Consequentialism & Moral Relativism within the context of Pleasure-filled Philosophy

  • One critique or reservation that I've noticed fairly consistently, both an attack on Hedonism in general and also towards Epicurean(ism) Philosophy, are the positions we take on morality. This often shows up phrased as such: "How do I know if I'm doing the right thing?" or "Are actions taken in the name of pleasure always good?", the latter used to strawman pleasure ethics as a whole, when extrapolated to say such things as “Well a murderer takes pleasure in killing” and so on.


    But it got me thinking, since we stress that there is no proper and objective *good* in the sense of morals (Religiously sanctioned, etc.), ideals/forms (Platonic), behaviors or mannerisms (asceticism/stoic indifference), or even certain instances like Kant's Categorical Imperatives, the list goes on, while also maintaining that pleasure is one such case of these "goods" or the sole or highest “good”. We also know that attempting to distinguish certain hierarchies or elevations of pleasure results in a circular measuring game of sophistry as established in Plato's Philebus, hence why we focus solely on pleasure and not katastematic pleasure over kinetic or vice versa (what I call the bread & water fallacy).


    So when it comes to pleasure and the desires of people and their conquest in fulfilling that goal, where does morality fit? Clearly we wouldn't agree with the Charvakan maxim "Let a man feed on ghee even if he runs into debt" as such an action would be far from prudent, and has financial liabilities that are potentially very painful and pleasure-inhibiting. Nor would we endorse La Mettrie eating himself to death or the directly-inspired Marquis de Sade torturing his maids despite these actions done in the name of pleasure.


    Sure we may always distance ourselves and say "No true Epicurean would engage in such dangerous pleasures!" and point to PD's 1, 17, 26, 29, 30 & VS 1, 20, 69, 70, 71 as well as many sections of L to M, namely the line:


    "And since pleasure is the first good and natural to us, for this very reason we do not choose every pleasure, but sometimes we pass over many pleasures, when greater discomfort accrues to us as the result of them: and similarly we think many pains better than pleasures, since a greater pleasure comes to us when we have endured pains for a long time." (Bailey, 41st line from bottom)


    Whether or not we choose to label Epicurean Philosophy as hedonistic is another debate, but what is shared between Epicureans and Hedonists/Libertines/Utilitarian Ethics is both; our recognition of pleasure as *good* and choosing actions that result in pleasure for ourselves and sometimes our close ones if it benefits us. This is ultimately where the title of the thread becomes relevant as no matter what those who critique us & pleasure will group us in with other pleasure seekers or isolate us and then choose to attack, with issues of morality being a formidable argument according to the attacker's perception.

    But what does everyone here think? How exactly do we hold each other accountable, including pleasure seekers who wouldn’t label themselves Epicurean and aren’t familiar with our concepts of frankness and justice, but otherwise share many of our values?

    I have another paragraph written on this topic about consequentialist thinking and how it can transform itself into an ethical system for hedonists and Epicureans, that disregards morality as it’s conventionally recognized and utilized, but I’d like to hear some thoughts on this before I delve into it any further. I also recognize that this isn't really an "Epicurean" topic, but I feel that it's answers do encompass Epicurean Philosophy.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Lots of interesting stuff there Charles.


    Do I take it correctly that your main point / question is:


    How exactly do we hold each other accountable, including pleasure seekers who wouldn’t label themselves Epicurean and aren’t familiar with our concepts of frankness and justice, but otherwise share many of our values?


    It might help to direct the discussion if you further elaborated on what you mean by "holding each other accountable"?


    It is possible that you are going in a direction that calls to my mind this excerpt from Torquatus in "On Ends":


    Quote

    Yet nevertheless some men indulge without limit their avarice, ambition and love of power, lust, gluttony and those other desires, which ill-gotten gains can never diminish but rather must inflame the more; inasmuch that they appear proper subjects for restraint rather than for reformation.


    if you are talking about "how do you prevent others with different views of pleasure from hurting us and our friends, then it seems to me that Torquatus is clearly saying that we "act to restrain" them ---


    which is one reason why it is transparently wrong to suggest that Epicurus held that no Epicurean would participate in any form of public life, because there needs to be a mechanism for restraining those who would harm us, and I cannot imagine that Epicurus would have said "let someone else take care of that."


    But you may not be going in that direction.....you may be thinking of something else entirely.

