither enjoying oneself nor feeling miserable, and so on. It is the pleasure-displeasure dimension that philosophers are really trying to understand when they discuss "pleasure and pain." Hence we shall take the problem of the nature of pleasure to be the problem of understanding what it is to "get pleasure." For simplicity of exposition we shall largely confine the discussion to the positive segment of the pleasure-displeasure dimension; when dealing with the entire dimension we shall use the term hedonic tone.

It is important to realize that in posing the problem in this way philosophers (and psychologists) have assumed that there is something fundamental which is common to enjoying something, getting satisfaction out of something, being pleased at something, feeling good, and so on. It is conceivable that this assumption is mistaken, in which case virtually all the discussions of the problem have been misguided. In this article we shall follow tradition in supposing that there is an important common element to be found.

Pleasure as a Nonlocalized Sensation

Admitting all the above, it still might be supposed that pleasure is a nonlocalized bodily sensation on the order of fatigue or "feeling energetic." (If pleasure is a sensation, it must be a bodily sensation rather than visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or gustatory; for it is evident that pleasure is not simply a function of the stimulation of external sense receptors.) If so, to get pleasure out of playing tennis would be to have the pleasure sensation while playing tennis. This view has been made the target of some acute critical attacks, most notably by the Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle. The main criticisms are as follows:

  1. Any sensation can be either pleasant or unpleasant, depending on further features of the context. A thrill can be either a thrill of pleasure or a thrill of horror. A masochist even gets pleasure out of painful sensations. Some sensations are generally pleasant (moderate warmth), others generally unpleasant (strong electric shock); but the fact that what one enjoys in a particular case depends on factors other than the kind of sensation involved, shows that we cannot identify taking pleasure in something with having a certain kind of sensation.
  2. It would seem that any sensation, if it becomes sufficiently acute, will tend to monopolize consciousness and interfere with concentration on anything else. On the view under consideration, the more pleasure we get out of, say, playing the piano, the more intense the sensation of pleasure would become, the more our attention would be taken up with the sensation of pleasure, and the harder it would become to concentrate on the playing. But the reverse is the case. The more pleasure we get out of doing something, the easier it is to concentrate on it.
  3. Any kind of sensation could conceivably occur without its usual conscious accompaniments and could, indeed, occupy the whole of consciousness. Even if sinking sensations in the stomach normally coincide with a perception or thought of something as dangerous, it is quite possible for one to have such sensations without being aware of anything else at the moment. Thus, on the sensation theory one could conceivably have the pleasure of playing tennis all by itself, without having it in conjunction with one's awareness that one is playing tennis. Pleasures do not seem to be detachable in the way this theory requires them to be. However, to this argument the sensation theorist could reply that we do have cases in which the pleasure sensation occurs all alone, such as feeling good or having a sense of well-being without consciously feeling good about anything in particular. Of course we cannot get the enjoyment of playing tennis without playing tennis, but that is just because of the way the complex phrase "enjoying playing tennis" is defined. We would not label the pleasure we get "the pleasure of playing tennis" unless the pleasure sensation occurred in conjunction with the awareness that one is playing tennis. But this verbal point does not disprove the contention that what makes enjoying playing tennis a case of getting pleasure is the presence of the same sensation which occurs alone in feeling good (about nothing in particular).
  4. A more serious difficulty is posed by another respect in which the sensation theory represents enjoyment as loosely connected with what is enjoyed. According to the theory, to enjoy something is to have the pleasure sensation in conjunction with that something. But if "in conjunction with" means merely "in consciousness at the same time as," we are faced with the following difficulty. Let us suppose that while enjoying playing tennis at a given moment I am aware not only of playing tennis but also of oppressive humidity in the atmosphere and of a plane flying overhead. The pleasure sensation occurs in consciousness at the same time as all these cognitions. Therefore the sensation theory implies that I must be enjoying the oppressive humidity and the plane just as much as I am enjoying playing tennis. But this is contrary to the facts. A person knows immediately which of the various things he is aware of at the moment he is taking pleasure in; and the sensation theory can give no account of this discrimination. We must posit some more intimate connection between the pleasure and its object than simply being together in consciousness at the same time. But it seems that so long as we interpret getting pleasure as having a certain kind of sensation, no more intimate bond can be specified.

Variants of the "Conscious-Quality" Theory

The heavy emphasis on the bodily sensation theory in recent philosophical discussion has tended to obscure the fact that there are a number of other theories that belong to the same family, some of which have been much more important historically than the sensation theory. The general sort of view, of which the sensation theory is a variant, can be described as the view that pleasure is one of the ultimate immediate qualities (or data) of consciousness (experience). To say that it is a quality of consciousness is to say that it constitutes one of the ways in which one state of consciousness differs from another with respect to its own intrinsic nature rather than its relations to other things. (To say that a state of consciousness is a visual sensation of redness is to say something about its intrinsic nature, while to say that it belongs to Jones is not.) It is an immediate quality of consciousness because one is aware of it immediately, just by virtue of its presence; nothing further is required to get at it. Analogously, in a visual sensation one is aware of the color just by virtue of having the sensation; the color is not something that could be there without being the object of awareness. It is an ultimate quality of consciousness, because it cannot be analyzed in any way with respect to its intrinsic nature. Again we may use the less problematic sensory qualities to illustrate the point. A felt pressure differs from a felt warmth, or a seen color from a heard sound, in a way that cannot be further analyzed. To know what the difference is, one must have experienced both. Henceforth, we shall use the terms pleasantness and unpleasantness for the supposed ultimate qualities, the awareness of which is, on this kind of theory, essential for getting pleasure or displeasure.

The thesis that

  1. Pleasure is a kind of bodily sensation (more exactly stated, a quality that defines a kind of bodily sensation)

is one variant of this view; for qualities that do define kinds of bodily sensation are ultimate immediate qualities of experiencetingling, nausea, dizziness, and so on. However, there are other variants that are deserving of more respect.

  • (B ) Pleasure is a kind of feeling, or a quality that defines a kind of feeling, where feelings are taken to be elements of consciousness distinguishable from sensations, including bodily sensations.
  • (C ) Pleasure is a quality that can occur only as one aspect or attribute of some larger conscious complex, as a certain pitch or timbre occurs only as an aspect of a sound that has other aspects. Theories of this sort differ according to the sort of conscious element pleasure is thought to qualify: sensations, complexes of sensations, feelings, and so on. However, once we abandon the project of identifying pleasure with a certain kind of mental element, there is no reason not to take the most liberal alternative and consider the quality of pleasantness attachable to any sort of conscious state. This would have the advantage of not forcing us to explain away the fact that thoughts, realizations, memories, and mental images all seem to be accompanied by pleasure in the same way as sensations. For purposes of further discussion we shall take as our formulation of (C ): Pleasure is a quality that can attach to any state of consciousness.

