Rhetoric by Aristotle

This post is a piggyback to yesterday’s, where I discussed the state of education in this country. This is an extract from the philosopher Aristotle, on a discussion of pleasure.

How the hell is a discussion of pleasure related to education!?

Exactly my point. To seek knowledge should be enjoyable, learning should be a pleasurable experience. As humans it is natural to seek to grow. Somehow our society has made us accustomed to an unnatural state – one of instant gratification, where pleasure isn’t sought through hard work and persistence.

Why memorize something when I can Google it? Why learn how to spell when everything has spell-check? Why learn math when I can access a calculator?

Instant information is a tool that separates this generation from any that have come before. Will this tool be used wisely? Can an older generation teach how to use a tool it did not grow up using?

I’m only trying to raise some important questions here, folks. I don’t have the answers alone, but I think we as a society can produce them. I only know the thirst for knowledge and love of learning that has been cultivated within me.

We may lay it down that Pleasure is a movement, a movement by which the soul as a whole is consciously brought into its normal state of being; and that Pain is the opposite. If this is what pleasure is, it is clear that the pleasant is what tends to produce this condition, while that which tends to destroy it, or to cause the soul to be brought into the opposite state, is painful. It must therefore be pleasant as a rule to move towards a natural state of being, particularly when a natural process has achieved the complete recovery of that natural state. Habits also are pleasant; for as soon as a thing has become habitual, it is virtually natural; habit is a thing not unlike nature; what happens often is akin to what happens always, natural events happening always, habitual events often. Again, that is pleasant which is not forced on us; for force is unnatural, and that is why what is compulsory, painful, and it has been rightly said. All that is done on compulsion is bitterness unto the soul.

So all acts of concentration, strong effort, and strain are necessarily painful; they all involve compulsion and force, unless we are accustomed to them, in which case it is custom that makes them pleasant. The opposites to these are pleasant; and hence ease, freedom from toil, relaxation, amusement, rest, and sleep belong to the class of pleasant things; for these are all free from any element of compulsion. Everything, too, is pleasant for which we have the desire within us, since desire is the craving for pleasure.

Of the desires some are irrational, some associated with reason. By irrational I mean those which do not arise from any opinion held by the mind. Of this kind are those known as ´natural´; for instance, those originating in the body, such as the desire for nourishment, namely hunger and thirst, and a separate kind of desire answering to each kind of nourishment; and the desires connected with taste and sex and sensations of touch in general; and those of smell, hearing, and vision. Rational desires are those which we are induced to have; there are many things we desire to see or get because we have been told of them and induced to believe them good. Further, pleasure is the consciousness through the senses of a certain kind of emotion; but imagination is a feeble sort of sensation, and there will always be in the mind of a man who remembers or expects something an image or picture of what he remembers or expects. If this is so, it is clear that memory and expectation also, being accompanied by sensation, may be accompanied by pleasure. It follows that anything pleasant is either present and perceived, past and remembered, or future and expected, since we perceive present pleasures, remember past ones, and expect future ones. Now the things that are pleasant to remember are not only those that, when actually perceived as present, were pleasant, but also some things that were not, provided that their results have subsequently proved noble and good. Hence the words: “Sweet ’tis when rescued to remember pain”, and “Even his grieves are a joy long after to one that remembers all that he wrought and endured”.

The reason of this is that it is pleasant even to be merely free from evil. The things it is pleasant to expect are those that when present are felt to afford us either great delight or great but not painful benefit. And in general, all the things that delight us when they are present also do so, as a rule, when we merely remember or expect them … Some pleasant feeling is associated with most of our appetites we are enjoying either the memory of a past pleasure or the expectation of a future one, just as persons down with fever, during their attacks of thirst, enjoy remembering the drinks they have had and looking forward to having more. So also a lover enjoys talking or writing about his loved one, or doing any little thing connected with him; all these things recall him to memory and make him actually present to the eye of imagination. Indeed, it is always the first sign of love, that besides enjoying some one’s presence, we remember him when he is gone, and feel pain as well as pleasure, because he is there no longer.

– Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book I, Chapter 11


2 comments on “Rhetoric by Aristotle

  1. […] I discussed this morning in my post recanting Aristotle, and my post yesterday about the American education system, the U.S. no longer lives by the […]

  2. As an educator I am clapping my hands. You are preaching to the choir with this post. I am climbing on the soapbox right next to you.

    My class just had this same discussion this morning. The uneducated are easier for the educated to lead.

    I had some of the best education around in the olden days. Dick, Jane and Sally and arithmetic and spelling tests. No school buses, no cafeteria, one teacher per grade. It’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of will.

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