Benjamin Franklin – Pleasure and Pain

One of the papers that Benjamin Franklin wrote was titled “A dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain”. He wrote this paper in 1725 in London. Only 100 copies were made. He distributed several of them to friends, and the burned all but one. But due to the modern marvel of technology, we have a copy of it. The full text can be found at I have to admit that I do not understand everything that he is saying in this paper. It amazes me that he was such a thinker at the age of 19.

But I wanted to point out his viewpoint on pleasure and pain. Here are a few quotes from this paper.

One of the points he makes is that Pain and Uneasiness is what causes us to live.

It is this distinguishes Life and Consciousness from unactive unconscious Matter. To know or be sensible of Suffering or being acted upon is to live; and whatsoever is not so, among created Things, is properly and truly dead.

All Pain and Uneasiness proceeds at first from and is caus’d by Somewhat without and distinct from the Mind itself. The Soul must first be acted upon before it can re-act. In the Beginning of Infancy it is as if it were not; it is not conscious of its own Existence, till it has receiv’d the first Sensation of Pain; then, and not before, it begins to feel itself, is rous’d, and put into Action; then it discovers its Powers and Faculties, and exerts them to expel the Uneasiness. Thus is the Machine set on work; this is Life. We are first mov’d by Pain, and the whole succeeding Course of our Lives is but one continu’d Series of Action with a View to be freed from it. As fast as we have excluded one Uneasiness another appears, otherwise the Motion would cease. If a continual Weight is not apply’d, the Clock will stop. And as soon as the Avenues of Uneasiness to the Soul are choak’d up or cut off, we are dead, we think and act no more.

He also then goes on to say if we don’t experience Pain, then we cannot experience Pleasure.

The Thing is intirely impossible in Nature! Are not the Pleasures of the Spring made such by the Disagreeableness of the Winter? Is not the Pleasure of fair Weather owing to the Unpleasantness of foul? Certainly. Were it then always Spring, were the Fields always green and flourishing, and the Weather constantly serene and fair, the Pleasure would pall and die upon our Hands; it would cease to be Pleasure to us, when it is not usher’d in by Uneasiness.

Basically, Ben is saying that everything we do is driven to stop pain or uneasiness and that moving from the pain is what allows us to find pleasure. He also says that the harder the pain, the greater the pleasure.

You have a View of the whole Argument in a few familiar Examples: The Pain of Abstinence from Food, as it is greater or less, produces a greater or less Desire of Eating, the Accomplishment of this Desire produces a greater or less Pleasure proportionate to it. The Pain of Confinement causes the Desire of Liberty, which accomplish’d, yields a Pleasure equal to that Pain of Confinement. The Pain of Labour and Fatigue causes the Pleasure of Rest, equal to that Pain. The Pain of Absence from Friends, produces the Pleasure of Meeting in exact proportion.