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  • We all want to think that our way of seeing the world is the "right" one, and that everyone who is an Epicurean will agree with us, but it seems to me that that just isn't so, and it is very disappointing to people when they realize that.

    I have been liking Epicureanism so far because it's been serving me as a way to more easily identify what's right and what's wrong, without overcomplicating things. I still have the hope that this is possible. But it's also shown so far to be a bit problematic.


    When you talk to someone and try to make them see your point of view from the perspective of what makes sense (generally, no particularly you) in terms of pain or pleasure, they start to answer with mental constructions of what should be, what it's always been, what's orthodox and how that's more safe, etc... and they show an almost visceral reaction when you point that out, but that doesn't make the truth false, it just makes then inaccessible at the moment.


    This also brings to mind something I've been grappling with lately... since pleasure and pain are things you can only experience yourself, it makes it very clear that things can start to become less absolute (and thus less comfortable - hence the resistance) and more relative... perhaps a person does something that is not the best for a third party, but it brings him geunine pleasure, or it eliminates genuine pain, so he wasn't acting with harm in mind... so how can you say he is bad if he is even ignorant of the pain he's causing to said third party... If he does it after it has been brought to his attention the pain his suffering to someone else, then he would be bad, but not before? :/

  • 1- pasted-from-clipboard.png One would think I could spell Epicurean by now -- apparently not!


    2 - Camotero I may be missing some of the subtlety of your question and maybe Don or Godfrey or others will answer better, but my first response is that you have to be clear what it means to label someone "bad" (or "good"). I think you're on the right track to see how relative and contextual everything is, and terms like "good" and "bad" as ordinarily viewed are often thought of as absolute, so they are outside the contextual / relative framework, and therefore I think Epicurus would say (and did say) that such absolute standards do not exist. That's pretty much the explicit message of the final ten PDs on "justice." Of course from our individual perspectives it certainly means something to us to consider someone a "Good person" or a "bad person," but if we're being rigorous we have to remember that out judgment comes from assessing that person as "good for us" or "bad for us" (or maybe for particular third persons we're concerned about) rather than "good" or "bad" in general. And then another implication of your question is that we need to realize that since there is no god enforcing any kind of divine or absolute law, judging someone to be "good" or "bad" is going to raise the question "So what?" With an important part of the answer being that since there is no god or absolute standard of right and wrong, it's up to living human beings to be the "enforcers" and to bring about whatever consequences for "bad conduct" are actually going to happen.

  • One more thing, as to the wiki --


    Like so many other things here I took the bull by the horns and got things started on the wiki, with the idea and hope of collaboration in the future, but not much available help at the time. Anytime anyone would like to engage further and collaborate on any aspect of the wiki or most anything else please let me know and I would be happy to extend those privileges (to people like those in the thread so far, or who come later, who've shown their good faith and interest.)

  • (1) no supernatural realm or order, (2) no reward or punishment or life of any kind after death, (3) identification of the goal and guide of life with feeling, primarily pleasure, rather than virtue or piety; (4) the view that it is correct to be confident that we can attain knowledge that is based on"reasoning" tied tightly to the senses, the anticipations, and feelings, rather than to dialectical logic; (5) a common sense view of the universe being totally natural and effectively infinite in size, eternal in time, and in which humans on earth are neither the only life in the universe nor the highest.

    Perhaps what you've summed up here includes what I'm about to say... but it's been kind of revelatory for me now that I'm reading DeWitt. Once I read about the acceptance that Socratic, and then Platonic, thought got out of their rhetorical ability, it's started to become more evedient the extent to which "Plato's 'forms'" (or whatever you want to call these unnecessarily-complex, undefinable-definitions) have permeated everything in our world. I see plenty of conflict caused by our unconscious acceptance of the existence of things that aren't there, and that we've grown up with, and that we take for as real as the air we breathe. So one thing I would add, although, like I said, perhaps is already there, is a conscious and disciplined effort to "catch" these concepts that we normally accept automatically, because of their ubiquitous nature, and the lack of awareness of almost everybody about them.


    Trying to be more concrete, an example of this could be the "shoulds" that we think of as unavoidable: ultra competitiveness; enduring sickening stress because of a work ethic; professional success and prestige; I don't know if I'm making sense...

  • I was about to stop there but perhaps it must be included that humans possess a degree of agency that assures us that neither fate nor theories of hard determinism make it useless for us to exert ourselves to improve our lives.