  • Whether or not we choose to label Epicurean Philosophy as hedonistic is another debate, but what is shared between Epicureans and Hedonists/Libertines/Utilitarian Ethics is both; our recognition of pleasure as *good* and choosing actions that result in pleasure for ourselves and sometimes our close ones if it benefits us. This is ultimately where the title of the thread becomes relevant as no matter what those who critique us & pleasure will group us in with other pleasure seekers or isolate us and then choose to attack, with issues of morality being a formidable argument according to the attacker's perception. But what does everyone here think? How exactly do we hold each other accountable, including pleasure seekers who wouldn’t label themselves Epicurean and aren’t familiar with our concepts of frankness and justice, but otherwise share many of our values?

    I will admit that my first reaction was "It's not my responsibility to answer for all those who call themselves 'Hedonists/Libertines/Utilitarians' If people lump us all in together!"

    But, upon further reflection, it doesn't do us any good to get painted with the broad brush of prejudice and not defend ourselves. We need to have a proper reaction at the ready. I don't know what that is, but let's ponder it together.

    I do think it's very important the way you phrased it: "according to the attacker's perception." They're the ones who need correcting. They're the ones with whom we have to engage. What do we need to get through to them and how?

    Additionally, I don't think we can hold Hedonists/Libertines/Utilitarians accountable. We are not all part of a big tent. They don't need to listen to us and vice versa.

    BUT we do need to distinguish ourselves from other "pleasure seekers" because that's just not what we are. We believe (*I think*) that pleasure is the summum bonum since pleasure is what stands alone. Pleasure is not a means to an end. Pleasure is! Virtue is only a means to pleasure. Why do we try to practice wisdom, to be moral, and to be just? Because we believe KD 5: "It is not possible to live a joyous life without the traits of wisdom, morality, and justice; and it is impossible to live with wisdom, morality, and justice without living joyously. When one of these is lacking, it is impossible to live a joyous life." Virtue is a means to an end: living pleasurably. Morality is a means to an end: living pleasurably. Pleasure is the end to which we're heading!

    The reason that we're not libertines and decadents is that that lifestyle is not sustainable. It does not lead to living pleasurably. Sure, I can enjoy a few beers. Sure, I can enjoy a fine meal. But I don't want to stay drunk continuously and gorge myself on fine food every day. That's a recipe for pain.

    The argument against Epicureans that murderers find murder pleasurable isn't necessarily easy to overcome. Murderers may truly believe that they find sadistic pleasure in their crime, and I'm not entirely convinced by that specious Epicurean argument that they will be troubled by knowledge that they cannot be sure they will go undetected. It sounds good but some people are sociopaths. BUT does it REALLY lead to a murderer living pleasurably. We REALLY have to define what we mean by "living pleasurably" I think. Almost by definition, someone who derives "pleasure" - and I deliberately put that in quotes - from their heinous crimes isn't living pleasurably by almost any rational societal understanding - prolepsis, if you will - of what "living pleasurably" means. That's another thing I believe that sets us Epicureans apart, knowing that "living pleasurably" has to be sustainable. We work towards maximizing sustained pleasure, not having momentary jolts of kinetic pleasures. That's what we work towards not just aponia but also ataraxia.

    This is a fascinating and important thread to discuss. I hope I've added some food for thought and look forward to reading more from everyone.

  • It's early in the morning and i don't have time to continue but i think in Eugenios' post THIS part will bear further elaboration:


    We REALLY have to define what we mean by "living pleasurably" I think. Almost by definition, someone who derives "pleasure" - and I deliberately put that in quotes - from their heinous crimes isn't living pleasurably by almost any rational societal understanding - prolepsis, if you will - of what "living pleasurably" means.


    I hope Elayne will have a chance to see this as I suspect she will have something to say on this point too.

  • https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dWNW-NXEudk


    Scott is not (to my knowledge) an Epicurean, but this is still the best take on morality I've seen anywhere.


    Ties in Euthypro and David Hume for one powerful conclusion; regardless of your faith or philosophy, the inescapable reality is that there are only rational 'oughts'.


    Does an Epicurean have trouble making sense of ethics? Certainly: but only because everyone has trouble making sense of ethics. What did we expect from a mammalian brain operating in a universe made of unthinking matter—perfection? The really foolish thing would be to assume perfectibility in ethics. Europe was lighted from one end to another with the burning of heretics behind that insanity.

