Gosling & Taylor, The Greeks on Pleasure. (Notes up to but not including Epicurus)

  • This book is pretty academic. As I am extremely non-academic, this post consists only of quotes and/or paraphrases of portions of the book. These are merely notes of things that I found interesting and not at all an outline or summary of the book.


    In the book, the authors number practically every paragraph (i.e. 1.0.1), and I have included these numbers for reference as to where my notes came from more specifically. This posting is mainly intended for reference (not to discourage discussion, however, as anyone feels the desire) future part(s) will deal with Epicurus and should be more interesting for discussion.


    Chapter 1: The Background

    Two approaches, didactic and physiological

    1.1 Didactic approach: manly, effortful virtue/excellence as opposed to effeminate easy pleasures

    1.1.3 Demetrius of Phaleron: pleasure is transitory as opposed to virtue

    1.1.5 Solon: avoid pleasures which bring distress

    1.1.5 Prodicus's story of Heracles: 1) the conventionally virtuous life is pleasanter than the life of luxury and 2) the best way to show that the virtuous life to be desirable is to show that it is pleasanter.

    1.1.6 What is valuable is not short term pleasures but the long term pleasantness of one's life.

    1.1.7 By the early 4th century BCE, didactic thinking has some elements of hedonism although these were subservient to virtue ethics.

    1.2 Physiological approach

    1.2.1 Empedocles (494-c434 BCE), Anaxagoras and Diogenes of Apollonia, as described by Theophrastus, consider pleasure and pain as kinds of perception.

    1.2.6 Empedocles, pleasure results from filling a deficiency. (Note to Cassius , Martin and Charles : in the 6/20 Skype call I confused Eudoxus with Empedocles… did I mention that I’m not an academic?)

    1.2.6 Theophrastus: "Empedocles says that desires arise in living things from their deficiencies in the elements which make each other complete, and pleasures from what is appropriate, according to the mixtures of things which are like and of like natures, and pains and sufferings from what is inappropriate." In other words desires and pleasure and pain relate to keeping the four elements in proper balance.

    1.2.6 The urge toward pleasure is the natural instinct of the organism to seek its own best state.


    Chapter 2: Evaluative Theories

    2.1.3 Democritus had an ethical theory and pleasure was a central feature of it.

    2.1.4 Democritus's ethics had a test of conduct. That test was based on the ultimate aim of life, and whether an action aided or hindered achieving that aim. The ultimate aim was a state of well-being. His first innovation was that well-being is a state of mind and independent of externals or possessions. He called this euthumia (gladness, joy, having one's emotional and appetitive self, "thumos," in a good state), not eudaimonia. Secondly, he gave euthumia a specific definition: "...the end is euthumia, which is not the same as pleasure... but is that state in which the soul remains in calm and stability, not shaken by any fear or superstition or any other emotion." So he saw the aim of life as a state of tranquility rather than a life of pleasure as commonly recognized.

    2.1.4 The term ataraxia (freedom from disturbance) was not in common use before Epicurus. It was the standard Epicurean term for the ideal state of the soul.

    2.1.4 Democritus saw the aim of life as tranquility, not what is generally recognized as a life of pleasure. But he may have considered a life of tranquility as the pleasantest life.

    2.1.5 Euthumia consists in the distinction and discrimination of pleasures, the finest and most beneficial thing for men per Democritus.

    2.1.5 Pleasure isn't considered the pleasure of the moment but the long term pleasure of one's life.

    2.1.8 Per Democritus, all men have the same good, euthumia, and a life of moderation was required to achieve it.

    2.3.1 Aristippus is considered the champion of the sybaritic life (sensuous, self-indulgent) and the founder of the Cyrenaic school.

    2.3.3 Cyrenaics were radical hedonists, taking the pleasure of the moment to be more important than the pleasantest life. Bodily pleasures were most important, but no pleasure was pleasanter than any other. All living things pursue pleasure and shun pain. All we have available to us is the present moment, which is why the pleasure of the moment is the most important.