Let us consider whether the arguments against (A ) cited above have any force against (B ) and (C ). Both the first argument (that any sensation can be pleasant or unpleasant) and the second (that any sensation is capable of monopolizing consciousness) depend on specific features of bodily sensations; one could hardly expect them to have any bearing on theories that do not identify getting pleasure with having a certain kind of bodily sensation. With respect to thesis (C ), it is not clear that every quality of conscious states is inherently neutral between being pleasant and unpleasant, nor is it clear that every quality of conscious states will monopolize attention in proportion to its degree. With respect to thesis (B ), there are, of course, feelings that are, or essentially involve, bodily sensations (feeling nauseated, feeling tired), and the arguments do apply to these. But thesis (B ) identifies pleasure with feelings that are distinct from bodily sensations. Apart from this qualification there are feelings, ordinarily so called, which, no matter how "strongly" one has them, do not tend to monopolize attention (feeling calm), and there are feelings that are not, by their nature, neutral between pleasantness and unpleasantness (feeling contented, feeling distressed). Such examples show that the consideration adduced in the first two arguments cannot be used to rule out the possibility that pleasure is some kind of feeling.

The third argument (that any sensation should be capable of occurring without its usual conscious accompaniments), on the other hand, does rule out the possibility of pleasure being a feeling, if a feeling is conceived as a mental element that could occur alone. However, we must remember that thesis (B ) is distinguishable from thesis (A ) only to the extent that it is restricted to feelings that are not identifiable, in whole or in part, with bodily sensations. And insofar as such feelings exist, it is doubtful that they are capable of occupying the whole of consciousness.

To make this point more concrete, let us look at the way position (B ) developed. Its historical roots are to be found in the tripartite division of the mind into faculties of cognition, will, and feeling, a scheme developed in Germany in the eighteenth century by such men as Moses Mendelssohn and Immanuel Kant. Roughly speaking, the faculty of feeling is the faculty of being consciously affected, positively or negatively, by things of which one becomes aware through the faculty of cognition. Already the suggestion appears that a feeling is something that arises only in reaction to one or more cognitions and hence does not have the essential autonomy of a sensation. The introspective psychologists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who tried to work out a doctrine of feeling as a distinctive kind of element of consciousness, most notably Wilhelm Wundt and E. B. Titchener, wound up with a notion of feelings as, in effect, simply hypostatized bearers of the supposed ultimate qualities of pleasantness and unpleasantness. Wundt, indeed, tried to incorporate other qualities into feelings, namely, the dimensions of strain-relaxation, and excitement-quiescence; but other workers in the field tended to regard these as features of associated bodily sensations.

More generally, it seems likely that insofar as two feelings, ordinarily so called, differ in their immediate "feel," other than with respect to pleasantness and unpleasantness, this difference can be attributed to the bodily sensations involved. Thus, if we contrast feeling homesick and feeling relieved, or feeling distressed and feeling contented, the difference in "feel," apart from different degrees of pleasantness and unpleasantness, will come down to differences in the kinds of bodily sensations involved. Hence, we are left with pleasantness and unpleasantness as the only qualitative dimension of feelings, construed as elements distinguishable from bodily sensations. Since it was generally held that such feelings could occur only in reaction to "cognitive" mental elements, including sensations, the third argument has no force against the thesis that getting pleasure out of something consists in having a pleasant feeling in conjunction with that something. But immunity from those criticisms is purchased at the price of any significant distinction between theses (B ) and (C ). Instead of saying that pleasantness and unpleasantness are qualities of special mental elements termed feelings, which can occur only in conjunction with other mental elements, we might just as well say that pleasantness and unpleasantness are qualities that can attach to any mental element. For since on the feeling theory nothing can be said about the intrinsic nature of feelings, other than that they "bear" the qualities of pleasantness and unpleasantness, it would be in principle impossible to determine by introspection whether, when I am relieved at discovering that my child is out of danger, the pleasantness I experience attaches to my awareness of the situation or to a feeling that occurs in response to my awareness. There would be a point in adopting the more complex categorization of the experience in terms of special feeling-elements if the postulation of such elements were needed for the construction of a theory as to the causes and/or effects of getting pleasure and displeasure. But the notion of feeling-elements has not so far demonstrated any theoretical fertility. Thus, when probed, thesis (B ) reduces to thesis (C ).

Thesis (C )that pleasure is a quality that can attach to any state of consciousnessescapes the third and fourth arguments, as well as the first two. The third argument obviously has no application since, according to this thesis, pleasure can exist only as a quality of some more concrete entity. It escapes the fourth argument (that according to the sensation theory, pleasure would attach to any awareness present in consciousness at the same time) because it is possible that the quality of pleasantness would attach to one apprehension and not another, even if both are in the same consciousness at the same time. Thus, in the example given, pleasantness could attach to my awareness of playing tennis but not to my awareness of the humid atmosphere, even though I am aware of both simultaneously.

Thus thesis (C ) emerges as the only serious contender from the ranks of quality-of-consciousness theories, and historically most such theories can be regarded as approximations to it. John Locke treated pleasure and pain as "simple ideas obtained both from sensation and reflection," and for David Hume pleasure and pain were "impressions of sensation." Neither Locke nor Hume distinguished in any systematic way between kinds of sensations, qualities of sensations, feelings, and qualities of feelings. If we look at the way they actually used the notions of an "idea of pleasure" or "impression of pleasure," we can see that in effect they took pleasure to be a qualitative feature that can attach to any state of consciousness. The "sensationist" psychologists, such as David Hartley and James Mill (whose psychology, in the hands of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, became the basis of the utilitarian ethics and social philosophy), took pleasure and pain to be ultimate, unanalyzable properties of sensations, copies of sensations (ideas), and combinations of sensations and ideas; pleasure and pain were thought to be transferred, via association, to any mental content. None of these thinkers distinguished between the pleasure-pain and the pleasant-unpleasant dimensions, but once we clear up that confusion their view, as applied to the latter, can be seen to be a form of thesis (C ).

Consideration of Conscious-Quality Theory

The main support for the conscious-quality theory comes from the fact, already noted, that a person knows immediately when he is getting pleasure from something. He knows it in a way no one else could conceivably know itjust by virtue of being the one who is getting the pleasure. He has an epistemologically "privileged access" to the fact. Since it is natural to take the awareness of sensory qualities, especially visual ones, as a paradigm of immediate knowledge of one's psychological states, it is natural to construe what one knows when he knows that he is enjoying something as some ultimate quality of consciousness.

