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

  • Also as to method I think we have to acknowledge that not every person in every situation is a good prospect for becoming an Epicurean. They could be and should be, if started early enough, but at some point the thought patterns become so entrenched that there's just no going back and rebuilding at the appropriate ground level.

    So that means that I think we spin our wheels uselessly when we focus all our time on "Academic" types who have already spend much of their lives pursuing other paths. No doubt some of them are open to rethinking things, but the issues we address are so emotional that of the academic class, if they haven't already gotten to the point where there realize the value of the Epicurean perspective (even if they don't realize that it is Epicurean) then they probably are not going to be able to do anything other than resist it since it conflicts so strongly with their core beliefs.

    I know that's a broad brush and there will be many individual exceptions, but I'm saying this from a general "strategy" perspective of how it makes sense for most of us to spend our time.

    I know I get a lot more "satisfaction" and "pleasure" in talking to people who are intelligent but new to Epicurus, and who want to take it seriously in their own lives, rather than debating committed Stoics or those of other philosophies who simply want to compare relatively obscure details without ever being open on the basic issues. That's a significant part of what is frustrating in talking to confirmed Stoics, although NEW stoics, who don't yet realize where Stoicism really leads, are often receptive.

  • For anyone reading this thread, this is the heart of the Nikoslky argument, which is something he says that he researched after reading through the arguments of Gosling and Taylor. Full article is here.

    Thank you for posting that link. I thought I had read it, but, if I did, I had forgotten some of his arguments. He raises some strong arguments for his case! I'm convinced, I think, but it definitely calls for a close, attentive reading.

  • In reading about the Cyrenaics, it seems to me that PD 10 (and the similar text in the Letter to Menoikos) is a direct rebuke to them.


    If the things which debauched men find pleasurable put an end to all fears... and if they revealed how we ought to limit our desires, we would have no reason to reproach them, for they would be fulfilled with pleasures from every source while experiencing no pain, neither in mind nor body, which is the chief evil of life.

    The key word here, to me, has always been *if*. As far as I can see, Aristippus advocated for his followers to experience *every* pleasure. Epicurus agreed that every pleasure is good, but advocated for a selection - choice and avoidance - of pleasures leading to the most pleasant life.

    Reading about the Cyrenaics has further convinced me that PD 10 is directly addressing people who would try and lump in the Epicureans with the Cyrenaics just because of their emphasis on pleasure.

  • " As far as I can see, Aristippus advocated for his followers to experience *every* pleasure"

    Do you think so? I have not read the material closely enough to agree or disagree. But on its face that position would seem to be difficult to reconcile with real life, so I wonder if that allegation (that *every* pleasure should be experienced) was true or a slander.

  • " As far as I can see, Aristippus advocated for his followers to experience *every* pleasure"

    Do you think so? I have not read the material closely enough to agree or disagree. But on its face that position would seem to be difficult to reconcile with real life, so I wonder if that allegation (that *every* pleasure should be experienced) was true or a slander.

    Hmm... Maybe I was hasty. I take your point about slander, and the Nikolsky article opened my eyes to DL's potential shortcomings. I'll reassess and repost... Off to the books ;)

    [Edit 1: I found someone online who appears to have assembled a comprehensive list of Cyrenaic resources and quotations. The site could use work but the sources include citations. This could be helpful.]

    [Edit 2: In rereading the Cyrenaic mentions in DL X and scrolling through that website mentioned above, it seems one of Epicurus's primary differences with the Cyrenaics was the inclusion of mental pleasures, for lack of a better term right now. From what I'm interpreting, the Cyrenaics only recognized pleasures in doing something in the here and now. Bodily pleasures -- eating, drinking, sex, etc. -- experienced in the present were all we have. It sounds like they didn't accept that recollection of past pleasures or the anticipation of future pleasures counted (again, for lack of a better word). It sounds to me that that is one area where Epicurus could have been contrasting his limits or fulfilment of pleasure (see Cassius 's leaky vessel graphic) with them. My next project (in addition to completing DeWitt - see how I got that in there ;)) may be going thru the texts and comparing and contrasting what we know if the Cyrenaics and Epicureans. It seems important to me know know how these schools differed and how they didn't. I did find it interesting that Aristippus's daughter is the one credited (or maybe blamed according to ancient authors) for having transmitted his teachings to her son, Aristippus the Younger.

    Okay, no more edits on this one.]

  • Ok great comments and witticisms! ;-)

    Thanks for the Lucian link. A full mediawiki-based page - very good!