  • Mutual advantage is the key concept in Epicurean social ethics. If instead of speaking of "morality" or in abstract terms, we refer to concrete social problems and seek to evaluate the issues of mutual advantage concretely and directly and in detail, the moral problems become clearer and easier to address from an Epicurean perspective. The following essay might be worth studying in detail by the Epicureans:


    Reconciling Justice and Pleasure in Epicurean Contractarianism - John J. Thrasher

    http://www.johnjthrasher.com/w…rean-Contractarianism.pdf

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

  • Just for the record, Hiram, I continue to disagree strongly with that essay, (I would have to reread before i can remember HOW strongly, but i know we have discussed this several times before), and in particular disagree I strongly disagree with the statement that "mutual advantage is the key concept in Epicurean social ethics."


    There is nothing whatsoever that would lead to that "mutual benefit" conclusion. Yes we have to observe that generally we have to expect that people to whom we do harm will inflict harm back on us. But causing others harm, up to and including killing them) is an entirely appropriate thing to do in some circumstances (such as killing an enemy in war, or killing a criminal before he kills us, just for two examples.)


    You are reading a very broad "mutual" into the equation presumably for reasons that we have discussed in great detail before -- humanism -- but there is no way to substantiate that through a thorough reading of the texts.


    The texts are clear that it is our own pleasure, combined with the pleasure of our friends (in whom we take pleasure), and not some generic pleasure of all, or "mutual benefit" of a wider group beyond ourselves and our friends. The welfare or benefit of others who are not our friends is going to be a contextual secondary consideration that will vary entirely with circumstance -- not "the key concept in Epicurean social ethics." So it is never "mutual benefit" as an abstraction without discussing who is involved in the equation. Friendship going dancing around the world proclaiming to all the benefits of pleasure does not mean that all are going to respond to our proclamation, or that we are going to reach agreements for the mutual benefit of those who don't.

  • Eureka !! We did find two magic words like "open sesame". It is the "mutual benefit". E.g. I have a mutual benefit with this person in the video who wants without legal papers to pass through the greek borders to Evros area, for proclaiming his purpose that is: "to f@ck up all Greeks". Before he reaches the borders, he wants to spread the pain he already has from his religious or whatever ideas he has in his mind. And me, I have to say to him : Welcome here, since friendship dances around the world due to mutual benefit.

    Where on earth do you live dear sirs? Outside there are neither only revolutionists of keyboards nor books' authors and the like. Outside it is the life that is proved with the science of the natural selection on who and how is the one that is able to survive with safety. Please, take out from your labs the EP, and your imagined world of ideas, and bring it in the REALITY of life at last!


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

  • There is nothing whatsoever that would lead to that "mutual benefit" conclusion.


    That's a very categorical rejection of several of the Principal Doctrines on your part.


    The last ten Principal Doctrines make frequent references to mutual advantage as the defining feature of justice.


    36. Taken generally, justice is the same for all, to wit, something found useful in mutual association; but in its application to particular cases of locality or conditions of whatever kind, it varies under different circumstances.


    37. Among the things accounted just by conventional law, whatever in the needs of mutual association is attested to be useful, is thereby stamped as just, whether or not it be the same for all; and in case any law is made and does not prove suitable to the usefulness of mutual association, then this is no longer just. And should the usefulness which is expressed by the law vary and only for a time correspond with the prior conception, nevertheless for the time being it was just, so long as we do not trouble ourselves about empty words, but look simply at the facts.


    38. Where without any change in circumstances the conventional laws, when judged by their consequences, were seen not to correspond with the notion of justice, such laws were not really just; but wherever the laws have ceased to be useful in consequence of a change in circumstances, in that case the laws were for the time being just when they were useful for the mutual association of the citizens, and subsequently ceased to be just when they ceased to be useful.

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

  • Eureka !! We did find two magic words like "open sesame". It is the "mutual benefit". E.g. I have a mutual benefit with this person in the video who wants without legal papers to pass through the greek borders to Evros area, for proclaiming his purpose that is: "to f@ck up all Greeks". ….

    Are you saying that that's an example of mutual benefit? The entry of a person who might be dangerous for a society does not benefit the members of that society.

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

  • That's a very categorical rejection of several of the Principal Doctrines on your part.

    No, I don't see it that way at all. You are quoting the principal doctrines on justice, and justice is one of the "virtues," all of which are subservient to the most fundamental principle that pleasure is the guide of life.


