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

  • 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.

    As I reread your post I don't know that we really have much disagreement on the fundamental points as much as we are on that conclusion and the implications of it. On this "Living pleasurably is not the same as feeling pleasure." I would say that clearly seems to be a problem, maybe mostly because of the implications it raises without answering them. Because this sentence "The feeling of pleasure alone is not a sufficient reason to contend that someone is living a pleasurable life" can hardly mean anything other than that there is some reason OTHER than the feeling of pleasure to contend that someone is living a pleasurable life. Clearly the person asserting such a position has something OTHER than the feeling of pleasure to assert as the standard of a pleasurable life.

    Maybe it would help if you would explain what that standard might be, but I cannot imagine that asserting that "the standard of a pleasurable life is something other than pleasure" could lead to much that would be consistent with Epicurus.

    But I am all ears ;-)

  • I agree with everything Cassius has said, Eugenios, and I think this is an extremely important issue to understand, in order to thoroughly grasp this philosophy. Once you have fully gotten it, you won't have trouble recognizing when people aren't understanding it.

    One way people can accidentally slip into idealism on this subject is through using personifying language about nature. Epicurus did do that, but I am sure he made certain his students knew what he was doing. If that is tripping you up, you might want to avoid using metaphorical language and see if it is easier to avoid this trouble.

    The actual way we got to develop both the capacity for pleasure and specific preferences is through evolution. Humans who followed their desires to pursue pleasure and avoid pain survived and reproduced-- but it is not that the sweet fruit which was life-supporting was designed for us and the poisonous fruit not. We evolved together. The sweet fruit propagated by having us eat it and evacuate its seeds, so those fruits which matched our tastes most closely were propagated more, and we learned to continue to eat them-- humans who had a taste for them and could get those calories survived. The poisonous fruit which does not spread that way survived humans eating it by mutations which killed or repelled through taste --- the fruit without that taste and/or poison mutation didn't survive, if our eating it killed it off. The humans who ate food tasting that way didn't make it. None of this was according to any kind of design.

    The typically shared pleasures of our species were evolved, such as a tendency to empathy and cooperativeness... but the "cheater" niche, which includes sociopaths, is a consistently filled niche in most if not all species. It isn't unnatural. It has advantages and disadvantages, and a member of the cheater niche is going to feel pleasure and pain from different stimuli than the rest of us. Their subjective pleasure can only be sensed by them. Species with cheaters also evolve ways among the typical members to detect and contain cheater activity within a certain range-- or else that population tends to die off. Unchecked cheating is not a successful evolutionary event.

    In the last two paragraphs, I have gone beyond what Epicurus said, because he did not have all the evolutionary science available to him which we have now. But I think what I have said is coherent with the philosophy. I have not yet found any observable material phenomena to conflict with his philosophy, because it is based in reality.

  • And let me be clear-- just because our specific pleasures and pains developed through survival and reproduction advantages does not make survival/ reproduction our primary goal. There is no absolute good in survival and reproduction. I was just giving the descriptive background. Once a species has evolved the capacity for pleasure and can make choices, pleasure itself is the goal of life.

  • Eugenios, and I think this is an extremely important issue to understand, in order to thoroughly grasp this philosophy. Once you have fully gotten it, you won't have trouble recognizing when people aren't understanding it.

    ... and you will get lots of practice recognizing it! As for myself I have a harder time telling whether people don't understand it, or whether they just refuse to accept it. This is think is related to the widespread injection of "humanism" into Epicurean discussions. Everyone (me included) has personal preferences as to how we would like to see the world work, but the humanist seeks to universalize his or her conclusions into a single "best" system for everyone.

    To be fair to Epicurus and to understand him, I think we need to recognize that Epicurus wasn't in the business of creating a political system.

    Epicurus won't deliver a god-like pronouncement as to whether - to take a current example - the Greeks should fling open the gates to the Syrian refugees, or whether the Syrian refugees should even be trying to get into Greece. Epicurus was in the business of understanding the universe so that EVERYONE, Greek and Syrian, could - if they cared to - evaluate their personal situation according to reality and then act accordingly.

    The point people don't like to hear is that the facts of nature don't take sides, and Greeks and the Syrians both could take exactly the same starting points as to philosophy and come to all sorts of different conclusions -- from coexistence to separation to all out war -- based on their own personal considerations.

    And the fact of nature that we have to live with as to Epicureans is that Nature doesn't "care" about the result, and doesn't care whether the Greeks or the Syrians win or whether they all exterminate each other. There are no gods or "ideals of virtue" to look to either to tell us which side to root for, other than any we might choose to create for ourselves. We ultimately each as individuals have to look to our own feelings of pleasure and pain, and then act accordingly.

    It's really hard to keep a clear distinction between our own personal preferences, and our understanding of what Nature and philosophy can answer for us. Really hard. But I think we can sense strongly in the surviving texts of Epicurus, especially in parts like PD10 and the PD's stating that there is no absolute justice, that this individual contextual analysis is exactly what Epicurus was saying.

