La Mettrie: an Epicurean System

  • That's a good summary Hiram and reinforces the need for the full text to be made available in English so that it can be scrutinized in detail, such as this paragraph:


    "One final note concerning how, in my view, La Mettrie’s epistemological approach is essentially Epicurean despite his hesitation to call himself a dogmatist: to him, knowledge that does not bring pleasure is rejected–and it is rejected BECAUSE it does not bring pleasure! In paragraph 26 he contrasts the pleasure of being in nature with trying to understand everything rationally, which is more an act of power over nature rather than blissful immersion in it:"


    Let us take things for what they seem to be. Let us look all around us: this circumspection is not devoid of pleasure and the sight is enchanting. Let us watch it admiringly, but without that useless itch to understand everything and without being tortured by curiosity, which is always superfluous when our senses do not share it with our minds.

    Is it indeed Epicurean to say that "knowledge which does not bring pleasure is rejected?" I know that the statement was made that Epicurus would "spit upon the beautiful if it did not bring pleasure" but that too is a fragment without a lot of context. Would the point be that any knowledge that does not EVENTUALLY bring pleasure is not needed - because perhaps that knowledge does not lead to immediate pleasure but does lead to eventual pleasure and/or lesser pain? Is your statement (the first paragraph quoted) a good summary of the statement from La Mettrie?


    This is interesting material and I hope over time we can really dig into it.

  • Let us take things for what they seem to be. Let us look all around us: this circumspection is not devoid of pleasure and the sight is enchanting. Let us watch it admiringly, but without that useless itch to understand everything and without being tortured by curiosity, which is always superfluous when our senses do not share it with our minds.

    Principal Doctrines 10-13 do seem to indicate that philosophy can give a purpose to knowledge, or to science, or to scientific knowledge, which is the abolition of religious fears and superstitions, which serves the purpose of living pleasantly.


    I think knowledge outside of this is unnecessary, not necessarily rejected.


    For instance, the PDs say that if people didn't have those irrational fears, there wouldn't be a NEED to study nature.


    What La Mettrie is saying, however, is that knowing nature with our senses and with our direct experience of it is pleasant, and that this is not the same as knowing it rationally or academically. Because La Mettrie is adamant that happinenss must be felt, that we can't reason our way to happiness.

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

  • knowledge outside of this unnecessary, not necessarily rejected.

    Yes I think that is the distinction.



    Because La Mettrie is adamant that happinenss must be felt, that we can't reason our way to happiness.

    OK I agree that that position is very consistent what what I read Epicurus to be saying. If you have passages that make that precise point then that would be very closely related to the comments in Torquatus that Epicurus denied the necessity of logical argument to establish that pleasure is desirable, and it would relate to the apparent debate between those who agreed with that position and those "other Epicureans" who thought that logic and reason COULD be used to establish that point. I think that debate is of very great importance so fleshing out the respective positions would be very helpful for understanding the place reason / logic in the Epicurean canon.