Pleasure and Pain
University of Essex
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Pleasure and pain are highly contested concepts in the history of
philosophy. Yet these concepts simultaneously underpin modes of life; the
way we conceptualise and relate to pleasure and pain directly influences our
ethical and political action. But the precise nature of these concepts
While for Aristotle pleasure was inextricably linked to happiness,
Hellenistic schools linked pleasure and pain to desire, and urged
non-attachment to the external world in order to transcend the painful
perils of everyday life and attain a higher state of tranquility.
Conversely, the problem of subjective or social suffering in terms of
individual and social pathologies has also been addressed by members of the
Frankfurt School in order to inspire to radical social change. Debate has
also raged as to whether pleasure and pain are on a continuum, or whether
they might co-exist as some kind of intensive magnitude. Certain practices
use extreme pain in order to produce pleasure — as we see in masochism, for
Pleasure and pain, then, are at once ethical, political, and personal. But
what is the contemporary status of these concepts? Without divine
retribution, or the promise of untold pleasures in an afterlife, are we
left, as Mandeville predicted, in some kind of hedonistic frenzy? Is
pleasure possible without suffering? What, if any, duties do we have towards
others to stop their pain and suffering?
In this conference, we seek to explore these questions relating to pleasure
and pain understood in the broadest possible sense.
This is a student event (e.g. a graduate conference).