    2.3.4 Notes sybaritic hedonism v rational long term hedonism.


    (The authors now embark on almost 300 pages devoted to Plato and Aristotle. For me, this wasn’t very fruitful reading so I skimmed and skipped over most of it. Apologies to anyone interested in these two; perhaps somebody else could post on these chapters. Following are my sparse notes from that portion.)


    Chapter 3: Protagorus

    3.1.1 Pleasure is confined to the concluding pages of Protagorus.

    3.2.12 Socrates probable view is that the good equals long term pleasantness. This comprises three theses: 1) Long term pleasantness is the only thing that everyone ultimately aims at, 2) long term pleasantness is the only thing ultimately worth having, and 3) what makes the things we call "goods" worth having is their contribution to a life in which pleasure predominates over distress.


    Chapter 4: Gorgias

    4.1.1 Callicles in the Gorgias would rather have a life of continual recurrence of unsatisfied desire, as this would allow him repeated opportunities for replenishment, i.e. pleasure.


    Chapter 5: Phaedo

    5.1.1 In the Phaedo, Plato separates the body and the soul and begins to develop the purpose of life as development of the immortal soul. In this conception the pleasures of the body are a nasty diversion from the work of the soul.


    Chapter 6: Republic

    6.8.8 Plato in the Republic is unaware of the distinction between the process of replenishment and the end state of repletion when considering pleasure to be the fulfillment of a lack. Pleasure as produced by becoming v being.


    Chapter 8: Between Republic and Philebus

    8.3.1 Eudoxus of Cnidus (via Aristotle): pleasure is the good because:

    - all animals, including men, pursue it, and what all pursue is the good

    - all animals and men avoid pain as an evil, and what is opposite of an evil, pleasure, must be good

    - pleasure is never for the sake of something else: no one ever asks "why enjoy yourself?"

    - if pleasure is added to anything it makes it better.

    (Note to Cassius , Martin and Charles : here’s Eudoxus.)


    Chapter 11: Aristotle: the Contrast of Treatments

    11.3.10 Aristotle is saying that to enjoy something is to bring a telos to the doing: to do it to the full.


    Chapter 13: Pleasure: Formal or Final Cause

    13.2.4 Telos is not a decisively purpose word like goal, but it equally means completion or perfection. Aristotle often uses it as actualization of natural potential.


    (From here I’ll skip to chapter 18, which begins the treatment of Epicurus. I’ll start a new thread for that.)

  • Quote

    2.3.3 Cyrenaics were radical hedonists, taking the pleasure of the moment to be more important than the pleasantest life. Bodily pleasures were most important, but no pleasure was pleasanter than any other. All living things pursue pleasure and shun pain. All we have available to us is the present moment, which is why the pleasure of the moment isthe most important.

    This gets at the reason I believe was at the heart of Epicurus's opposition to the Cyrenaics:

    My understanding is that Epicurus advocated the most pleasant life, which is why we make our choices and rejections and don't choose every pleasure we encounter. I'll be interested to see if the later chapters address this or point out the fallacy in my understanding.

    Thanks for posting this!

  • 1 - Thank you Godfrey!


    2 - "Cyrenaics were radical hedonists, taking the pleasure of the moment to be more important than the pleasantest life."


    I know this is the standard interpretation, and I have no textual evidence to dispute it, but this has always struck me as being something to be cautious about. On its face it seems so short-sighted that I can't imagine an intelligent person advocating it as it superficially appears. It's almost as if - even if this formulation is accurate - they must have had some other additional doctrine that explains why this formulation doesn't really mean exactly what it seems to us. Also, given the opposition that Epicurus encountered even during his own time, one would think that these guys must have encountered the same opposition (or worse) and perhaps we are missing their replies. Add to the what we see in our own time about the pressures to conform to majority viewpoints, and the absolute intensity of force of those who want to beat down any suggestion that "pleasure" can legitimately be


    But I say all that not having studied the topic extensively, plus realizing that the texts are probably mostly lost.


