"Lucretius on the Divine" - Dr. Christopher Eckerman

  • I believe I posted this paper to another thread, but I'm putting it here for its pertinence to this topic:

    Lucretius on the Divine: DRN 3.17-30, 5.1161-93, and 6.68-79
    Lucretius on the Divine: DRN 3.17-30, 5.1161-93, and 6.68-79

    He's Eckerman's info. He may be someone to explore further.

    Christopher Eckerman | College of Arts and Sciences

    Chris Eckerman | University of Oregon - Academia.edu

    There are several Lucretius papers posted at his Academia page!

  • Quote

    As I shall argue, these sections provide no evidence in favor of the sup-position that Epicureans believed that gods exist outside the minds of humans.

    Wow, this article looks really good!

  • This topic is always good for new discussion, and the thought just occurs to me today, connecting this topic with the term "shibboleth" as to the size of the sun, that here's another angle:

    I am not sure whether Epicurus was aware in his own time of people who think this way (I am referring to scholars who are vigilantly "idealist" on the subject of the Epicurean gods) but if he were alive in the 20th/21st centuries he would definitely observe what the reaction I see today, which contrasts sharply with what even later Epicureans including apparently Philodemus had to say:

    Epicurus was absolutely clear that his definition of gods was non-supernatural, non-omniscient, non-omnipotent, and totally without involvement in human affairs, and he really gave them no specific attributes at all other than deathlessness combined with the ability to "have a good time" without any pain, and to do this consistently and without end. As such, these beings are absolutely no threat to any of us (including to those scholars) and the Epicurean gods are really nothing more than what we would think of as "advanced space aliens" who are of little more relevance to us other than as good material for endless "Star Trek" episodes.

    Nevertheless, just like with "pleasure as the good" and "pigs as mascots" and "the size of the sun," there exists a strong tendency in certain scholars to want to have absolutely nothing to do with Epicurus' suggestions as to these extraterrestrial beings. These scholars do everything in their power to write entirely out of Epicurean philosophy the position that the Epicurean gods could be "real," just like they would write out "pleasure" and "pigs" and "the size of the sun."

    And interestingly at the same time such people are frequently (I presume) perfectly happy to watch science fiction movies about advanced races, they are frequently advocates of animal "rights" and the nobility of intelligent animals (dolphins, etc) and they certainly have no problems engaging in the pursuit of pleasure so long as they don't admit it publicly.

    So in my own mind I am seeing a collection of "shibboleths" or "litmus tests" which do serve well as indications of where a scholar really is on Epicurus:

    1. Do they focus on "Ataraxia" or "Katastematic Pleasure" as the highest good?

    2. Do they run away from the "pig" model not for the reason that Cicero did (comparing Epicureans to living like cows) but as animals that pursue "unworthy" pleasures?

    3. Do they default to the position that Epicurus was just wrong about the size of the sun so forget about the issue?

    And to those I would add:

    4. Are those scholars constantly on a campaign to "prove" that Epicurus was misrepresenting his own view of extraterrestrial "gods"?

    All of us (including me) are going to go through various phases in our personal views on answers to those questions. However I am also convinced that the longer one studies, and the more one is willing to avoid "compartmentalization" so as to preserve some aspect of one's "modern" viewpoints, the more that person is going to appreciate the depth of Epicurus' thinking and conclude that none of these positions were lightly or erroneously chosen.

  • 1. Do they focus on "Ataraxia" or "Katastematic Pleasure" as the highest good?

    I am coming around to the belief that katastematic pleasures, namely ataraxia and aponia, are foundational to a pleasurable life as taught by Epicurus. Epicurus's and other classical Epicureans' numerous uses of words connoting calm, peace, freedom from disturbance, etc. convey to me that without ataraxia and aponia, there's always going to be an impediment to living pleasurably, wisely, nobly, and justly. This does **NOT** mean numbness or apathy. If I were looking to leadership in any endeavor, I'd want a calm, cool-headed leader, not one who is distracted, anxious, or fearful. If I'm making choices and rejections, I want to be calm, cool-headed, and undisturbed in either body or mind. The "gods" in their blessedness and incorruptible state enjoy this foundational pleasure.

    This is all NOT saying that we don't enjoy so-called kinetic pleasures. But Metrodorus implies by the title of his book and the quote from it that we can be more confident in the continuance of the pleasure arising from a calm, undisturbed mind and a healthy, well-functioning body than we can of pleasures arising from external circumstances, objects, and activities. Katastematic and kinetic pleasures can work hand in hand with each other to provide the most pleasurable life, but if you're trying to enjoy a meal with friends while remaining anxious, you're not experiencing the maximum pleasure.

    I'll leave that stand for now. I have more thoughts on the gods coming later.

  • Epicurus's and other classical Epicureans' numerous uses of words connoting calm, peace, freedom from disturbance, etc. convey to me that without ataraxia and aponia, there's always going to be an impediment to living pleasurably, wisely, nobly, and justly.

