Characteristics of the Wise Man, 1-9 Rough Draft of Outline

  • In the spirit of keeping it coming, I think:


    (1) the view that it is important to "pursue" pleasure is pretty clear, we all agree on it, and stating it is not particularly controversial, at least in our circles.

    (2) What is HUGELY controversial, has profound implications, and is probably NOT a consensus view, expect maybe in our smallest circle here, is the part where we say something like:


    "The only proper way of comparing pleasures is from the perspective. "I feel this pleasure is more pleasing to me than that pleasure."

    Huge numbers of people (almost Everyone outside our inner circle of people who are trying to interpret Epicurus rigorously) default to interpeting "virtue" as having objective content, and the worst offense in the world in their eyes is to suggest that the individual has any type of sanction from Nature to pursue "his/her own" pleasure apart from social/universal norms.



    So therefore when we discuss issues like ".... maximizing pleasure in our lives over time in the present and the future and talking about maximum pleasure of any one pleasurable event. The latter can't be measured by definition because we're talking about subjective phenomena."


    Then we have at least a couple of levels of analysis ---


    (1) The issue of being clear in our technical discussions about "ranking" and "divisions" and "types" of pleasure. Here we have a fascinating and important discussion that can be pursued with a wide variety of types of people (both inside and outside the Epicurean framework) without too much pressure from emotional issues.


    But we also have :

    (2) The issue of the apparent subjective/relativistic nature of pleasure, the acceptance of which is explosively rejected outside the Epicurean framework of Nature. In fact it is hard to even discuss personal attitudes toward pleasure without first coming to terms with the practical implications of concluding that people will disagree on how to pursue pleasure. That probably takes us off into the infrequently discussed issues such as the last ten PDs, and this issue (which might be the most important of which) has to be kept tightly tied to the Epicurean framework for us to make progress on dissecting it. Talking about this issue with people outside the basic Epicurean framework is hardly even possible because you run into immediate and emotional issues about what "should" be the best pleasures, and if you can't agree that that "objective" framework makes no sense then you can hardly even get off the ground.

  • In the spirit of keeping it coming, I think:

    (1) The issue of being clear in our technical discussions about "ranking" and "divisions" and "types" of pleasure. Here we have a fascinating and important discussion that can be pursued with a wide variety of types of people (both inside and outside the Epicurean framework) without too much pressure from emotional issues.


    But we also have :

    (2) The issue of the apparent subjective/relativistic nature of pleasure, the acceptance of which is explosively rejected outside the Epicurean framework of Nature. In fact it is hard to even discuss personal attitudes toward pleasure without first coming to terms with the practical implications of concluding that people will disagree on how to pursue pleasure. That probably takes us off into the infrequently discussed issues such as the last ten PDs, and this issue (which might be the most important of which) has to be kept tightly tied to the Epicurean framework for us to make progress on dissecting it. Talking about this issue with people outside the basic Epicurean framework is hardly even possible because you run into immediate and emotional issues about what "should" be the best pleasures, and if you can't agree that that "objective" framework makes no sense then you can hardly even get off the ground.

    This is good.Thanks for summarizing! Here are my thoughts.

    1) I don't think we can "rank" or "divide" individual pleasures. What we can classify (for lack of a better word) are the *consequences* of pleasures. Do someone's present pleasures move them along the path to future pleasures? That's always been my argument for why we *can* censure the "pleasures of the profligate" (PD10). Their actions, while subjectively pleasurable for them in the present, do not assure them of future pleasures.

    2) Again, yes, people will pursue pleasure in different ways, but: (a) are the present pleasures they experience assuring them of future pleasures? and (b) are they in keeping with natural justice: to not harm and to not be harmed? I think those are the criteria by which to "judge" pleasure (again, for lack of a better verb). There are no best pleasures, or right pleasures, or correct pleasures in and of themselves. You all here in the forum have begun to move me in that direction. I'm still wrestling with this myself because I can readily think of pleasures that people insist are pleasurable to them that I think are abhorrent. I'm also not convinced that these kinds of "pleasures" are actually pleasures and not activating some other center in the brain, but let's for arguments' sake say they are pleasurable for these people in the widest possible definition. Then we judge them by the criteria a and b above: assurance of future pleasures and accordance with natural justice. Epicurean Philosophy says that we should accept some pain for future pleasures. I'm thinking here of rehab for the profligate's drug addiction, for example.