    Maybe it would be useful to think about how Epicurus might make a point himself that could seem similar. For example:


    Maybe even the concept of a "pleasant life" is so much of an abstraction as to be misleading to talk about as a single concept, just like it can be hazardous to talk about a single "greatest good?" Doesn't the letter to Menoeceus itself state that we choose the life not that is longest, but which is most pleasant, so is it not hazardous to consider time to be a controlling element?


    Maybe they were arguing that all we really have is "now" so we must include in the "now" all our calculations about the future?


    There's no doubt in my mind that Epicurus improved on Cyreniac doctrine, but there's a lot of doubt in my mind about really how bad or inadequate thinkers they were.

  • So I am thinking of this in terms of it being a "winner gets to write the history" problem.


    Any advocate of pleasure has a legitimate and important question to answer in deciding how to weigh "time"
    into the equation. Is it generally better for pleasure to be longer in time? Probably yes. Is it ALWAYS a requirement or a standard that the longest pleasure is the best pleasure? Probably no.


    So the Cyreniacs point out that all we really have is the present, and that it makes sense to prioritize the present.


    So Epicurus points out that we most of the time have a reasonable expectation of life over time, so it makes sense to focus on making sure our pleasant pleasures do not create future pain that offsets and "outweighs" our pleasant pleasures.


    Both are legitimate positions that have an important role in debating specific logical issues in regard to pleasure, and they do not necessarily conflict with each other.


    But because the anti-pleasure zealots won the competition and their textbooks survived, these points are pulled out of context and caricatured to make them appear to be the central thrust of their respective philosophies:


    The Cyeniacs are ridiculed for ignoring future consequences of their actions in a way that is easily caricatured as an "eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die" position which is probably not an accurate reflection of what they taught.


    The Epicureans are ridiculed for taking a "simple pleasures are always better" approach that is easily caricatured as a "better a hundred years as a sheep than a day as a lion" position which is also probably not an accurate reflection of what they taught.


    One thing I do assert as true as of my experience in having lived to June, 2020: There is absolutely nothing in world history that should be taken at face value. Virtually everything that is written or discussed "today" has been distorted and misrepresented to serve the interests of the "winners" in the competitions of the "past." So we have to work very hard to drill down if we are going to uncover the truth about what people in the past really thought, or people in the present really think.

  • Comments on The DL Book X:


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    1 - Hmm I do not know that I have read that discourse in Xenophon.... Looks to be here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/h…chapter%3D1%3Asection%3D1 Edit: Yes I have read it because it leads to this memorable text on "liberty": "Liberty" - As discussed by Socrates and Aristippus


    2 - There is so much "Wit" being reported that there's very little time for the "hard philosophy" - but he does get there in the end.


    3 - "They laid down that there are two states, pleasure and pain, the former a smooth,the latter a rough motion, and that pleasure does not differ from pleasure nor is one pleasure more pleasant than another." << It's pretty much my view that this is EXACTLY what Epicurus taught and explains some of the issues about condensing and other aspects of pleasure. Which would have a lot of implications about how we discuss "measuring" pleasure. But still yet I don't think that means there is no difference whatsoever in being pleased with building a rocket to fly to the moon vs eating an ice cream cone.


    4 - "However, the bodily pleasure which is the end is, according to Panaetius in his workOn the Sects, not the

    settled pleasure following the removal of pains, or the sort of freedom from discomfort which Epicurus
    accepts and maintains to be the end." << I do not and can not accept this as a complete and accurate statement of Epicurean doctrine, so this is an example of questioning how far we should go in accepting DL's view of anything.


    5 - They also hold that there is a difference between "end" and "happiness." Our end is particular pleasure, whereas happiness is the sum total of all particular pleasures, in which are included both past and future pleasures." < That sounds to me 100% consistent with Epicurus and consistent with his care as to abstractions in the canon of truth.


