Voula Tsouna Zoom Presentation This Thursday, May 27, at 12 Noon EDT

  • Sounds to me like Ms. Tsouna is promoting heresy -- the "fourth leg" of the canon! - but past experience indicates her research is going to be worth listening to regardless of the conclusion ;)

  • I think I've mentioned before that I had the opportunity some years ago to hear her give a lecture live. She's definitely one of the leading scholars on Epicurus alive today and if I remember her presentation was very interesting, so should be worth it.

  • Thanks for mentioning the downloadable handout - you're right it's very interesting.

    And this makes it doubly interesting to me to hear what she has to say, because I can see clearly - I have a good GRASP - FOCUS - UNDERSTANDING - that this is a word that demands to be translated into English, and should not be left untranslated, lest we give in once again to the idea that Epicurean philosophy is somehow beyond the grasp of mere mortals like us.

    We'll have to compare notes when this is over as to what we think is the best english term. But I guarantee even before we hear the first word that we're going to hear a description of an active thought process that cannot and does not exclude "opinion" from its functioning, and thus we're going to get confirmation as to why Epicurus did not consider this to be one of the canonical faculties. As important as grasping things might be, grasping isn't something that the brain does "automatically" in the same way that ears, eyes, noses and the rest function.

    Now we'll see how many of those words I have to eat later this week! ;)

    EDIT: Ha, I will already start with the caveats - since I am largely a follower of DeWitt's "intuition" line of thought, I am perfectly prepared to think that some people can grasp some things faster and more intuitively than others. So there is some room for automatic functioning. But you know what there's NO ROOM in Cassius' world for?

    There's NO ROOM for untranslated Greek words! :) If something is worth discussing, it's worth discussing in one's native language - whatever that is.

    Edit 2 - and just to be clear this is not a slam on Don's or Joshua's (or MY) interest in studying the Latin or Greek words. But the purpose of scrutinizing those words is to come up with the best possible translation with which WE, and our friends, can grasp the issue. The idea of doing all that study and then leaving them untranslated, as if they CAN'T be, is just in my mind the ultimate kind of academic power trip that I can't think anything good to say about!

  • As of today, Don, what do you think is the best single word english equivalent?

    I think if i had to choose right now it would probably be "grasp" as that's what we use in colloquial terms as "having a good grasp of the subject."

    I was watching a video of a state supreme court proceeding yesterday and there were a couple of attorneys who argued first, who did reasonably good jobs, but with a lot of "tentativeness."

    Then a fourth attorney got up to address the court, and quickly it became clear that he had a fluency and command of the subject that raised his performance head and shoulders about the others, to the extent that the judges starting asking questions and getting engaged in a way that was palpably almost "electric" in that they sensed that this person knew what he was talking about and was worth listening to.

    That's the kind of effect that i get the impression may be what was intended to be referenced here, a clear command and fluency in and about a subject in every aspect from start to finish.

    it can't be anything superhuman (due to basic premises of the philosophy) but it also would seem to involve intelligence which would seem to be something much more than "automatic"

  • Good question. Going back to the etymology, it's a throwing upon or laying upon of the mind on a subject. I get the image of a blanket thrown on something then immediately the blanket takes the shape of the thing. It's automatic, so your "grasp" isn't a bad start.

    That's why I'm still not convinced - although Tsouna may clarify - that this faculty doesn't in some way clarify the prolepses. It's not a fourth leg of the Canon but simply a refining of one of the three already there. I need to go back and read DeWitt's article on this term.

    I see LSJ gives intuition as a definition. I could see that. You just "feel" something about an event or topic. This is maybe that "I can't put my finger on it, but this doesn't (does) feel right."

  • I should add: that feeling isn't enough to prove the veracity or truthfulness of something. You need to observe with your senses. This is why I've harped on "the truth doesn't care about your feelings." It can be valuable to get that intuition feeling but without further confirmation it can lead you astray.

  • I see LSJ gives intuition as a definition. I could see that. You just "feel" something about an event or topic.

    Or also, someone who has such a command even of an action, like a virtuoso piano or other musical instrument player who can make something seem effortless. I suppose playing the piano is itself a very mental thing too, but I presume that someone could have a purely mental command of a subject that is so complete that this person has the equivalent grasp of a subject, in the same way that a Beethoven or whoever can manipulate a piano.