    That's my take (at least in this moment :)... I could change my mind)

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    There there is no standard by which you can say that one pleasure is "objectively" more pleasing than another, for all people at all times, and from any "absolute" perspective. The only proper way of comparing pleasures is from the perspective. "I feel this pleasure is more pleasing to me than that pleasure."

    I agree but would take this a step further and say "I feel this pleasure is more pleasing to me than that pleasure at this moment." This of course takes into account my goals and my favorite pleasures, and evaluates both the current pleasure and the consequences thereof. This is the "process."

  • Ok this moves us as expected into the area of interpreting "natural justice."


    Do we all here agree that there is no absolute standard of natural justice? And that the "harmed or be harmed" reference is simply something similar to a statement of virtue, which much be translated into the "pleasure" of the people involved? And that when the individuals no longer agree on their pleasures, there is no longer any natural justice involved in the issue of "harmed or be harmed"?


    I suspect that in this discussion so far everyone will largely agree that the answer to that question is "yes, there is no absolute justice" - but probably not without hesitation. I think in most all discussions of this we find that this is one of the least discussed areas of the PDs because many people do not want to see the clear statement here that Epicurus is saying that no individual's version of "justice" is applicable to all times and all people and all places. And of course since most people are dedicated to their pre-existing absolute standards of "virtue" they find these impossible to accept as written. The temptation is therefore to think that there is an absolute standard of "harm or be harmed" but that is not likely at all to be the case given the nature of the Epicurean universe, where there are no absolute standards other than the pleasure and pain of the people involved, correct?



    33. Justice never is anything in itself, but in the dealings of men with one another, in any place whatever, and at any time, it is a kind of compact not to harm or be harmed.


    34. Injustice is not an evil in itself, but only in consequence of the fear which attaches to the apprehension of being unable to escape those appointed to punish such actions.


    35. It is not possible for one who acts in secret contravention of the terms of the compact not to harm or be harmed to be confident that he will escape detection, even if, at present, he escapes a thousand times. For up to the time of death it cannot be certain that he will indeed escape.


    36. In its general aspect, justice is the same for all, for it is a kind of mutual advantage in the dealings of men with one another; but with reference to the individual peculiarities of a country, or any other circumstances, the same thing does not turn out to be just for all.


    37. Among actions which are sanctioned as just by law, that which is proved, on examination, to be of advantage, in the requirements of men's dealings with one another, has the guarantee of justice, whether it is the same for all or not. But if a man makes a law, and it does not turn out to lead to advantage in men's dealings with each other, then it no longer has the essential nature of justice. And even if the advantage in the matter of justice shifts from one side to the other, but for a while accords with the general concept, it is nonetheless just for that period, in the eyes of those who do not confound themselves with empty sounds, but look to the actual facts.


    38. Where, provided the circumstances have not been altered, actions which were considered just have been shown not to accord with the general concept, in actual practice, then they are not just. But where, when circumstances have changed, the same actions which were sanctioned as just no longer lead to advantage, they were just at the time, when they were of advantage for the dealings of fellow-citizens with one another, but subsequently they are no longer just, when no longer of advantage.

  • Speaking "doctrinally," it's pretty explicit. In addition to the doctrines cited above, there is

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    PD31: Natural justice is a covenant for mutual benefit, to not harm one another or be harmed.

    A Google search of natural justice comes up with something along the lines of procedural fairness in the execution of the law. (Cassius this is your area of expertise, I'm just a layman finding my way ;))


    Justice is also a rare example of a prolepsis in the extant texts; I interpret the prolepsis as a rudimentary "sense of fairness." I think that this relates to equality.... An equal opportunity to pursue pleasure. But also if someone harms me, that gives them unequal power over me unless the harm is corrected. Which could then impact my safety.

  • Cassius wrote:

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    I suspect that in this discussion so far everyone will largely agree that the answer to that question is "yes, there is no absolute justice" - but probably not without hesitation.

