Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 63 (3):493-516 (2001)

According to Plato, pleasure consists in the replenishment of a lack, i.e., in restoring the natural condition. At first sight, this might seem to mean that pleasure is always linked to previous pain. However Plato stresses the importance of so-called ‘true’ or ‘pure’ pleasure, which is not paired by pain. The acceptance of this type of pleasure depends on a dissociation of the definition of pleasure and pain from the physiological condition that underlies them . The latter are inescapable: our condition is subject to an everlasting whirl of lack and replenishment, although they are not always perceptible. Pleasure is, then, the experienced replenishment of a lack. This qualification allows one to introduce important nuances in the theory of pleasure: ‘pure’ or ‘true’ pleasure occurs in those cases where the preceding lack was not felt, and thus did not give rise to pain. ‘Mixed’ or ‘impure’ pleasures, on the other hand, refer to cases where both the lack and the replenishment are perceptible. A third situation is the so-called ‘neutral state’, which consists in a coincidence of unfelt lack and imperceptible replenishment. According to Aristotle, who disagrees with Plato on almost every detail of the doctrine of pleasure, pleasure consists in the unimpaired activity of a disposition in its natural condition, i. e., pleasure is a sign of nature indicating that the situation is all right, when any faculty operates as it should. In this model, pleasure is not a ‘movement’ or a process, and neither can it be excessive in se. These two models are criticized for accepting a necessary link between pleasure and the conditions described in the definitions. This seems to misrepresent an essential characteristic of pleasure: pleasure can always fail to occur, even if the concrete situation completely fits the terms set by the definition. Or, conversely, it can suddenly occur, even if the conditions outlined in the definition are not met
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