Nevertheless, on further probing, the thesis that pleasure is a quality that can attach to any state of consciousness is not very plausible phenomenologically. When we reflect on a wide variety of cases of getting pleasure, as indicated by the list at the beginning of this article, we are unable to isolate a felt quality that they all share, in the way in which we can easily isolate a quality of redness which a number of different visual sensations share, or a quality of painfulness that a number of different bodily sensations share. On the contrary, enjoying playing tennis feels very different from getting satisfaction out of seeing an enemy in distress, and both feel very different from the sense of well-being one has when, in good health, one arises carefree from a good night's sleep. Nor does it seem possible to find in these experiences some respect in which they are qualitatively the same, as two sounds, otherwise very different, can be the same in pitch. Even if we stick to one term in the "pleasure family," such as getting satisfaction, it seems equally implausible to suppose that there is some felt quality common to getting satisfaction out of seeing an enemy in distress and getting satisfaction out of the realization of a job well done. The enjoyment or satisfaction seems to take whatever felt quality it has from what one is enjoying or getting satisfaction from. Thus John Stuart Mill was on sound ground in insisting, against Bentham, that there are qualitative differences between "pleasures."

These doubts are reinforced by the fact that here we are without external support for the postulation of basic conscious qualities. In the case of sensory qualities, at least those of the external senses, we can tie down the quality to a certain kind of stimulation; people ordinarily get red visual sensations when and only when their optic nerves are stimulated by stimuli of a certain physical description. Moreover, certain kinds of variations in the physical properties of the stimulus can be correlated with judgments of degrees of properties of the sensation, such as hue, saturation, and shade. These correlations support our confidence in purely introspective discriminations between visual qualities. Nothing of the sort is possible with pleasantness. This quality, if such there be, does not vary with variations in physical stimuli in any discernible fashion. Nor can anything much better be found on the response side. It is true that there are gross typical differences in bearing and manner between a person enjoying himself and a person having a miserable time, between a person satisfied with the way things are going and a person who feels terribly frustrated. On the positive side of these contrasts we are more likely to get relaxation, expansiveness, and smooth coordination; on the negative side tenseness, constriction, and disruption of ongoing activities. But these manifestations differ so much from case to case because of other factorsgeneral personality characteristics and state of health, for examplethat they cannot be taken as reliable indications of how much pleasure or displeasure a given person is getting at the moment.

Motivational Theories

No doubt there is something that all the experiences we have classified under "getting pleasure" have in common. If it is not an immediately felt quality, what is it? In searching for an alternative we might well take note of a different tradition in which the notion of pleasure was analyzed motivationally, in terms of the realization of the good, of the object of striving. In many systematic schemes of the "passions of the soul," the basic notion is appetite, inclination, striving, or tendency of the person toward some object he apprehends as good or desirable. Pleasure, delight, or joy is then defined as the state in which this object is actually present, in which the appetite has reached fruition. Versions of this view are to be found in Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hobbes, Benedict de Spinoza, and many other philosophers, as well as in some more-recent psychologists, notably William McDougall. The basic presuppositions of this approach to the subject are quite different from those of Locke and Hume. For Locke and Hume, and British empiricists generally, the way to understand any psychological concept is either to find it among the immediate data of introspection or to show how it is to be analyzed into such data. This approach ultimately stems from the Cartesian insistence that one knows one's own states of consciousness better than anything else, in particular, better than physical objects and events, since it is possible to doubt the existence of all the latter but not of all the former. Hence it is natural for one in this tradition freely to posit immediate qualities of consciousness whenever there is any plausibility to doing so. Thinkers in the other tradition have a more objectively oriented epistemology, according to which conscious experience has no priority over, for instance, overt behavior as an object of investigation and an object of knowledge. This leaves them free to explore the possibility of analyzing the notion of pleasure in terms of notions like appetite, or tendency, which could not be regarded as immediate objects of introspection.

Their view of the nature of pleasure might be formulated as follows:

  • (D ) To get pleasure is to be in a state of consciousness which includes the awareness that one has obtained something one wants.

There are serious difficulties with this version of a motivational theory of pleasure. No doubt there are many pleasures that do presuppose a want in the absence of which no such pleasure would be forthcoming. I would not take pleasure in the discomfiture or prosperity of a certain person unless I wanted him to be discomfited or to prosper, as the case may be. But it seems that there are many pleasures which do not presuppose any such preexisting want. Simple sensory pleasures, such as the pleasure of eating a good steak, are the most obvious cases. Having found steak pleasant, we may then develop a desire for a steak; but here the want presupposes the prior experience of pleasure, not vice versa. The view under consideration does not deny that wants can be reinforced or strengthened by the experience of pleasure in their satisfaction. But it does deny that one can get pleasure from anything except by way of that thing satisfying some previously existing want. And this seems contrary to experience. Surely infants take pleasure in many things, such as throwing a ball, when they encounter them for the first time. Prior to this encounter they could not have had a desire for it, for they did not yet know what throwing a ball is. It is noteworthy that proponents of this position maintain it in the face of these difficulties only by generously positing instincts and other nonconscious "tendencies" and "strivings."

However, there are other versions of a motivational theory that do not presuppose a preexisting desire for each pleasure. The most promising is a view put forward by Henry Sidgwick, among others:

  • (E ) To get pleasure is to have an experience that, as of the moment, one would rather have than not have, on the basis of its felt quality, apart from any further considerations regarding consequences.

This account makes pleasure a function not of a preexisting desire but of a preference one has at the moment of the experience. To say that one has the preference at the moment is not to say that one expresses the preference even to oneself; it is not to say anything about what is before one's consciousness at the moment. It is, rather, to say something dispositionalfor example, that one would choose to have an experience just like this rather than not if one were faced with such a choice at this moment and if no considerations other than the quality of the experience were relevant. This, unlike thesis (D ), allows for the possibility of taking pleasure in something one did not previously have a tendency to seek. On the other hand, it is also clearly distinct from the conscious quality theory. According to thesis (E ), when one says that he is enjoying something, he is saying something about the quality of his experience; he is saying that the quality of his experience is such that on that basis alone he would prefer to have it rather than not to have it. But he is not saying what the quality of his experience is; he is saying, rather, how it is related to his preferences, likes, or desires. More particularly, he is not saying that there is some particular quality, "pleasantness," present in the experience. On this view, the felt qualities on the basis of which the experience is valued can be as diverse as the range of human likes. They can involve calm, excitement, warmth, cold, thrills, and sinking feelings.