    The subservience of justice to pleasure is explained thoroughly in Torquatus / On Ends:



    The point of our disagreement is in your statement "Mutual advantage is the key concept in Epicurean social ethics." I don't think that statement is saved by the "social" modifier to ethics. Epicurean ethics of any kind is always based on pleasure, and pleasure is something that is felt individually. There is no "group" pleasure, or else we would all be Benthamites looking for the greatest pleasure of the greatest number. By elevating "mutual advantage" to the role of "the key concept" you're doing the same thing the Stoics and Platonists do every day - you're saying that mutual advantage is an end in itself regardless of what it produces from the individual perspective.


    As to Elli's example you are making the same presumption in talking about "dangerous for a society" and "benefits the members of that society." You are lumping all sorts of things into that analysis as if it is possible to do so, which it is not -- from a philosophical perspective there are no bright lines that establish such things as "dangerous for a society" or "benefits the members of the society." You or any other individual can certainly make that calculation for yourself, but to say that Epicurean philosophy and/or "Nature" supports it as a general rule is to turn the contextual nature of pleasure and Epicurean philosophy upside down.


    Which is exactly what that essay by Thrasher does. He admits in the preamble, for good reason, that "The pursuit of pleasure and the requirements of justice,however, have seemed to be incompatible to many commentators, both ancient and modern." However I would go further and say that he is understating the point when he says "many" -- the truth is that it is very clear that "the requirements of justice" are of no relevance to an Epicurean stated in the way that implies that there are absolute principles of justice. The PDs that you are quoting makes plain that justice changes with circumstance, and there is no Epicurean principle of "the best society" that can be read into the doctrines to infer that any particular society should always be defended, or always be deposed. Plenty of societies can deserve to be defended, and plenty of societies can deserve to be destroyed, but there is no standard above the individual level that answers the question as to which is which.


    I don't have the time to read the full essay in detail again right now; I know I have argued against it in the past, perhaps even here in this forum. But one of the basic issues is his search for a "rule hedonism" -- in other words he is looking for a "rule" that appears to be divorced from pleasure itself, which, like the gods, has no ruler over it. He's attempting to systematize a theory of contract in which individuals secure their greatest happiness by agreeing to a mutual contract -- that is all well and good, and in practice that's pretty much what it seems like we ought to struggle toward- -- but each in our own individual circumstances, and not by looking for universal rules which we then see, in the classic error of "virtue" - as an end in itself, rather than always looking to pleasure itself.


    That's the great error of humanism and all virtue ethics, as stated in PD25:


    25. If on each occasion, instead of referring your actions to the end of nature, you turn to some other, nearer, standard, when you are making a choice or an avoidance, your actions will not be consistent with your principles.


    Thrasher's "Epicurean Social Contract" theory is doomed for the reason all other efforts to derive an absolute best political theory is doomed. Once we go further than did Epicurus, who simply noted that any legitimate concept of "justice" turns on the pleasure of the people involved, then we slide down the slope directly to Platonism and Stoicism.


    Epicurus didn't do that for reasons that ought to be clear when you start with his fundamental principles and build from the ground up.

  • Neither benefits of a society nor dangerous for a society. Since it is my known and familiar society, and that means he is neither a friend that benefits nor an enemy that is dangerous. This is the action according to (PD 39) : As much as possible to be refrained from mixing him in my known society and to expel from here, for going to his known society for living as he likes and with whomever his likes, and this was of advantage to treat thus.


    In this case and according to Doctrine 32. For all living things which have not been able to make compacts not to harm one another or be harmed, nothing ever is either just or unjust; and likewise too for all tribes of men which have been unable or unwilling to make compacts not to harm or be harmed.

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

  • But what does everyone here think? How exactly do we hold each other accountable, including pleasure seekers who wouldn’t label themselves Epicurean and aren’t familiar with our concepts of frankness and justice, but otherwise share many of our values?

    I have another paragraph written on this topic about consequentialist thinking and how it can transform itself into an ethical system for hedonists and Epicureans, that disregards morality as it’s conventionally recognized and utilized, but I’d like to hear some thoughts on this before I delve into it any further. I also recognize that this isn't really an "Epicurean" topic, but I feel that it's answers do encompass Epicurean Philosophy.

    I think this is the key question Charles, and if you read Thrasher's essay on contractarianism and the final PD's and have any further questions about his arguments while you're writing your essay, you know where to find me.


