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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2015

Peter Adamson*
Lehrstuhl VI für spätantike und arabische Philosophie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1, 80539 München, Germany


This paper provides an analysis and translation of a previously edited, but otherwise unstudied work by Miskawayh (d. 1030) entitled On Pleasures and Pains (Fī al-Laḏḏāt wa-al-ālām). After a brief orientation regarding the Aristotelian account of pleasure in the Nicomachean Ethics, which is Miskawayh's main source, the theory of pleasure set out in On Pleasures and Pains is compared to the discussion of pleasure in Miskawayh's better known Refinement of Character (Tahḏīb al-aḫlāq). Despite considerable harmony between the two texts, their treatments of pleasure differ in that the Refinement accepts, whereas On Pleasures and Pains rejects, the “restoration” theory of pleasure of Plato's Timaeus.


Cet article propose une analyse et une traduction d'un ouvrage de Miskawayh (m. 1030) déjà édité mais non étudié par ailleurs, et intitulé Des plaisirs et des douleurs (Fī al-Laḏḏāt wa-al-ālām). Après une étude préliminaire concernant la doctrine aristotélicienne du plaisir dans l‘Éthique à Nicomaque, qui est la principale source de Miskawayh, la doctrine du plaisir présentée dans le traité Des plaisirs et des douleurs est comparée à la discussion du plaisir dans l'ouvrage mieux connu de Miskawayh La réforme des mœurs (Tahḏīb al-aḫlāq). En dépit de l'harmonie globale qu'il y a entre les deux œuvres, leur traitement du plaisir diffère en ce que La réforme accepte la conception du plaisir comme restauration issue du Timée de Platon, alors que le traité Des plaisirs et des douleurs la rejette.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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1 Al-Kindī, Discourse on the Soul, at Rasāʾil al-Kindī al-falsafiyya, ed. M.ʿA.H. Abū Rīda, 2 vols (Cairo, 1950, 1953), vol. 1, p. 277. Translation taken from P. Adamson and P.E. Pormann, The Philosophical Works of al-Kindī (Karachi, 2012), p. 116 (§IV.4). Cf. On Dispelling Sorrows §II.1 in Adamson and Pormann. A definition of pleasure offered by al-Kindī (at On Definitions and Descriptions of Things §70C in Adamson and Pormann) suggests that pleasure may in fact be an evil, but then adds that this applies to “what people call pleasure” namely the pleasures of sensation.

2 The evidence is gathered at al-Rāzī, Rasāʾil falsafiyya (Opera philosophica), ed. P. Kraus (Cairo, 1939), pp. 139–64.

3 See al-Rāzī, Rasāʾil, p. 147. For him see further de Blois, D., “Shuhayd al-Balkhī, a poet and philosopher of the time of Rāzī,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 59 (1996): 333–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 For a translation and study of another work by Miskawayh in the same manuscript, see Adamson, P. and Pormann, P.E., “More than heat and light: Miskawayh's Epistle on soul and intellect,” Muslim World, 102 (2012): 478524CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 ʿA. Badawī (ed.), Dirāsāt wa-nuṣūṣ fī al-falsafa wa-al-ʿulūm ʿinda al-ʿArab (Beirut, 1981), pp. 98–104. Despite some errors this is superior to the earlier edition of Arkoun, M., “Deux épîtres de Miskawayh,” Bulletin d’Études Orientales, 17 (1961/2): 774, at pp. 1–9Google Scholar (Arabic pagination). References to the work are to the section numbers of my English translation below.

6 The literature on Aristotle's treatment of pleasure is extensive. See for instance Rorty, A.O., “The place of pleasure in Aristotle's Ethics,” Mind, 83 (1974): 481–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar; J.O. Urmson, “Aristotle on pleasure,” in J.M.E. Moravcsik (ed.), Aristotle: A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City, NY, 1967), pp. 323–33; J. Annas, “Aristotle on pleasure and goodness,” in A.O. Rorty (ed.), Essays on Aristotle's Ethics (Berkeley, 1980): 285–99; Bostock, D., “Pleasure and activity in Aristotle's Ethics,” Phronesis, 33 (1988): 251–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar; van Riel, G., “Aristotle's definition of pleasure: a refutation of the Platonic account,” Ancient Philosophy, 20 (2000), 119–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar; C.C.W. Taylor, “Pleasure: Aristotle's response to Plato,” in R. Heinaman (ed.), Plato and Aristotle's Ethics (Aldershot, 2003), pp. 1–20; M. Weinman, Pleasure in Aristotle's Ethics (London, 2007); C. Natali (ed.), Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics Book VII (Oxford, 2009); Aufderheide, J., “Processes as pleasures in EN vii 11–14: a new approach,” Ancient Philosophy, 33 (2013): 135–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 I here adapt the formulation of Annas, “Aristotle on pleasure and goodness,” p. 288.

8 Cf. Republic 584c and Philebus 31d–32b, 33d–34a, 51b. I have mentioned the Timaeus more prominently not to suggest that it was the text Aristotle primarily had in mind (in fact the term γένεσις connects this passage especially to the Philebus, 54c) but because it was the dialogue known to authors writing in Arabic.

