Managing Expectations In The Study of Epicurus

  • Aside: Ok in the "there he goes again" department :-) After finding the Konstan book, what do I look for and find, happily, to be a major indication of Konstan perhaps being on the same wavelength (as far as I remember I have not read any Konstan before)?

    Unlike what appears to be the modern trend,Konstan includes several approving references to DEWITT! ;-)

  • I see we touched on some of these issues before (four years ago), but not thoroughly: Passions / Emotions / Feelings - The Second Leg of the Canon of Truth

    For example:

    Haris Dimitriadis The word passions needs special care because its meaning has been influenced by the definition of the soul that Plato gave. He imagined the soul as a chariot in which, logic-wisdom was the driver, and the two horses were the feelings and the desires. The feelings were obedient to the driver's instructions, and they contributed to the driver's guides to take under control the second horse, which was expressing the desires=passions of the body. To Plato the material body was the source of unhappiness and this was referred by him as the tomb of the mind. So to Plato passions reflected the desires of the body, which by nature are difficult to get hold on to.As regards then Democritus saying is risky to interpret it according to the platonian terminology because they had different views. They both lived in the same time period but Democritus was about 30 years older. Plato by his influence managed to distort the initial meaning of the word passion and hence makes difficult for us to know what Deemocritus meant exactly by the saying.

    December 31, 2016 at 11:52amCassius Amicus Those are exactly the kinds of concerns I had in mind. In order to even begin to dig further we would presumably need the greek version of the fragment, and then compare the word choice to the word choice in Diogenes Laertius, who is himself giving his own summary and apparently not a direct quote. But rather than the end of the question I still think we are at the beginning. In discussing Epicurus we really need a firm statement of the "name" of the third leg of the canon as Epicurus used the term. Other than the two statements in DL I quoted I am not sure there is a direct statement in the core texts we have of the name of this third leg.

    I personally refer to it as "the faculty of pleasure and pain" but I am not at all sure that that is the best wording. "pleasure" or "pain" alone do not seem appropriate, and "feelings" and "passions" have all the limitations we are noting. It seems clear that this third leg is also a something we commonly think of as a "sensation" but that too is not a satisfactory word. As I think of final remarks to close out 2016 I think this issue is one that would really help to make progress on in 2017. Greater clarity on this central point would be critically helpful - and ought to be doable if we are going to represent that we have a good understanding of Epicurean doctrine.

  • I found this part of a review of Konstan Tsouna - Konstan-AJPReviewbyVoulaTsouna.pdfby Voula Tsouna. I think i agree with Konstan, and disagree with her, particular in the part I underlined in red, where I think Tsouna is wrong (I agree with the blue and disagree with the red):

    Maybe to be more precise, I don't have a dog in the fight about "rational or non-rational part of the soul" at least at this point, but I think that the part in blue (absence of rationalizing / opinion) is absolutely necessary for something to make sense to be part of the Epicurean "canon of truth." This is where I strongly disagree with the "other Epicureans" or "Epicureans generally" or whatever, who deviated from Epicurus and included more into the canon of truth, apparently because they did not understand why Epicurus was so adamant about this distinction, as DeWitt points out. (And by doing so they introduce a "feedback loop" which destroys the "neutrality" of the canon and allows "opinion" to take over).

    It's not clear to me why Tsouna would want to advocate the position in the parts indicated in red unless she was taking the part of these "other Epicureans" against Epicurus, and she is trying to rescue "reason" to make it more of a component of the canon of truth than Epicurus saw it to be --- and that would be a motivation we would expect many "academics" to take, as a way to water down Epicurus' conclusion and perhaps be accommodating to Epicurus' Platonic/Aristotelian/Stoic enemies.

    And I definitely think this part of "managing expectations"..... it's important that people realize that the "Canon of Truth' is not going to mean truth in the sense of "divine revelation" or "absolutely universal ethics" or things like that.