    For me the answer to the free will/determinism debate perhaps won't have a concrete answer, but I compare it to something I read in my Epicurean explorations about whether or not we should care about some gods that, if they exist, don't actually show godlike qualities, at least not in a way beneficial for us to care... similiarly, if free willl doesn't exist, the illussion is so real, that it actually doesn't matter.

  • This also brings to mind something I've been grappling with lately... since pleasure and pain are things you can only experience yourself, it makes it very clear that things can start to become less absolute (and thus less comfortable - hence the resistance) and more relative... ... so how can you say he is bad if he is even ignorant of the pain he's causing to said third party... If he does it after it has been brought to his attention the pain his suffering to someone else, then he would be bad, but not before? :/

    Excellent questions and points to consider, camotero .

    This, too, is something I grapple with. This is how I'm beginning to reach a conclusion for myself. I hope this helps to see i too am struggling.

    We grow up in and live in a culture that wants to have absolutes. Religions want to have god-given absolute laws of right and wrong. Some people want to insist on universal rights like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The US Declaration of Independence states that there are "inalienable" rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." At times, I would like to believe that, too.

    Epicurus disagrees.

    To Epicurus, justice is what is decided on among human communities to procure safety from others and to not allow people to harm other people. When those contracts and agreements are violated, the violators must be punished (by ways agreed on within the community) to keep everyone else safe from harm.

    It seems to me there probably are some negative actions that are or should be considered injust through time (since humans appear to have an innate sense of justice and fairness according to some research on toddlers and young children I've seen). Agreeing on all those may be difficult, but I think a consensus could be arrived at. But it will be subjective and mutually agreed on. There is no universal law giver or source of The Good in the universe. If we want a just world, we have to work to build it ourselves. And we have to live by "neither harm nor be harmed" in our own lives.

    People are neither good nor bad. Their actions are neither intrinsically good or bad. Have they harmed someone and gone against the social contract? If so, they deserve punishment. Have they done something "bad" but no one's come to harm. Then it doesn't matter. I can say I think their actions are ill-advised and won't lead to lasting pleasure for them. But, I don't think, I can call them "bad."

    In your example, if someone harms or slights someone else knowingly, chances are that other person can potentially make the life of that person that harmed them difficult in the future. That is not a direction to go for lasting pleasure. If one is "good" and just to others, chances are you will be treated well and justly by others. That's a reason to be "good." Not because God says so or it's a universal law.

    As I said, my Epicurean understanding continues to evolve.

  • . The US Declaration of Independence states that there are "inalienable" rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

    Yes I agree, that formulation is certainly a problem. I don't think enough is known about the development of Jefferson's thought to know how much he was into Epicurus at the time he was involved in the Declaration, but I haven't tried to figure it out. The only way I could consider that reconcilable with Epicurus would be if he were referring to "inalienable" in the sense of the Epicurean/Lucretius doctrine of properties and qualities of bodies, as in the part of Book 1 of Lucretius where several examples are given of things like water being wet, or so forth, and it being impossible to remove the quality without destroying the nature of the thing.


    I would definitely think that the common view that he means a set of rights installed and protected by a god or supernatural force is not something that can be squared with Epicurus.



    So one thing I would add, although, like I said, perhaps is already there, is a conscious and disciplined effort to "catch" these concepts that we normally accept automatically, because of their ubiquitous nature, and the lack of awareness of almost everybody about them.

    i very much agree that such an attitude of active thinking and active effort to root out false ideas seems definitely to have been a significant part of the ancient Epicurean attitude. I think that is what people think about in relating Epicurus to the skeptics, in that it is good to have a skeptical attitude toward claims which do not seem to be supported by evidence, but then people get carried away and need to remember that Epicurus does not allege that all knowledge is impossible, just that our conclusions need to be carefully checked and supported.



    People are neither good nor bad. Their actions are neither intrinsically good or bad. Have they harmed someone and gone against the social contract? If so, they deserve punishment. Have they done something "bad" but no one's come to harm. Then it doesn't matter. I can say I think their actions are ill-advised and won't lead to lasting pleasure for them. But, I don't think, I can call them "bad."

    I agree with this, but I also know that some people think it is a "word game" to seem to be throwing out the words "good" and "bad" entirely, so I suppose the real point is that those words can be very useful IF they are properly understood to have a subjective basis rather than some kind of mystical supernatural objective nature.