It might seem that the strongest reason for the conscious-quality view, the fact that pleasure is something to which the subject has privileged access, would pose a difficulty for thesis (E ), but this is not necessarily so. It is natural to think that the only things an individual can know about immediately, in a way no one else can, are the qualities of his experience; and indeed sensory qualities have this status. But there are many things to which an individual has privileged access that cannot be regarded as immediately felt qualities, such as intentions, attitudes, and beliefs. If I intend to quit my job tomorrow, I know that I have this intention without having to do any investigation to find out; I know just by virtue of having the intention; I know this as immediately as I know that I am now aware of a reddish patch. And it is in principle impossible for anyone else to know in this way that I have that intention. Yet an intention is neither a felt quality nor a complex of felt qualities. Hence the epistemological status of pleasure is not a conclusive reason for construing it as a quality of experience. The epistemological status of pleasure does place a constraint on the range of possible theories; we cannot identify pleasure with something to which the subject does not have privileged access, such as a certain pattern of neuron firings in the brain. However, among the nonsensory quality items to which a person has privileged access are his likes, preferences, and wants. It seems reasonable to suppose that a person's knowledge that he would choose to have an experience just like his present one on the basis of its felt quality can be just as immediate as his knowledge that he is aware of a red patch.

Motivational theories have the following superiority over conscious-quality theories. It does not seem to be merely a contingent fact that pleasure is desirable, or that the fact that an activity is enjoyable is a reason for doing it. "I get a lot of satisfaction out of teaching, but I see absolutely no reason to do it" sounds like a self-contradiction. This is not to say that the fact that one will get pleasure out of something is a conclusive reason for doing it; there may well be other considerations that outweigh this. I would enjoy playing tennis now, but if an urgent job has to be completed, that is a good reason for not playing tennis. What we are suggesting to be necessarily true is (P ) the fact that one gets pleasure out of x is a reason for doing or seeking x. This reason must be put into the balance along with other relevant reasons in making a decision in any particular case. The conscious-quality theory can throw no light on this necessity. If pleasure is an unanalyzable quality of experience, there is nothing about the meanings of the terms involved in (P ) that would make it necessarily true. Why should it be necessarily true that a certain unanalyzable quality of experience is something to be sought? It would seem that any such quality is something that would or would not be taken as desirable by a given person, or people in general, depending on further factors. A motivational theory, on the other hand, analyzes the concept of pleasure in such a way as to make principles like (P ) necessary. If to enjoy an experience is just to be disposed to choose an experience exactly like it if nothing other than the felt quality is relevant, then it follows trivially that the fact that something involves enjoyment is a reason for choosing it.

Superficially it might appear that opting for a motivational theory would involve a commitment to psychological hedonism, but this would be a mistake. The motivational theory commits us to holding that pleasure is (always) intrinsically desirable, but it carries no implication that pleasure is the only thing intrinsically desirable. One could adopt thesis (E ) as his theory of the nature of pleasure and still regard other things as intrinsically desirable, such as fulfillment of one's potentialities and intellectual consistency, independent of any pleasure they might bring. It is an analysis of desire in terms of pleasure that would stack the cards in favor of psychological hedonism. If we hold that to desire something is to think of it as pleasant, it does follow that we do not desire anything except pleasure or what is believed to lead to pleasure.

The Measurement of Pleasure

The problem of measuring hedonic tone has occupied both psychologists and philosophers. Psychologists have addressed themselves to such problems as the physiological basis of pleasure, the dependence of pleasantness on various aspects of sensory stimulation (such as contrast), and the effect of pleasure and displeasure on the speed and efficiency of learning. To deal with these problems they have to study the effect of variation of sensory stimulus conditions, for instance, on degree of hedonic tone, or the effect of variations in hedonic tone on something else, such as ease of recall of learned material. To do this, one must be able to specify the degree or amount of hedonic tone present at a given moment. Philosophical concern with the measurement of pleasure has grown out of utilitarianism and other hedonistic ethical theories. According to utilitarianism, an action is justified if and only if it will probably lead to a greater balance of pleasure over displeasure for everyone affected than any possible alternative action. Applying this principle to a particular case would involve estimating the total quantity of pleasure and displeasure that would be produced by each of the possible choices. To do this we would first have to list the ways in which one choice or another would make the situation, patterns of activities, and so on of a given person different from what they would be if that choice had not been made. Second, we would have to obtain information concerning how much pleasure or displeasure that person has derived from the situations and activities in question. Third, we would have to project how much pleasure and displeasure the person would derive from each of these in the future, taking into account any changes in circumstances, age, and so on that could be expected to make a difference. Fourth, we would have to sum up the hedonic consequences for that person. Fifth, having done this for each person likely to be affected, we would have to sum these results, arriving at a figure representing the probable total hedonic consequences of that choice.

Some of the problems relevant to these procedures fall outside the scope of this article. These include the problem of determining just what the objective consequences of a choice are likely to be, the problem of determining what features of a situation are responsible for the pleasure or displeasure felt, and the problem of projecting probable future pleasure from past pleasures. These are all essentially general problems of inductive reasoning. The problems having to do specifically with the measurement of pleasure are (1) How can one determine the degree of pleasure or displeasure experienced by a given person at a given moment? (2) How can one compare the amount of pleasure felt by one person at a given time with the amount of pleasure felt by another person at a given time?

In everyday discourse we compare pleasures and displeasures. We say things like "I didn't enjoy that party as much as the last one," "I get more pleasure out of gardening now than I used to," and "That interview was not as unpleasant as I had expected it to be." Even granting the reliability of such comparative judgments, the utilitarian needs something more. He needs to be able to specify the hedonic value of particular experiences in numbers that he can meaningfully subject to arithmetical operations, so that if a person gets four positive units (pleasure) from one minute of playing tennis and one negative unit (displeasure) from the next minute of playing tennis, the total hedonic value of the two minutes is greater than that of two minutes spent lying in the sun, from which he derived one positive unit per minute.

An obvious move is to try to refine everyday comparative judgments in such a way as to yield these kinds of results. (In fact, all the methods that have actually been used have been of this sort.) We might ask the subject to consider a large number of his past experiences and to make a comparative judgment on each pair. Possibly after ironing out a few inconsistencies, we would arrange a series such that each experience is more pleasant, or less unpleasant, than any experience lower in the series. We could then have the subject locate a point of hedonic indifference, after which we could assign positive and negative integers to the ranks diverging in either direction from the point of indifference. This would constitute a hedonic scale for that individual. Any other experience would be assigned a number by matching it with an experience on the scale from which it is hedonically indistinguishable. (If it fell between two experiences on the scale, the scale would have to be revised.)

Even assuming that subjects make responses that would enable us to set up an unambiguous scale, one might still doubt that it provides an adequate measuring procedure. First, it relies heavily on the subject's memory of how much pleasure or displeasure he got out of something in the past, and such memories are notoriously fallible. Second, even if we have constructed a scale such that, given two adjoining experiences, the subject is unable to think of an experience which would lie between them, it is still an open question whether the intervals between the items are equal. We have as successive items (a ) taking a shower after a game of tennis, (b ) being complimented on a performance, and (c ) seeing one of one's children receive a prize. What reason is there to think that (c ) is just exactly as much more pleasant than (b ) as (b ) is than (a )? And yet we have to make that assumption if we are going to use the numerical assignments to compare one "sum" of pleasures with another.

