Welcome Camotero!

  • Hello and welcome to the forum camotero !


    This is the place for students of Epicurus to coordinate their studies and work together to promote the philosophy of Epicurus. Please remember that all posting here is subject to our Community Standards / Rules of the Forum our Not Neo-Epicurean, But Epicurean and our Posting Policy statements and associated posts.


    Please understand that the leaders of this forum are well aware that many fans of Epicurus may have sincerely-held views of what Epicurus taught that are incompatible with the purposes and standards of this forum. This forum is dedicated exclusively to the study and support of people who are committed to classical Epicurean views. As a result, this forum is not for people who seek to mix and match some Epicurean views with positions that are inherently inconsistent with the core teachings of Epicurus.


    All of us who are here have arrived at our respect for Epicurus after long journeys through other philosophies, and we do not demand of others what we were not able to do ourselves. Epicurean philosophy is very different from other viewpoints, and it takes time to understand how deep those differences really are. That's why we have membership levels here at the forum which allow for new participants to discuss and develop their own learning, but it's also why we have standards that will lead in some cases to arguments being limited, and even participants being removed, when the purposes of the community require it. Epicurean philosophy is not inherently democratic, or committed to unlimited free speech, or devoted to any other form of organization other than the pursuit by our community of happy living through the principles of Epicurean philosophy.


    One way you can be most assured of your time here being productive is to tell us a little about yourself and personal your background in reading Epicurean texts. It would also be helpful if you could tell us how you found this forum, and any particular areas of interest that you have which would help us make sure that your questions and thoughts are addressed.


    In that regard we have found over the years that there are a number of key texts and references which most all serious students of Epicurus will want to read and evaluate for themselves. Those include the following.


    1. The Biography of Epicurus By Diogenes Laertius (Chapter 10). This includes all Epicurus' letters and the Authorized Doctrines. Supplement with the Vatican list of Sayings.
    2. "Epicurus And His Philosophy" - Norman DeWitt
    3. "On The Nature of Things"- Lucretius
    4. Cicero's "On Ends" - Torquatus Section
    5. Cicero's "On The Nature of the Gods" - Velleius Section
    6. The Inscription of Diogenes of Oinoanda - Martin Ferguson Smith translation
    7. A Few Days In Athens" - Frances Wright
    8. Lucian Core Texts on Epicurus: (1) Alexander the Oracle-Monger, (2) Hermotimus
    9. Plato's Philebus
    10. Philodemus "On Methods of Inference" (De Lacy version, including his appendix on relationship of Epicurean canon to Aristotle and other Greeks)
    11. "The Greeks on Pleasure" -Gosling & Taylor Sections on Epicurus, especially on katastematic and kinetic pleasure.


    It is by no means essential or required that you have read these texts before participating in the forum, but your understanding of Epicurus will be much enhanced the more of these you have read.


    And time has also indicated to us that if you can find the time to read one book which will best explain classical Epicurean philosophy, as opposed to most modern "eclectic" interpretations of Epicurus, that book is Norman DeWitt's Epicurus And His Philosophy.


    Welcome to the forum!


    &thumbnail=medium



    &thumbnail=medium

  • Thanks for the welcome guys. Please forgive my typing since I’m on my phone and English is my second language.


    I came to the site through the Lucretius Today podcast, which I’ve been enjoying and binge-listening to for the last days/weeks; thanks for that, Cassius and friends. The views put forth there have been eye opening. It makes me glad to say that being exposed to these has made me feel more comfortable with many views I already held myself, some of which I lived by, but that were hard to reconcile with what my “philosophy of life” was until now, which is changing.


    Where do I stand about Epicurean philosophy? I’m new to it, but I wouldn’t say I’m still “on the fence”; I think I’m past it now, but I do have some questions I’m looking to answer.


    Sadly I haven’t been able to read a lot yet about epicurean philosophy. I’ve read enough to know that the popular understanding of Epicurus is mistaken. I was disappointed to see that most readily available resources don’t go deeply enough to make it past the common places we all know about.


    I later learned that Lucretius could be a valuable resource to learn more, and thus discovered the podcast. This is apparently opening a new world for me. I’m about to order a copy of Dewitt’s book to more seriously start studying about this philosophy. What I’ve learnt so far I’m liking. I feel, after searching a lot, that I’m on my way to find a worldview that will actually make sense.


    I say this because I am “recovering” from stoicism and religion.


    It’s easy to see how these can give you tools to cope with hardship. They can help you to find peace when in turmoil. But, putting that aside, there were many things that, for me, “didn’t hold” in the long term.


