5 Pages


ByTheodor Reik, Paul Roazen

How did philosophers ever come to think that man is an animal which seeks pleasure and avoids pain?" This is not the introduction to an abstract philosophical essay but a question which was addressed by a gentleman to his companion on a ski trip in Switzerland. Under the conditions the skier describes in a letter to the New Statesman (London, January 15, 1936), one can easily understand how such a question could come up. The remark was made as "side by side we toiled with a contorted crablike motion up a frozen mountain in a biting wind, only to slide down again in a helpless tangle, to the accompaniment of the caustic comments of an attendant demon." In such circumstances one is inclined to doubt that the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain are universal characteristics of mankind. The skier asked whether there can be any pleasure so laboriously won and so dangerously indistinguishable from pain as skiing. "If you do not sprain your ankle," he continued, "you break your leg, and if you do chance to keep your limbs whole, you still pass hours of humiliating and painful effort in very uncomfortable circumstances, when you might be spending your week's holiday at much less cost reading or sleeping by a warm fire, with a cat curled up on the mat . . ." This humorous account closed with the epigrammatic remark, "Man is a masochistic animal!"