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Why we can't (or shouldn't) seek the things that give us direct pleasure (like drugs).

Most people would think taking drugs is not worth doing.

On the other hand,

Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest, sustainable pleasure

So we can assume we should do things that are sustainable and not depend on the outside environment and things; it means the mind inside us.

However, how about watching the sunset, which people would enjoy and agree it's worth doing, even though it also gives us direct pleasure and is not sustainable? Similar examples include connecting with nature, learning new skills, and so on.

I don't know how to describe it perfectly, but I was wondering humbly. After all, which things are really worth doing in life and which are not? How do we distinguish them?

  • 2
    Why is watching the sunset not sustainable??
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jul 11, 2021 at 15:46
  • 1
    Assigning meaning to life is a cultural construct.
    – user48488
    Jul 11, 2021 at 16:08
  • 1
    @JosephWeissman In this context, you need to "watch" "the sunset"; it may be gone if you don't.
    – user
    Jul 11, 2021 at 16:39
  • 1
    I would say through cultivating wisdom: 'What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/82925/30474
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 11, 2021 at 19:47
  • 2
    If the path before you is clear, you're probably on someone else's Carl Jung
    – Rushi
    Aug 6, 2023 at 4:53

3 Answers 3


It is arguably a bit of a misnomer to cast Epicurus (as history often has) as a person purely interested in mere pleasure. A better term that has been used is 'untroubledness'. As you note, he found some kinds of pleasure markedly superior to others. Perhaps it would help if we cite an example:

If a hungry man were guided to a feasting table groaning with the weight of all manner of fine foods and wine, we can probably anticipate that he will soon be quite happy. But Epicurus would point out many ways this man might immediately go wrong in pursuing that pleasure. If he overeats too fast, he is very likely to make himself sick, likewise if he focuses entirely on rich foods. He could drink too much and then do something he'd regret later, or have to deal with a hangover. Even if everything goes well, tomorrow he might be sad that there is no similarly laden table to sate his desires.

This is why Epicurus focuses most on a kind of abstemious modesty in how he advocates pleasure. One of the most persistent and unnecessary barbs, he thought, was desire (followed by fear). So many people seem to want so much more than they have or can get. Better by far, he thought, to set one's desires to the absolute minimum ("Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not"). And I mean minimum... I seem to recall (but can't find) a quote from him saying he'd prefer a crust of bread and the company of a friend to that aforementioned table. Or even just a quiet place to think.

As such, perhaps you can see why he would turn down the most consequence-free drugs, or why even a sunset might be overlooked. You don't NEED those things and enjoying them too much can lead to a want from their absence. Epicurus thought pleasure was a thing that could always be right at hand if you only set your mind right about it ("Being happy is knowing how to be content with little").

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    +1 It's ironic how 'epicurean' has become a slander to Epicurus.
    – Rushi
    Aug 6, 2023 at 5:34

Assuming that pleasure has to be sustainable is limiting pleasure. Taking drugs might be sustainable or not (it becomes pretty difficult for a drug addict if it is not sustainable though...).

Every form of pleasure that is experienced as pleasure is a pleasure. It could even be my pleasure. My pleasure. It is a pleasure to answer this question.

So limiting pleasure by placing it in a theoretical framework (which is the tendency of science based culture) is reducing the extent of pleasure. But it is up to people themselves.

One,s pleasure is the other's dislike. Anyway, my pleasure!


You asked what is worth doing, and it seems strange that everyone got sidetracked by things that are not.
A simple answer is to do things that you would want someone to carry on if you were not there to do them. Pleasure is not really in that category. It is not an activity that creates, or brings lasting value. You mentioned 'sustainability', so that is a clue: if it is here today, gone tomorrow, it's probably not worth doing.

People existed before you were born, and presumably will exist after you die. Consider doing something for them, and not just for yourself. Huston Smith said:

The self is too small an object for perpetual enthusiasm

Put that on your bathroom mirror and see what occurs to you over time. If nothing, then try drugs and alcohol. Maybe it will loosen up your perspective.

  • There is a story by Rumi where an overly strict man was made very drunk, and after that he had more perspective on how life is for others.
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 26, 2023 at 20:36

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