    Concerning consequentialism, Epicurus (in Against empty words) says that we think empirically concerning the actions based on the results observed from any course of action. But there is no extant elaboration of this, and your essay may actually be very useful for further ethics discussions.

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

  • It's early in the morning and i don't have time to continue but i think in Eugenios' post THIS part will bear further elaboration:


    We REALLY have to define what we mean by "living pleasurably" I think. Almost by definition, someone who derives "pleasure" - and I deliberately put that in quotes - from their heinous crimes isn't living pleasurably by almost any rational societal understanding

    Eugenios, we must remember pleasure is strictly a feeling, _not_ a rational understanding that we define. It isn't defined other than by the feeling itself. So not only don't we need to define it further, doing so would be counter to Epicurean philosophy. We all know what the feeling is.


    Some people will have pleasure in activities that most of us would abhor. We share most of our genomes-- it shouldn't surprise us that humans agree on many pleasures and pains. We aren't clones, though, and we have unique life experiences, so we'll also have some differences in pleasure.


    Because there is no absolute standard of what "should" bring pleasure, only the person having the feeling knows if they are living pleasurably or not. Pleasure cannot be measured from the outside, only subjectively.


    To my mind, Epicurus was speaking of a normal, typical person, who would live in fear of being caught (and I would add for myself, in dread of the grief due to empathy for whoever I harmed).


    A sociopath often does not experience the same kinds of worries we would, and certainly not empathy/remorse. If sociopaths get pleasure from acts that harm us, it's real pleasure for them. Some of them do get away with it in the long run and have pleasurable lives hurting others.


    There is nothing about this philosophy that says the pleasures of people won't come into opposition. It's not a philosophy that will cause every person to adhere to the same practices. But because we care about our pleasure, we would be wise to do our best to avoid dealing with sociopaths and if necessary, we can attempt to restrain them. If we structure things wisely, we can increase the chance that a budding sociopath _would_ realize a benefit from not murdering, etc.

    As a side note, sociopaths appear to respond to rewards more than punishment. Punishment is not a highly effective deterrent for them, partly due to typically high impulsivity.. If they see a path to pleasure that involves following laws, they do sometimes take it.

  • I sincerely found your post very thought-provoking, Elayne . Thank you for some intellectually-stimulating reading.
    That being said, I'm not sure that I accept all of your premises. Let me further explain my perspective, and then I welcome your response and others'. That's what I'm here for: to share, to discuss, and to learn.
    I certainly agree that pleasure is given to us by nature to serve as "the starting-point of every choice and of every aversion, and to it we come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing." (Letter to Menoikos). Yes! Fully onboard with that. So, my initial point was not necessarily that sociopaths or psychopaths are not feeling pleasure. I think they could be subjectively feeling pleasure. However, I think an argument could be made that their brains are "wired" differently than the majority of people. In which case, are their feelings of pleasure reliable guides for them? Why else would medications be prescribed for some?
    Parallel to that, there are people who are physically unable to feel pain and are unable to tell if they are being injured. There is a literal physical impediment to their being able to use a feeling of pain to make choices and rejections. Could not there also be people who are unable to feel pleasure correctly, similar to those who can't feel pain or even whose sight may perceive the distant square tower as round? Epicurus writes to Herodotus that "Our canon is that direct observation by sense and direct apprehension by the mind are alone invariably true." If one is blind or visually impaired, they cannot use the sense of sight to perceive the world and to base any choices or rejections on it. If someone's mental sense of feeling pleasure or pain is impaired, can they use those as reliable standards?
    Additionally, Principal Doctrine 25 instructs that "If at all critical times you do not connect each of your actions to the natural goal of life, but instead turn too soon to some other kind of goal in thinking whether to avoid or pursue something, then your thoughts and your actions will not be in harmony." (St-Andre translation) Is the psychopath or sociopath doing this? Are they "turning too soon to some other kind of goal" and so keeping their thoughts and actions out of tune? I would interpret the "natural goal of life" to be "living pleasurably." I would further interpret "living pleasurably" as defined by Principal Doctrine 5 (emphasis added): "It is not possible to live pleasurably without the traits of wisdom, morality, and justice; and it is impossible to live with wisdom, morality, and justice without living pleasurably. When one of these is lacking, it is impossible to live a pleasurable life."
    It is my contention that we can decide if someone is living a pleasurable life or if they're living with a delusion by applying this standard. Similarly, from my perspective, Epicurus also tells us that we can see famous and rich people thinking that they are going to be living pleasurably but they're just swapping one set of pains for another (Fragment 479). We could say they believe they're living pleasurably but they're delusional in the general sense of the word.
    Living pleasurably is not the same as feeling pleasure. A prisoner (who is not an Epicurean) can feel pleasure intermittently, but I would contend that they aren't living pleasurably. Someone living in abject poverty (who is not an Epicurean) can feel pleasure intermittently, but I would contend that they aren't living pleasurably. The feeling of pleasure alone is not a sufficient reason to contend that someone is living a pleasurable life.

