Feedback From A User

  • Cassius,


    I read chapter 15 of A Few Days in Athens and it his whet my appetite for the rest of the work. It is impressive that Frances Wright composed such an insightful book at the age of 18!


    I also enjoyed listening to the Jackson Barwis Dialogues Concerning Innate Principles that you posted. I wonder if you think the final three paragraphs are in agreement with Epicurean teachings on pleasure and pain. I have pasted them below for reference.


    Code
    1. Though it be true that pain or pleasure do, immediately or ultimately, result from all our actions as moral agents, yet to conclude generally that things are good or evil only in reference to pleasure or pain is a very considerable error. For in a moral view things are really good, or really evil, according as they serve or injury, or tend to serve or injure, the true interests of humanity, independently of the pain or pleasure that may accompany them. Pleasure or pain, simply considered, do not constitute what is morally good, or evil, in our nature; they are only concomitants of our good or evil actions, and more often ultimately than immediately. For the pains of vice and the pleasures of virtue are never so sensibly felt in the pursuit as after the accomplishment.
    2. Many things are morally good and productive of the best moral effects although accompanied with much pain and anxiety. As, when our affections are disordered and misplaced, and our indulged passions are become turbulent and unruly, so that the oppressed voice of nature can hardly be heard in us. Who is not sensible that nature thus overstrained and thrown out of her true and proper course cannot be brought back again to a due temper and just balance without much painful attention and perseverance? Things, therefore, are not morally good or evil only in reference to pleasure or pain. And as much may be said physically, and with as good reasons, for there are many painful and troublesome operations in physic which are very conducive and even quite necessary to the good and health of the body.
    3. True, said I. But do you, then, deny that pain is evil, and pleasure is good, in an abstracted sense?
    4. In these abstruse questions, replied he, we are apt to be puzzled by the abuse of words; and the present difficulty is of that sort. That pain is grievous there can be no doubt, and if we confine the sense of the word evil to signify grievous only, then pain is evil; but when we extend the sense of the word evil and make it signify all evil, moral and physical, or leave it to signify, indeterminately, what everyone fancies to be evil, then to say that pain is evil is not true. Pain is that sort of evil which is grievous to the sufferer, but pain, as we have shown, both morally and physically, is frequently productive of very great good to mankind. So pleasure, abstractedly, is delightful, which indeed is only saying that pleasure is what it is. But when we say that pleasure is good, that must depend upon the signification we give to the word good. If by good we mean only pleasant, then it is indisputable, but if by good we mean morally right, just, or reasonable, or in a physical sense, conducive to health, nothing can be more clearly false.
  • Excellent question Lee. No, certainly not fully consistent, but I think if you re-read from the beginning of the dialog, and especially if you were to read the "Three Dialogues on Liberty" that are similar in form, you would conclude as I do that Barwis' is at best a Deist and maybe not even that, and that his religious references are more superficial than fundamental. In fact in Three Dialogues on Liberty he makes lots of references to how religion is a foe to liberty.


    Further, on this precise question, he also seems to be dealing with the definitions of "good" and "evil" which need to be dealt with. It seems to me that while he is admitting that pleasure and pain are the fundamental drivers, he is trying to carve out a caveat for the words "good" and "evil" as more broad terms, maybe in the way that we can describe physical exercise as good (in being productive of ultimate pleasure) while being painful while we do it. It seems to me that he wants to use good and evil to describe "actions" to account for the fact that the same action as we know can sometime be pleasurable and sometimes be pleasurable.


    So in the end I think to answer the question by asking Barwis whether, if he is not referring good to pleasure, what IS he referring it to? And in reading the text he does not give a clear answer, other than maybe some lofty words. Now lofty words are trademarks of Stoicism / Platonism / Religion, so I would not argue with someone who wants to fault him for that. But my guess after reading this many times is that the kind of fault that he deserves is the kind that belongs to someone who knows the truth, but doesn't want to express it straightforwardly for reasons of his own. (Afraid?)


