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He who on conviction does and pursues and chooses what is pleasant would be thought to be better than one who does so as a result not of calculation but of incontinence; for he is easier to cure since he may be persuaded to change his mind. ~ Aristotle

Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that pleasure is the primary or most important intrinsic good.


Arranged chronologically


  • He who on conviction does and pursues and chooses what is pleasant would be thought to be better than one who does so as a result not of calculation but of incontinence; for he is easier to cure since he may be persuaded to change his mind.
  • "Has it ever occurred to you, Euthydemus, ... that though pleasure is the one and only goal to which incontinence is thought to lead men, she herself cannot bring them to it, whereas nothing produces pleasure so surely as self-control?”

    “How so?”

    "Incontinence will not let them endure hunger or thirst or desire or lack of sleep, which are the sole causes of pleasure in eating and drinking and sexual indulgence, and in resting and sleeping, after a time of waiting and resistance until the moment comes when these will give the greatest possible satisfaction; and thus she prevents them from experiencing any pleasure worthy to be mentioned in the most elementary and recurrent forms of enjoyment. But self-control alone causes them to endure the sufferings I have named, and therefore she alone causes them to experience any pleasure worth mentioning in such enjoyments."

  • You have given yourself up to each of [the senses] to be made use of… and you have become… the property of [the senses]… having lost your own power over yourself.
    • Philo, On the Migration of Abraham
  • Moses … denied to the members of the sacred commonwealth unrestricted liberty to use and partake of the other kinds of food. All the animals of land, sea or air whose flesh is the finest and fattest, thus titillating and exciting the malignant foe pleasure, he sternly forbade them to eat, knowing that they set a trap for the most slavish of the senses, the taste, and produce gluttony, an evil very dangerous both to soul and body.
    • Philo, On The Special Laws, Part IV, p. 69
  • It is essential to every inquiry about duty that we keep before our eyes how far superior man is by nature to cattle and other beasts: they have no thought except for sensual pleasure and this they are impelled by every instinct to seek; but man's mind is nurtured by study and meditation.
  • Bodily pleasure is unworthy of man’s superior endowments, and ought to be despised and spurned; and if there be any one who sets some value on sensual gratification, he should carefully keep it within due limits. Thus food and the care of the body should be ordered with reference to health and strength, not to sensual pleasure. Indeed, if we will only bear in mind what excellence and dignity belong to human nature, we shall understand how base it is to give one’s self up to luxury, and to live voluptuously and wantonly, and how honorable it is to live frugally, chastely, circumspectly, soberly.
  • All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.
  • We must enter deep into ourselves, and, leaving behind the objects of corporeal sight, no longer look back after any of the accustomed spectacles of sense. For, it is necessary that whoever beholds this beauty, should withdraw his view from the fairest corporeal forms; and, convinced that these are nothing more than images, vestiges and shadows of beauty, should eagerly soar to the fair original from which they are derived.
  • For the majority, I take it, who live all their lives with such obtuse faculties of thinking, it is a difficult thing to perform this feat of mental analysis and of discriminating the material vehicle from the immanent beauty, ... Owing to this men give up all search after the true Beauty. Some slide into mere sensuality. Others incline in their desires to dead metallic coin. Others limit their imagination of the beautiful to worldly honours, fame, and power. There is another class which is enthusiastic about art and science. The most debased make their gluttony the test of what is good. But he who turns from all grosser thoughts and all passionate longings after what is seeming, and explores the nature of the beauty which is simple, immaterial, formless, would never make a mistake like that when he has to choose between all the objects of desire; he would never be so misled by these attractions as not to see the transient character of their pleasures and not to win his way to an utter contempt for every one of them. This, then, is the path to lead us to the discovery of the Beautiful. All other objects that attract men's love, be they never so fashionable, be they prized never so much and embraced never so eagerly, must be left below us, as too low, too fleeting, to employ the powers of loving which we possess; not indeed that those powers are to be locked up within us unused and motionless; but only that they must first be cleansed from all lower longings; then we must lift them to that height to which sense can never reach.
  • My soul was unhealthy; and, full of sores, it exuded itself forth, itching to be scratched by scraping on the things of the senses.
  • When the mind is not dissipated upon extraneous things, nor diffused over the world about us through the senses, it withdraws within itself, and of its own accord ascends to the contemplation of God.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 15
  • The prime of one’s life passes away in making a living. What can an old person do with sensual gratification?
    • Santideva, A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, V. Wallace and B. Wallace, trans. (1997), § 8.72
  • The ungodly ... reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves,...
we were born by mere chance,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been, ...
Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist,
and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.
Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no flower of spring pass us by.
Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
Let none of us fail to share in our revelry;
everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment,
because this is our portion, and this our lot. ...
Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, ...
for God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity.