    6 "Particular pleasure is desirable for its own sake,whereas happiness is desirable not for its own sake but for the sake of particular pleasures." << Probably the same point as 5, profoundly important, and I think Epicurus agreed with it and this is why it is so dangerous to talk about "happiness" as the goal of life.


    7 - "Pleasure is good even if it proceed from the most unseemly conduct, as Hippobotus says in his work

    On the Sects." << Obviously true and consistent with Epicurus' position.


    8 -"The removal of pain, however, which is put forward in Epicurus,seems to them not to be pleasure at all, any more than the absence of pleasure is pain. For both pleasure and pain they hold to consist in motion,whereas absence of plea sure like absence of pain is not motion, since painlessness is the condition of one who is, as it were, asleep." << I think this is another example of DL misinterpreting Epicurus and pulling a logical argument out of context. I think that in fact this is a correct statement of the general rule as understood by normal people, and that Epicurus in fact agreed with it. The issue is that Epicurus was willing to dive into the logical arguments of Plato et al and deal with them by means of other logical arguments, which logical arguments are by nature limited to their context and cannot be lifted from that context without misunderstanding them. In fact DL has already reported that the Cyreniacs held that "They laid down that there are two states, pleasure and pain, the former a smooth,the latter a rough motion..." Does that not compel the logical conclusion embraced by Epicurus, which is helpful in dealing with logical arguments against pleasure being the ultimate guide? In fact, since the Cyreniacs held that there are only two states of feeling, I bet Aristippus did the same thing if we had his full writings, and not just his quips. It may be that Aristippus had less patience with diving into the Platonic word games than had Epicurus, or just that it appears that way due to the texts that survive to us.


    Wow there is lots more and I am out of time for now.

  • More comments:


    9- "He laid down as the end the smooth motion resulting in sensation."


    This is such a brief statement and I have to question whether there are subtleties that don't come through:

    1. So "the end" is what is being discussed? Is this the same as the "highest good" or what Torquatus describes in "On Ends" as "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."
    2. If so, where is the word "pleasure" in this formulation?
    3. Why the word "sensation" rather than pleasure?
    4. Is this a statement that pleasure IS a sensation, specifically the sensation of smooth motion?
    5. Is this a way of getting around the problem of defining what specific pleasure is being discussed, which is a stumbling block in so many ways (ie, when people here "pleasure" they seem to immediately think of particular pleasures rather than the abstraction of "the feeling of pleasure" or "pleasure.")


    10 - I come back to this passage as having profound implications: "They alsohold that there is a difference between "end" and"happiness." Our end is particular pleasure, whereas happiness is the sum total of all particular pleasures, in which are included both past and future pleasures."


    11 - "Nor again do they admit that pleasure is derived from the memory or expectation of good, which was a doctrine of Epicurus. For they assert that the movement affecting the mind is exhausted in course of time." <<< Seems clear to me that there is more going on here than meets the eye!


    12 - "Hence, although pleasure is in itself desirable, yet they hold that the things which are productive of certain

    pleasures are often of a painful nature, the very opposite of pleasure; so that to accumulate the pleasures which are productive of happiness appears to them a most irksome business." << This seems to me like an uncharitable characterization. I also question the "of a painful nature" - A thing having a "nature" of pleasure?


    13 -"They affirm that mental affections can be known, but not the objects from which they come; and

    they abandoned the study of nature because of its apparent uncertainty, but fastened on logical inquiries because of their utility." <<< What do we know about the Cyreniacs and atomism? Were they essentially Platonists in physics? If so then that has huge implications.



    14 -- "Further that the wiseman really exists." << This has got to be an example of something that was referring to an existing argument which makes no sense without the context.


    15 - "They also disallow the claims of the senses, because they do not lead to accurate knowledge. Whatever appears rational should be done." << This does not sound promising at all.