    I'll admit I have hesitation when it comes to not having an absolute standard of justice. I consider something like equality for all genders and races to be universal. Can I justify this on Epicurean grounds? Maybe. Epicurus didn't see a problem with having women and slaves be an active part of the Epicurean community. The "standard" of neither harmed or be harmed comes into play arguably, too. But Epicurus did own slaves. Isn't slavery a universal injustice? Doesn't it do harm to those enslaved. Epicurus freed at least some of his slaves in his will, so he must have seen the value in setting them free. But are we going to argue that slavery was just when it was practiced in Ancient Greece? But not just in 19th century America? We have PD38 to refer to:

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    ...actions which were considered just have been shown not to accord with the general concept, in actual practice, then they are not just.

    Is slavery "not to accord with the general concept"? Is gender equality "not to accord with the general concept"? If so, are these universals? If not, why not?

    I agree that this subject is not easy. But if we are to call ourselves Epicureans, we need to wrestle with it. If we can't come to grips with what we believe Epicurus is saying, then maybe we're not Epicureans but rather humanists or atheists or agnostics or something else. If I want to call myself something, I have to understand what that means. If I can't defend or follow a path, I need to step off that path and find another. I admit I'm willing to look at what it means to call myself an Epicurean right now. If I find I can't agree or defend an Epicurean perspective, I'll find another path. BUT I think it's important to discuss and argue these fundamental points. It will either strengthen my Epicurean resolve or demonstrate to myself that I'm maybe not an Epicurean after all. This opportunity to talk through these issues is truly one of the values in finding this forum.

  • This opportunity to talk through these issues is truly one of the values in finding this forum.

    Definitely!


    . I consider something like equality for all genders and races to be universal.


    Ok here is my interpretation, I think "slavery" as you mentioned is probably the ultimate emotional test, but these are good too.


    I think where Epicurus was going is to recognize BOTH that:

    (1) Our feeling is the ultimate guide for life, and that means that we will die for things that we feel to be important enough to us like friends, or whatever we happen to feel at that level of intensity, which would include our political values of equality or whatever we feel intensely about. The "friends" example is the one I use here because Epicurus explicitly is recorded to have said that we will on appropriate occasions die for our friends.


    (2) That despite the intensity of our feelings and our personal willingness on appropriate occasions to fight and die for our feelings, we still have to admit that these are OUR feelings, and that they aren't sanctioned by "God" or even by some cosmic "Nature." The ultimately is no prime mover / supernatural / teleological "right" and "wrong" in the universe, and we justify our actions based on the only guide we have - our individual senses of pleasure and pain, just like all other animals do.


    This is ultimately why I react so strongly against the "passivist" or the "tranquility above all" view of Epicurus, because that conflicts totally with the view that we stake all our actions to the flag of feeling. There is no way that I could accept that Epicurus (or we) would turn our backs on our friends, or on the basic values that motivate us, just so we could eke out a few extra moments of "tranquility" in our cave with our bread and water and cheese. There is NO WAY that Epicurus advocated such a position. We could go on and on listing and arguing the reasons for that conclusion, and that is in fact why I spend so much time on it and think it is so essential, but ultimately I think Epicurus would tell us that we grasp this not really intellectually, but through feeling.


    I know that it is shocking to a lot of people to give up the argument that there is some "higher sanction" for their personal views of right and wrong, but I can't think of anything in the Epicurean physics (the nature of the universe) that would allow such a position. In fact everything in it goes in the opposite direction - that the universe is truly ultimately reducible to combinations of matter and void that are constantly changing, and in such a system there is no room for Platonic ideals or any other kind of "universal" or "absolute" rules of right and wrong.


    But at the same time, we do and should fight to the death, just like all other animals do, for our ultimate feelings about what is important to us in life.


    That's why the tranquilist view is to me not just intellectually and factually "incorrect" based on the record, but totally unacceptable and irreconcilable at a basic feeling / emotional level with the thrust of Epicurean philosophy.

  • Of course I wake up this morning thinking about this thread and have another comment: I am very much in the camp that is sort of captured by "you only live once" - but that doesn't really capture the issue. Given our Epicurean understanding that life is so short in comparison with the infinity of time when we will not exist, how can we possibly NOT want to use our lives as productively as possible? Of course the initial question has to be asked as to what "as productively as possible means" but that is where Epicurus points us to the answer in a way that virtually no one else does. Do we really want to get to the end of our lives and think that we spent our brief lives "avoiding pain"? That the best use of our time was to be bunkered down in our cave, even with a few friends, with bread and water?