Seventeenth century[edit]

  • They imagine that, if they obtained such a post, they would then rest with pleasure and are insensible of the insatiable nature of their desire.
    • Pascal, Pensées, #139 “Leisure,” W. F. Trotter, trans

Nineteenth century[edit]

  • There is but a very minute portion of the creation which we can turn into food and clothes, or gratification for the body; but the whole creation may be used to minister to the sense of beauty.
  • I call that mind free, which masters the senses, which protects itself against animal appetites, which contemns pleasure and pain in comparison to its own energy, which penetrates beneath the body and recognises its own reality and greatness, which passes life, not in asking what it shall eat or drink, but in hungering, thirsting, and seeking after righteousness.
  • All the pomp and pleasure that are mirrored in the dull consciousness of a simpleton are very poor when compared with the consciousness of Cervantes writing Don Quixote in a miserable prison.
    • Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, p. 317
  • The measure of his possible happiness is determined beforehand by his individuality. In particular, the limits of his mental powers have fixed once for all his capacity for pleasures of a higher order. If those powers are small, all the efforts from without, everything done for him by mankind or good fortune, will not enable him to rise above the ordinary half-animal human happiness and comfort. He is left to depend on the pleasures of the senses, on a cosy and cheerful family life, on low company and vulgar pastimes. Even education, on the whole, cannot do very much, if anything, to broaden his horizon. For the highest, most varied, and most permanent pleasures depend mainly on intimate mental powers. Therefore it is clear from this how much our happiness depends on what we are, our individuality, whereas in most cases we take into account only our fate, only what we have or represent. Fate, however, can improve; moreover, if we are inwardly wealthy we shall not demand much from it. On the other hand, a fool remains a fool, a dull blockhead a dull blockhead, till the end of his life, even if he were surrounded by houris in paradise.
    • Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, p. 317
  • The highest pleasures, those of the mind, are inaccessible to them and they try in vain to replace them by the fleeting pleasures of the senses.
    • Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, p. 321
  • Nine-tenths of our happiness depends on health alone. With it everything becomes a source of pleasure, whereas without it nothing, whatever it may be, can be enjoyed. ... From this it follows that the greatest of all follies is to sacrifice our health for whatever it may be, for gain, profit, promotion, learning, or fame, not to mention sensual and other fleeting pleasures; rather should we give first place to health.
    • Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, p. 326
  • Pride … shows itself even in the child and then at every age, yet most strongly in old age because when the capacity of sensual pleasures fails, vanity and pride have only to share their dominion with avarice.
    • Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, pp. 356-357.
  • Thought is a key to all treasures; the miser’s gains are ours without his cares. Thus I have soared above this world, where my enjoyments have been intellectual joys.
  • The tranquility and peace that a scholar needs is something as sweet and exhilarating as love. Unspeakable joys are showered on us by the exertion of our mental faculties; the quest of ideas, and the tranquil contemplation of knowledge; delights indescribable, because purely intellectual and impalpable to our senses.
  • Those who are esteemed umpires of taste are often persons who have acquired some knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures, and have an inclination for whatever is elegant; but if you inquire whether they are beautiful souls, and whether their own acts are like fair pictures, you learn that they are selfish and sensual.
  • The more the sensuous is denied, the more sensuous is the God to whom it is sacrificed.
    • Ludwig Feuerbach, Introduction to The Essence of Christianity (1843), Z. Hanfi, trans., in The Fiery Brook (1972), p. 124
  • In democratic societies, the sensuality of the public has taken a certain moderate and tranquil style, to which all souls are held to conform. It is as difficult to escape the common rule by one’s vices as by one’s virtues.
  • Painting the sensual with thy hues divine,—
Thou turn'st away thy face, while scattering
Perchance upon his brow some fading flowers,
Of which he strives to twine a funeral crown,
Spending his life to weave a wreath of death!
  • To ask them to read books whose life-breath is pure thought and beauty is as though one asked them to read things written in a language they do not understand and have no desire to learn. A taste for the best books, as a taste for whatever is best, is acquired; and it can be acquired only by long study and practice. It is a result of free and disinterested self-activity, of efforts to attain what rarely brings other reward than the consciousness of having loved and striven for the best. But the many have little appreciation of what does not flatter or soothe the senses. Their world, like the world of children and animals, is good enough for them; meat and drink, dance and song, are worth more, in their eyes, than all the thoughts of all the literatures.
  • The noblest are they who turning from the things the vulgar crave, seek the source of a blessed life in worlds to which the senses do not lead.