  • [Note: this would probably be a good thread to let grow long and detailed, rather than splitting out the details such as our discussion on the Cyreniacs. The book is devoted to them all, so we can raise initial discussions about the chapters here, and then branch off to different threads or forums later as needed. This thread / book is probably the most comprehensive treatment of the whole subject of pleasure so this thread can be a long one.]

  • Post by Cassius ().

    This post was deleted by the author themselves ().
  • Saving this thread for later, as the Cyrenaic line of thinking only survived three heirs: Aristippus, Arete, and Aristippus (the Younger).


    It's important to understand their profound influence on Epicurus.


    I'll respond in a bit. A little busy right now.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • 1.2.1 Empedocles (494-c434 BCE), Anaxagoras and Diogenes of Apollonia, as described by Theophrastus, consider pleasure and pain as kinds of perception.

    Quote

    Among the early philosophers, says Diocles, his favourite was Anaxagoras, although he occasionally disagreed with him, and Archelaus the teacher of Socrates. Diocles adds that he used to train his friends in committing his treatises to memory. - Book 10, Epicurus


    I think it's worth mentioning that according to DL, Anaxagoras and his pupil Archelaus were of particular favorites, or regarded with much sympathy by Epicurus. It's also interesting that Anaxagoras lived in Lampsacus for quite some time, though DL cites Favorinus via Metrodorus of Lampsacus, he is referring to Metrodorus the Elder, and not the friend and disciple of Epicurus. But his influence on the town may be the reason why Epicurus, when teaching and amassing a circle of friends in Lampsacus, was able to understand the former's philosophy.

    Of course that section in Book 10, we may have to take it with a tiny grain of salt, as DL is citing Diocles of Magnesia, who wrote a biography of philosophers much like Laertius, yet nothing about him is known besides his work as a writer. Though Book 10 is not the only time where DL cites him, instead he cites him quite heavily in virtually every book regarding the Cynics and Stoics, barring a few.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Quote

    Maybe even the concept of a "pleasant life" is so much of an abstraction as to be misleading to talk about as a single concept, just like it can be hazardous to talk about a single "greatest good?"

    Quote

    Is this the same as the "highest good" or what Torquatus describes in "On Ends" as "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."

    The first quote brings up an excellent point as to the "greatest good" being an abstraction. It reminds me of an ongoing debate back in architectural school.... El Lissitsky wrote in Russia: An Architecture for World Revolution that the square is the basic element of all design. A friend and I started pushing the idea for fun, and people were arguing over it for months. Just as each design has its own basis, so does each life.


    Part of the genius of Epicurus is that he incorporated pleasure into the Canon and thereby made it a criterion rather than an abstraction.

  • that he incorporated pleasure into the Canon and thereby made it a criterion rather than an abstraction.

    Not only incorporated it, but by doing so gave it an elevated position that most people think should be occupied to "logic" and that seems to be only slightly less irritating to the academics than dethroning "god" is to the religionists!

  • Here are some of my initial thoughts on the Aristippus chapter.


    "[Aristippus] derived pleasure from what was present, and did not toil to procure the enjoyment of something not present"

    This would appear to contrast with Epicurus's teaching that we don't choose every pleasure that presents itself but weigh it against possible resulting pains.


    To me, the following seems to be showing the Cyrenaics' "end/telos" being contrasted with the Epicureans' "happiness/eudaimonia" so I disagree with Cassius on the interpretation here:

    II.86-87 "They [the Cyrenaics] laid down that there are two states, pleasure and pain, the former a smooth, the latter a rough motion, and that pleasure does not differ from pleasure nor is one pleasure more pleasant than another. The one state is agreeable and the other repellent to all living things. [NOTE: Epicurus seems to agree with this latter part.] However, the bodily pleasure which is the end is... not the settled pleasure [καταστηματικὴν ἡδονὴν katastēmatkēn hēdonēn, the infamous "katastematic pleasure"] following the removal of pains, or the sort of freedom from discomfort which Epicurus accepts and maintains to be the end. They [Cyrenaics] also hold that there is a difference between "end" and "happiness." [τέλος and εὐδαιμονίας "telos, eudaimonia" in the original] Our [i.e., the Cyrenaics? as if quoting one of their works?] end is particular pleasure, whereas [the Epicureans'] happiness is the sum total of all particular pleasures, in which are included both past and future pleasures. [88] Particular pleasure is desirable for its own sake, whereas happiness is desirable not for its own sake but for the sake of particular pleasures."

