Volume 26, Issue 1, Spring 2021
Alex R. Gillham
Worthwhile Action at the Limit of Epicurean Pleasure
The Epicureans are hedonists who believe that pleasure is the only intrinsic good. Since pleasure is the only intrinsic good, other things are only worthwhile for the sake of pleasure. Tranquility is the final Epicurean telos, i.e., all of our actions should aim for freedom from bodily and mental pain. According to the Epicureans, tranquility is the limit of the magnitude of pleasures so that there is no pleasure beyond tranquility. Once we free ourselves from all pain, there are no further pleasures to pursue. This poses the following problem. Since hedonism is true and something is only worthwhile for the sake of pleasure, but there are no further pleasures for those who have achieved tranquility to pursue, then it seems that nothing is worthwhile to the tranquil. This poses a problem for Epicureans because they should reject this consequence and they seem to want to do so, but they cannot without contradicting themselves about the nature and limit of pleasure. I call this the Nothing is Worthwhile to the Tranquil Problem (NWP). This paper develops a strategy that Epicureans can adopt to solve NWP. I develop this strategy in three stages. First, I explain NWP: Epicurean claims about the limit and nature of pleasure suggest that nothing can be worthwhile to the tranquil. Second, I show that this problem is analogous to the Problem of Creation (PoC), which claims that an impassible God has no reasons to create. Third, I argue that a prominent solution to PoC can also solve NWP. That solution goes as follows. Some activities are worthwhile to the tranquil because these activities express tranquility, just as creating is worthwhile to God because it expresses God’s perfections. In the final section, I raise three objections to this solution. None of them is strong enough to defeat the solution for which I argue, and so I conclude that it merits consideration as a solution to NWP.