    So yes taking this passage out of context it definitely rings with problems. But when you look at the rest of the text, and see that the purpose of the work is to undercut the "blank slate" theory by focusing on feeling, without giving any real credit to standard religion or standard idealism, I think the final result is something that I do think is very helpful for someone who is thinking about how to apply the Epicurean insight that "feeling" is the real standard of Nature.

  • True, said I. But do you, then, deny that pain is evil, and pleasure is good, in an abstracted sense?

    Further, I would probably agree with Barwis that the answer to this question is "No" if we are talking "pain = evil" and "pleasure = good." Just as Barwis said, "that must depend upon the signification we give to the word good" and issues of terminology are important to honor, just as we have to deal with terminology issues in "absence of pain" not being equal to "pleasure" in every respect.


    If Barwis were wanting to replace John Locke's blank slate by a strong call to return to "religion" or to "virtue in the Platonic/Stoic sense" in a way that Epicurus would have strongly objected to, this passage, here at the end of the book, is where Barwis would have hammered home the point.


    And ONE MORE THING! You did not quote the FINAL WORDS OF THE DIALOGUE! ---->


    Here we were interrupted by the presence of the ladies who came out to meet us; when our conversation turning upon more agreeable things, our discourses on these subjects ended, and were not renewed during my stay in the country.

    FINIS



    No hammering home of the virtues of religion and devotion to god and religion - instead they turn to the ladies, and to more agreeable (pleasing!) discussions, and the conversations "were not renewed during my stay in the country."


    I do think that ending speaks legions as to what Barwis really thought! ;-)


    Boy that reminds me of how much I like that Dialogue, and consider it almost to be a work of art in itself!

  • Quote

    But when we say that pleasure is good, that must depend upon the signification we give to the word good. If by good we mean only pleasant, then it is indisputable, but if by good we mean morally right, just, or reasonable, or in a physical sense, conducive to health, nothing can be more clearly false.

    I've not read the entire dialogue, so I'm speaking out of context. With that in mind, this quote does sound very Platonic, also maybe utilitarian. The response that comes to mind is to read PDs 5, 8, 10, 17, 20, 22, 25, 26, 29 and 30 regarding pleasure and 31-39 regarding justice/morality. The statement that pleasure is not conducive to physical health contradicts the very basis of pleasure! :/


    The ending does point in a different direction though :D

  • Note: this may serve as an example of what can happen when fragments of the ancient scrolls are cited and the context isn't clear. What may be intended as humor instead becomes a redefinition or repudiation.

  • What may be intended as humor instead becomes a redefinition or repudiation.

    I very much agree with that. I feel sure that the Epicurean texts could not have been totally straight and humorless - that would contradict everything we should expect. No doubt they would be earnest, but also incorporate humor and joking.

  • Thanks for the helpful explanation Cassius. I suspected you would have such an assessment but wanted to confirm given my neophyte status as an Epicurean. I will take a look at "Three Dialogues on Liberty". I was impressed with Barwis and excited to learn more since he is completely new to me.

    But my guess after reading this many times is that the kind of fault that he deserves is the kind that belongs to someone who knows the truth, but doesn't want to express it straightforwardly for reasons of his own. (Afraid?)

    I agree with your assessment. I have the impression that many writers of the past have employed esoteric styles to avoid running afoul of the authorities in their time.


    One of the things I respect about Thomas Paine is the courage he showed when writing “The Age of Reason”. His honesty tarnished his reputation even to this day.

  • Yes the "Age of Reason" had about as much impact on me as any book I have ever read. It is a real Eye-opener for anyone who grows up thinking the "founding fathers" were conservative religiously.

  • Thanks for the helpful explanation Cassius. I will take a look at "Three Dialogues on Liberty". I was impressed with Barwis and excited to learn more since he is completely new to me.

    But my guess after reading this many times is that the kind of fault that he deserves is the kind that belongs to someone who knows the truth, but doesn't want to express it straightforwardly for reasons of his own. (Afraid?)