    That's why I'm still not convinced - although Tsouna may clarify - that this faculty doesn't in some way clarify the prolepses. It's not a fourth leg of the Canon but simply a refining of one of the three already there.

    Yep that's where I am on the subject. "Clarify" or "refine" or "manipulate" or simply "use" -- all words that we would employ if we're trying to describe how the conscious mind processes data from all sources it receives. Obviously this is a hugely important process - it's basically the process of 'thinking.' I continue to think that the source of the issue is the tendency that people have to combine "the act of thinking" with "testing the accuracy of the result of the thinking." Seems to me Epicurus was saying, in response to skepticism, that the act of thinking can't include its own test of accuracy. A test or criteria or canon, in order to be useful, must be something external to the thought process, like a "ruler" which provides the external objective reference point that our mind itself has not produced. The eyes and ears and the rest can fulfill that role because they function automatically without injection of opinion. Most definitions of this alleged "fourth leg" seem to me to be full of things which are shot through with 'opinion.'

    Can there be some mental process which is so automatic in its function (intuition?) that it deserves status as a criteria of "truth" for that individual? I don't rule that out entirely, and maybe I even agree with it to some degree in terms of personality or similar issues, but i would not put that in the same category of significance as the classic five senses which are so basic to most forms of higher life.

    Unless you want to go down the road of saying that inbred genetic dispositions / intuitions / instincts (the dam-buiding beavers we discussed), or the different personality traits of cats, dogs, most animal species, etc. qualify to them as criteria of "truth."

    I would say it's possible that Epicurus did indeed go there, but i think he would have seen that as outside the task of dealing with human skepticism, and something that he would have worked very hard to prevent creating the "feedback loop" that ought to be a huge concern. If you start thinking that the results of your deliberations are themselves 'standards of truth' equal to what you see and hear and touch, and you think that you can't go behind your thoughts and just need to accept them as primaries -- that seems to me to be a position Epicurus would not have taken.

  • It's important to remember what we're talking about when we say a criteria of "truth." We're not talking about capital-T guru-on-the-mountain meaning-of-Life TRUTH. The word used in Laertius is that the Canon components are κριτήρια τῆς ἀληθείας "criteria of truth." Αλήθεια "truth" is defined in LSJ as http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/h…257:book=10:chapter=1&i=1 "reality as opposed to appearance." I see this as a criteria for what exists. The physical world exists. It's not a reflection of a higher plane of Forms. It's not a dream of a god. The Canon allows us to experience the cosmos as it is. It is a very practical mechanism for existing and acting in the world.

  • From LTH : <<and in particular with the immediate or present apprehensions (παρούσας επιβολάς [parousas epibolas]) whether of the mind or of any one of the instruments of judgment, and likewise in accord with the feelings existing in us, in order that we may have indications whereby we may judge both the problem of sense perception and the unseen>>.

    As for the representational OR better as "the imaginational apprehensions of the mind"... Thanks mrs. Voula Tsouna! My representantional or imaginational apprehension of the mind - for to judge the unseen - is my insistent that Epicurus is painted in the fresco entitled : "School of Athens" by Raphael! Since, my desire that is connected with the feeling IS that I do not want my teacher to be insult anymore. And anyway, I'm waiting in a situation of ataraxia the confirmation on this issue! :)

    From David Sedley we read:

    As Cicero’s Epicurean spokesman Velleius explains, Epicurus’ godlike superiority lay above all in his powers of intellectual vision:For the same man who taught us everything else taught us also that the world was made by nature without the need for craftsmanship, and that this thing which you call impossible without divine creativity is in fact so easy that nature will make, is making and has made infinitely many worlds. Just because you [the Stoic Balbus] do not see how nature can do this without a mind, unable to develop your plot’s dénouementyou copy the tragic poets and resort to a god. You would not be demanding this god’s handiwork if you saw the measureless magnitude of space, endless in all directions, into which the mind, projecting and concentrating itself (in quam se iniciens animus et intendens), travels far and wide, seeing as a result no boundary of its extremities at which it could call a halt. In this measureless stretch of widths, lengths and heights there flies an infinite mass of countless atoms, which despite the presence of void between them stick together and by taking hold of each other form a continuous whole. And from these are made those shapes and formations of things which you think are impossible without bellows and anvil. With this thought you have placed as a yoke upon our necks a permanent overlord, for us to fear day and night [...] Freed from these terrors by Epicurus, and delivered into freedom, we do not fear those whom we understand neither to bring trouble upon themselves nor to try and make trouble for others, and with holy reverence we worship their supremely fine nature (ND, I, 53-54, 56).