A different procedure would be to have the subject rate an experience, when it happens, by an absolute scale, for instance, a nine-point scale ranging from +4 to 4. This would avoid the problem about memory, but it brings fresh difficulties in its stead. Why suppose that the subject is in fact using the same standards every time we get him to make a rating? For that matter, why suppose that ratings which people are forced to make on an artificially constructed scale correspond to any real differences in experience at all? Moreover, there is still the question of whether the intervals on our "absolute scale," as used by the subject, reflect equal differences in actual degree of hedonic tone. If one of these procedures yielded measurements that entered into well-confirmed hypotheses relating hedonic tone to, for example, various properties of learning, this would bolster our confidence in the procedure. At least it would show that we were measuring something important. But such results have not been obtained to any considerable extent.

Even if all the above problems were surmounted, it would still be very difficult to compare the amount of pleasure or displeasure experienced by two different people. Suppose that I am trying to determine whether the total balance of pleasure over displeasure (or the reverse) is greater for my wife or for myself with respect to a given party. Even if the foregoing problems could be surmounted and we could find a valid way of assigning a hedonic number for each of us, relative to a scale for each, how are we to calibrate the two scales? How are we to determine whether a rating of +3 on my scale represents the same amount of pleasure as a rating of +3 on her scale?

So long as we restrict ourselves to refinements of the method of introspective judgment, the problem of intersubjective comparison seems insoluble. On the other hand, if there were some intersubjectively measurable variable, or complex of variables, which we had reason to think is intimately related to hedonic tone and which correlated well enough with rough introspective judgments to be taken as a measure of hedonic tone, all problems would be solved. Such a development is still in the future. Attempts to correlate introspective hedonic judgments with gross physiological variables on the order of pulse rate or patterns of respiration have not been fruitful. There has been no end of speculation concerning the neurological basis of hedonic tone. Pleasantness has been thought to depend on the degree to which assimilation counteracts dissimilation in the activity of any group of central neurones (A. Lehmann), the degree of the capacity of a neural element to react to stimulation (H. R. Marshall), the average rate of change of conductance in the synapses (L. T. Troland), and so on. Thus far, none of these theories has yielded effective physiological measures.

See also Bentham, Jeremy; Cartesianism; Empiricism; Good, The; Hartley, David; Hedonism; Hobbes, Thomas; Hume, David; Kant, Immanuel; Locke, John; McDougall, William; Mendelssohn, Moses; Mill, James; Mill, John Stuart; Pain; Plato; Ryle, Gilbert; Sensa; Sidgwick, Henry; Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch) de; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Utilitarianism; Wundt, Wilhelm.


Plato discusses the nature of pleasure in his dialogues Philebus and Timaeus. Aristotle's main discussion is in Book X of the Nicomachean Ethics. A very illuminating history of the topic is H. M. Gardiner, R. C. Metcalf, and J. G. Beebe-Center, Feeling and Emotion, A History of Theories (New York, 1937).

Important discussions by contemporary analytical philosophers include Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (London: Hutchinson, 1949), Ch. 4, and Dilemmas (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1954), Ch. 4; a symposium, "Pleasure," between Ryle and W. B. Gallie in PAS, Supp. 28 (1954): 135164; Terence Penelhum, "The Logic of Pleasure," in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 17 (1957): 488503; Anthony Kenny, Action, Emotion, and Will (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963), Ch. 6; P. H. Nowell-Smith, Ethics (London: Penguin, 1954), Chs. 810; and R. B. Brandt, Ethical Theory (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1959), Ch. 12.

Karl Duncker's article "Pleasure, Emotion and Striving," in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 1 (1940): 391430, is a brilliant phenomenological analysis of the varieties of pleasure and their relation to desire. The psychological research on hedonic tone is well summarized in J. G. Beebe-Center, The Psychology of Pleasantness and Unpleasantness (New York, 1932). More recent developments are surveyed in Beebe-Center's article "Feeling and Emotion," in Theoretical Foundations of Psychology, edited by Harry Helson (New York: Van Nostrand, 1951).

The measurement of pleasure is discussed in Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (2nd ed., Oxford, 1907), Ch. 4; Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics (London: Macmillan, 1874), Book II, Chs. 2 and 3 (also good on the nature of pleasure); R. B. Perry, General Theory of Value (New York: Longmans Green, 1926), Ch. 21; and Robert McNaughton, "A Metrical Conception of Happiness," in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 14 (1954): 172183.

William P. Alston (1967)


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The most inclusive uses of pleasure (commonly conceived as the opposite of pain) are both critical to and distinct from its development in the technical vocabulary of psychoanalysis as well as its more recent proliferation in the fields of queer and sexuality studies. This entry describes pleasure as conceived in psychoanalytic approach and then considers how the term has morphed in feminist, gender, and queer studies.

The colloquial connotations of pleasure include desirable, satisfaction, enjoyment, indulgence, delight, and gratification. Pleasure in its everyday use bears close relations to the realm of the sensual and sexual: To pleasure can mean to have sex with or to masturbate. The link with sex is also apparent when pleasure means indulgence in sexual desire, evident in phrases such as pleasures of the flesh, or the somewhat archaic phrase, a woman of pleasure, to indicate a prostitute (sex worker).

The pleasure/pain dichotomy has long been questioned. Multiple disciplines (psychoanalysis, philosophy, psychology, and biology) have produced epistemological terrains for understanding pleasure and pain. Plato (427–347 bce) argues that emotions often combine feelings of both pleasure and pain. Likewise, Aristotle (384–322 bce) gives us the example of the affect of anger, which requires taking pleasure in thoughts of revenge.


In Freudian psychoanalysis, the pleasure principle dominates over mental life, binding excitations to ensure that they remain at a low, constant level (pleasure) as opposed to a high, fluctuating level (unpleasure). Unbound energy travels freely in the unconscious, whereas bound energy undergoes a regulatory mechanism. Binding prevents unpleasure by mastering energy that might otherwise overwhelm the senses due to its excess.

According to Freud, the pleasure principle operates alongside the reality principle, which introduces an ability to postpone feeling and a temporary toleration of unpleasure that helps navigate sensation. The basic principle is that the ego is threatened by unbound processes. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1922) Freud writes that unbound processes create extremely intense feelings, both of pleasure and unpleasure. Pleasure and unpleasure here are not diametrically opposed but entwined and enmeshed, sometimes serving as each other's own limits.