  • Eugenios you have stated your view very clearly and summarized it well in that last sentence


    "The feeling of pleasure alone is not a sufficient reason to contend that someone is living a pleasurable life."


    Unfortunately I am out and going to be delayed in responding in full but my understanding of Epicurus is that he would completely disagree with that statement. I believe Epicurus would say that feeling itself is the ultimate standard, and there is no outside authority which can second guess it - which I believe to be the clear implication of PD10 and many other sayings, all of which provide the context for interpreting PD5 in a consistent way.


    More soon.....

  • Ok now I am back. We could start with all the statements in the letter to Menoeceus about "pleasure" being the alpha and omega, but I think the place to focus at the moment is on the point that feeling is the ultimate guide, beyond which there is no other, and nothing else to make a thing worth choosing and avoiding. I like to look to two places for this explanation:


    (1) PD2: "2. Death is nothing to us, for that which is dissolved is without sensation; and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us." This is a statement that nothing which is no a subject of sensation is of any relevance to us. That would take out of the argument any abstraction which does not ultimately resolve back to a positive or negative sensation, which means pleasure and pain. I do not believe there is any more fundamental proposition in Epicurean philosophy, even PD1 as to the nature of the gods, than this one that all good and evil comes to us through sensation, which I believe translates into "feeling" in the context in which we are discussing things. If a thing cannot ultimately be "felt" in some way, then that thing is of no relevance to us. Even the issue of the gods in PD1 is relevant to us only because of the feelings that the issue of gods generates in our lives.


    (1) The most clear explanation of this issue is in the opening of the Torquatus section in On Ends, which even hints at the objection which I think you are making, Eugenios, and indicates that some Epicureans ("some members of our school) fell away from Epicurus on this point, which I believe was fatal to Epicurean development (and DeWitt talks about the danger of this divergence too):


    "We are inquiring, then, what is the final and ultimate Good, which as all philosophers are agreed must be of such a nature as to be the End to which all other things are means, while it is not itself a means to anything else. This Epicurus finds in pleasure; pleasure he holds to be the Chief Good, pain the Chief Evil. This he sets out to prove as follows: Every animal, as soon as it is born, seeks for pleasure, and delights in it as the Chief Good, while it recoils from pain as the Chief Evil, and so far as possible avoids it. This it does as long as it remains unperverted, at the prompting of Nature's own unbiased and honest verdict.


    Hence Epicurus refuses to admit any necessity for argument or discussion to prove that pleasure is desirable and pain to be avoided. These facts, be thinks, are perceived by the senses, as that fire is hot, snow white, honey sweet, none of which things need be proved by elaborate argument: it is enough merely to draw attention to them. (For there is a difference, he holds, between formal syllogistic proof of a thing and a mere notice or reminder: the former is the method for discovering abstruse and recondite truths, the latter for indicating facts that are obvious and evident.) Strip mankind of sensation, and nothing remains; it follows that Nature herself is the judge of that which is in accordance with or contrary to nature.  What does Nature perceive or what does she judge of, beside pleasure and pain, to guide her actions of desire and of avoidance?


    Some members of our school however would refine upon this doctrine; these say that it is not enough for the judgment of good and evil to rest with the senses; the facts that pleasure is in and for itself desirable and pain in and for itself to be avoided can also be grasped by the intellect and the reason. Accordingly they declare that the perception that the one is to be sought after and the other avoided is a notion naturally implanted in our minds. Others again, with whom I agree, observing that a great many philosophers do advance a vast array of reasons to prove why pleasure should not be counted as a good nor pain as an evil, consider that we had better not be too confident of our case; in their view it requires elaborate and reasoned argument, and abstruse theoretical discussion of the nature of pleasure and pain."