    The mention of "past and future pleasures" makes me think that the Epicureans are the ones being said to concern themselves with "happiness / eudaimonia" and the Cyrenaics are the ones concerned with "particular pleasure" at least as far as the Cyrenaics themselves are concerned. From this, it appears to me that the Cyrenaics are saying (via DL) that the Epicureans are concerned with "the sum total of all particular pleasures."


    It seems to me that what the Cyrenaics are saying is that what is important is to have every pleasure as it comes, in the moment, then they're contrasting that (via DL) with the Epicureans' "eudaimonia/happiness" which is assessed on sum of sequential pleasures experienced throughout a pleasant life.


    Which follows on to the next section:

    "Nor again do they admit that pleasure is derived from the memory or expectation of good, which was a doctrine of Epicurus."

    So, the Cyrenaics only recognized pleasures of motion experienced in the present. Pleasures in the past don't seem to have mattered: they're done! Pleasures in the future didn't matter: they're not being experienced! Epicurus took the step to recognize that the memory of pleasures past was itself pleasurable and thinking of upcoming pleasures was pleasurable as well.


    Which gets at another of the Cyrenaics' objections to Epicurus:

    "[89] The removal of pain, however, which is put forward in Epicurus, seems to them not to be pleasure at all, any more than the absence of pleasure is pain."

    So, according to Cyrenaics, Epicureans don't recognize an intermediate state: neither pleasure nor pain. It's either one or the other. Which seems to me why Epicurus needed to recognize mental pleasure as pleasure in contrast to the Cyrenaics who say there *must* be motion involved, smooth motion = pleasure; rough motion = pain, and "they hold that pleasure is not derived from sight or from hearing alone."


    I'm not sure this passage is saying they did not enjoy the "most irksome business" of making choices and rejections of pleasures or if it says it was just difficult to decide what pleasures to indulge in:

    "For these reasons they paid more attention to the body than to the mind. Hence, although pleasure is in itself desirable, yet they hold that the things which are productive of certain pleasures are often of a painful nature, the very opposite of pleasure; so that to accumulate the pleasures which are productive of happiness appears to them a most irksome business."


    There's more to say here, but I'll stop there for now.

  • The more I read this Aristippus material, and our discussion of it, the more concerned I am about relying on the face value of Diogenes Laertius' interpretations.


    Even if we are not seeing the result of DL forcing things into anachronistic / stoic-influenced boxes, as per the criticism in the Nikolosky article, to which they do not belong, I think there is a worse problem.


    The fact that both the Cyreniacs and Epicurus identified pleasure rather than wisdom or virtue or holiness as the goal of life is the real point of overwhelming significance. It is the elephant in the room against which all other details fade almost into insignificance.


    While the additional details are interesting for us to know, they should not be allowed to take our eye off the main focus and things that ought to always be the main focus. For example, what did the Cyreniacs hold about:


    1 = is there an afterlife?

    2 = is there a supernatural creator / ruler?

    3 = is there an absolute virtue?

    4 = what did they teach about the senses and the nature of "truth" and "knowledge" and platonic forms or essences?

    5 = is the universe infinite and eternal, is the earth at the center of it, is there life elsewhere including higher beings?


    Yes the goal of pleasure would be right up there near the top of this list, and the answers to some of these may exist still, but the answers to these questions will have at least as much practical impact on general view of life and ways to pursue pleasure as will issues such as whether memories are pleasurable.


