The Shadow of Shallow Pleasures
11 minutes • 2323 words
Now comes the third trial. A sage* whispers to me that the pleasure of the wise is true and pure. All others are a shadow only.
Surely this is the greatest and most decisive of falls?
Pleasure is opposed to pain. There is a neutral intermediate state which is neither pleasure nor pain. Sick people say that nothing is more pleasant than health. But then only knew this when they were ill.
There are many other cases of suffering where the mere end of pain is extolled as the greatest pleasure. Likewise, when pleasure ceases, then that cessation will be painful. The intermediate state of rest can therefore be pleasure or pain. But that which is neither cannot become both.
Both pleasure and pain are motions of the soul. But that which is neither is really rest and not motion, as a mean between them. How then can the absence of pain be pleasure, or the absence of pleasure be pain?
This then is an appearance only and not a reality. The rest is pleasure relative to what is painful. The rest is painful relative to what is pleasant.
But all these pains and pleasures from rest are merely a sort of imposition and is not real when tried by the test of true pleasure.
Pleasure does not mean the cessation of pain, or pain the cessation of pleasure when the original pain or pleasure are of a certain class. For example, the pleasures of smell are very great and have no antecedent pains. They come in a moment. When they depart leave no pain behind them.
Pure pleasure is the end of pain. Pure pain is the end of pleasure.
Our violent bodily pleasures are generally of this sort—they are reliefs of pain. The anticipations of future pleasures and pains are of a like nature.
Nature has an upper, lower, and middle region.
If Person A were to go from the lower to the middle region, he would imagine that he is going up. Person B is in the middle region but has never seen the true upper world. He sees Person A coming and imagines that he has arrived in the upper region.
If Person A goes back down again, Person B would imagine that he was descending. All that would arise out of his ignorance of the true upper, middle, and lower regions.
Thus, the persons who are inexperienced in the truth have wrong ideas about pleasure, pain, and the intermediate state. When they are drawn towards the painful, they feel pain. They think the pain which they experience is real.
Similarly, when they are drawn away from pain to the neutral state, they believe that they have reached satiety and pleasure. They do not know pleasure, and so they err in contrasting pain with the absence of pain. This is like contrasting black with grey instead of white.
Hunger, thirst, and the like, are the poverty of the body. Ignorance and folly are the poverty of the soul. Food and wisdom are the satisfactions of body and soul.
The truer satisfaction is the one derived from that which has more existence. Which has more pure existence:
- food and drink?, or
- true opinion, knowledge, mind, and the virtues?
Which has a more pure being:
- that which is concerned with the invariable, immortal, and the true?, or
- that which is concerned with and found in the variable and mortal, and is itself variable and mortal?
Far purer, is the being of that which is concerned with the invariable.
The essence of the invariable partake of knowledge in the same degree as of essence and of truth in the same degree. Conversely, that which has less of truth will also have less of essence.
Generally, those things which are in the service of the body have less of truth and essence than those which are in the service of the soul.
The body itself has less of truth and essence than the soul.
A thing that has more real existence has a deeper and truer existence that something that is less real.
- A pleasure that is deeper and according to its nature is really more pleasurable.
- A pleasure which is shallow will give less satisfaction and will give less real pleasure.
Those who do not know wisdom and virtue are always busy with gluttony and sensuality.
- They go down and up again up to the middle point.
- They move at random throughout life and never find their way into the true upper world.
- They are not filled with true being.
- They do not taste pure pleasure.
Like cattle, their eyes always look down and their heads stoop to the earth, which is their dining-table. They fatten and feed and breed. In their excessive love of these delights, they kick and butt at one another with horns and hoofs made of iron. They kill one another by reason of their insatiable lust.
Their pleasures are mixed with pains, for those are mere shadows of the true. They are coloured by contrast, which exaggerates both light and shade. And so, they implant in the minds of fools insane desires of themselves.
The Greeks fought for the shadow of Helen at Troy in ignorance of the truth. The same thing happens with the spirited or passionate element of the soul. The passionate man who carries his passion into action will be in the like case, whether he is:
- envious and ambitious,
- violent and contentious,
- angry and discontented,
- seeking to attain honour and victory and the satisfaction of his anger without reason or sense.
Then the lovers of money and honour will also have the truest pleasures as long as they follow truth when:
- they seek their pleasures guided by reason and knowledge, and
- they pursue and win the pleasures which wisdom shows them.
They will have the pleasures which are natural to them, if each person pursues the pleasures that are the best and most natural to him. When the whole soul follows the philosophical principle and there is no division, the several parts are just.
Each of its parts individually enjoy the best and truest pleasures which they are capable of. But when either of the two other principles prevails, the soul fails in attaining its own pleasure. It compels the rest to pursue a pleasure which is only a shadow and not their own. The greater their distance from philosophy and reason, the more strange and illusive will be the pleasure. The greatest distance from law and order is the farthest from reason.