    As good as they can be as coping tools, I find them also having the potential for subjugation, rather than liberation. I think they can put you in a disposition to accept, a bit submissively, or with resignation, the lot that’s been “given” to you. This, to me, makes it obvious why western religion borrows so much from stoicism.


    But I’m not here only as a rebound from stoicism, but rather because epicurean philosophy, after going past the common places mostly talked about, seems promising as to having the potential to be a philosophy for the good life, achievable in a more practical and intuitive way. Thus, I wish to learn more about it, and hopefully one day be able to contribute to the conversations in this “garden” of the internet

  • Also Camotero, I would be very interested to hear what aspects of the podcast discussions have been of most interest to you. Probably that's another way of asking what aspects of Epicurean philosophy you think about or wrestle with the most. It's always good to know what people are thinking so if you have time to talk about what aspects you find most appealing (or unappealing) please let us know.

  • Well, let me try to share what’s been appealing and what’s been confusing. Please forgive, as many of these may be misattributed or not related to Epicurean philosophy, but this is where my understanding of it is today.


    It’s appealing to hear that it might be possible to have a framework that could be helpful to understand the world and how to navigate it in a very pragmatic way, within our reach, and with many tools we already possess.


    It’s appealing in that it could help to get rid of habits formed by years of accepting “abstractions” as real, and to learn to identify these abstractions.


    It’s so refreshing to find people who are honest enough with themselves and with others about the super natural being non existing (or completely irrelevant to our experience). It makes me think of the fear, hypocrisy or self-imposed-unconsciousness necessary to be able to live every day by these beliefs. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been guilty in the three accounts.


    It’s relaxing that, apparently, to understand it you can approach it in a “what you see is what you get” attitude, with plain language and without overly convoluted concepts. It feels straightforward.


    It’s liberating in that it faces you with the reality that whatever enjoyment or happiness you can expect to experience will have to happen before you cease to exist, and forgetting about doing stuff for “the points you’ll get in the virtues exam nobody is grading”.


    It’s good to know that it’s not a philosophy of libertine hedonism and debauchery.


    Many of the following also may be because of my status as a new “student”, so please bear with me:


    It’s confusing that some abstractions are bad and some good, so how to draw a line. Like higher math or complex music theory etc.


    It’s unappealing that it may be perceived as a selfish way to live life and act in the world. It worries me that the ethics won’t comprise a care for the less fortunate and the downtrodden. Or that morality would be not relevant to it because of its ultra materialistic foundation.


    Getting really out of my depth... it’s confusing that the swerve (or whatever it is called in modern terms... what is it? What they call a “quantum jump” or “atomic transition” perhaps?) happens for no reason at all and from that we can derive a conclusion of this as evidence of the existence of free will. Perhaps this is a non-issue, since it’s evident that free will exists, or at least our experience makes us feel it that way, which is what is relevant, but I dare to share something that in my huge ignorance I found a bit paradoxical (please do forgive me if this is very basic stuff): if we don’t have any control over the swerve, then we are at it’s behest, regardless of it happening for many reasons or any reason at all, no?


    I hope I’m not taking too much of your time for stuff that I will come to answer with a bit more study later on, by taking advantage of your prompt, Cassius.

  • Here are Epicurean answers to 2 of the items which you perceive as unappealing and confusing:


    We feel empathy with the less fortunate and the downtrodden. If we did not care at all for them, we would feel pain. Helping some of them where we can with reasonable effort increases our pleasure.

    Moreover, caring for the less fortunate and the downtrodden may make it less likely that our security and thereby pleasure is threatened by violent revolutions or crimes committed under the pretext of justice for the less fortunate and the downtrodden.


    The swerve is not evidence for the existence of free will but a precondition for the existence of free will in the sense of agency. In a materialistic universe, some kind of swerve is necessary to avoid determinism. Pursuing pleasure as the goal makes only sense if we have agency to deviate from a deterministic path.

    Epicurus' swerve has modern analogies in quantum indeterminacy and in the measurement uncertainty in classical physics. Instead of the impossible mechanistic description of every particle involved, thermodynamic properties or emergent properties are used to describe reality as we perceive it and do not exclude agency.

  • Great list of issues Camotero! Thank you! And I think Martin has hit the high points on the ones he addressed. Let me compose some responses on the others and we'll see what others have too.


