Discussion of the Society of Epicurus' 20 Tenets of 12/21/19

  • A hypothesis : once upon time a primitive e.g. a homo Neanderthal or a homo sapiens that lived in a primitive village was devoured by a black panther and some primitives that were his companions, when they saw that, then they had spread around that black cats bring bad luck.

    But these are "ypolepses" (false suppositions i.e. painful memories with mythical stories that are mixed with the fear of death) and not "prolepses" (preconceptions or anticipations or intuitions i.e. pleasurable memories with real fact stories without being mixed with the fear of death).

    And here is the ending paragraph in the letter to Pythocles in which Epicurus describes the procedure of the manifold way of the Canon, and on how, we can be able to separate the imagination from the reality since the real purpose is living without agitation i.e. the pure pleasure.

    "All these things, Pythocles, you must bear in mind; for thus you will escape in most things from superstition (mythical stories) and will be enabled to understand what is akin to them. And most of all give yourself up to the study of the beginnings and of infinity and of the things akin to them, and also of the criteria of truth and of the feelings, and of the purpose for which we reason out these things. For these points when they are thoroughly studied will most easily enable you to understand the causes of the details. But those who have not thoroughly taken these things to heart could not rightly study them in themselves, nor have they secured the end for which they ought to be studied".

  • OK, Oscar suggested that the specific epistemology discussion on knowledge and objective/subjective reality continue HERE: Exchange On Knowledge From January 2020

    I think that's a good idea and suggest people do that, but I also know that this issue is mixed together with this original thread on the 20 Tenets, so we'll do the best we can to keep things organized. However i have now copied (not "moved") several of the key posts into the Epicurean Canonics forum, so hopefully in the future this discussion can be found more easily.

    So please note for people reading in this thread --- the conversation on the specific epistemology issue is likely to continue, and so look for further development, here: Exchange On Knowledge From January 2020

  • Cassius

    Hiram, I personally do not subscribe to nor view myself as belonging to the continental tradition. I presume you're aware of the split between analytical and continental philosophy.

    ... I'm concerned with anti-natalist thinkers (would you say Onfray is in that camp?) who think: "I wish I'd never been born" - since, I'm happy to be born and happy to live my life with pleasure.

    I am unfamiliar with the differences between the analytical / continental traditions, but European intellectuals have WIDELY divergent views and it's not too easy to categorize them all. I only have some familiarity with a few of the existentialists (Nietzsche, Sartre), and I know OF the German idealists and the Marxist tradition but not too in depth.

    Also, Onfray has a variety of interests, not only Epicurus--which makes classification even more difficult. He is also Nietzschean. No one claims he's ONLY Epicurean in his interests. But he's most likely the most vocal defender of Epicurus and the most vocal enemy of Plato in the world today.

    If Onfray ever expressed "I wish I had never been born" at one point, he may have changed his mind during his intellectual evolution. I know that DURING HIS CATHOLIC UPBRINGING, the Church made him feel like life wasn't worth living, and he goes into his biography and how much damage he suffered by the Church (they sent him to a Catholic boarding school where he was emotionally, physically, and psychologically abused) in the first chapter of Hedonist Manifesto.

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

  • SOE10 All that exists, exists within nature. There is no super-natural or un-natural “realm”; it would not have a way of existing outside of nature. Nature is reality.

    • I'm a scientific and objective realist. I don't think within/without are appropriate and can instil more sense of confusion than clarity. To say something is "within" means you know the boundary or edge of reality? Epicurus taught us to wisely that reality is eternal and infinite. There is only reality, so I personally, don't use the word "within".

    (Objective/subjective categories were removed some time ago from Tenets 1 and 2) This is an affirmation that there is no "otherworldly" reality, and a rejection of the empty words of theologians who might say "God exists outside of nature", or something along those lines.

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

  • SOE12 There are three acceptable interpretations of the Epicurean gods: the realist interpretation, the idealist interpretation, and the atheist interpretation.

    • I think the most plausible explanation is the realist; no personal god(s)

    That's the atheist interpretation. The realist says that gods are blissful extraterrestrial immortals made of particles.