    For now I will focus only on the part in bold, but I included the "some members of our school" to point out how acute the danger is.


    Ultimately the issue comes down to sensation (feeling of pleasure and pain, as shown by the equation of those things in the sentence structure) being the only judge that Nature gives us as to what is our guide for choice and avoidance.


    Now the common objection here is that we choose unwisely at times, and we end up suffering more pain and pleasure. (That too is set out by Torquatus as the issue.) The answer to that issue is not that there is a god, or that there is an ideal form of pleasure which is always preferable to other forms of pleasure. The answer to that question is "Whether you like it or not, this is the way Nature operates, so you can choose to accept the natural order, or you can rebel against Nature and set up some other standard. If you do, good luck, because there is no god, no ideal form, and no outside sanction or authority whatsoever for your decision in doing that. You're on your own."


    Now you Eugenios are framing the question in terms of people who are insane or "psychopathic" or "sociopathic" and asking about the apparent problems with those situations. The answer there is that NATURE has no problems with those situations whatsoever - Nature doesn't care. It's only real living people who have feelings and sensations, and it is up to them to pursue their lives with whatever circumstances they are given. Calling people psychopathic or sociopathic or using whatever terms of medicine or politics or religion or culture that we want to use as branding someone as depraved does not in any way invoke special authority from gods or Platos realms of ideals or any absolute standard of virtue whatsoever. Those people are as they are, just like cats are like cats and dogs are like dogs and rarely see things eye to eye - to the point of killing each other in many cases. That is simply the way nature operates.


    Now we can as humans of course observe and recognize and take steps to deal with the consequences of those problems. We can keep rabid dogs on leashes and we can identify and restrain (restraint being another reference in Torquatus) those who would kill us either because they are in some way "-pathic" or because they just don't like the color of our skin or the way we cut our hair. If we don't act to prevent harm from those sources, then often we will suffer from that harm and pay the consequence of our failure to observe and to act.


    But I am now very far downstream into the consequences. The real answer to your question is in Epicurus' "What does Nature perceive or what does she judge of, beside pleasure and pain, to guide her actions of desire and of avoidance?"


    For those people who experience pleasure at things that we consider -pathic in some way, they are experiencing the feeling of pleasure just as we are. They are not likely to succeed at their path for very long, because the NORMAL part of the universe generally outnumbers them in any context, and the normal part is not likely to take kindly to their -pathic behavior for very long. It is correct for you to point out that ultimately they will fail to live pleasurably for very long, but you have to remember that LENGTH OF TIME is not the standard for living pleasurably. That is stated explicitly in the letter to Menoeceus a there is no reason from any other passage to infer that length of time is the overriding factor in judging pleasure. You would be right to say that "neither is intensity the overriding factor either" but the real answer is that there IS no absolute standard in Nature for how to judge pleasure. Nature is not going to smile on you because you gathered flowers in fields for 50 years instead of living for 30 years as a mountain-climber and downhill skier. There IS no absolute standard for pleasant living - no external standard at all that is sanctioned by Nature. We each get to make our own decisions as to what life will bring us the most pleasure, because only we are the ones feeling the result.



    No matter how dramatically we illustrate the horrific results of what we see as depravity in the world, if you accept that Nature gives no standard other than pleasure and pain for how to live, then the result is the same, and the dramatizations may be colorful, but they all lead to the same conclusion:


    10. If the things that produce the pleasures of profligates could dispel the fears of the mind about the phenomena of the sky, and death, and its pains, and also teach the limits of desires (and of pains), we should never have cause to blame them: for they would be filling themselves full, with pleasures from every source, and never have pain of body or mind, which is the evil of life.

  • Some comments on specific points from your post Eugenios:


    However, I think an argument could be made that their brains are "wired" differently than the majority of people. In which case, are their feelings of pleasure reliable guides for them? Why else would medications be prescribed for some?

    Yes indeed their brains are wired differently, and yes indeed we try to treat them with medication, but that does not change the fact of nature as to what they are experiencing. (I understand that you agree with this point.) Yes we are substituting our judgment for theirs in how they should live, and yes I understand that we think we are doing so for their own best interest. But that is not something that Nature gives us an absolute sanction to do, and there are neither gods nor ideal forms to sanction it either. We do so because we choose to do so, and we do so for good or bad result at our own peril, and so we should be clear as to why we are doing it.