Socrates on Pleasure

Socrates, coming across Modernigias staring pensively into the Woody Woo Fountain, begins to question him.

SOCRATES: What, my dear friend, brings you to gaze upon this bronze fountain?

MODERNIGIAS: To experience the pleasure of its unpredictable meanderings.

SOCRATES: Do you speak Greek?


SOCRATES: This might be difficult.

MODERNIGIAS: It’s fine, let’s just talk in translation.

SOCRATES: Alright. What do you hope to gain from such pleasure as that elicited by the fountain?

MODERNIGIAS: This pleasure makes me feel contented, a sensation I enjoy experiencing.

SOCRATES: No doubt pleasure is something all enjoy when it comes. Is pleasure something you often seek?

MODERNIGIAS: Often? I get it when I can.

SOCRATES: Do you seek pleasure all of the time?


SOCRATES: Would you say that pleasure is something that fulfills you?


SOCRATES: Is the pleasure satisfying?


SOCRATES: So it is something that you would seek above anything else?

MODERNIGIAS: I don’t see where you are going with this.

SOCRATES: I’m just trying to understand your position. Is it that pleasure makes you happy?

MODERNIGIAS: As I have said so.

SOCRATES: Fair enough. Would you say, dear Modernigias, that pleasure is what most seek for satisfaction?


SOCRATES: Nothing as far as I am concerned. Answer the question—would you say that most people seek out pleasure above other forms of satisfaction?


SOCRATES: So people want pleasure in order to be happy?


SOCRATES: Now, would you say that one ought to live well?

MODERNIGIAS: What do you mean?

SOCRATES: Would you say that one ought to live well and not live badly?

MODERNIGIAS: Generally, I suppose so.

SOCRATES: None of this. Would you say with certainty that it is better to live well than to live badly?

MODERNIGIAS: I guess I don’t know exactly what you mean.

SOCRATES: Living well—listening in conversation, being patient in an argument, brave in war—doing those things a situation calls for. Living badly would involve interrupting in discussion, yelling over opponents, being cowardly when one had to fight. Do these examples help clarify the difference?

MODERNIGIAS: Yes, I concede the distinction.

SOCRATES: Good. We can move forward. So would you say that living well, doing the right thing in a given situation, is better than the converse?

MODERNIGIAS: Yes, I can agree to that.

SOCRATES: And doing badly, that is worse?


SOCRATES: When one is doing something well, can he also be doing something badly at the same moment?

MODERNIGIAS: I am not sure.

SOCRATES: Consider a woman helping her child across a road. Can she help the child across well and badly at the same time?

MODERNIGIAS: That doesn’t seem possible.

SOCRATES: Could she, for example, drag the child roughly across the road and tenderly encourage its faltering steps, at the same moment?

MODERNIGIAS: No, she certainly could not.

SOCRATES: So the woman in our example could not be both attentive and careful and rough and impatient at the same time?

MODERNIGIAS: That would be an impossibility.

SOCRATES: So she cannot do well and do badly at the same time?

MODERNIGIAS: No, she cannot.

SOCRATES: So, it would seem, it is not possible to do well and badly at the same time?

MODERNIGIAS: You do seem to be getting somewhere Socrates.

SOCRATES: I’m glad we can agree for once. So let us return to the pleasure you were experiencing at this fountain. Would you say that if the fountain were to fall upon you, you would feel pain?

MODERNIGIAS: There are few things of which I am more sure.

SOCRATES: If the bronze foundation weakened, and the structure collapsed on you, you would be in pain?


SOCRATES: However, as you gaze upon the fountain statue, you feel pleasure?


SOCRATES: Would you say that as the statue fell and landed on you, you would still be experiencing the pleasure of gazing upon its majesty?

MODERNIGIAS: I dare say I would.

SOCRATES: So as the statue fell, you feel pain from its landing on you, but pleasure at the site of its “meanderings?”

MODERNIGIAS: That is what I agreed to.

SOCRATES: The moment it hit you, you would experience pleasure and pain?

MODERNIGIAS: It would seem so.

SOCRATES: God, I mean Zeus, forbid such an event!

MODERNIGIAS: I am convicted that that event would make me unhappy.

SOCRATES: From our conclusion, you would experience both pleasure and pain simultaneously?

MODERNIGIAS: It appears to be the case.

SOCRATES: So someone can feel pain and pleasure in the same instant?


SOCRATES: Let us go back to what we discuss about the conditions of doing well and badly. We agreed, did we not, that doing well and doing badly cannot be done simultaneously?

MODERNIGIAS: Socrates, I really don’t get your drift here!

SOCRATES: Did we not agree that the woman could not at once help her child well and help her child badly?

MODERNIGIAS: So what if we did?

SOCRATES: Don’t do that Modernigias! Do you not recall such a conclusion?

MODERNIGIAS: Lead where you will go Socrates.

SOCRATES: So you remember what we said? That doing well and doing badly could not be simultaneous events?

MODERNIGIAS: I am not so absentminded.

SOCRATES: So, one cannot do well and do badly at the same time, but one can experience pain and experience pleasure at the same time. Is this not so?

MODERNIGIAS: As you say.

SOCRATES: So it would seem that doing well cannot be identical with pleasure, nor doing badly identical with pain?

MODERNIGIAS: That is the conclusion you have forced.

SOCRATES: Do you have an alternative conclusion?

MODERNIGIAS: I think you like to be right.

SOCRATES: I can get behind that.


Plato’s Gorgias provided helpful argumentation for informing this dialogue.

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