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Pleasure in ancient philosophy

The essay examines the central role that pleasure plays in a wide range of conceptualisations of happiness or ‘good life’, from Epicurean hedonism, to Christian asceticism, to contemporary cases of pastoral and philosophical counselling. Despite the apparent moral chasm between hedonists and ascetics, a look at the practices promoted by Epicurus and the Christian monastic fathers reveals striking similarities. The reason is that, at a fundamental level, both parties agree that one should reject the vulgar pleasures that society glorifies, and develop a refined attitude that seeks the appropriate and natural pleasures, while ignoring the harmful or unnecessary ones. And such an attitude can only be acquired through moral training, either by philosophical instruction and reflection, or by pastoral counselling. We highlight some important parallels regarding the connection between pleasure and happiness, as conceived by Epicureans and monastic fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church. We begin by discussing elements of Epicureanism that can also be found in its rival philosophical schools and Christianity, mainly the emphasis on forming the right conception of happiness and acting in accordance with it. We then examine the connection between morality and happiness in the Christian Orthodox monasticism. We argue that Christian ascetic ethics not only condone some types of pleasures, but in fact require them as elements of happiness in this life that play an instrumental role for the Christian soteriological dogma. The argument has wider philosophical significance because it shows that pleasure is indeed a fundamental conceptual ingredient of happiness across different normative ethical contexts.To read the entire article, visit Taylor and Francis here.

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