    In light of my assertion here, I'm compiling said "numerous uses." Consider this just a start (I may move this somewhere else at some point as/if it grows):

    DL X.37 (Letter to Herodotus). "Hence, since such a course is of service to all who take up natural science, I, who devote to the subject my continuous energy and **reap the calm enjoyment of a life like this**,..."

    "Ὅθεν δὴ πᾶσι χρησίμης οὔσης τοῖς ᾠκειωμένοις φυσιολογίᾳ τῆς τοιαύτης ὁδοῦ, παρεγγυῶν τὸ συνεχὲς ἐνέργημα ἐν φυσιολογίᾳ καὶ τοιούτῳ μάλιστα ἐγγαληνίζων τῷ βίῳ ἐποίησά σοι...

    + ἐγγαληνίζων τῷ βίῳ (enggalenizo to bio)- spend life calmly

    + + ἐγγαληνίζων related to γαληνισμός (galenismos, see DL X.83 below)

    + μάλιστα - superlative of μάλα "very, exceedingly"; "most of all, above all"; also used to strengthen statements.

    DL X.83 (Letter to Herodotus) "who are not altogether entitled to rank as mature students can in silent fashion and as quick as thought run over the doctrines most important for their peace of mind."

    ἐκ τούτων καὶ κατὰ τὸν ἄνευ φθόγγων τρόπον τὴν ἅμα νοήματι περίοδον τῶν κυριωτάτων πρὸς γαληνισμὸν ποιοῦνται."

    + γαληνισμὸν (galenismon) calming, (Epicurus); calming of the conscience (Aristotle)

    + + from γαληνός calm (also, "calm, especially of the sea" which fits with Epicurus's other nautical allusions; of persons, gentle)

    Fragment 548. Happiness and bliss are produced not by great riches nor vast possessions nor exalted occupations nor positions of power, but rather by peace of mind, freedom from pain, and a disposition of the soul that sets its limits in accordance with nature.

    τὸ εὔδαιμον καὶ μακάριον οὐ χρημάτων πλῆθος οὐδὲ πραγμάτων ὄγκος οὐδʼ ἀρχαί τινες ἔχουσιν οὐδὲ δυνάμεις, ἀλλʼ ἀλυπία καὶ πραότης παθῶν καὶ διάθεσις ψυχῆς τὸ κατὰ φύσιν ὁρίζουσα.

    + τὸ εὔδαιμον καὶ μακάριον - eudaimon & makarion, "happiness and blessedness", latter is SAME word used for the gods in PD1]

    + ἀλυπία καὶ πραότης παθῶν καὶ διάθεσις ψυχῆς τὸ κατὰ φύσιν ὁρίζουσα. "peace of mind, freedom from pain, and a disposition of the soul that sets its limits in accordance with nature."

    + + ἀλυπία (alupia) "freedom from pain or grief"

    PD14 . “Although security on a human level is achieved up to a point by a power to resist and by prosperity, the security afforded by inner peace and withdrawing from the crowd is the purest.” White (2021)

    Τῆς ἀσφαλείας τῆς ἐξ ἀνθρώπων γενομένης μέχρι τινὸς δυνάμει τινὶ ἐξερειστικῇ καὶ εὐπορίᾳ εἰλικρινεστάτη γίνεται ἡ ἐκ τῆς ἡσυχίας καὶ ἐκχωρήσεως τῶν πολλῶν ἀσφάλεια.

    + ἡσυχίας (hesykhias) "peace; silence, stillness"

    + + ἐκχορεύω (ekkhoreuo) "to break out (ἐκ-) of the chorus (χορεύω)"

    PD17 Ὁ δίκαιος ἀταρακτότατος, ὁ δ’ ἄδικος πλείστης ταραχῆς γέμων.

    One who is just, moral, and virtuous has peace of mind; but one who is unjust is overflowing with agitation, confusion, and uncertainty.

    + ἀταρακτότατος (ataraktotatos) "not disturbed, without confusion, steady, of soldiers, X.Cyr.2.1.31: generally, quiet; not excited, calm"

    + ταραχῆς (tarakhes) "disorder, physiological disturbance or upheaval" i.e., the opposite of αταραξία (ataraxia)

    Seneca, Letter 24: And in another passage (from Epicurus): “What is so absurd as to seek death, when it is through fear of death that you have robbed your life of peace?”

    'quid tam ridiculum quam appetere mortem, cum vitam inquietam tibi feceris metu mortis?'

    + inquietam "restless, unquiet"

    Seneca, Letter 66: For the absolute good of man’s nature is satisfied with peace in the body and peace in the soul. I can show you at this moment in the writings of Epicurus a graded list of goods just like that of our own school. For there are some things, he declares, which he prefers should fall to his lot, such as bodily rest free from all inconvenience, and relaxation of the soul as it takes delight in the contemplation of its own goods.

    Si qua extra blandimenta contingunt, non augent summum bonum, sed, ut ita dicam, condiunt et oblectant; absolutum enim illud humanae naturae bonum corporis et animi pace contentum est.