9 I follow for instance D. Wolfsdorf, Pleasure in Ancient Greek Philosophy (Cambridge, 2013), p. 123, in translating αἰσθητή as “perceived” rather than “perceptible.” The point is that when we have pleasure we are actually aware of a restoration.

10 Republic 584a insists on this point, though the natural state may seem pleasant or painful compared with other conditions.

11 With the modern editors I follow Aspasius in deleting ἐνέργειαι after τοῦ θεωρεῖν.

12 On this example see J.C.B. Gosling and C.C.W. Taylor, The Greeks on Pleasure (Oxford, 1982), §6.6.5.

13 R. Walzer and P. Kraus (eds), Plato Arabus I (London, 1951), p. 19.

14 See Wolfsdorf, Pleasure in Ancient Greek Philosophy, p. 134, following S. Broadie and C. Rowe, Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics (Oxford, 2002), p. 438.

15 On the question whether pleasures must themselves be complete activities see Aufderheide, “Processes as pleasures.”

16 C. Rapp, “NE VII.13–14 (1154a21): Pleasure and Eudaimonia,” in Natali (ed.), Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics Book VII, pp. 209–35, at p. 218.

17 Apart from pointing to the various caveats in the passage itself – “nothing prevents (οὐδὲν κωλύει),” “perhaps (ἴσως)” – there is Owen's point that here “pleasure” could mean “the activity in which one takes pleasure” rather than “the pleasure one takes in the activity” (for instance the contemplating, rather than the superveninent enjoyment that comes with the contemplation). See Owen, G.E.L., “Aristotelian pleasures,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 72 (1971), pp. 135–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar. I am impressed by Rapp's suggestion that Aristotle is making a point about extension: the activity that is the highest good (contemplation) is also incidentally a pleasure. See Rapp, “NE VII.13–14,” pp. 219–20.

18 See the extant Arabic version of the passage at A.A. Akasoy and A. Fidora (eds), The Arabic Version of the Nicomachean Ethics (Leiden, 2005), p. 415, using the expression laḏḏa mā. For the translation see also M. Ullmann, Die Nikomachische Ethik des Aristoteles in arabischer Übersetzung, 2 vols (Wiesbaden, 2011–12).

19 Arabic version at Akasoy and Fidora, The Arabic Version, p. 423.

20 See the Arabic version of the Metaphysics in M. Bouyges (ed.), Averroes: Tafsīr mā baʿd aṭ-Ṭabī ʿat, 3 vols (Beirut, 1938–52), T.39.

21 Miskawayh, Tahdhīb al-aḫlāq, ed. C. Zurayk (Beirut, 1966). English translation: Miskawayh, The Refinement of Character, trans. C. Zurayk (Beirut, 1968). Cited in my translations, and by page number from the Arabic edition (these page numbers are also given in the margins of Zurayk's English translation).

22 See Fakhry, M., “The Platonism of Miskawayh and its implications for his ethics,” Studia Islamica, 42 (1975): 3957CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 On the two kinds of happiness see further P. Adamson, “Miskawayh's psychology,” in P. Adamson (ed.), Classical Arabic Philosophy: Sources and Reception (London, 2007), pp. 39–54, at p. 49.

24 For just one example, in this case a defense of the purely contemplative reading of Aristotelian happiness, see R. Kraut, Aristotle on the Human Good (Princeton, 1989).

25 Cf. Plato's notion of “necessary desires” at Republic 559b.

26 Notice that this a different rationale for the conclusion of Aristotle that restorative pleasures are “accidental” (see above, section 1).

27 This is not to take any particular stance on whether On Pleasures was written before or after the Refinement.

28 He seems to go further in an anti-Platonic direction than Aristotle, who grants that pleasures apart from the most perfect ones are indeed pleasures, albeit in a “secondary” way (NE 1176a29).

29 Cf. the remarks on the use of kamāl to translate words related to τέλος at R. Wisnovsky, Avicenna's Metaphysics in Context (London, 2003), pp. 103–6.

30 This is not a complimentary term. At Refinement 80 it refers to materialists. It is not clear whom precisely Miskawayh has in mind, though as mentioned at the beginning of this paper al-Rāzī endorsed the restoration theory.

31 This would of course be the position of the Epicureans. Compare for instance Epicurus, Sententiae Vaticanae §33 (my trans.): “the flesh cries out for lack of hunger, of thirst, of cold. Having these, and expecting to have them [in the future], he might contend with Zeus in happiness.”

32 Of course, if Miskawayh were clear about the difference between pleasures as objects enjoyed and pleasures as enjoyments taken in those objects, this would not be shocking at all: obviously God is the best object in which one can take pleasure.

33 Smell seems to be aligned more with these lower pleasures, given that the pleasure of scent is criticized in the saying ascribed to ʿAlī (On Pleasures §23), which Miskawayh sees as fitting with his philosophical account (on this see further below).