Freud studied trauma neuroses where there is a feeling of fright, an inability to protective oneself against external dangers. In traumatic neuroses one often repeats the trauma (in dreams, hallucinations). For instance, children often relive unpleasurable events in order to gain mastery over them. After a child undergoes a scary doctor's appointment, the child may go home and re-enact the experience—only this time, the child plays the role of the doctor. Re-experiencing—a compulsion to repeat—repressed material is necessary, but the more re-experiencing (which implies immediacy) can be exchanged for remembering (which implies distance), the better. In this sense it is necessary to undergo a certain amount of unpleasure to reach a state where it is possible to bind newly liberated repressed material and to keep stimulation low.

Freud sees in instincts a conservative urge to retreat to an earlier stage. In one sense the compulsion to repeat is a form of this desire to return to an original state. Yet the compulsion to repeat is also in opposition to the pleasure principle because it does not encourage low, stable levels of stimulation. The final goal of all instincts is to return to the initial state of inertia. Thus, where pleasure is concerned, "the aim of all life is death." However, it is important to keep in mind that the reality principle helps check the pleasure principle: It modifies what Freud calls the Nirvana principle, and this is, in part, due to the influence of the libido. This creates a distinction between the pleasure principle and immediate death or inertia, because the pleasure principle, unchecked, is in tension with survival. As well, it introduces the idea of constancy as necessary for pleasure, one of the notions that later BDSM (bondage and discipline/domination and submission/sadism and masochism) sexual subcultures took to heart. These various factors can account for the differences between experiences of pleasurable tension and unpleas-urable tension.

The pleasure principle is intimately connected to the sexual instincts due to early autoeroticism of the infant and prepubescent stages of sexual development. Sexual instincts are thus attached to fantasy and pleasure. For Freud, unbound drives are both tempting and dangerous due to their heightened intensity, and it is noteworthy that Freud identifies untamed drives as perverse, wild, irresistible, and instinctual. Whereas this has been a subject of debate, it is important to recognize that pleasure is often closely linked to danger. Michel Foucault, for instance, wrote about the Speaker's Benefit, the phrase he uses to capture the idea of the pleasure one has in speaking about sex in a culture where discussing sex, sexual desire, and sexuality is considered taboo.


Being castigated for expressing pleasure has long been a topic of feminist concern. In nineteenth-century Western European countries as well as the United States, some women who expressed too much sexual pleasure were considered dangerous and deviant. If their sexual pleasure was taken too far, they may have been diagnosed with nymphomania and subjected to treatments ranging from the bedrest cure to genital cutting—the removal of the clitoris as a site of pleasure.

The fact that variously gendered bodies and subjectivities have been officially punished, medically diagnosed, or culturally shamed for seeking pleasure in the wrong object, wrong thought, or wrong act has long been a topic of gay/lesbian/bi/trans/queer concern. The late 1960s and 1970s feminist movements taught women to discover their own pleasure. Consciousness-raising (CR) groups, along with books such as Our Bodies, Ourselves (1973), helped educate people about female anatomy and pleasure. Positive attitudes toward diverse ways of achieving sexual gratification also inspired the founding of the woman-centered sex store Good Vibrations in 1977. Within feminism, debates about pleasure, such as when one's fantasy or sexual life involves pleasure not traditionally seen as feminist in nature (e.g., domination, submission), exploded at the infamous Barnard Conference on sexuality in 1982 out of which much literature and an anthology, Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexualities, appeared.

Pleasure is also integral to the sex-positive movement that includes cultural sexperts such as Susie Bright, Annie Sprinkle (b. 1954), Carol Queen, and Patrick Califia-Rice (b. 1954), and activist organizations such as COYOTE, Samois, and the Society of Janus. Here the feminist slogan the personal is political could be tweaked to read that the pleasurable is political.

Pleasure has also received a great deal of attention in feminist and queer film studies, an enterprise that incorporates both scopophilia, or pleasure in looking, as well as the multiple objects and sites of pleasure in cinema. In The Interpretation of Dreams (1913), Freud noted that in a dream the dreamer (or the spectator of a film) can inhabit multiple subject positions. That is, the dreamer can be the one dreaming, the one being dreamt about, the one controlling the dream, or even several people in the dream. Pleasure, then, is not a simple feeling. It is linked with the realm of fantasy, and it has long been noted that fantasies do not necessarily match up with political commitments. Pleasure can be experienced contradictorily, or in combination with unpleasure.

The second volume of Foucault's History of Sexuality serves as another seminal text on pleasure. Titled The Use of Pleasure, Foucault's book considers pleasure in ancient Greek society and argues that sexual pleasures were structured by moral experiences and ethical problems involving sexual ethics of aphrodisia (the "acts, gestures and contacts that produce a certain form of pleasure"), the use or type of subjection that practicing pleasures underwent to attain moral valorization, the mastery that was required to produce one as an ethical subject, and the concept of moderation that ultimately characterized ethical sexual subjects.

In sexuality studies the term jouissance (orgasmic bliss, rapture that transcends or shatters the stable subject) may mistakenly seem to be interchangeable with pleasure due to that term's derivation from the French verb jouir. Jouissance does not belong to the same stream of thought. French social and literary critic Roland Barthes (1915–1980) distinguishes the terms. For Barthes, plaisir is pleasure linked to enjoyment and does not threaten the ego. Whereas jouissance shatters and disrupts, pleasure confers upon the subject a sense of self. For French psychiatrist Jacques Lacan (1901–1981), jouissance is not just pleasurable; it is heightened sensation aroused to a point of discomfort—the place where a cry of pleasure and a cry of pain become inseparable. This is different from the bound state or the wish to return to the inorganic state that Freud theorizes when he conceives of sex as increased stimulation, something that does not necessarily resonate with the pleasure principle.

Another critical point about pleasure, particularly in the wake of the essentialism versus social constructionism debates, is that there is nothing natural about whom or from what one derives pleasure. Whether it is a sexual experience, a sensual experience, a culinary pleasure, a pleasure in looking, a pleasure in shopping, or a pleasure in certain sex acts, pleasure varies among individuals, cultures, and time periods. Gayle Rubin's influential article "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality" (1984) made it clear that a culture might valorize certain sanctioned pleasures and castigate what does not fall into the charmed circle of acceptable forms of pleasure, but this is a distinctly cultural, not a natural or biological, phenomenon.

see also Bondage and Discipline; Dreams and Eroticism, Dream Books; Erotic Art; Kiss, Modern; Kiss, Pre-Modern; Lust; Sexual Subcultures.


Boston Women's Health Book Collective. 1973. Our Bodies, Ourselves; A Book by and for Women. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Bright, Susie. 1997. Susie Bright's Sexual State of the Union. New York: Touchstone Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books.

Freud, Sigmund. 1913. The Interpretation of Dreams. London: G. Allen and Company.

Freud, Sigmund. 1922. Beyond the Pleasure Principle, ed. C. J. M. Hubback. London: The International Pyscho-Analytic Press.