    I will repeat again there is NO WAY I can imagine Epicurus advocating such a position. That is pure Stoicism!


    Epicurean philosophy is the creed of a fighter, not a coward.


    Vatican Saying 47. I have anticipated thee, Fortune, and I have closed off every one of your devious entrances. And we will not give ourselves up as captives, to thee or to any other circumstance; but when it is time for us to go, spitting contempt on life and on those who cling to it maundering, we will leave from life singing aloud a glorious triumph-song on how nicely we lived.


    Note 47. Translation by C.Yapijakis, Epicurean Garden of Athens, Greece .Bailey: “I have anticipated thee, Fortune, and entrenched myself against all thy secret attacks. And I will not give myself up as captive to thee or to any other circumstance; but when it is time for me to go, spitting contempt on life and on those who vainly cling to it, I will leave life crying aloud a glorious triumph-song that I have lived well.”

  • Here is an example of the conflict, in a place I saw this morning where i will need to genericize the message so as to maintain confidentiality.

    The context is that one of us (not me) pointed out to a new contact (not someone who posts here as far as I know) that there were significant differences between Epicurus and Benthamite utilitarianism.

    The post from "our side" was responding to a positive comment about Bentham, and made the point:


    .... Bentham was not Epicurean-- Epicureans are most definitely not social utilitarians. The only reason we would want to "add to the sum total of human happiness" is if that was the most effective way to increase our individual pleasure. Personal pleasure always is central, which is the point I thought you were making on the post.


    Below is the reply from this new person, which I believe to be incorrect, but which states the problem clearly. I have highlighted and underlined (this was not in the original) the point being made, which is the point that I do not believe can be supported by Epicurean philosophy, and in fact made impossible by it. While we can and I would say SHOULD choose this course in many cases, there is nothing in the philosophy that calls for this kind of "natural rights" conclusion. What would be the source of such a "right"? Who or what would vindicate it?


    We can choose such a system because it may in our context give us pleasure to participate in it and pain not to do so, but would anyone really advocate that ALL people deserve such respect in ALL situations? It's easy to think about examples of people who we believe we justifiably detest, and to whom we would not recognize in them a "right" for them to experience pleasure in ways with which we violently disagree. The ultimate insight of Epicurean cosmology is that the universe doesn't say who is right and wrong, and that if we expect 'our' view of pleasure and pain to be implemented it is entirely up to us to do so.


    Here's the excerpt of this person's reply:


    "I don’t think that Bentham is in conflict with classical Epicureanism on any of these questions, and I don’t think his position is ‘counter’ to classical Epicureanism, but rather a development of it: an attempt to build a more universal system on solidly Epicurean foundations.


    The problem with classical Epicureanism, and the one that Bentham sets out to solve, is what happens when one person’s pleasure conflicts with another’s.


    The crucial and I think deeply ethical point is the egalitarianism in Bentham: the idea that MY pleasure should not take priority over YOURS, no matter who I am, what my status is, how rich I am, how intelligent I am, or whatever. Each individual has an equal right to have their happiness respected.


    I think that there is an interesting distinction between a) taking responsibility for something, b) working towards something, and c) respecting the right to something.


    A) I can only take responsibility for my own happiness. This is in fact a Stoic doctrine, other people’s happiness is outside your control and you should not be suckered into trying to deliver it.

    😎 I can work towards the happiness of those around me. I think we can all agree that this is a wise course of action as this happiness is reflected back. I think you agree on this.


    C) I respect the equal right of other people to pursue their own happiness. (As you can see ‘equal’ means in society at large, not in my own personal priorities: there’s a difference). In fact, your message above also agrees with this: when you say ‘some will be counter-protesting for their own pleasure’, and you don’t condemn this action, you are in fact recognizing that equal right.


    So given this a/b/c set of values, there is no conflict at all between Epicurus and Bentham: one is simply a rational extension of the other.


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    End of excerpt



    This is the kind of issue we come back to again and again and again, and need to think clearly about so we understand the implications.