  • I am coming back to this thread because I want to make a brief point, but I think this is not really the thread I am looking for. Somewhere recently I was making the argument that Epicurus was very clear that there are only two feelings, pleasure and pain, and that this is the foundation of so much else in terms of understanding that pleasure is the ultimate goal. (Very few people want to advocate pain, they simply want to advocate something else.)

    But what i was looking for was a post where I was listing the cites in Epicurean texts which make this point. Until I find it I will post it here because it is relevant here too:

    I generally remember to point to Diogenes Laertius for this "the feelings are two" point, and also to a passage in the letter to Herodotus, but here is a passage from Torquatus / On Ends that really needs highlighting in this context. It is said here in passing, but in very clear terms: if you are feeling ANYTHING, that feeling is either Pleasure OR Pain:

    "A man who is conscious of his condition at all must necessarily feel either pleasure or pain."

    Here is the Latin:

  • Of course survival and reproduction it is not an absolute good that is ordered by any god or any leader, but it is a relative good according to the relative circumstances of the relative experiences as measured (in time and space) with senses and among pleasure and pain whilst we might see clearly evidential that survival and reproduction it was not an absolute good but a kind of a necessity for the survival of a society.

    An example based on experiences: There is, as we call it in western societies :"the social security system". This system is not an ideal and absolute invention, it has been evolved as we human beings have been evolved and still evolving on the basis to help each other when there is a great need and as it is called also as solidarity of a society which keeps its coherence, because at the same time we have seen clearly that in time and space there are not only situations as “milk and honey” in a society. And this happens according to the experiences that have been measured that to maintain whatever you have acquired and to provide for the future is something that is pleasant and not painful. Isn't it ?

    So it becomes clear that the social security system is that financial deposit account that pays in some percent: Our lovely Doctors and nurses and all the medical staff for providing to our health in hospitals when we got ill e.g. from coronavirus, medicines in pharmacies, and mainly this : for paying the pensioners' pensions. However, there is also a crucial question that has to be answered: When this social security system would fall down and be collapsed? It is when we insist that when there are almost 5 old pensioners who take their pensions monthly, without being worried and enjoying their leisure, for maintaining hospitals with medical staff, providing medicines, doing researches in the laboratories and the like, (to not mention the schools, universities and education issues) and when we see clearly that: Oh, geee there are only one and half young man that is able to work for those five old pensioners, as well as these ones and half young men are working for themselves too when they would confront a situation of a great need.

    And what is doing a society when its social security system falls down and being collapsed due to the above ? Do not worry, dear ladies and gentlemen, there are others that are intruding for holding the situation firmly bonded to the "demands" of Nature on what it can be done and not can't be done by us, since those that are intruding, have already born 6/7 children in one family. So, then, here I want to see this society/societies that include both old and young men, if they have those GUTS for making social contracts with others (that may have NOT the same idea what is just and what is unjust) and on the basis to not harm and not be harmed each other.

    What on earth does Epicurus say here? Does he maybe describe societies of jungles ? 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.

    Did you were unable or unwilling to born new babies according to a relative/and prudently measured good that is the safety and the coherence of your society? Do not worry about what is just and what is unjust ! Nature that does not care at all, will point out to you clearly -in time and space - what is just/ pleasant and what is unjust/painful.

    Because there is also - the fifth in line - Principal Doctrine which says: It is not possible to live pleasantly without living prudently and honorably and justly, [nor again to live a life of prudence, honor, and Justice] without living pleasantly. And the man who does not possess the pleasant life, is not living prudently and honorably and justly, [and the man who does not possess the virtuous life], cannot possibly live pleasantly.

    For this Epicurus maybe he had said: Prudence is higher than philosophy. Prudence is that kind of capacity of those societies for making clear that there is and the need to keep safe of whatever you have been acquired and to provide for the future. Because if this society will act otherwise, it would fall to the stoic apathetic “suggestion” which does say : Has your estate was taken from you ? It was given back. He who took it from you is wicked. What does it matter to you through whom the Giver asked it back? As long as the giver gives you, take care of it, but not as your own; treat is as the passers-by treat an inn ! Thus, according to the stoics’ "suggestions: treat our societies like an inn, or better as the Americans ask: What is this, Grand Central Station???" that means a) there are too many people around here, or b) people seem to think that they can come and go as they please. OR as we Greeks say with another idiom : "edo einai bate skyloi aleste & alestika min dinete", which means : " Here is the place where everyone does whatever one wants, open to all, free to all, anything goes, come one come all".

    Yes indeed, the wise man will marry and have children, as Epicurus says in treatises On Problems and On Nature, but only in accord with the circumstances of his life and IF these circumstances point out to him clearly that he has to take care of his property and provide for the future.

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

  • Excellent post Elli. Since we are talking about something similar here, let me post this assertion that I think applies here too:

    So what we're talking about ... comes down to "Is there an 'OBJECTIVE' ranking of Pleasures and Pains to which we can refer to as absolute standards to be embraced and rejected in all situations?"

    And the answer to that which is dictated by Epicurean understanding of the nature of the universe would presumably be "No such standard exists so no absolute ranking is possible."

    link: Commentary on KD 10'