“They are inexperienced in pleasure and so are deceived when they compare pain to painlessness, just as they would be if they compared black to grey without having experienced white.” Socrates, in Plato’s Republic
It is hard to imagine what it would be like never to have seen the color white. One thing seems clear: such a person could not see grey for what it is. Colors that in reality are dark would seem to be bright, given this person’s inexperience in color.
Socrates thus offers an analogy for the condition of most humans: we are inexperienced in pleasure because we have not really experienced the highest and brightest. This inexperience discolors our perception of all pleasures. Even the pleasures we’ve known we do not see for what they are.
The idea is arresting. Who of us have the self-knowledge to consider ourselves inexperienced in the pleasures of human life?
The lower pleasures are low-hanging fruit–they are quite readily available. The higher, or we could say deeper, pleasures of life are not so ready-to-hand. They must be cultivated. And in one of the most dramatic paradoxes of life they can only really be tasted by those who have learned to say no, to wait, to put other people first, and first things first. Daily. These people taste, and they see. They are experienced in pleasure.
Home life should be a school in pleasure. This school will unite a disciplined rejection of a myriad of pleasures, from the evil to the banal, with a cultivation of higher pleasures, from the wholesome (such as family games) to the sublime (such communal reading of great texts, or prayer). We adults must take the lead in pleasure-training, for ourselves and for our families. If we don’t, the degrading forces of our culture will.
Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.
Image: Henry VIII
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:
“Peace is the tranquility of order.” St. Augustine, The City of God There are few words that exercise such a power over our hearts, and our imagination. A few years ago I was giving a lecture at a division-one university, introducing students to some basic points in...read more
When I was down beside the sea A wooden spade they gave to me To dig the sandy shore. Robert Louis Stevenson, At the Sea-Side A Child's Garden of Verses There is nothing quite like playing alone. To watch it is a privilege. Indeed, in watching one might even...read more
For not only that we might act, but even when we intend to do nothing, we prefer sight, as we may say, to all the other senses. Aristotle, Metaphysics This year the fireflies have been stunning. Last night my wife and I were mesmerized; we just sat and looked. And we...read more
Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. Bacon from Acorns springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.