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

  • This reminds me of a point I may have omitted to make before: I have a problem with the terminology "the chief goods." I do not recall this phrasing in the Epicurean texts, and it implies that there is a list of "goods" which is higher or more important than others. I think that's a repetition of the same issue commented on before.


    The bottom line here is that i suspect that "chief good" is just a phase that has been picked up for convenience in Society of Epicurus discussion rather than being based on a clear text. As always, please correct me if I am incorrect.

    The doctrine of the "kyriotatai" (= chief goods) was articulated in Philodemus' scroll "On Choices and Avoidances". He was adamant that we should keep the distinction between these natural and necessary goods and vain ones in our minds.

    I don't have this in front of me but we have to keep in mind that many of these scrolls were notes that Philodemus took while studying under Zeno of Sidon, who was the Scholarch at the time, so this would have been part of how the teaching was imparted to him.

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

  • The chief goods [kyriotatai] by Philodemus are the means to live a virtuous life, above all ?! The means are transferred to an end by themselves and for themselves to become a "virtuous life" as a goal ? But in reality of life whoever is preaching like this, everything else than a "virtuous" life wants to live or he lives or he had lived.

    From the same source of "Φ" on "chief goods" [kyriotatai] we read a paragraph: "In relation to these chief goods, men must have a clear understanding that externalities are only secondary and firm confidence that they can not affect our happiness in the way that the eary to procure chief needs can. This is clarified in Column XV, and mentions things like beauty, marriage, wealth, luxury, and the like".

    And now, I would like to say boldly to Philodemus that everything else he taught except what he really lived.

    Do you want to see evidence of Philodemu's thoughts on beauty, marriage, wealth, luxury and the like? Read carefully his poems that are as follows :

    "On beauty" : Philodemus the "philanderer" who was searching in his life the "perfect beauty" in women as we read in two of his poets e.g. :

    1. Charito has completed sixty years,

    but still black is her long wavy hair

    and still upheld those white, marble cones of her bosom stand firm without encircling by a brassiere.

    And her skin without a wrinkle, still ambrosia,

    still fascination, still distills ten thousand graces.

    But you lovers who shrink not from fierce desires,

    come hither, forgetting of her decades.

    2. Philaeniŏn is short and rather too dark, but her hair is more curled than parsley, and her skin is more tender than down: there is more magic in her voice than in the girdle of Aphrodite, and she never refuses me anything and often refrains from begging for a present. Such a Philaeniŏn grant me, golden Cypris, to love, until I find another more perfect.

    "On marriage" : Does he mean, for cheating your husband or wife occasionally? Yes, this is what does he mean.

    By midnight, eluding my husband,

    and drenched by the heavy rain, I came.

    And do we then sit idle, not talking and sleeping, as lovers ought to sleep ?

    "On wealth and luxury":

    First of all, his school was a huge luxurious villa sponsored by Piso that was the father-in-law of Julius Ceasar. Moreover, as everyone can see, there is a copy-paste building of the Villa of Papyri with the "Getty Villa" in Malibu! As for the Symposia not only a piece of bread and a glass of water the participants were enjoying, since in another poem by Philodemus we read :

    Artemidorus gave us a cabbage, Aristarchus caviar, Athenagoras little onions, Philodemus a small liver, and Apollophanes two minas of pork, and there were three minas still over from yesterday. Go and buy us an egg and garlands and sandals * and scent, and I wish them to be here at four o'clock sharp.

    ...and "on the like":

    1. The stone has place for three immortals ;

    for the head clearly shows me to be goat-horned Pan,

    the breast and belly tell I am Heracles,

    the rest of the thighs and the legs are the portion of wing-footed Hermes.

    Refuse me not a sacrifice, stranger, for your one sacrifice will earn the thanks of the three gods.

    2. Seven years added to thirty are gone already like so many pages torn out of my life ;

    already, Xanthippe, my head is sprinkled with grey hairs, messengers of the age of wisdom.

    But still I care for the speaking music of the lyre and for revelling, and in my insatiate heart the fire is alive.

    But O Muses, my mistresses, bring it to a close at once with the words " Xanthippe is the end of my madness."

