New Epicurean Book is actually a critique of Nussbaum

  • People who can't be trusted with moral relativism won't bear the yoke of moral absolutism any more wisely, if there were any such thing. The Christians have dreamt of it, but the hangings went on apace; and indeed, it's fair to ask what 'moral absolute' justified the dealings of the Hebrews with the Amalekites.


    No, I'm afraid we must have recourse to the only certain end, which is pleasure; and if we doubt the rightness of that way, then let us bolster ourselves, not with 'divine' or inhumane fiat, but with friendship, prudence, and candor.

  • Thanks for posting that Hiram! I haven't read the article yet - going there now. As to this:


    No, I'm afraid we must have recourse to the only certain end, which is pleasure;


    I think that is completely correct.


    What that formulation always causes me to ask myself is this: Is what we are really saying that "the only certain standard is feeling" -- and is that not the case because ultimately we are saying that abstractions are abstractions, but the ultimate thing that is real to us is "sensation" (feeling)?

    I think that is probably the ultimate implication, but we have so few texts left, and so much bad thinking to unlearn, that it helps to talk about it.

  • that people can not be trusted with moral relativism. I’m not sure where I stand with that.


    I still haven't read the article but if it says that, Hiram, I think we have to end up with Joshua. From a philosophical perspective I think we are first trying to be right / accurate, and only after that consider what pleases us personally. The idea that it is up to us to "trust the people," as if we have right to decide for them what is correct, jumps out at me as a major problem.

    Of course we aren't going to always like what the people decide, and so we have to take steps to defend ourselves / take precautions against that, but if we start off by not accepting the truth of whatever is true then we can hardly have any credibility on anything else.

  • See this IMMEDIATELY reminds me of why I find Nussbaum so objectionable. What I commented on above is EXACTLY what she is doing - playing God:


  • This is probably accurate, because Wilson's vision of Epicureanism IS largely Buddhism!


  • And thus enters her Utilitarianism, which has no justification in Epicurean texts:


  • I do not think this is a correct interpretation of what Epicurus was getting at here, and as an example, I would cite Hiram's picture of the dove being eaten by the Hawk. Sometimes struggle IS necessary, and that's obvious, and it's obvious that Epicurus would have understood that too, so an extreme application of this cannot have been his intent.





    The picture Hiram posted of a scene he saw in Chicago:


    Image may contain: outdoor



  • Ok if Wilson said this, then she is right and is not as far off as some of the rest of the article might indicate:


  • OK this too is an important point and one we regularly discuss, but the answer that is clear, I think, is not given. The clear answer is that Epicurus said that LENGTH of life is not the only consideration, but whether it is the most pleasurable. And there's no ideal / absolute / mechanical ranking which tells us howr to value those cigarettes against the long life. No one outside us has the "moral right" or the "absolute right" any supernatural or other claim to being able to say that their calculation should be our calculation.


    I'm not being a libertarian here; I am not saying that it is "naturally wrong" or even wrong at all for someone like Nussbaum to try to claim that right. I'm just saying that I think Epicurus would say that any such person who makes that claim does it at their own peril, and they better be able to back up their claim ultimately by force, because there is no God or absolute standard outside themselves that will support them in doing so.



    So to get back to the original points raised by Hiram and addressed by Joshua, after reading the article I am confirmed that Joshua's take was correct. But let me state it wider. As individuals and societies we make the decision **all the time** to enforce our views on how to live on other people. Parents do it with children, lawgivers do it with society as a guard against criminals, nations do it doing wartime, etc.

    I'm thinking that those are realities and that Epicurus would accept them as realities, but as a philosopher he would point out that there is nothing "Natural" or "Absolute" or "ideal" about their decisions on what to enforce -- and that all that Nature give each one of us is feeling -- pleasure and pain -- and it's up to us to work out our own lives doing our best to maximize net pleasure and reduce net pain as best we can.

  • General Comment: Many of these issues overlap with the issues that Elayne raised in connection with the video which claimed "Office Space" was a good Epicurean model. I'm glad that Hiram found this article because what he is pointing out about Nussbaum is I think closely related.


    The prevailing viewpoint from the Nussbaum perspective seems to me to be to emphasize the "denial/limits" side of Epicurean thought for exactly the reason stated here: She doesn't want other people pursuing pleasures that she doesn't agree with.


    As for the Wilson perspective I think there are still problems, at least from what I gather from reading the British version of her book. I am gathering that this is referring to the American edition which has a different title and apparently different text. Wilson seems to be rejecting Nussbaum's ethical objections to Epicurus, but even Wilson isn't following Epicurus to his real conclusion. She too is fixated on the "denial/limits" side because she thinks that the result is acceptable to her.

    The real nut of the case, however, is that the logical conclusion of Epicurus is that the reality of real people feeling real pleasure and pain, and making decisions based on their own feelings, is the way Nature works. We don't have to be pleased about the decisions other people make, and we can (and "should," given our own feelings of pleasure and pain) act to make sure that our own feelings are protected to the extent possible.