    Dabo apud Epicurum tibi etiam nunc simillimam huic nostrae divisionem bonorum. Alia enim sunt apud illum quae malit contingere sibi, ut corporis quietem ab omni incommodo liberam et animi remissionem bonorum suorum contemplatione gaudentis;

  • That's a nice list of positive experiences in which pain is absent, but why do you think that those experiences are the same as "katastematic" pleasure?

    I would say that those are experiences of living breathing active people who *feel* those experiences, and are no different than any other kind of experiences of pleasure.

    All references to peace and absence of pain are equally explainable as conscious and active experiences of the mind which we find pleasurable. We will have to dig into the authorities to verify or dispute this, but active experiences of the mind are to my reading kinetic.

  • So I will be arguing that the issue is not whether concepts denoted by peace of mind and freedom of pain are valuable to an Epicurean - they certainly are.

    The question is whether these pleasures are in fact properly called "katastematic" and I will be citing the chapter devoted to just this question in Gosling and Taylor, which we have on the forum here:

    They go into great length debating the different positions, but here is one of their conclusory paragraphs. Unfortunately G&T go into great detail to consider every possible position, so they number their paragraphs in excruciating detail and often seem to be debating themselves. It's really necessary to read the full chapter to see how they marshall their evidence AGAINST the view that it was an important aspect of Epicureanism to distinguish between kinetic and katastematic pleasures.

    It's not good form to argue authorities, but few of us have written a whole book on the Greek views on pleasure, so the Gosling & Taylor viewpoint which they document at great length deserves (at least) a lot of attention.

  • Aside from showing what Gosling and Taylor are concluding (that katastematic pleasure is not a "greatest pleasure" or goal of life) the implicit presumption in these passages is that all pleasures which are "perceived" or "sensed" are kinetic, and that katastematic pleasures are not "perceived" or "sensed."

    I still need to find the passage where G&T explain that, but I am afraid it is buried deep in a prior chapter.

    So the point I am presenting is not that ataraxia and aponia are not wonderful things. The point I am presenting, and that G&T are arguing, is that experiences of ataraxia and aponia are *perceptions* and therefore do not meet the definition of "katastematic pleasure" in the authorities who devote time to talking about that term.

    It seems apparent that Epicurus was not himself someone who spent a great deal of time talking about the term "Katastematic" and so for the accepted definition of that term among other groups we are going to have to look elsewhere. (We'll find it eventually in G&T, perhaps using the cites in the Nikolsky or Wenham articles.)

  • The aponia statement is particularly important.

    The question we are talking about is whether there is any form of "non-sensory pleasure" that was of importance to Epicurus, and they are arguing that there was *not* a "non-sensory" form of pleasure.

    I perceive however that the real reason that we are having this discussion is that people are considering "katastematic pleasure" to be a form of sensory pleasure, and that's what Gosling and Taylor deny is the case based on their extensive study of PRE-Epicurean thought, during which these terms were apparently developed. Given that Epicurus did not take the time so far as we know it to offer his own discussion of "katastemic pleasure," if he cared about the term at all, it is a fair inference that we and he and everyone concerned with the issue should use the standard meaning of katastematic pleasure, which G&T assert to mean to be "non-sensory."

  • OK here is some important G&T discussion of the derivation of the katastematic term:

    That's enough of my clips for now.

    This is a very complicated subject about which the experts themselves are widely divergent, so my first and main position is that we need to be very careful about taking any position that implies that the goal of life is not adequately conveyed in the single word "pleasure."

  • I'll put this comment here, because it applies here, even though it applies in numerous other threads:

    Why do I think this topic is so important that it needs to be discussed in so much detail?

    Because I think the ULTIMATE point, on which I think Don and I agree, is that Epicurus taught that ALL Pleasure is desirable, that PLEASURE is the alpha and omega of a blessed life, and because there is ultimately no absolute standard of higher pleasures which all human beings should pursue equally.

    The question in every case is that each person has to ask himself:

    VS71. Every desire must be confronted by this question: What will happen to me if the object of my desire is accomplished, and what if it is not?

    And there is no absolute right and wrong answer to that question using any form of categories that applies to everyone all the time and everywhere except "pleasure" and "pain."

    Definitely there are lots of other ways of looking at the question, such as asking oneself whether the desire/ sought after pleasure is "natural" or "necessary," and you can ask whether it is bodily or mental, and how long the pleausure will last, and how much pain will be required to get that pleasure, and how intense the relative pains and pleasures will be, and all sorts of other "practical" questions.

    But what the advocates of "katastematic" pleasure clearly appear to be doing, and we see it in the way the entries at wikipedia are written and in many of the recent articles, is to seek to replace "PLEASURE" in the minds of the student of Epicurus with something entirely different, but which does in effect relegate "pleasure" as commonly understood to be a term of second-place status. And that guts the heart out of Epicurean philosophy and replaces it with a minimalist, simplistic, "let's do just enough to get by so that we never experience any pain at all" mentality.

    That's the danger, and that's the problem with focusing on "katastematic pleasure" as fundamental, that Gosling and Taylor, Nikolsly, and Wenham identify in very well- documented terms.