In Modern Moral Philosophy G. E. M. Anscombe writes (page 2)

Bentham and Mill do not notice the difficulty of the concept of "pleasure".

She claimed the ancients found the concept of pleasure "baffling", but noted that

Generations of modern philosophers found this concept quite unperplexing, and it reappeared in the literature as a problematic one only a year or two ago when Ryle wrote about it.

I don't know much about Ryle, and the document I am reading does not have a bibliography, but I would like to find a reference to Ryle that addresses this difficulty of the concept of pleasure. My hope is this will help explain Anscombe's own position regarding this concept.


Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958). Modern moral philosophy. Philosophy, 33(124), 1-19. https://www.pitt.edu/~mthompso/readings/mmp.pdf

Suggested references for answers:

Ryle, G., & Gallie, W. B. (1954). Symposium: Pleasure. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, 28, 135-164. (Thanks to Eliran)

Ryle, G. Dilemmas: The Turner Lectures 1953. Cambridge University Press. (Thanks to Mauro ALLEGRANZA)

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Book 2 (Thanks to virmaior)

Ryle, G. The concept of mind (1949). (Thanks to Conifold)

Katz, Leonard D., "Pleasure", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/pleasure/. (Thanks to Conifold)

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    Possibly: jstor.org/stable/4106596 – Eliran Nov 26 '18 at 1:23
  • @Eliran Thanks. I've logged it in the question to keep track of this reference. – Frank Hubeny Nov 26 '18 at 1:54
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    You can see also : Ch.4 : Pleasure of Gilbert Ryle, Dilemmas : The Tanner Lectures 1953 (1954). – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Nov 26 '18 at 19:29
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    For the ancients (particularly Aristotle), pleasure/pain are bad signals unless you are a phronemos (see Nicomachean Ethics BK 2). I think (from memory) this is basically what she finds most problematic about the use of it in ethics. – virmaior Nov 27 '18 at 0:48
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    Ryle addresses it in multiple places, starting with The Concept of Mind (1949). There is a decent discussion on SEP, where more references are given, including where Anscombe parts ways with him:"Anscombe, like Ryle and his followers, rejected any account on which pleasure is a context-independent ‘internal impression’... Ryle substituted a neoAristotelian account of enjoyments to fit his ‘anti-Cartesian’ philosophy of mind, her main reason was that any such feeling or sensation would be quite beside... reason-implying use" – Conifold Nov 27 '18 at 4:09

The basic point is that it is wrong in Anscombe's view to classify pleasure as a sensation. The error was first exposed, she believes, by Gilbert Ryle.

So Anscombe follows a line taken by Ryle. Roger Teichmann states the argument :

... it might be pointed out that the function of pain is to signal that something is wrong, for instance that a particular part of the body has been unjured; while the function of pleasure (at any rate of physical pleasure) if, if anything, to signal that things are as they should be. The pleasures of food, sex, warmth, etc. are obvious examples. But this way of putting things is liable to lead us to classify pleasure as a sensation, and such a classification is surely misleading, as Anscombe and others have argued. Perhaps we should say that the function of the pleasurable sensations associated with certain bodily states and activities is to signal that things are as they should be. But this still leaves untouched all those pleasures that are not those of bodily states and activities, about which it would be ludicrous to claim that the function of the pleasurable sensations is, etc. The only sensations you have when rock-climbing or reading about the Wars of the Roses may not be pleasant sensations at all. but either neutral or painful. (Roger Teichmann, The Philosophy of Elizabeth Anscombe, ISBN 10: 0199603359 / ISBN 13: 9780199603350. Published by OUP Oxford, 2016; 72.)


G.E.M. Anscombe, Intention, Harvard University Press 2000-09-14, Cambridge, Mass. |London (2000) : §§ 77 ff. [Original publication, 1957, Oxford : Blackwell.] ISBN 10: 0674003993 ISBN 13: 9780674003996.

Gilbert Ryle, 'Pleasure', Collected Papers, II, London : Hutchinson, 1971: 325-35.

Roger Teichmann, The Philosophy of Elizabeth Anscombe, ISBN 10: 0199603359 / ISBN 13: 9780199603350. Published by OUP Oxford, 2016.

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