    But before I forget to say this to supplement the swerve comments from Martin, I think if you look up the article by David Sedley "Epicurus Refutation of Determinism" recently posted here you will profit a lot from it. I wish I had had that article years ago but I did not know about it until recently.


    Sedley: "Epicurus' Refutation of Determinism"

  • This one is possibly the deepest of all and I do think we need to articulate this one better:


    "It’s confusing that some abstractions are bad and some good, so how to draw a line. Like higher math or complex music theory etc."


    I am on my phone so my typing here is truncated but here is a start.


    First, I do not think it would be correct to say that Epicurus would have considered some abstractions "good" and some "bad." Good and bad are themselves abstractions and the issue is not that some abstractions are good and bad; the issue is always ultimately (1) abstractions do not exist outside our minds and (2) ultimately it is always pleasure and pain that are of significance to us.


    I have been concerned for a while that we are not being precise enough on that point. I know it can sound like we are campaigning against abstractions as a whole, and so I am saying I do not think that is a correct point. Abstractions are tools - to take an emotional example they are like guns, and they can be used for great good / pleasure or great evil / pain.


    Then there is the related issue of opinion and when opinion is true or false and when we should "wait." That is not quite the same issue but it is related, and that is where we need to make the point more clear that the more an opinion is "abstracted" away from the senses (including pain and pleasure) then the more likely it is that the opinion does not accurately reflect our reality and will lead to painful result.


    So we come back to the analogy that abstractions are like "virtue" - they are tools of great power that are natural for us to use toward the natural end of pleasant living, but when considered to be ends in themselves they can lead to great error and more pain / less pleasure.


    I am out of time to expand on that now but I will work on that because you are identifying a point that has lots of implications and we need to do better on it.

  • "It’s unappealing that it may be perceived as a selfish way to live life and act in the world. It worries me that the ethics won’t comprise a care for the less fortunate and the downtrodden. Or that morality would be not relevant to it because of its ultra materialistic foundatwher"


    Martin has addressed this well but I bet he and all of us think there is much more to say. The point he raised is I think one of the best. You identify concern for the downtrodden as a source of worry for you which means a source of pain to you. In Epicurean philosophy you must address that pain or you will not achieve the most pleasure / least pain that I'd possible to you. And Epicurus does not suggest suppressing or trying to "will" the pain to go away, as a Stoic might. So in that sense Epicurean philosophy is a stronger and more realistic way to understand why we are motivated to take social actions.


    Unfortunately this is going to be one area where we just have to think for ourselves, read the text closely, and accept that we think that those who interpret Epicurus as a shirker / passivist / isolationist / etc are simply wrong in their interpretations of the philosophy. And that takes strength and courage to stand apart from the academic consensus.


    As for the relevance of Epicurus being limited by its basis in materialism, that goes back to the discussion of abstractions above which I hope we are beginning to address. Being realistic about the atomic nature of the universe does not mean that we are at war with abstractions or feeling or emotions or mental aspects whatsoever.


    I always think back to that line in ON ENDS where Torquatus explicitly says that Epicurus held that mental pain and pleasure are frequently more significant to us than "bodily" pains and pleasures. Since that is true, we must act to address sources of pain and pleasure in abstractions just as much (or more) as pleasures or pains that address our hands or feet or any "bodily" part of us.

  • Excellent questions and perspectives, camotero ! Thank you very much for sharing and welcome to the forum. I read echoes of my own experiences in your post.

    Martin and Cassius have done a good job in beginning to address some of your points. Let me add a few initial thoughts myself.

    You mention:

    Quote

    It’s unappealing that it may be perceived as a selfish way to live life and act in the world. It worries me that the ethics won’t comprise a care for the less fortunate and the downtrodden. Or that morality would be not relevant to it because of its ultra materialistic foundation.

    In thinking through this (and I've had similar thoughts), I sometimes refer to another tradition, to what I've read the current Dalai Lama calls "selfish altruism" which has also begun to be studied by academic researchers including research studies in neuroscience. The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying:

    Quote

    Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate.

    Please don't misunderstand. I'm not trying to import Buddhism into Epicurean philosophy. I'm just trying to bring in a perspective on altruism or empathy that isn't recognized sometimes. As Martin said, we feel pain when we see the plight of others. However, I would say it's more fundamental and goes to how we make our choices and avoidances: if we treat others kindly and compassionately, we have a better chance of being treated kindly and compassionately in return. No guarantees, but more likely. Epicurus said that even friendship "is based on our needs... but it is maintained by a shared enjoyment of life's pleasures." Those who treat others kindly, who work for the downtrodden, do it because it brings them pleasure to help people. If people are unkind, cruel, or indifferent, they may experience momentary pleasure in feelings of superiority, etc., but, in the long run, may be hurting their own chances for future pleasures in how people will interact with them.