Mulvey, Laura. 1989. Visual and Other Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Nagle, Jill, ed. 1997. Whores and Other Feminists. New York: Routledge.

Robertson, Pamela. 1996. Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna. Durham, NC: Duke University Press

Rubin, Gayl. 1984. "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality." In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & K. Paul.

Snitow, Ann; Christine Stansell; and Sharon Thompson, eds. 1983. Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Storr, Merl. 2003. Latex and Lingerie: Shopping for Pleasure at Ann Summers Parties. New York: Berg Publishers.

Vance, Carol. 1984. Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. New York: HarperCollins.

Williams, Linda. 1989. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible. Berkeley: University of California Press.

                                               Christine Rose


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pleasure Several philosophical movements have been explicitly directed towards pleasure, treating it as an end in itself rather than as the consequence of some higher ideal, such as virtue, knowledge, or faith. These include Epicureanism, Utilitarianism, and psychoanalysis. All three systems evaluate human behaviour in practical terms: what matters is not whether a given action is right or wrong, but whether it is conducive to happiness. Pleasure philosophies tend to be empirical and materialistic, taking sensations as a starting point and referring only to lived experience. Not surprisingly, they all evolved in opposition to the dominant world view.

Epicureanism arose in Greece in the fourth century bc. The school's founder, Epicurus, was trained in the Platonist tradition then popular in Athens, but came to reject Plato's philosophy because it undervalued day-to-day life. In place of the abstract reasoning which emphasized thought over feelings and subordinated worldly concerns to pure ideas, Epicurus taught that nothing exists beyond the realm of sensations. Nature is the best guide to behaviour; by appreciating our human instincts, and learning how best to satisfy them, we ensure that our lives will be happy.

Epicureanism has been misrepresented as favouring physical pleasure over other modes of experience. In fact, the greatest good to the Epicurean was not ecstasy, the gratification of the senses alone, but tranquility or peace of mind. Recognizing that physical pleasure is fleeting and may ultimately entail pain, Epicurus encouraged his followers to strive for the more durable happiness that would result from selecting intelligently among competing pleasures. Not only physical sensations but emotions, dreams, memories, fears, and fantasies affect our feelings in painful or pleasurable ways. The trick is to cultivate a state of mind that minimizes the painful while enabling us to experience pleasure as fully as possible.

The Epicurean way of life put happiness within everyone's reach. Also appealing, and absolutely unprecedented, was the egalitarianism of the community Epicurus established, where slaves and women, including prostitutes, were full-fledged participants. Following his death, the movement spread throughout the Greek world, as far as Egypt and Asia. It endured into the Roman era and coexisted with Stoicism and Christianity, was revived by humanists during the Renaissance and was espoused by the philosophes during the Enlightenment. What later admirers found so congenial was the Epicureans' realism. Their avoidance of the supernatural and the stress they placed on the material world were compatible with the more secular and scientific outlook that came to characterize the modern mind.

These currents fed into the movement known as Utilitarianism, which developed in nineteenth-century Britain. Utilitarians assumed that the amount of pleasure intrinsic to any course of action can be precisely calculated, making it possible to choose between rival activities according to the degree of happiness each is likely to produce. In the words of the school's founder, Jeremy Bentham, ‘quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin (a children's game) is as good as poetry.’ Abstract considerations do not enter into the equation; the principle of utility implies neither moral nor aesthetic judgments. In the end, all that counts is whether the outcome is pleasurable or painful.

Consistent with the egalitarian spirit of Epicureanism, Bentham's goal was the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Here lies the originality of Utilitarianism: its definition of happiness is formulated in social, not personal terms. What is good for the individual should benefit the community as a whole. John Stuart Mill developed this doctrine into a total ethical philosophy, an alternative to the Christian reliance on duty. Mill saw no contradiction between the pursuit of self-interest and advancing the common good. Pleasing ourselves necessarily involves pleasing others, he believed, since the best way to achieve happiness as an individual is within a truly democratic society, one in which the needs of every member are met.

Utilitarianism had radical implications for political and legal reform. For Bentham, the best institutions and laws were those that increased pleasure and decreased pain, a proposition he set out to prove by drafting a model civil and criminal code. Underlying this system is the assumption that men and women are rational agents capable of recognizing their true interests and pursuing these at all times. To the objection that rational motivations alone do not determine behaviour, however, the Utilitarian had no reply.

Understanding the non-rational component of human experience (behaviour that seems to contradict our best interests) was the project of Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis began with pleasure. Indeed, Freud viewed the instinct for pleasure as the primary incentive for all activity. But he also saw that the way in which we achieve pleasure is neither a simple nor a straightforward process. Religious prohibitions, cultural institutions, and social structures — the parameters of the environment we inhabit — all serve to thwart the gratification of our desires, and this frustration causes pain. In response, we develop strategies for avoiding pain, not all of which are productive.

Psychoanalysis judges behaviour in purely functional terms. Those strategies which permit people to obtain fulfilment are good or healthy; bad or unhealthy behaviours prevent us from living comfortably in the world. By making us aware of the origins of our unhealthy behaviour, psychoanalysis helps us to adapt to external reality. But in the end, it is the individual who must decide which compromises to make.

In his later years, Freud devoted much effort to exposing the negative impact of civilization on human development. The experience of World War I also prompted him to modify his theory, leading him to postulate the existence of a destructive impulse in perpetual conflict with the instinct for pleasure. This critical tendency within Freud's thinking lent a pessimistic cast to his writing and probably accounts for the hostility with which his ideas were greeted. Nevertheless, psychoanalysis has exerted a significant influence on the twentieth century. Like other pleasure philosophies, it equips individuals with a sense of their own potential, instilling them with greater acceptance of themselves and tolerance for others.

Lisa Lieberman


Gay, P. (ed.) (1989). The Freud reader. W. W. Norton and Company, New York and London.


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A state of gratification, as opposed to pain or sorrow. The moralist usually associates this state with a situation of repose in a conative function and relates it to an object. Thus Aristotle considered pleasure to be a "certain motion of the soul and a sensible establishing thereof all at once, in keeping with the nature of a thing" (Rhet. 1369b33). Aquinas understood this to mean that pleasure is a passion of the soul, an actuation of the animal appetite arising from an apprehension of sense (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 31.1). But pleasure may be taken more widely to include the satisfaction of the spiritual appetite, or will, arising from the contemplation of truth.

It follows from what has been said that for pleasure in the subjective sense four things are necessary: first, an appetite for the pleasant; second, something pleasant to satisfy the appetite; third, the union of the appetite and its object; and fourth, the perception of this union. Whenever these conditions are verified, there is pleasure.

