Release Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, edition, 1931
The title About the Ends of Goods and Evils requires explanation. It was Aristotle who put the ethical problem in the form of the question, What is the T𝜆o or End, the supreme end of man’s endeavour, in the attainment of which his Good or Well-being lies?
For Aristotle, Telos connoted not only aim, but completion; and he found the answer to his question in the complete development and right exercise of the faculties of man’s nature, and particularly of the distinctively human faculty of Reason. The life of the Intellect was the Best, the Chief Good; and lesser Goods were Means to the attainment of this End.
Thus was introduced the notion of an ascending scale of Goods, and this affected the interpretation of the term Telos. Telos came to be understood as denoting not so much the end or aim of endeavour as the end or extreme point of a series, the topmost good. To this was naturally opposed an extreme of minus value, the topmost, or rather bottommost, evil.
Hence arose the expressions 𝜏𝜆o 𝛾𝛼𝜃𝜈, 𝜏𝜆o 𝜅𝛼𝜅𝜈, End of Goods, of Evils, which occur in Philodemus, Rhetoric I, 218.8 ff. (Südhans), and are translated by Cicero finis bonorum et malorum.
As a title for his book he throws this phrase into the plural, meaning different views as to the Chief Good and Evil. Hence in title and to some extent in method, the de Finibus may be compared with such modern works a Martineau’s Types of Ethical Theory and Sidgwick’s Methods of Ethics.
But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness.
No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure.
To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?
— Cicero · Paragraph 1.10.32
Translation by H. Rackham · Issue 1914 - De Finibus
This he sets out to prove as follows: every animal, as soon as it is born, seeks for pleasure, and delights in it as the Chief Good, while it recoils from pain as the Chief Evil, and so far as possible avoids it. This it does as long as it remains unperverted, at the prompting of Nature’s own unbiased and honest verdict.
Hence Epicurus refuses to admit any necessity for argument or discussion to prove that pleasure is desirable and pain to be avoided. These facts, he thinks, are perceived by the senses, as that fire is hot, snow white, honey sweet, none of which things need be proved by elaborate argument: it is enough merely to draw attention to them.
For there is a difference, he holds, between formal syllogistic proof of a thing and a mere notice or reminder: the former is the method for discovering abstruse and recondite truths, the latter for indicating facts that are obvious and evident.
Strip mankind of sensation, and nothing remains; it follows that Nature herself is the judge of that which is in accordance with or contrary to nature. What does Nature perceive or what does she judge of, beside pleasure and pain, to guide her actions of desire and of avoidance?