  • I agree with Don's post in every significant respect. Someone being a nit-picker, or just wanting to be very rigorous as to context, is going to ask about the "everyone" in the second quote, so I might as well address it to hopefully point out why I don't think it is as much of an issue as it may seem to some.


    I think there are all sorts of issues involved in "everyone" which are beyond the scope of what we are talking about, with maybe the most obvious being that as we parse "everyone" we have to think about who that means and even whether they are living. The Jefferson quote "the earth belongs to the living" keeps coming to my mind lately, and I think that is one relevant factor, even though in proper contexts it is probably correct to consider those who are long dead, and those who are not yet even conceived. I am just making the point that we often get into in discussion utilitarianism, in that it is overbroad to conclude "greatest good for the greatest number" but it takes a lot of thought and reflection, not all of which is easy or comforting, to talk about the limits of the word.

    An obvious example from the texts to include in such as discussion would be: "

    39. The man who has best ordered the element of disquiet arising from external circumstances has made those things that he could akin to himself, and the rest at least not alien; but with all to which he could not do even this, he has refrained from mixing, and has expelled from his life all which it was of advantage to treat thus."



    Those are complicated issues and probably beyond the scope of what we're really needing to discuss, or at least I think that it is pretty obvious that the real focus of what we're talking about is probably more the common questions about dealing with people in our own communities who don't, for whatever reason, conform to the norm of not physically harming the rest of us.

  • This is such a good thread that at some point we may move part of it, or copy part of it, to a new thread with a title that will be more findable in the future, like "Dealing With Common Concerns For Someone New To Epicurus."

  • Camotero I am currently editing episode 22 of the podcast, and I am hearing discussion that will raise this same question we are currently addressing as to how to assess abstractions. It's currently around the 10 minute mark after Martin starts reading, but that is going to change when I add the intro. It's a section in which Elayne makes a comment about abstractions being related to the discussion of some pursuits being "vain" and "futile," and that at least part of the issues with such things is that they are impossible to completely satisfy.


    Listen especially for the statement "Nobility is an abstract concept and you're never going to have enough..."


    Yes I think the issue of "insatiability" is definitely a part of why some choices in life are less preferable than others, and I would say that "nobility" is one of this, but I am not sure that we want to go so far as to imply that "all" abstractions have that problem, or that the issue arise purely because nobility is an abstraction. Elayne does not elaborate on that in the podcast, but I can understand how some people would think that is what is being said. Maybe in fact that is part of the truth, but I doubt it is the whole issue, and the issue needs a lot more clarity.


    Even my summary here is not as accurate as it could be. I think there are issues involved not only with the issue of abstractions but with a lot of discussion of "vainness" and "futility," especially in what I see some other writers say about Epicurus. Personally I am not comfortable with a significant part of the analysis I see in other locations on the internet about how to analyze the issue of something being "vain" or "futile" and how that fits into the big Epicurean picture. All pleasure is pleasurable, but some choices are in sum going to bring more pain than pleasure. I doubt it makes sense to say that this question is answered completely by simply looking to see if the choice or activity involves an abstraction.


    Feel free to talk more about this now, or wait til the podcast is released this weekend, or both, but it's an issue we do need to address more clearly.

  • I got worried when I read Cassius 's first sentence here:

    Quote

    I agree with Don's post in every significant respect.

    uh, oh! I was waiting for the "...but..." :) But it ends up, we agree. The only way "our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone" is that we live in a society and "everyone" can potentially or tangentially have an impact on our own pursuit of happiness (eudaimonia). Primarily, we need to be concerned with those with whom we come in contact. Those with whom we interact. Those will have the most direct affect on us. I think Cassius is right in referring to Principal Doctrine 39. Here's another translation (excerpt):

    Quote

    Those of whom he cannot make friends, he should at least avoid rendering enemies; and if that is not in his power, he should, as much as possible, avoid all dealings with them, and keep them aloof, insofar as it is in his interest to do so.

  • As another example, I regularly regret that the ancient Epicureans had to face the decline and fall of their civilization to Christianity, but I try to budget the time I spend on that to a minimum since unless I am able to build a time machine before I die, there is precious little I can do about it! :-)

  • As another example, I regularly regret that the ancient Epicureans had to face the decline and fall of their civilization to Christianity, but I try to budget the time I spend on that to a minimum since unless I am able to build a time machine before I die, there is precious little I can do about it! :-)

    You can at least take pleasure in the thought experiment :) in going back and helping to save the Epicureans and bring back some original texts.