    Conclusion : I have no objection to Philodemus and on how he had lived, and where he had lived since, as we see clearly in his poems, he lived a pleasant life, and as he liked it.

    However, I have objections to him or anyone like him giving me lists with "chief goods" or "lower goods" on how I should live for leading me so deviously to a purpose as a "virtuous life" ?!

    No, Philodemus, Epicurus said the purpose is a pleasant life "hedeos zen" and not any "virtuous life".

    Moreover, I subjectively and prudently, am able to judge and measuring what brings to me pleasure and what pain according to the circumstances and consequences of MY EXPERIENCES that are getting evolved in a space-time and in a society that I live or any other society I like to live with my like-minded friends, since we commonly have declared and accepted that our common goal is to live a pleasant life! So, simple !

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

  • Elli is there not some controversy as to whether the Philodemus who wrote those love poems is the same person as the Philosopher? I presume they are the same person but it seems I have read that somewhere - maybe not. I do remember that one or more of the poems has some clear Epicurean references so presumably it's the same person.

    But there seems to me to be a *lot* of uncertainty about the Philodemus material. It may appear that he was a less orthodox Epicurean than Lucretius, but my position would be that we just have to be very careful reaching broad conclusions from fragmentary reconstructed texts. So I guess my view is that I don't think I am ready to criticize Philodemus, but I am *very* skeptical of the fragmentary reconstructions, and I personally would never accept something that appears to deviate from a logical extension of a more reliable text. And what I mean is that I would not accept it as reliably established as being what Philodemus meant to convey.

    And that's my real issue with so much of the Philodemus material that Hiram quotes -- it's just not based on as reliable a foundation as are the more established texts, so any apparent deviations are more likely to be the result of translator speculation or bias as it is from Philodemus himself. If Philodemus had a reputation in the ancient world for deviating from Epicurus in specific areas then that would give us more to go on, but if that exists I am not aware of it.

  • I don't know Greek nor am I able to verify the source versus any translations to see whether the original mentioned virtuous or pleasant life, although the pleasant life proposed by the ancient Epicureans WAS virtuous by their own definition … but I also know that many modern song-writers often sing songs and choose the words for their songs so that they rhyme, and not necessarily with didactic purposes.

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

  • I agree with at least one premise of Oscar's question, that labelling interpretations requires definitions. It really doesn't help anything to come up with categories that don't have an accepted definition without explaining what you mean them to be. In the Epicurean texts I am aware of, there is only a series of statements about the nature of gods. Any categories of "interpretations" are our own, at best, and don't have established definitions.

  • They're not my own. The first two are the widely accepted academic interpretations. For instance, if you look up the wikipedia article on Epicureanism it says:

    The manner in which the Epicurean gods exist is still disputed. Some scholars say that Epicureanism believes that the gods exist outside the mind as material objects (the realist position), while others assert that the gods only exist in our minds as ideals (the idealist position)

    This is followed by three sources, which are:

    1. O'Keefe, Tim (2010). Epicureanism. University of California Press. pp. 155–156.
    2. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e Sedley, David (2011). "Epicurus' theological innatism". In Fish, Jeffrey; Sanders, Kirk R. (eds.). Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. pp. 29–30.
    3. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Konstan, David (2011). "Epicurus on the gods". In Fish, Jeffrey; Sanders, Kirk R. (eds.). Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. pp. 53–54.

    So as you see this is a very complex subject, and I believe it's tied mainly to the problem of how much can we infer about life in other worlds based on what we see about life in this world (this is treated in "On methods of inference" by Philodemus); and it's also linked to the problem of the Canon and the requirement that it be based on EMPIRICAL data from nature. It seems like some ancient Epicureans argued that the gods could be "perceived" as anticipations, but this is very problematic. Therefore I adhere to the third / atheistic interpretation.

    I find it possible that in the ecology of the cosmos there may exist super-intelligent, super-blissful beings; and I find it possible that they may exist for thousands of years, but I find it impossible (it doesn't pass the test of conceivability, which is an important criterion cited in "On methods of inference") that beings of any species would last an eternal lifetime when all else goes to dust, as we see in nature, even suns and planets.