    Of course this is "the Greeks on Pleasure" so the focus is naturally on pleasure, but its still necessary to keep perspective and realize that anyone who dethrones virtue and reason and religion as the goal of life and replaces them with pleasure is already choosing for themselves probably the most critically important marker.

  • I think I see where Cassius is coming from, but I have almost the opposite reaction to Aristippus's chapter in DL.

    I've always found it interesting that DL ends his entire work with Epicurus's Principal Doctrines. He even writes:

    Quote

    Come, then, let me set the seal, so to say, on my entire work as well as on this philosopher's life by citing his Sovran Maxims, therewith bringing the whole work to a close and making the end of it to coincide with the beginning of happiness.

    which suggests to me that DL was either positively inclined toward Epicurus or was at least not hostile. My impression had always been that DL is basically a compiler, pulling in anecdotes that interest him from disparate sources with an editorial sentiment similar to Herodotus (the historian, not the recipient of Epicurus's letter) with a "some people say this, others say that..." way of reporting his findings. Overall, I don't see a Stoic/Platonic bias. I admit I need to be read more DL chapters, so please feel free to point me to passages that reflect that if I miss them.


    The other thing I think is interesting about the Aristippus chapter (Note: DL gives Epicurus a whole book) is that it compares and contrasts two philosophies giving paramount importance to pleasure. Seeing how Aristippus prioritizes pleasure gives us a window into what Epicurus was up against when he was formulating his own philosophy. What did he agree with Aristippus about? What did he disagree? I think this is important to understand how pleasure fits into each of their worldviews. Maybe some of us are actually Cyrenaics? Maybe seeing Aristippus's perspective strengthens our commitment to Epicurus's novel approach (at the time) in seeing memories as part of pleasure?

    The five details that Cassius lays out are important, but I think understanding what role pleasure had in each of these two philosophies is even more important. This was an argument taking place at the founding of the philosophy of life we purport to follow. Knowing how that philosophy came to be - and how its tenets were formed - is the most important thing in my opinion. DL provides a window - ever so slightly open - into that foundation and history.

  • which suggests to me that DL was either positively inclined toward Epicurus or was at least not hostile

    Right - I agree with that -- but positively inclined in a way that for example James Warren might be -- because he sees Epicurus through a lens of post and non-Epicurean thought, as perhaps the best of the group, but part of the group, and not as a revolutionary against the group.


    My impression had always been that DL is basically a compiler, pulling in anecdotes that interest him from disparate source

    Right I agree with that too, but compiling by means of a framework of analysis that is not Epicurean, and therefore tends to distort what he is reporting. Again I point to the Nikolsky analysis of the "Division of Carneades" which appears to influence the active/static analysis. This isn't something that we would be free from ourselves - we have our sensitivities and our training today and we too look for things that we think ourselves to be most important, and tend to analyze that way. It's a natural issue.


    I don't really disagree with most of the last paragraph either, except that I think in my own situation the answers to the questions I listed are of the most extreme practical importance to how to apply pleasure. If there is an afterlife, if there is a supernatural god, if there is absolute virtue, etc, then the game of pleasure totally changes. We would then look to those other factors to determine how we should evaluate and pursue pleasure, and probably reach totally different conclusions than we would under and Epicurean framework.

  • I need to go back and re-read that Nikolsky article, but I agree with your point that compilers decide what to compile. To paraphrase what you mentioned previously, the winners write the history and the compilers decide what to collect.


    And I think I see your perspective on those last points. So then which comes first: The realization that pleasure is worthy of pursuit? Or the realization that there's no afterlife and it's acceptable to then pursue pleasure in the here and now? Or do they arise together? Or do we build each up as on the "Canon, Physics, Ethics" tripod? If this, then that. This isn't a criticism of your points. I'm just working through how we arrive at answers to those questions you posed. This is why I think it's important to see Epicurus's context and thought process in opposing the Cyrenaics and what they disagreed with in his philosophy. How did we get where we are?