    I agree with your assessment. I have the impression that many writers of the past have employed esoteric styles to avoid running afoul of the authorities in their time. One of the things I respect about Thomas Paine is the courage he showed when writing

  • Cassius,


    I completed “A Few Days in Athens” and wanted to thank you again for your excellent reading suggestions. I have benefited greatly from the new information and look forward to continuing to work through your suggestions.


    Lee

  • So in sum I think your sentence there is very important, but that what you are observing does not point to "universal concepts" but to a human faculty - the faculty of anticipations, which disposes us in the direction you are looking - and gives us the disposition, which not all of us use, to exercise the ability to organize things into relationships, even though there is no divine order, no "essence," and no possibility of truly universal concepts.

    Hello Cassius, and anyone else who is willing to help to me gain a better understanding of an important issue. I am continuing to ponder universal concepts and how human behavior can be understood by anticipations in a world made of atoms and void.


    I accept the quote above from Cassius and am attempting to reconcile the position with some of the other reading I have done which argues convincingly that we have an intellectual capability which allows us to understand and generalize the sameness (commonality) in things. Moreover, this intellectual ability allows us to understand these concepts as subjects of thought rather than simply recognizing them. For example, we can recognize "triangularity" in things AND we go beyond just recognition by understanding the concept of what it means to be a three-sided figure.


    It seems clear that Epicurus thought Justice, for example, was a real thing and I am trying to better understand the kind of reality this and other concepts have.


    Attached to this post is "Chapter 2: The Intellect and the Senses" from a book called "Ten Philosophical Mistakes" by philosopher Mortimer Adler. I would be delighted if any members would care to read it and comment on the arguments made. However, I recognize the indulgence of this request and have pasted two passages below in this post. I hope to learn if others agree with me or may dissuade me of the opinion that these arguments are valid in the context of Epicurean physics and that the intellectual capabilities described could be a result of a completely material reality.


    Quote 1

    To affirm that what is common to two or more things, or thatwhat is the same about them, can be apprehended, is to posit an

    object of apprehension which is quite distinct from the objectapprehended when we perceive this or that singular particular

    as such. But this is precisely the position which opponents ofnominalism regard as the correct solution of the problem;

    namely, that there are objects of apprehension other than perceivedparticulars. Yet it is precisely this which is initially denied

    by those who deny intellect and, with it, all abstract concepts

    or general ideas.


    Rejecting nominalism as a self-defeating doctrine, one need

    not go to the opposite extreme, the extreme to which Plato

    went.

    Attributing to man an intellect independent of the senses, Plato

    also conferred an independent reality on its intelligible objects—

    the universal archetypes. In his view, it was these universal

    and eternal archetypes—of triangle and cow and everything

    else—that truly have being, and more reality than the

    ever-changing particulars of the sensible world.

    It is not necessary to go to that extreme to correct the mistakenview of the human mind that regards it as a wholly sensitive

    faculty and that, denying intellect, is compelled to adopt anuntenable nominalism. To say that the objects of conceptual

    thought are always universals is not to assert that these universalsexist as such in reality, independent of the human mind

    that apprehends them.


    Quote 2

    Not all the concepts that the intellect is able to form are abstractionsfrom sense-experience, as our concepts of cow, tree,

    and chair are. Some are intellectual constructions out of theconceptual materials that consist of concepts abstracted from

    sense.

    In this respect, the intellect functions in a manner parallel tothe imagination. Some of our images are memories of sense perceptions,

    but some are constructs of the imagination—images constructed out of the materials of sense-experience;

    for example, the constructed image of a mermaid or a centaur.We call these fictions of the imagination. So, too, conceptual

    constructs might be called fictions of the intellect, with thisone very important difference. We acknowledge at once that

    the fictions of our imagination are objects that have no actualexistence in reality. But many of the conceptual constructs that

    we employ in scientific and in philosophical thought concernobjects such as black holes and quarks in physics, and God,

    spirits, and souls in metaphysics. These are objects aboutwhich it is of fundamental importance to ask about their existence

    in reality.