  • Be watchful lest thou lose the power of desiring and loving what appeals to the soul—this is the miser’s curse—this the chain and ball the sensualist drags.
  • How nicely the bitch, sensuality, knows how to beg for a piece of spirit when denied a piece of meat.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, W. Kauffman, trans. (1954), § 1.13 “On Chastity”
  • The most poisonous diatribes against the senses have not been said by the impotent, nor by the ascetics, but by those impossible ascetics, by those who found it necessary to be ascetics.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Ch. 5 “Morality as Anti-Nature” § 5.2 (Ludovici trans.) 4:44
  • The church combats passion by means of excision of all kinds. Its practice, its remedy is castration. It never inquires, “How can a desire be spiritualized, beautified, deified.” In all ages it has laid the weight of discipline in the process of extirpation. The extirpation of sensuality, pride, lust of dominion, lust of property, and revenge. But to attack the passions at the roots means attacking life itself at its source. The method of the church is hostile to life.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Ch. 5 “Morality as Anti-Nature” § 5.1 (Ludovici trans.)
  • The spiritualization of sensuality is called love.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Ch. 5 “Morality as Anti-Nature” § 5.3 (Ludovici trans.)
  • The charm of the Platonic way of thinking, which was a noble way of thinking, consisted precisely in resistance to obvious sense evidence—perhaps among men who enjoyed even stronger and more demanding senses than our contemporaries, but who knew how to find a higher triumph in remaining masters of their senses—and this by means of pale, cold, gray concept nets which they threw over the motley whirl of the senses—the mob of the senses, as Plato said. … “Where man cannot find anything to see or to grasp, he has no further business”—that is certainly an imperative different from the Platonic one, but it may be the right imperative for a tough, industrious race of machinists and bridge-builders of the future, who have nothing but rough work to do.
  • In his inmost heart he desired to be something more than a mere arbiter elegantiarum, to be consulted on the wearing of a jewel, or the knotting of a necktie, or the conduct of a cane. He sought to elaborate some new scheme of life that would have its reasoned philosophy and its ordered principles, and find in the spiritualizing of the senses its highest realization.
    • Oscar Wilde, describing Dorian, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 11, p. 104
  • The worship of the senses has often, and with much justice, been decried, men feeling a natural instinct of terror about passions and sensations that seem stronger than themselves, and that they are conscious of sharing with the less highly organized forms of existence. But it appeared to Dorian Gray that the true nature of the senses had never been understood, and that they had remained savage and animal merely because the world had sought to starve them into submission or to kill them by pain, instead of aiming at making them elements of a new spirituality, of which a fine instinct for beauty was to be the dominant characteristic. As he looked back upon man moving through history, he was haunted by a feeling of loss. So much had been surrendered! and to such little purpose! There had been mad wilful rejections, monstrous forms of self-torture and self-denial, whose origin was fear and whose result was a degradation infinitely more terrible than that fancied degradation from which, in their ignorance, they had sought to escape; Nature, in her wonderful irony, driving out the anchorite to feed with the wild animals of the desert and giving to the hermit the beasts of the field as his companions.
    • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 11, p. 104
  • Yes: there was to be, as Lord Henry had prophesied, a new Hedonism that was to recreate life and to save it from that harsh uncomely puritanism that is having, in our own day, its curious revival. It was to have its service of the intellect, certainly, yet it was never to accept any theory or system that would involve the sacrifice of any mode of passionate experience. Its aim, indeed, was to be experience itself, and not the fruits of experience, sweet or bitter as they might be. Of the asceticism that deadens the senses, as of the vulgar profligacy that dulls them, it was to know nothing. But it was to teach man to concentrate himself upon the moments of a life that is itself but a moment.
    • Oscar Wilde, Dorian’s musings, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 11, p. 104
  • The senses, no less than the soul, have their spiritual mysteries to reveal.
    • Oscar Wilde, Dorian’s musings, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 11, p. 106

Twentieth century[edit]

  • Beauty … is the sole aspect of the spiritual which we can perceive through our senses.
    • Thomas Mann, Death in Venice, H. Lowe-Porter, trans. (1930), p. 45
  • Things of the senses are real if considered as perceptible things, but unreal if considered as goods.

Twentyfirst century[edit]

  • We do what we like and we like what we do

So let's get a party going (let's get a party going) Now it's time to party and we'll party hard (party hard) Let's get a party going (let's get a party going) When it's time to party we will always party hard

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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