The lustful and tyrannical desires are the farthest. The royal and orderly desires are the nearest. Thus, the tyrant lives farthest from true or natural pleasure. The king lives nearest. The tyrant lives most unpleasantly. The king most pleasantly. There are three pleasures, one genuine and two spurious.
The tyrant’s transgression reaches a point beyond the spurious. He has run away from the region of law and reason, and taken up his abode with certain slave pleasures which are his satellites. The measure of his inferiority can only be expressed in numbers.
I assume that the tyrant is in the third place from the oligarch.
The democrat was in the middle.
The tyrant will be wedded to an image of pleasure which is thrice removed as to truth from the pleasure of the oligarch.
The oligarch is third from the royal, since we count as one royal and aristocratical.
Then the tyrant is removed from true pleasure by the space of 9 which is 3 x 3.
The shadow then of tyrannical pleasure determined by the number of length will be a plane figure. If you raise the power and make the plane a solid, it is easy to see how vast is the interval by which the tyrant is parted from the king.
If someone begins at the other end and measures the interval by which the king is parted from the tyrant in truth of pleasure, he will find him, when the multiplication is completed, living 729 times more pleasantly, and the tyrant more painfully by this same interval.
What a wonderful calculation! How enormous is the distance which separates the just from the unjust in regard to pleasure and pain!
It is a number which nearly concerns human life, if human beings are concerned with days, nights, months, and years. If the good and just man are superior in pleasure to the evil and unjust, then his superiority will be infinitely greater in propriety of life and in beauty and virtue. Someone said that injustice was a gain to the perfectly unjust who was reputed to be just.
We have determined the power and quality of justice and injustice. Let us now make an image of the soul like the composite creations of ancient mythology, such as the Chimera, Scylla, or Cerberus.
Many models of the soul have two or more different natures combining into one. Our model will be of three creatures:
- A many-headed monster with a ring of heads of beasts, tame and wild, able to generate and metamorphose at will – this represeents intemperance
- A lion which is smaller than the monster – this represents pride and bad temper
- A man which is smaller than the lion.
We join these into one creature. The unjust observer will say that:
- the lion should eat the many-headed monster to strengthen itself,
- the man should be starved, weakened, and be dragged by the other two,
- the man must not harmonize the lion and monster to each other and to himself,
- the man must rather let them fight and devour one another.
The just observer, on the contrary, will say that the man must:
- control the many-headed monster like a good husbandman
- cultivate the gentle qualities and prevent the wild ones from growing
- make the lion-heart his ally
- unite the several creatures with one another and with himself.
The approver of justice is right and speaks the truth, and the disapprover is wrong and false and ignorant. The unjust is unintentionally wrong. The noble is what subjects the beast to the man, or to the god in man. The ignoble is that which subjects the man to the beast. But a man could not profit if he received money on the condition that he was to enslave the noblest part of him to the worst. No one would gain if he sold his son into slavery for money.
Likewise, no one sells his own divine being to that which is most godless and detestable. The luxury and softness from the intemperance monster relax and weaken our internal lion into a coward. For the sake of money, he gets trampled on by the monster. From being a lion turns into a monkey.
Mean employments and manual arts are a reproach only because they imply a natural weakness of the higher principle. The individual is unable to control the creatures within him and so he has to court them. He studies how to flatter them.
But we want to make him a servant of the best, in whom the Divine rules. Thrasymachus said that that internal ruler [conscience] should injure the servant. But we say he should not do this. If this is impossible, then the higher principle can be imposed by an external authority [common interest] so that we may be all under the same government, friends and equals.
This is clearly the intention of the law. This is also seen in the authority we exercise over children. We refuse to let them be free until we have established in them a principle analogous to the constitution of a state. By cultivation of this higher element, we set up in their hearts a guardian like our own. When this is done, they may go their ways.
Thus, injustice, intemperance, or other baseness provides no profit even though he acquire money or power by his wickedness. What shall he profit, if his injustice is undetected and unpunished?
He who is undetected only gets worse, whereas he who is detected and punished has the brutal part of his nature silenced and humanized.
The gentler element in him is liberated. His soul is perfected by the acquirement of justice, temperance, and wisdom, more than the body is by beauty, strength, and health, in proportion as the soul is more honourable than the body. To this nobler purpose, the man of understanding will devote the energies of his life. In the first place, he will honour studies which impress these qualities on his soul and will disregard others.
Next, he will regulate his bodily habit and training. He will not yield brutal and irrational pleasures. He will even regard health as a secondary matter. His first object will not be that he may be fair or well. Instead, he will always desire to attemper the body in order to preserve the harmony of the soul.
Certainly he will, if he has true music in him.
In the acquisition of wealth, there is a principle of order and harmony which he will also observe. He will not allow himself to be dazzled by the foolish applause of the world and heap up riches to his own infinite harm.
He will look at the city, his soul, which is within him. He will take heed that no disorder occur in it, such as might arise either from superfluity or want. On this principle, he will regulate his property and earn or spend according to his means.
We have set up a pattern of the soul for him to behold and set his own house in order. It does not matter if it will exist or not, because he will live in the ways of his soul.