    Here is a piece by Ilkka on the subject, where he also articulates the third view (the atheist view). He was the first one who initially posited this view in terms of the canon, so it would be unfair to attribute it to me although I adhere to it. He argues that the Epicurean gods do not pass the test of the canon, that they are unempirical.


    Also, we have discussed this in the past among us. Here are records of our previous discussions. Feel free to start discussions elsewhere or here based on passages from these previous discussions.

    Dialogues on the Epicurean Gods - http://societyofepicurus.com/d…es-on-the-epicurean-gods/

    “For there ARE Gods …” - http://societyofepicurus.com/for-there-are-gods/

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

  • Epicurus was not an empiricist in that he included prolepses in his Canon of how we know what is real. DeWitt talks about this. It's consistent with developmental research showing humans are born with innate pattern recognition but even beyond that to a sort of innate pattern expectation, the same way sea turtles hatch knowing not just to notice but to look for which way to go to the sea.

    However, that is different from insisting on impossible things just because they show up in one's imagination, and a reality based philosophy would not accept an interpretation of an innate intuition that has been shown clearly inaccurate. I don't know which way Epicurus would go, if he had access to the physics we have now.

    There's a difference in stating Epicurus meant to be idealist or atheist when he was clearly realist, vs giving one's own position about gods. I read Epicurus as a realist, and I am pragmatically speaking an atheist, although I wouldn't categorically say that extremely long lived and blissful ETs are impossible. I'm not sure there is firm agreement on what happens after expansion of the universe, whether it's one and done or recurring, and if it is possible there could be some configuration of matter we have not thought of that could be conscious and survive in either case. It seems unlikely. I don't really spend any time thinking about it unless it comes up here.

    Just because O'Keefe says a thing doesn't make true. Idealism is a ridiculous position contradicted by reality. Allowing that into your definition of Epicurean stretches the meaning beyond comprehension. You can do that to any label you want to, of course, but it removes any claim to consistency or coherence.

  • I totally agree with Elayne adding that Epicurus was so realist and pragmatist that used even the gods as means/tools for living like a god in a society that mob was, and still is thinking and acting like gorillas and chimpanzees. ^^^^

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

  • In the above discussion I don't think that Hiram is including all of the detail that even in the partial form that we have it that Epicurus / Lucretius cited. I think if you check Dewitt you will see that there is both (1) the argument from anticipations, which is most fully preserved in the Velleius narrative in Cicero's "On The Nature of the Gods," and (2) the direct receipt of "images" though space by the mind.

    Those who reject Epicurus' theory tend to focus on the images argument and blend that into the anticipations argument, but someone attempting to weigh all the evidence of what the texts contain would need to consider both the anticipations argument and the "images" argument.

    There's a lot going on in the consideration of Epicurean gods, and my personal viewpoint is that Hiram is hanging too much weight on his own personal weighing of the current state of scientific evidence, which is by definition not complete and is ever changing. It's definitely a problem also to site the evidence that the universe is expanding (that refers to the OBSERVABLE universe) to contradict the Epicurean theoretical position that the universe is boundless in size. I have to admit that that one always bothers me. Just because the part of the universe that we have OBSERVED seems to be expanding from a central point does not countermand the logical deduction that the universe is boundless in size, and that presumably there are all sorts of other areas that are expanding or collapsing or whatever based on their own histories.

    To talk about the "universe" as expanding from a center is going to be out of court from the beginning in Epicurean terms. Of course we can go back to the issue of definitions and say that "universe" doesn't mean EVERYTHING, and if so that's fine, but that's not the traditional use of the term "universe."

  • Concerning the idea that gods emit particles that we can perceive, this was part of one of our discussions on the gods and was dismissed by Alex because, in an expanding universe paradigm, we are getting further away from the intercosmia and therefore the particles would eventually no longer reach us. This is just another problem with the realist position. Are we content to state something knowing that we will remain forever without evidence for it?

