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False pleasure

False pleasure may be a pleasure based on a false belief (as of supposedly having come into money), or a pleasure compared with more real, or greater pleasures.[1]

Lacan maintained that philosophers should seek to "discern not true pleasures from false, for such a distinction is impossible to make, but the true and false goods that pleasure points to".[2]


Classical philosophyEdit

Plato devoted much attention to the belief that "no pleasure save that of the wise is quite true and pure - all others are shadows only"[3] - both in The Republic and in his late dialogue Philebus.[4]

Augustine saw false pleasure as focused on the body, as well as pervading the dramatic and rhetorical entertainments of his time.[5]


Buddhaghosa considered that "sense-pleasures are impermanent, deceptive, trivial...unstable, unreal, hollow, and uncertain"[6] - a view echoed in most of what Max Weber termed "world-rejecting asceticism".[7]

Vain pleasureEdit

A specific false pleasure often denounced in Western thought is the pleasure of vanity - Voltaire for example pillorying the character "corrupted by vanity...He breathed in nothing but false glory and false pleasures".[8]

Similarly John Ruskin contrasted the adult's pursuit of the false pleasure of vanity with the way the child does not seek false pleasures; its pleasures are true, simple, and instinctive".[9]


Sexual intercourse is sometimes seen as a true pleasure (or false one), contrasted with the less real pleasures of the past, as with Donne's "countrey pleasures, childishly".[10]

In the wake of Reich, a distinction was sometimes made between reactive and genuine sexuality[11] - analysis supposedly allowing people to "realize the enormous difference between what they once believed sexual pleasure to be and what they now experience".[12]

Mass mediaEdit

Popular culture has been a central arena for latter-day disputes over true and false pleasures. Modernism saw attacks on the false pleasures of consumerism from the right,[13] as well as from the left, with Herbert Marcuse denouncing the false pleasures of happy consciousness of "those whose life is the hell of the affluent society".[14]

From another angle, Richard Hoggart contrasted the immediate, real pleasures of the working-class from the increasingly ersatz diet fed them by the media.[15]

As the 20th Century wore on, however - while concern for the contrast of false and authentic pleasures, fragmented or integrated experiences, certainly remained[16] - the mass media increasingly became less of a scapegoat for the prevalence of false pleasure, figures like Frederic Jameson for example insisting instead on "the false problem of value" in a world where "reification or materialization is a key structural feature of both modernism and mass culture".[17]


Slavoj Žižek had added a further twist to the debate for the 21st century, arguing that in a postmodern age dominated by what he calls "the superego injunction to enjoy that permeates our discourse", the quest for pleasure has become more of a duty than a pleasure: for Žižek, "psychoanalysis is the only discipline in which you are allowed not to enjoy" ![18]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (2005) p. 130
  2. ^ Quoted in Y. Stavrakakis, Lacan and the Political (1999) p. 128
  3. ^ Alain de Botton intro., The Essential Plato (1999) p. 364
  4. ^ Blackburn, p. 130
  5. ^ B. Krondorfer, Male Confessions (2009) p. 83 and p. 140
  6. ^ Quoted in E. Conze ed., Buddhist Scriptures (1975) p. 108-9
  7. ^ Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion (1971) p. 166
  8. ^ Voltaire, Candide, Zadig, and Selected Stories (1961) p. 121
  9. ^ John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice Vol 3 p. 189
  10. ^ John Hayward, The Penguin Book of English Verse (1978) p. 77
  11. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 515-6
  12. ^ La P. D. A., quoted in Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection (1997) p. 244
  13. ^ D. Horowitz, Consuming Pleasures (2012) p. 30
  14. ^ Quoted in John O' Neill, Sociology as a Skin Trade (1972) p. 50
  15. ^ Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (1968) p. 132 and p. 233
  16. ^ Horowitz, p. 2-3
  17. ^ M. Hardt/K. Weeks, The Jameson Reader (2005) p. 130
  18. ^ Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View (2006) p. 299 and 304

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