    Since these conceptual constructs can have no perceptual instances,the attempt to answer this question must be indirect

    and inferential. The real existence of instances of such objectscan be posited only on the grounds that, if they did not exist,

    then observed phenomena could not be adequately explained.

  • Excellent question and very deep subject Lee. I will be interested to see what others have to say.


    It would probably help a lot to attempt to come up with a more clear statement of what the "problem of universals" really means, because I agree that you are right to see all this as of critical importance.


    Plato suggested that some form of universals exist in his realm of ideas; Aristotle suggested that some form of universals exist in his "essences" - I am not sure we have really established what exactly Epicurus held on the subject other than inferentially from the observation that nothing has eternal unchanging existence except the elemental particles. I think that has very clear implications for certain definitions of "universals," but the full impact of the foundation depends entirely on the definition given to that term.


    I would think that we could find some academic articles on the subject too, so we can look for that over time.


    In the meantime, the place that I am familiar with that has the most bearing on this and where Epicurus comes in is the section beginning at the link below from DeLacey's analysis of Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus, in Philodemus' "On Methods of Inference" -


    https://archive.org/stream/phi…h00phil#page/120/mode/2up

  • Lee:


    I am vigorously hoping that someone is going to drop in and enlighten us and in a few sentences answers all our questions.


    Failing that, however, I think you are going to find probably the best material answering your question in that DeLacey commentary, for example. All of this is very technical and as usual we are relying on commentators, some of whom are more sympathetic to Epicurus than others. I can't vouch for DeLacey but I remember thinking when I finished reading this work several years ago that DeLacey's interpretations seemed sound to me. This following clip is part of the material I linked in the last post above:


    pasted-from-clipboard.png

  • I think I have one more thing to say for now about this very murky subject. I have long believed and still maintain that Bailey's version of anticipations = "conceptual reasoning" which occurs after you see five cows, form a word-picture in your mind of a cow, and use the word cow -- My view is that that process is by no means a complete description of what pre-conceptions means. That process DOES exist, and it is VERY IMPORTANT, but that is "conceptual reasoning."


    PRE-conceptions, on the other hand, would (following DeWitt) be something "intuitive" that serves as an input or a disposition toward conceptual reasoning, and does not constitute conceptual reasoning itself.


    I repeat this just because I think there are TWO very important things to discuss here, which are closely related but not identical: (1) conceptual reasoning, and all that goes with that, and (2) preconceptions, which is a "faculty" equivalent to seeing or hearing or feeling. I think if we jam both of these two together as if we are talking about the same thing then we lose sight of what Epicurus was talking about as PRE-conceptions.

  • The quotes from Mortimer Adler seem to be consistent with Epicurus' philosophy. In particular, he makes clear that the universals are (although commonly found among humans) not absolute:

    "To say that the objects of conceptual thought are always universals is not to assert that these universals exist as such in reality, independent of the human mind that apprehends them."

  • "To say that the objects of conceptual thought are always universals is not to assert that these universals exist as such in reality, independent of the human mind that apprehends them."

    I agree with Martin and in the first draft of my post above I quoted that line myself as something I thought sounded good. But then when I read further I got less comfortable and didn't requote any of it.


    Clearly conceptual thought about things that do not exist is not only possible but ordinary and useful. However if our subject is "universals" then I am not sure that observation really advances the discussion, and we really need to start back earlier to define what we are talking about with that word "universals."

  • Quote

    I am continuing to ponder universal concepts and how human behavior can be understood by anticipations in a world made of atoms and void.

    I haven't yet read the Adler chapter, but have a comment on this well formulated quote.


    In a world of atoms and void, there are no universal concepts. Biology emerges from clusters of atoms, human behavior and intellect emerge from biology. Anticipations are biological as well. They can be thought of as a faculty as Cassius describes. Elayne has called them "pattern recognition." A while back I read some architectural criticism by Sarah Williams Goldhagen which explores "embodied cognition" in how we experience space. I think all of these are describing, in various ways, the same biological process.

  • If the same thought pattern shows up with only minor variation among the vast majority of members of a population, that should qualify as a universal.