    But ultimately the truth is that there is no God, no absolute right and wrong, and the way Nature has set up the "game" is that it's simply up to us to act to pursue / protect our own feelings. If we act successfully, we live long pleasurable lives. If we fail, we often find ourselves suffering short and painful lives, and early death.


    Epicurus gives us ideas (such things as the natural and necessary analysis, pointing out friendship is the greatest tool, etc) but in the end Epicurus is not rebelling against Nature and asserting his own desires. He's simply telling us "The Way Things Are" and giving us the knowledge of how the game is played, so that we have the best chance to play it successfully.

  • Quote

    The real nut of the case, however, is that the logical conclusion of Epicurus is that the reality of real people feeling real pleasure and pain, and making decisions based on their own feelings, is the way Nature works.

    Excellent point, Cassius. The pleasure principle is descriptive/observational before it is normative.

  • Seems that Catherine Wilson has taken on Nussbaum:


    https://www.thephilosopher1923.org/review-morgan-wilson


    Part of the criticism stems from the insinuation that people can not be trusted with moral relativism. I’m not sure where I stand with that.

    Hiram, I appreciate your honesty regarding your uncertainty about moral relativism. I have suspected that is an issue for you, from reading your book and from many of your posts and comments. The alternative to relativism is absolutism, or a mixture of some relative and some absolute areas (which seems to be the most common approach to me)-- and that is not a position consistent with Epicurean Philosophy. As an online friend, I can say that you seem like a very nice person-- and not yet an Epicurean. I do not think you have fully placed pleasure as your goal in life. That is understandable-- in our culture, it is hard to adopt a fully Epicurean position. However, I have serious concerns that you have become a public figure who is thought to be an Epicurean, when you have not really embraced the whole philosophy. I believe you would have the best chance at a pleasurable, happy life if you could become comfortable with the relativism in Epicurean Philosophy-- and that those who are following you as their Epicurean expert would also be better off. I am following Epicurus' example by being frank with you here, because friends are honest with each other, and I hope other Epicureans will be frank with me should I go off course in some way myself.

  • at the crux of this issue are two facts:


    1. my oldest brother is an alcoholic and seems sure that he will never be able to quit or stop being an alcoholic.

    2. my neighbor and good friend is a recovering alcoholic also and I've visited AA meeting as a friend / family / ally in support of him. He says "idle hands do the devil's work" and that he does not believe that many addicts will stop themselves from engaging in their behavior if they're bored or idle.


    So we know that morality is never absolute.

    We also know that NOT everyone has the same moral stamina.


    This means that different moral concepts must work for different people. In fact some sources say that philosophy and morality are built for the PROTECTION of sages, because they do not really need to restrain their nature like people of lesser stamina do.


    So, the question is: is it wise to conclude that false beliefs are "ok" in some way for OTHER people who may be dealing with addiction or other issues, even if they're false. Clearly, not everyone is meant to be an Epicurean. And it's also clear to me that people with addiction or other character problems need a different approach to applied philosophy than the rest of the population.


    I don't have all the answers, but if belief in moral absolutism can help my brother overcome or manage his addiction to alcohol WITHOUT too many bad side effects, his false beliefs may be of utility.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • Hiram, I appreciate your honesty regarding your uncertainty about moral relativism. I have suspected that is an issue for you, from reading your book and from many of your posts and comments. The alternative to relativism is absolutism, or a mixture of some relative and some absolute areas (which seems to be the most common approach to me)-- and that is not a position consistent with Epicurean Philosophy. As an online friend, I can say that you seem like a very nice person-- and not yet an Epicurean. I do not think you have fully placed pleasure as your goal in life. That is understandable-- in our culture, it is hard to adopt a fully Epicurean position. However, I have serious concerns that you have become a public figure who is thought to be an Epicurean, when you have not really embraced the whole philosophy. I believe you would have the best chance at a pleasurable, happy life if you could become comfortable with the relativism in Epicurean Philosophy-- and that those who are following you as their Epicurean expert would also be better off. I am following Epicurus' example by being frank with you here, because friends are honest with each other, and I hope other Epicureans will be frank with me should I go off course in some way myself.

    Elayne I do not accept absolutism. Maybe you misread me, but thanks for your initiative at frankness. I accept relativism, and also can appreciate the merits of the moral realism expressed by Polystratus, our third Scholarch, in "on irrational contempt".


    What I did say is that Catherine posits her challenge to Nussbaum in terms of _whether people can be trusted with_ moral relativism. This is a different question than whether there is an absolute morality.


    Nussbaum does not believe that people can be trusted with moral relativism. I think the Epicureans should argue that people CAN be trusted with moral relativism, and there are many instances where we can easily demonstrate this to be the case.


    But I question whether EVERYONE (included addicted individuals, sociopaths, etc.) can be trusted with moral relativism. And in doing this, I believe that PD 39 echoes my opinion that some people can't be trusted with believing in moral relativism, and (even if we choose not to associate with them) may be better off believing whatever they believe, so long as they don't hurt others.