34 See F. Shehadi, Philosophies of Music in Medieval Islam (Leiden, 1995), A. Shiloah, Music in the World of Islam (Detroit, 1995).

35 As Marwan Rashed has pointed out to me, we might also entertain the possibility of a Neoplatonic source for Miskawayh's whole discussion of pleasure, namely Porphyry's Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics. According to Ibn al-Nadīm's Fihrist (Flügel I.252) this commentary was translated into Arabic by Isḥāq b. Ḥunayn. Miskawayh cites Porphyry's discussion of Aristotle's Ethics at Refinement 76, albeit not in the context of discussing pleasure.

36 Note the implication that God Himself does not engage in hearing or sight, never mind the other sense modalities. While this may seem unsurprising, in fact (as Marwan Rashed reminds me) there was a debate among Islamic theologians as to whether God is mudrik in the sense of having sense-perception, in the light of such verses as Qurʾān 4:58, 4:134, and 42:11 (God is “the hearing, the seeing”). On this see J. van Ess, Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra: eine Geschichte des religiösen Denkens im frühen Islam, 6 vols (Berlin, 1881–1995), vol. 4, 81, 405, 443.

37 Whereas Aristotle classed smell among the more superior sense faculties, Miskwayh does not; this could be because the saying of ʿAlī alludes negatively to the pleasurable scent of musk.

38 I received helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper from Joachim Aufderheide and from audiences in Münster, in Munich, and at Columbia University. My thanks to them, and also to members of the Arabic reading group at the Warburg Institute, David Bennett, and especially Rotraud Hansberger for help with the following translation. I would also like to thank the Leverhulme Trust for its support of this research.

39 In the notes to the translation and page references, A and B refer respectively to the editions of Arkoun and Badawī (see n. 5 above).

40 Cf. Refinement of Character 94.

41 Reading yanquṣu.

42 B erroneously has al-ḏāt instead of al-laḏḏāt.

43 As B notes (99 n. 1) the min after kāna (retained by A) should be deleted.

44 This sentence seems rather out of place; perhaps a catalogue of the 14 types has fallen out of the text.

45 Reading bi-ḥiss with B.

46 B reads fiʿlī (“active”) instead of ʿaqlī.

47 In this passage the word ḏāt could be translated as “essence” or “self” (e.g. “God loves His essence” vs. “God loves Himself”).

48 Reading naqṣ for nafs, printed by both A and B.

49 This simile recalls Lucretius’ famous statement that he uses the beauty of poetry to make the teachings of Epicurus more palatable (De Natura Deorum I.936–8).

50 See below, §23.

51 A word that neither A nor B could read.

52 Reading ʿan rather than min.

53 In B there is no connective after the previous sentence.

54 Reading hiya with B.

55 The rest of the first category is present in A but omitted in B, without explanation.

56 The wa- is omitted in B.

57 Reading wa-bi-tawassuṭihā taqwā.

58 This is a bit puzzling but the idea seems to be that, unlike the person considered in the next paragraph, we are here dealing with someone who needs a physical experience to access the divine forms. With the ceasing of the material basis of the experience, i.e. the musical sound (which might be understood as vibration in the air, as in for instance O. Wright [trans.], Epistles of the Brethren of Purity: On Music [New York, 2010], ch. 3), the influence of the divine forms also ceases.

59 Reading laḥn with B.

60 Reading ʿinda ḏālika with A.

61 A forward reference to §23 below.

62 Qurʾān 54:55, Arberry trans.

63 Reading buġḍ with B.

64 Reading bi-ʿayn with B.

65 A companion of the Prophet and partisan of ʿAlī. See on him the article by H. Reckendorf in EI2. The story is also told as involving a different companion, Jābir ibn ʿAbdallāh al-Anṣārī, in a version which has the remark from §11 above placed at the end of the saying. I have not been able to find the anecdote in Miskawayh's own al-Ḥikma al-Ḫalida, ed. A. Badawī (Cairo, 1952), but at 110 he transmits a different remark made by ʿAlī to Jābir ibn ʿAbdallāh, also concerning “this world (al-dunyā).” My thanks to Mohammed Rustom for discussion of the anecdote.

66 This derives from a terminological confusion: the word “mouse” was used for the musk pod. See A. King, “Tibetan musk and medieval Arab perfumery,” in A. Akasoy, C. Burnett and R. Yoeli-Tlalim (eds), Islam and Tibet: Interactions along the Musk Routes (Farnham, 2011), 145-61, at 147. My thanks to Charles Burnett for the reference.

67 Here B correctly ends the quotation, whereas A punctuates as if it carries on to the end of the paragraph. The passage is strikingly similar to one found in Marcus Aurelius: “When meat and other dainties are before you, you reflect: this is dead fish, or fowl, or pig, or: this Falernian is some of the juice from a bunch of grapes; my purple robe is sheep's wool stained with a little gore from a shellfish; copulation is friction of the members and an ejaculatory discharge. Reflections of this kind go to the bottom of things, penetrating into them and exposing their real nature” (Meditations VI.13, trans. M. Staniforth). My thanks to Nico Strobach for the reference.

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