  • The Wikipedia article on Pain and Pleasure gives a very basic overview of the physiology in this area. The whole idea of nociceptors and dopamine seems like that whole immediate contact with the world without judgement that we've been talking around. Elayne may have more insight into this area.

    I know Epicurus had no knowledge of this physiology but he did have his experience and knew they're was some kind of pre-judgemental component of pleasure and pain. Might be another way to get at these concepts.

  • When talking about expectations, I would assume that some people can't wrap their heads around Epicurus's distrust (Is that the right word?) of Reason. It's such a mainstay of Western philosophy as it's come down thru the Socratic/Platonic lineage. Epicurus saw the application of prudence to be positive, but it's not part of the Canon. And I think many people can't get over that. Getting people to see that Reason and our cognitive assessments can deceive us could be jarring. We use our "higher" reasoning but should be wary of it.

    IF I've characterized Epicurean philosophy circle.

  • Yes I agree that that is an issue that should be introduced early and clearly. Of course the issue really isn't all types of reason but the relative place of dialectical logic, or any form of logical argument that is not tied tightly to the evidence of the senses, plus probably the main observation that ultimately reason/logic relies on the senses for its validity. Once explained I think that last point is relatively easy to understand and accept, and it really helps to get to the big issue -- which is that these other philosophers are alleging that logic/reason need NOT rest on evidence confirmable by the senses.

    I don't think most people realize the extreme to which "logic" is deified in these other systems, so i think most people can get comfortable with Epicurus' perspective relatively quickly -- as for those who can't --- I guess we just have to acknowledge that not everyone is going to be open to accepting the Epicurean view of the universe. And in truth the majority of people, especially today with all the religious indoctrination that we have, probably are not good candidates.

    One way of getting to that early too is to discuss the issue that mathematical modeling is not reality, any more than the map, no matter how detailed it is, is the same are the geography that is being mapped. Explaining this clearly ought to help deal with the common allegations that Epicurus is anti-science or anti-reason in the first place.

    And that's necessary to explain why Epicurus said without contradiction that:

    16. In but few things chance hinders a wise man, but the greatest and most important matters, reason has ordained, and throughout the whole period of life does and will ordain.

  • Here's an observation about a problem I see recurring over and over

    If I may, I'm not sure the "cookbook" can answer the question "why do I eat?" In other words, philosophy can help people find meaning and I'm not sure its a problem if they stop eating when they're full, to continue the analogy.

    From my own perspective, I want to explore Epicurus until I understand the tools well enough to know whether and how they will be useful to me.

  • If I may, I'm not sure the "cookbook" can answer the question "why do I eat?"

    I think you're exactly right to make that distinction, and I know that many people (most people?) don't seem to have a problem going straight to the "let's eat" rather than asking first "why do I eat"?

    And yet I think the basic question of "why do I eat" is best considered first - for example in trying to diet for overall health, it's pretty much imperative, is it not, to focus the mind on knowing that unless you control what you eat then ultimately you will lose your health and won't be able to eat after that.

    We're discussing this in broad generalities but also:

    philosophy can help people find meaning

    But perhaps "meaning" is not what they should be looking for, and it's impossible to know unless that question of "what should I be looking for?" is answered.

    From my own perspective, I want to explore Epicurus until I understand the tools well enough to know whether and how they will be useful to me.

    The word "useful" or "utility" is always so ambiguous. Useful FOR WHAT? :-)

    I always think back to this statement by Torquatus in On Ends:


    IX. I will start then in the manner approved by the author of the system himself, by settling what are the essence and qualities of the thing that is the object of our inquiry; not that I suppose you to be ignorant of it, but because this is the logical method of procedure. 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.

    But I continue to have the nagging doubt that Epicurus himself might not have put the question the same way, or - if he did - he would have been quick to point out the limitations in dealing with this as a strictly logical question, just as he did in the comment about walking around endlessly talking about the meaning of the good.