    I hope I made myself clear.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • Ok, so let me make sure I understand: are you hesitant to promote Epicurean Philosophy and its moral relativism-- in which virtues are only good if they lead to pleasure-- because you are worried that your brother and others like him will not be able to use this type of advice for their own pleasure? And because you love him, of course this affects your pleasure too.


    I understand that Epicurus did not think everyone could make wise choices, and I have seen difficult situations in my family as well, where people suffered because they did not (and maybe could not) choose well. I don't take that to mean the philosophy is deficient, but I agree with you that not every person can apply it successfully.


    The 12 step programs, with their absolute morality, have no better effect than no treatment if "intention to treat" analysis is applied. There is a form of therapy-- an example would be Stanton Peele's life process therapy-- which is more effective. The focus is on helping patients find activities they enjoy so much that they lose interest in their addiction. It seems reasonably Epicurean to me, but the main thing is that it works. I am a pragmatic person about medical care.


    If you are interested in talking to Stanton, I can personally connect you. He helped me with a family member. I wrote an endorsement of a recent book he put out. His therapy is not inexpensive, but it's worth it.


    I am glad we are talking about this. One thing that would help new people keep things straight is if you can clearly identify when you are approaching things from an Epicurean perspective and when you are not-- otherwise, others tend to assume it's all Epicurean, and they get muddled.


    I'm also really sorry things aren't going well for your brother, and that it causes you pain.

  • Just saw your other comment-- Epicurus didn't advise us to trust everyone. Psychopaths will act for their own pleasure anyway, but in some cases they can be persuaded that they are happier out of jail.

  • Psychopaths will act for their own pleasure anyway, but in some cases they can be persuaded that they are happier out of jail.

    And if they cannot be persuaded that they are happier out of jail than in jail, then the issue is that others who ARE applying Epicurean philosophy will put them in jail (or worse) to prevent them from harming others (us or our friends).


    It seems to me that what is being debated here is utilitarianism in practice, which is separate from Epicurus as a philosophy.


    Hiram is no doubt correct that some people will not judge wisely, and will engage in activity that is self destructive and destructive to others.


    But I see no justification in Epicurean philosophy to follow the Biblical "brother's keeper" analysis. In certain situations the erring person will be of such value to us that we would sacrifice our own happiness for them. But that is certainly not a general rule of Epicurean philosophy, and in fact the general rule established by the PD's on justice make clear that that is absolutely not the case. Some people for many reasons cannot and will not reach agreement with us not to harm us. Our Nature motivating us to secure our pleasure will lead us to restrain or otherwise prevent those people from harming us.


    Of course we are talking in generalities but that is the point of the moral relativism issue. Surely we are not going to advocate a form of Epicurean philosophy that pleases us when we agree with it, and advocate utilitarianism when it does not. If we are going to study and promote and describe Epicurean philosophy to others we need to be honest about the implications of it. Certain people and groups are going to adopt practices that "we" don't find pleasurable. Neither gods nor ideal forms give them the "right" to engage in those practices from some absolute position of superiority. They want to be happy in way that impacts us in various ways negatively. We want to be happy in ways that, if those ways were enforced on people who disagree with us, would make them very unhappy. There is no "greatest good of the greatest number" justification for coming to some sort of master compromise, and the sooner we dispel that notion the better off we will be, just as we have dispelled notions of gods or absolute reason as the basis for determining how to live.


    This is what Nussbaum refuses to accept, and why she will always ultimately be hostile to Epicurean philosophy. I am gathering that Wilson may be less hostile, and may be more open to the true implications, but only so far and then she herself draws the line. That's why these people are not Epicurean and not promoting Epicurean philosophy. They have their own ideas of what should be moral norms, and they seek justification through Epicurus to enforce them. And indeed Epicurus WILL tell them to pursue what they see as pleasure -- but Epicurus was always frank and honest and sincere enough to tell them the truth -- which is that THEIR version of pleasure is not the same version everyone else holds. We can try to enforce our version of pleasure if we like -- and I completely agree that there are times we should -- but we do so at our own peril, without justification from gods or any form of made-up absolute morality.


    Once we embrace the truth only then are we able to use the truth to set up relationships that will be consistent with the facts of Nature that there are no absolute rules.

  • I think I get the sense of what Hiram means. I also know several recovering alcoholics, and a group of them turned to traditional Lakota spiritualism as a path out. I've taken part in some of these ceremonies myself--the sweat lodge, and Sun Dance, and that sort of thing, though I was not myself a believer. It's a powerful communal experience, and potentially an engine of personal growth and change.


    We do have to meet people where they are. I think it was Patton Oswalt who said, that "if the only thing stopping you killing somebody is religion, I hope you stay religious forever." The tremendous majority are not in that position; their bible doesn't inform their morality--their morality informs which part of the bible they extol, and which they ignore.