  • Please, as you read this post, bear in mind I'm playing a bit of devil's advocate as a way to help my understanding of the philosophy.

    We feel empathy with the less fortunate and the downtrodden. If we did not care at all for them, we would feel pain. Helping some of them where we can with reasonable effort increases our pleasure.

    Moreover, caring for the less fortunate and the downtrodden may make it less likely that our security and thereby pleasure is threatened by violent revolutions or crimes committed under the pretext of justice for the less fortunate and the downtrodden.

    Yes. The hard part is being able to connect your lack of action with its potential consequences that far in the future. Is there anything said about immediate vs. long term pleasure?


    Also, when you see a man begging for change in the street, old and tired, the pain you feel in your stomach and heart (which I think is a feeling inherent to us, and most animals; inherent as language is an materially inherent faculty of humans - as I understand from the little I've read/heard of Chomsky) will not go away if you give him change. Perhaps if you give him enough to stop begging for the day, or the week, you may feel a bit better; but perhaps you may even feel bad because you're taking the whole responsibility by yourself, to the detriment of your finances (assuming you decided to be his sponsor for the week). This opens two other ramifiations:


    1.- The problem is societal.


    It becomes apparent that if you decide to address your pain, the solution is not to take it upon yourself to solve it by yourself. It is something that would be better solved as an organized society. This opens the posibility with more probability for a negative balance (a lot of work not necessarily aligned with what makes you flow, perhaps not that satisfactory in terms of the effectiveness of said work, time away from pleasurable things/experiences, political exposure, etc.) than a positive balance if you decide to solve it by yourself; so solving it as a group is the most pleasureable way for everybody; thus, involvement in state matters is something that could bring you more pleasure in the long run than not. What's the approach of Epicurean philosophy to this problem?


    2.- The most pleasureable solution is to ignore it.


    The second time you ignore it you start to become numb to the situation. And then the problem persists, but you're less aware of it. And then, when somebody even brings it up, you're probably so jaded you not only ignore the person but perhaps even think of him as a fool.


    I guess, one expectation of somebody new to Epicurean philosophy would be to find that it comprised an extrapolation of the immediate pain/pleasure morality to something that would make it easier to find a well stated argument in favor of investing yourself in the formation of a society conducive to increasing the pleasure of everybody in the long term.

    The swerve is not evidence for the existence of free will but a precondition for the existence of free will in the sense of agency. In a materialistic universe, some kind of swerve is necessary to avoid determinism. Pursuing pleasure as the goal makes only sense if we have agency to deviate from a deterministic path.

    Could you please elaborate on how the swerve is a precondition for the existence of free will? Sorry again if this is basic stuff, feel free to redirect me to a source if it is, or please just say so.


    Thanks Martin.

  • First, I do not think it would be correct to say that Epicurus would have considered some abstractions "good" and some "bad." Good and bad are themselves abstractions and the issue is not that some abstractions are good and bad; the issue is always ultimately (1) abstractions do not exist outside our minds and (2) ultimately it is always pleasure and pain that are of significance to us.

    This is clarifying, thanks.

    So we come back to the analogy that abstractions are like "virtue" - they are tools of great power that are natural for us to use toward the natural end of pleasant living, but when considered to be ends in themselves they can lead to great error and more pain / less pleasure.

    This is one of the main takeaways for me from listening to the podcast. Because the popular discourse doesn't address very well what the position of the Philosophy with respect to virtue is. I'm sure I'm not using the right words, but what I'm talking about is the need for virtue in order to be able to rely on pleasure/pain, and the uselessness of virtue without it. Echoes of the "disconnect" that Erich Fromm used to write about come to mind. And of course, ying/yang, right/left brain, and all the others we've heard about.


    Taking this sidetrack a bit further... This disconnect is real, though. I'd bet that to the regular person, when you tell them to become aware of what they're feeling, to get out of their mind, the last thing that comes to their mind is to address what they can identify as pleasurable or painful. Even in guided meditation, where one of the main techniques is to become aware of the senstaions in your body, making a value judgement about what feels painful or pleasureable is completely out of the question. This is radical stuff. And it's been squeezed out of us for years (our connection to pleasure/pain). Or at least it hasnt been addressed for development as the rational part of us has. So interesting...