    Velleius thus brings out what Epicureans can achieve for themselves if they follow Epicurus on his odyssey of the mind, and thus come to appreciate the inevitability that mere atomic accident, operating as it must do on an infinite scale, will produce worlds like our own, without the need for divine craftsmanship. That in its turn requires them to see, by mental projection, what the universe’s infinity really means.A decade or so before Cicero wrote this, Lucretius had eulogised Epicurus in similar terms (I, 62-79) as the pioneering Greek thinker who burst through the visual barrier presented by the outermost heaven –the ‘flaming walls of the world’ –to travel in thought through boundless space and discover the scope and limits of physical possibility.

    Lucretius goes on (III, 14-30) to describe how he has himself been enabled by Epicurus’ lesson to make the same mental breakthrough, and to enjoy the intense pleasure of seeing the world as entirely unthreatening. The Epicurean thought experiments, arguments and mental exercises by which this vision can be achieved are set out at length by Lucretius towards the end of his first book (I, 951-1051). For example, we are invited to imagine going to some hypothetical boundary of the universe and throwing a spear past it (I, 968-983).13Velleius, in speaking of the mind ‘projecting itself’, se iniciens, into infinite space, is capturing in Latin Epicurus’ technical term, epibole tes dianoias. A possible subtext underlying Velleius’ words is that the method of discovery which Epicurus pioneered was one which he thereby earned the privilege of naming. At any rate, elsewhere Velleius makes a similar claim about the term prolepsis(ND,I, 43-44): Epicurus was uniquely able to explain the universal human ‘preconception’ of god, having himself discovered and named this basic criterion of truth.


    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • From Googling "apprehension:"

    understanding; grasp, "the pure apprehension of the work of art." Similar: comprehension, realization, recognition, appreciation, discernment

    This sounds like "getting it" as opposed to the process (thinking, logic, reasoning, etc) that leads to "getting it."

  • I am getting the impression so far, 15 minutes in, that we are about to spend an hour discussing what it means to "grasp" something by observing that Epicurus said that we need to grasp both the forest and the trees - both the big picture and the details - except that since he spoke in Greek so he used the word "epibole."


    1. The phrase that certain things "have their own epibole" seems particularly troubling to me.
    2. I am not convinced that there is anything of significance in the "projection" terminology"
    3. Ok so "attention" is not a sufficient word. I agree. The issue of grasping is broader than paying attention.
    4. Even in referring to the opening of Lucretius Book 1 about Epicurus projecting his mind throughout the universe, I am not sure there is anything all that deep here. "Mental projection" seems to mean a lot more to her than it does to me - it seems to me it's just a way of describing focusing your mind on something so you can grasp it.
    5. Ok now we head toward the issue of whether this grasp, no matter how strong, constitutes a criteria of truth. I continue to think, so far, that Epicurus would never elevate a "grasp" - no matter how strong that grasp might be - to a criteria of truth.
    6. Oh this text item TEN is very helpful I think -- and I think it clearly means that the word simply means "grasp" or "has a full understanding" and little more than that. Sure it means we'll have strength of mind, because we have focused on the issues, studied both the details and the big picture, and we are comfortable with both. That's highly important, but there's nothing mysterious here.
    7. Ok now they are in questions, and a Platonist comes in to say he likes Plato better but will ask something anyway. Not sure this is a great use of time - typing the questions would be more efficient (but maybe not as much fun)
    8. Voula has a pleasing personality and presentation so she makes a good lecturer.
    9. Repeat -- it adds nothing to switch back and forth between Greek and English words other than to make the speaker (the Platonist) sound intelligent and make the discussion harder for the normal person to follow,
    10. David Konstan asks question (he's the writer correct?)
    11. Very long and complex question about Plotinus - another reason to vet the questions in writing first.

    - This is the first zoom presentation I have watched involving presentation of a paper. She's basically reading large sections of it, but this will hopefully be followed by question and answer. What's the best format using zoom? Is it ok to basically read a paper as the main presentation? (thinking out loud)