Kinds of Pleasure. Pleasure is either sensible or intellectual. Sensible pleasure results from the gratification of some sense. Sensible pleasure has been called the feeling-aspect of a satisfying experience. Although it is neither feeling nor sensation but something attached to the experience, it means for the moralist the repose of the sense object in its proper object. Of these sensible pleasures the keenest one is that of the pleasure of touch; the highest and most intellectually useful is the pleasure of sight (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 31.6).

Intellectual pleasure is spiritual, since it follows on the satisfaction of a spiritual nature and its appetite. This type of pleasure resides in the will and results from the possession of the truth. Special synonyms for it are joy, gladness, and delight.

Pleasure and Man's Final End. The view that pleasure is man's final end, and therefore, the right and proper motive of all human activity, has been held for centuries by various hedonistic schools of philosophy. These schools got their name from the Greek word for pleasure, δονή. (see hedonism.) The fallacy latent in all forms of hedonism results from failure to distinguish pleasure as an end in itself and pleasure as the accompaniment of possession of a valued object which is the end. Pleasure, although subjective, depends partly upon the object that is "pleasant" as having a worth or goodness of its own. If pleasure is viewed as an end in itself, to which the object is made only a means, pleasure is ultimately found to be only a chimera.

It is nevertheless true that there is a sense in which pleasure is associated with the goal of life. There is no happiness without it. Pleasure accompanies and rewards all worthy achievement. It is the afterglow, the final repose of a will that has achieved its final end. But it is not itself the final end, the supreme good that is man's beatitude. "What matters most" Aquinas insisted, "is the object that gives pleasure" (C. gent. 2.26).

Moral Evaluation. While hedonists thought of pleasure as always good, that there is nothing right but pleasure, nothing wrong but pain, Stoics thought of it as always bad. For the hedonist pleasure was man's final end and therefore to be sought everywhere, always and at all costs; for the Stoic it was an animal gratification unworthy of a man. From the conclusions arrived at in the preceding paragraphs it appears that pleasure, viewed apart from its object, is neither good nor bad. Like all the passions of the soul it is in itself morally indifferent. The goodness or badness of pleasure depends primarily on its object. If a man takes pleasure in what is evil, e.g., bad thoughts, desires, or actions, his pleasure is evil. Not all pleasure is morally good because not everything pleasurable is morally good. The pleasurable, like the merely useful, is not necessarily honorable; to be honorable, one must sometimes forgo the pleasurable. On the other hand, there is always a pleasure attaching to the honorable, the virtuous good. The joy of a good conscience exceeds the pleasure of sense. The goodness or badness of a man's life can even be judged according to that in which he habitually finds his pleasure. For this reason Aquinas said "the man is good and virtuous who takes pleasure in the works of virtue; and the man is evil who takes pleasure in evil works" (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 24.4).

It follows that pleasure must never be sought for its own sake and without reference to a reasonable and legitimate object. Only if the object be good will the pleasure be good. If, for any reason, the object cannot be legitimately desired, the pleasure must also be forgone. The pleasure of the act is the goal of the intemperate man (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 13.3 ad 2). Intemperance means indulgence in pleasure without regard to reason. Innocent XI, therefore, censured these propositions: To eat and drink to satiety simply and solely for pleasure (ob solam voluptatem ) is not a sin, provided that it is not injurious to health. The marriage act done solely for pleasure (ob solam voluptatem ) is without any fault whatsoever, without even a venial defect [H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer (32d ed. Freiburg 1963) 210809].

Apart from its obvious associations with morality, pleasure implicates the whole moral agent in ways that can be either valuable or devastating. Human experience provides ample evidence that individuals have a level of sense pleasure almost indispensable for well integrated life and for efficient work, and which is of no small significance as a protective shield against temptations due to the displacement of unsatisfied human drives.

Christianity has never enjoyed complete freedom from members unduly suspicious of human pleasure. This attitude finds no justification in its Judaic origins, but there have been recurrent revivals of it in Christian history. These appear to have stemmed in large part from various forms of dualism. Instances of this attitude in modern times are to be found in Puritanism and Jansenism, and among the immoderate devotees of supernaturalism.

See Also: emotion (moral aspect).

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 2.6; 3134. a. auer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 195765) 4:361364. h. rost, Die Fröhlichkeit in der Katholischen Kirche (Westheim-Augsburg 1946).

[a. doolan]


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pleas·ure / ˈplezhər/ • n. a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment: she smiled with pleasure at being praised. ∎  enjoyment and entertainment, contrasted with things done out of necessity: she had not traveled for pleasure for a long time. ∎  an event or activity from which one derives enjoyment: the car makes driving in the city a pleasure. ∎  sensual gratification.• adj. used or intended for entertainment rather than business: pleasure boats.• v. [tr.] give sexual enjoyment or satisfaction to: tell me what will pleasure you. ∎  [intr.] (pleasure in) derive enjoyment from: risky verbal exchanges that the pair might pleasure in.PHRASES: at someone's pleasure as and when someone wishes: the landlord could terminate the agreement at his pleasure.have the pleasure of something used in formal requests and descriptions: he asked if he might have the pleasure of taking her to pleasure used as a polite reply to thanks: “Oh, thank you!” “My pleasure.”take pleasure in derive happiness or enjoyment from: they take a perverse pleasure in causing trouble.what's your pleasure? what would you like? (used esp. when offering someone a choice): “What's your pleasure?” “A cappuccino, please.”with pleasure gladly (used to express polite agreement or acceptance).


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320. Pleasure

See also 195. HAPPINESS ; 347. RECREATION

a mania for pleasing delusions.
epicurism, epicureanism
1. the cultivation of a refined taste, as in food, art, music, etc.; connoisseurship.
2. a devotion or adaptation to luxurious tastes, especially in drinking and eating, or to indulgence in sensual pleasures. epicure, n. epicurean, n., adj.
the characteristics of a pleasure trip. excursionist, n. excursional, adj.
1. Ethics. the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good. See also epicurism .
2. a devotion to pleasure as a way of life. hedonist, n. hedonistic, adj.
Rare. the study of human pleasure. Also called hedonics .
a mania for pleasure.
Rare. a person devoted to worldly pleasure; hedonist or sybarite.
a form of conduct conforming to the precepts of the Stoics, especially as characterized by indifference to pain and pleasure. stoic, n., adj. stoical, adj.
devotion to sensual pleasures. sybarite, n. sybaritic, adj.


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Pleasure ★★ 1931

A saga of love, treachery, and melodrama in English society in which a married author begins an affair with a model, unaware that she also has someone on the side, and it turns out to be his brother. 53m/B VHS . Conway Tearle, Roscoe Karns, Carmel Myers, Lena Basquette, Frances Dade, Paul Page, Harold Goodwin, George “Gabby” Hayes; D: Otto Brower; W: Jo Van Ronkel, Thomas Thiteley, John Varley.