    Your thoughtful replies and posts are always appreciated! It definitely helps me hone my own thinking!

  • Those are great points and questions Don.


    You know what explains and motivates some of my most recent thinking, and these comments?


    I always seem to come back in my mind to the concern that I think Epicurus intended his philosophy for pretty much EVERYONE who has any brainpower whatsoever. I think it's inherent in the "outline" model that he referred to explicitly that we ought to concentrate most of our time and effort on the "big picture" items that are the most significant to us as real people living real lives, and that we aren't just "academics" pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge.


    That means that I think it's kind of a trap - a type that Cicero and other anti-Epicurean philosophers intentionally laid and set - for us to be so fascinated by the details that we fail to accept and apply the immediate issues of most profound significance. I enjoy it is as much as anybody else, but so long as we act like we are college students in an advanced philosophy class, the human world spins by outside the windows in total unawareness or even hostility toward what we are discussing inside. And we miss the experiences and the accomplishments that we ought to achieve were we fully engaged in the world.


    Maybe I think that this is one of the real purposes of the academic viewpoint that wisdom or scholarship itself is the highest kind of life. Maybe I think that we're in a matrix of the sort that Marx accused religion of being - the "opiate of the people." Maybe the endless debates over word structures and points that are of less significance, and which are almost impossible to resolve, is the "opiate of the educated" which keeps US in our box and away from full engagement with the world.


    So I always come back in the end to the idea that we should be asking "what are the most important points?" and "how do we convey these to other people who should be our friends?" and "how do we therefore begin again what the ancient Epicureans were in the process of doing before their world was overwhelmed with totalitarian monotheist religion?"


    I think that discussing and debating the details that we are doing now is a critical part of the process, so we can in fact understand how to describe the major outline. But unless we find the time and the energy and the organization to do both at the same time, we're still trapped in that Platonic cave because we're not translating our findings into action. It's as if we are so mesmerized by "knowledge" or "science" - which are themselves "unlimited" and can never be fully achieved in a human lifetime, that we forget the fundamental point that we have to use our limited lifespans as productively as possible.


    I suspect both the ancient Epicureans and the Cyreniacs would agree on that point, and that they would tell us something like:

    "Look at the world around you! PUT ASIDE the details such as whether memories are pleasant for the time being. Your life is short, you are surrounded by people who are actively working to suppress you and your friends and your views of the universe and the true end of life. How do you expect to live pleasantly if you don't accept that reality and form a plan to deal with it? Just don't sit around thinking and debating about details - ACT on the main points -- like we did!"

  • And I think I see your perspective on those last points. So then which comes first: The realization that pleasure is worthy of pursuit? Or the realization that there's no afterlife and it's acceptable to then pursue pleasure in the here and now? Or do they arise together? Or do we build each up as on the "Canon, Physics, Ethics" tripod? If this, then that. This isn't a criticism of your points. I'm just working through how we arrive at answers to those questions you posed. This is why I think it's important to see Epicurus's context and thought process in opposing the Cyrenaics and what they disagreed with in his philosophy. How did we get where we are?


    To address this specifically I would say this:


    I don't think that we can understand the nature of pleasure without first having a basic understanding that the universe is natural and not supernatural, and I don't think we can understand that without a basic framework of knowledge in which we accept that it is correct to have confidence in certain conclusions, even though we will never have all of the detailed evidence we would like to have. Both of those concerns can be addressed with some basic Epicurean arguments as to the physics and to the senses and the role of reason. Once you are then clear that there is no possibility of a supernatural god or an absolute virtue, then it becomes clear that feeling (pleasure) is the appropriate guide of life. I think they all go hand in hand, with the best approach being what I gather Epicurus held about being clear and being quick to make the important points at first (rather than hiding the point like Socrates). Then the details are expanded in outline form to the extent that the individual person has time and inclination to pursue them.