    I was hoping you would include the precise sentence about "experiencing everything" as i have not yet had time to look at it. Thinking only about your formulation, and of course purely speculating, I would wonder whether the "experience everything" part might be a reference to what the same idea that Epicurus expressed (through DL) about the wise man FEELING HIS EMOTIONS MORE DEEPLY than others, and this being no hindrance to his wisdom. Surely DL would not have conflated a similar thought into something antagonistic, but at this point I am pretty much committed to the view that most (if not all) of these guys possessed at least normal intelligence, and even if they were disposed to be witty and thus subjecting themselves to the possibility of being misunderstood, if they took a position on something surely it had at least a colorable position in what normal people think of as fact. To totally eliminate mental / emotional enjoyment from pleasure would seem to be so counter intuitive that I question whether that could be true.

    Seems to me we have to constantly deal with the ambiguities in words like "bodily" and "mental" given that if we take the Epicurean view that there is no "spiritual" or "divine" realm, then ultimate all the workings of our minds are also "bodily" as well (unless he makes the specific opposite point, which I don't see). Then there's the question of "atoms" or "elements" vs "bodies," and of course Epicurus didn't use the term "emergent property" as best I can tell, so it's hazardous to take a position on these distinctions without a lot of clear evidence. And in the absence of clear evidence indicating a counterintuitive position, I am thinking that it makes sense to interpret everything in a way that a "normal person" would think it would be meant, unless there's clear evidence otherwise. And is there really clear evidence that Aristippus emphatically held that good memories, or planning for the future, is not pleasurable? (asking that rhetorically, not at you Don).

  • This is PART, but not all, of what I am remembering. I am remembering that G&T document somewhere how a mental process such as "gladness of mind" is a kinetic pleasure. If "Gladness of mind" is not a static pleasure, then I once again emphatically hold that I hardly can imagine what IS a static pleasure, and I can't imagine how I would have a use for them - much less that they are the "highest good."

    It has been too long since I read this article. Very well written, very persuasively argued, in my humble opinion. If I were looking for a pantheon of modern commentators who I would rank near to DeWitt in terms of their contributions to "rediscovering" Epicurus, Nikolsky would be on the short list.


  • I forgot one unfortunate aspect of the Nikolsky article - in general, he does not translate his Latin and Greek. At some point I'd like to compile the translations and attach them to our copy to make it easier for people to read.

  • Perhaps we should make a new thread concerning the Cyrenaics, as I have a lot of material and small tidbits of information on them, as they're of huge fascination to me, contrary to popular belief, and perhaps some on this forum. I am inclined to believe that Epicurus took more inspiration and likeness towards the Cyrenaics than is often admitted.

    As for the key differences between their approach to pleasure, where the Cyrenaics believed in only the pleasure of the moment whereas Epicurus believed in pleasures recollected and anticipated further and constant pleasure in the long run (not to be confused with time spent). Just as the Epicurean Canon is essential for understanding Epicurean ethics, so too must we understand the epistemology of Aristippus & his most immediate followers.

    The first Cyrenaics were "empiric-skeptics", believing with certainty that your senses are accurate to what you are currently experiencing. But they do not regard the state, or properties of what they are sensing, and do not believe that knowledge can extend beyond your current state of sensational feeling. I had a brief conversation with someone on the subject of Cyrenaic pleasures & ataraxia quite a few months ago, and he cited a position taken by a researcher, that this sensation extant in only the moment becomes a verb, so that the experience of seeing yellow becomes "I am being yellowed", or to a more accurate example: "I am being pleasured", "I am pleased", etc.

    With this in mind, its perfectly clear why the Cyrenaics would deny the possibility of pleasure that could be experienced with the mind, and thus, when the present has not occurred, in essence, a "static" pleasure, since as we have discussed, and made known, pleasure and pain to the first Cyrenaics, only consisted in smooth and rough motions.

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

  • At danger of making a point that is too minute to be of general interest, I want to point something out that I think should be incorporated. We rarely spend much time discussing "images" and their impact. The topic of images seems very strange, and as we haven't reached it in the Lucretius podcast yet I haven't re-read Lucretius on it lately. But in re-reading the Nikolsky article I see how he emphasizes how pleasures of all kinds seem to involve an impact on the living thing (impact from outside) so we should probably keep the involvement of images in mind when we do deep thinking about this topic. I remember the joking between Cicero and Cassius to the effect that some Epicureans seemed to think that "spectres" were factors that influenced us to all sorts of things.

    At the very least, all this confirms in my mind that pleasure involves the motion of atoms, which should never really be questionable, and thus there is nothing really "static" about it