Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Heracles and the kids from Fame...

Some more thoughts about ponos and pleasure. I've been looking again at Xenophon Mem. 2.1, the bit with Prodicus' story of the choice of Heracles. It seems to me that in his attempt to persuade Aristippus of the importance of virtue and self-control, Socrates is in danger of failing to register clearly a distinction between pleasure taking in hard work or self-denial and pleasure won as a result of hard work and self-denial.

At 2.1.18-20 Socrates appears to be emphasising the latter option: pleasures are like the animals caught after a long day of difficult hunting (18), a reward for a period of hardship and, more importantly, the goal for which that hardship is undertaken. At 2.1.20 Socrates quotes a nice tag from Epicharmus to help make the point:
τῶν πόνων πωλοῦσιν ἡμῖν πάντα τἀγάθ’ οἱ θεοί.

The gods sell us all good things in exchange for our toils.
It's like the line from the beginning of Fame: 'You want the good? Well, the good costs. And right here's where you start paying... in sweat.' And that's the main thrust of the last speech given by personified Virtue at the end of this dialogue: training and exertion, a refusal to gratify desires immediately, is a way to ensure the eventual enjoyment of more pleasure than would be won in a profligate life. Pain and toil itself is not good, but it can be used to get what you really want.

But there is another strand to Socrates' argument even here (2.1.19):
καὶ τὰ μὲν τοιαῦτα ἆθλα τῶν πόνων μικροῦ τινος ἄξιά ἐστι, τοὺς δὲ πονοῦντας ἵνα φίλους ἀγαθοὺς κτήσωνται, ἢ ὅπως ἐχθροὺς χειρώσωνται, ἢ ἵνα δυνατοὶ γενόμενοι καὶ τοῖς σώμασι καὶ ταῖς ψυχαῖς καὶ τὸν ἑαυτῶν οἶκον καλῶς οἰκῶσι καὶ τοὺς φίλους εὖ ποιῶσι καὶ τὴν πατρίδα εὐεργετῶσι, πῶς οὐκ οἴεσθαι χρὴ τούτους καὶ πονεῖν ἡδέως εἰς τὰ τοιαῦτα καὶ ζῆν εὐφραινομένους, ἀγαμένους μὲν ἑαυτούς, ἐπαινουμένους δὲ καὶ ζηλουμένους ὑπὸ τῶν ἄλλων;

These rewards from effort (ponoi) are worth little. But those people who toil (ponountas) in order to acquire good friends or to do down their enemies, or to become powerful in body and soul, and who run their household well and do well by their friends and benefit their country, how should we not think that these people toil in pleasure (ponein hēdeōs) for such goals and live joyfully (euphrainomenous), being contented themselves and being praised and envied by others?
The contrast mentioned at the beginning of the quotation is between these serious goals and the goal of hunting in the previous paragraph. The goals detailed here are worth a lifetime of effort since they are most valuable and lasting. What's most interesting, though, is the passage in bold since this seems to say that the very effort involved in itself a source of pleasure. It is not merely that the goal of being envied or having a well-run house and good friends is a source of pleasure worth purchasing in exchange for some toils. Socrates is surely being deliberately paradoxial by asserting that toil itself can be done in a pleasant way (ponein hēdeōs), and this is just the sort of thing that seems to have been attractive to the Cynics.

I'm not sure that Socrates here sees the distinction between ponos being itself pleasant and ponos being a means to greater pleasure in the long-run. At least, if he does see it he is not concerned to make much of it. Either way, he will have some ammunition against Aristippus and will be able to offer some argument against his chosen way of life which deals in terms which Aristippus himself might agree are valuable.

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