    Just because O'Keefe says a thing doesn't make true. Idealism is a ridiculous position contradicted by reality. Allowing that into your definition of Epicurean stretches the meaning beyond comprehension. You can do that to any label you want to, of course, but it removes any claim to consistency or coherence.

    I think we have to be careful to attack the label "idealist interpretation" without considering the substance attached, because the key issue here is whether contemplation on the gods is USEFUL for pleasure.

    In other words, the difference between the atheist and idealist interpretation is that the atheist does not see the point of contemplating on the gods in any way, while the so-called "idealist" does (and Epicurus, as a realist, did).

    So we should not rush to attack the label's name without considering the point being made. If someone wishes to write an essay claiming the label, or re-naming the label for the sake of clarity, I would be happy to comment on it and help to re-brand the so-called "idealist position". But the key here, let's not forget, has to do with the utility of pious practice to experience certain kinds of pleasures even if we do not believe in physical gods (and the problem addressed here is also the "naturalness" of religiosity, or the idea that humans are by nature religious and that we should "not force nature").

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

  • dismissed by Alex because, in an expanding universe paradigm, we are getting further away from the intercosmia and therefore the particles would eventually no longer reach us. This is just another problem with the realist position. Are we content to state something knowing that we will remain forever without evidence for it?

    The "expanding universe" paradigm, to the extent it refers to "everything," is not Epicurean and I personally reject it on the same grounds Epicurus would -- it is inconceivable that the universe has a limit. This is not a problem with the realist position, but a problem with someone accepting "scientific" speculation based on incomplete evidence that contradicts something that is logically compelled. To the extent "expanding universe" is valid it refers (presumably) to what has been observed so far, and presumes that these observations are correct and can be taken to overrule something that is logically compelled by other compelling evidence (nothing comes from nothing or goes to nothing and the chain of reasoning that leads to infinite universe). There is no way that both can be true, and the likelihood is therefore that we either have not observed far enough out, or we are misinterpreting or misapplying the results of the evidence so far.

    Note: Referring to Alex here does bring back memories too, and this I think is an area where i disagreed with Alex. I think Alex (in following the expanding universe model to the detriment of the bigger picture being the universe as unlimited in size) is committing the "error" that I think we are discussing here. Alx is very very much into "science" which is very admirable, but I frequently detected that this issue we are discussing is something where he and I disagreed. When "science" appears to contradict something as fundamental as infinite / eternal universe, then I am not going to easily accept that "science' is right without a tremendously more powerful expression of proof than I am away that the theoreticians can bring to bear.

    Just the same with the religionists -- truly raise someone from the dead in circumstances that are beyond dispute and then we'll talk about supernatural gods and an afterlife.

  • Cassius, why can't the universe be both expanding and infinite? I don't think those two things are necessarily in conflict? Here's an article about that. I can't go to the primary research for this, because it's so far out of my area. I have to use sources for laypeople. But what this article describes makes sense. https://www.npr.org/sections/1…ding-universe-really-mean

    If Epicurus was wrong and the universe is finite, however, it still doesn't change that there is no supernatural needed to explain any part of reality. None of the interesting possibilities change anything about the material nature of reality and how we humans perceive it. None of the cosmological theories set up a basis for absolute ethics.

  • Just to clarify something; the current state of cosmology does not hold that the universe (observable or otherwise) is expanding from a central point. It holds that the universe is expanding equally in all points. This is a difficult point to get a hold of, and metaphors only go so far. But it's worth looking into

  • Excellent points Elayne and JJ. So long as the model does not create the inference of "everything" starting at a single moment from nothing / supernaturally," I suppose that would be an example of alternate acceptable theories of the type Epicurus said was AOK. Now of course it's beyond the scope of my ability to deal with, but I think if we were talking about a well-developed Epicurean community there would be effort directed toward making sure that there was an understandable theory available to "everyone" which didn't imply "spookiness" / implicit supernatural factors, which I gather is the aura that certain people like to create exactly for the purpose of spreading religious views, or simply for the fun of keeping simpler people disconcerted.

    Such a theory would probably need to address the point about whether "everything that we observe so far seems to be expanding" applies to our expectation for everything not yet observed, and if so why or why not.