Catherine Wilson's January 2021 article: "Why Epicureanism, Not Stoicism, Is The Philosophy We Need Now"

  • I don't think you understand PD 10. If you take it in context with the entire body of writings, it is very clear Epicurus places nothing above or equal to pleasure. The problem is that the pleasures of the profligates not only produce more pain than pleasure but that they leave anxiety unaddressed, and thus they can't produce complete pleasure. They leave the pain of anxiety. And he is talking about limits not because of the modern concept of "knowing our limits." He is referring to the understanding that once you have removed all pain, you will be full of maximum pleasure, a real and wonderful feeling, and that we are not (as was argued in his time) forced to seek more and more pleasure endlessly, if there is no pain. He is saying complete pleasure can actually happen for humans.

    Yes. There's a problem with the pleasures of the profligate, and I think you described that problem well. I'm not seeing where we disagree.

  • Don then maybe I misunderstood what you said about "teaching us limits"-- because he didn't use it that way.


    Cassius You've lost me 😂. Pleasure being maximized at the absence of pain is not a logic statement at all. It's just a description of observed experience. If he had not felt complete pleasure at least a few times when he couldn't detect any pain, he would have no grounds for such a statement. It would just be a hypothetical.


    I knew he was correct when I read it the first time because it agreed with my experience. What he describes is simply a real, achievable condition. It does get interrupted for most if not all of us, but it isn't an imaginary ideal. It's a real experience! If it were not, I would likely have little interest in Epicurus.

  • Don you did say PD10 was about taking responsibility though-- but that's only in service of pleasure. So that would not be a reason to turn down a true bliss for you pill in an environment free of threats, if you believed it was as advertised.


    I saw an article a couple of weeks ago about some major developments in aging research. It might become possible to stop aging. That wouldn't prevent death from injury, infection and so on, but it would increase longevity dramatically and reduce age related suffering. If I were convinced of the safety and effectiveness, I would take that kind of pill.

  • We certainly have a variety of opinions -- maybe we can come closer on certain points or maybe not - but I do think we're all on the same team that pleasure is the key to all this, however we conceive the best way to explain it to be the case.


    So when Elayne says

    Pleasure being maximized at the absence of pain is not a logic statement at all

    I would maintain that it is, and that it is a function of there being the only two feelings and thus the measure of one by definition being the inverse of the other.


    But I don't dispute that Elayne is also correct that we can validate the statement through personal experience.


    I would say this illustrates how true reasoning is supposed to work, with experience being the basis on which the only kind of valid logical statements can be made.


    Maybe there's a personality perspective here -- some people are interested only in what they experience as the test of truth, while some people think that the only way to be sure of something is to be able to state it in a logical proposition that is internally consistent.

  • Logic can never give you primary information about reality, Cassius . Logic is not _in_ the Canon but supplemental.


    Epicurus knew there were 2 basic feelings, pleasure and pain, because he felt them. Not from logic!

  • Don you did say PD10 was about taking responsibility though-- but that's only in service of pleasure. So that would not be a reason to turn down a true bliss for you pill in an environment free of threats, if you believed it was as advertised.

    Yes. Each of us is responsible for our own pleasure through the choices and avoidances each of us decide to follow.

    Don then maybe I misunderstood what you said about "teaching us limits"-- because he didn't use it that way.

    PD 10 does explicitly say that "if, further, they [that which is productive of pleasures to profligate persons] taught them to limit their desires [then] we should not have any reason to censure such persons,..."

    So, Epicurus is saying the profligate don't learn to limit their desires and so we should have reason to censure them.

    It's actually phrased not as an infinitive "to limit" but:

    If, furthermore, "that which produces profligate pleasures" taught 'the limit (τὸ πέρας)' of desires/yearnings/lusts' ( τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν) etc."

  • Logic can never give you primary information about reality, Cassius . Logic is not _in_ the Canon but supplemental.

    I certainly agree with this, but I don't perceive myself as asserting that. I mean to be saying only that Epicurus was using logical arguments to respond to the Platonists on their own terms, not that he was in any way giving up his own view of the faculties as the means of contact with reality.


    That passage I cited where Torquatus was referencing divergent opinions within the Epicurean school has a lot in it to be considered, just like the Diogenes Laertius reference to later Epicureans having four branches of faculties instead of three.


    Over time it would be good for us to explore what those divisions were all about.

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “More Analysis of Catherine Wilson: Her January 2021 article in New Statesman: "Why Epicureanism, Not Stoicism, Is The Philosophy We Need Now"” to “Catherine Wilson's January 2021 article: "Why Epicureanism, Not Stoicism, Is The Philosophy We Need Now"”.
  • Don in the context of everything Epicurus said, he did not mean whatsoever to limit their desire for pleasure to something less than total bliss. That's why I wrote about what he was really talking about. You said you agreed, but it doesn't sound like you do. He wants for them to understand that they can actually achieve complete pleasure, instead of thinking it is infinite, requires infinite desires, and can never be experienced. He means it differently than how we would mean it today. Teaching them the limit means teaching them that they can both desire and achieve total bliss, in the real world. He would censure them for failing to desire and reach total pleasure-- because they are still anxious and partying has not relieved their fear of gods.


    He wants them to desire _more_ pleasure than they currently do-- not less.


    An analogy would be a coach cheering on a runner near the end of the race-- a runner who thinks the race is endless, even Sisyphean, impossible to complete, and may be giving up. Epicurus the running coach is saying guess what? You are only a few yards from winning, because the pursuit of the goal of pleasure has a finish line!! And to reach it, you need to know there is no reason to fear the gods or punishment in an afterlife.


    A pleasure pill that was truly as advertised, trustworthy, in a world with no threat to longevity, would be the wise choice. But I would need to see a huge amount of research.


    Cassius you said the only way for some people to be sure of something is if they can say it with internally consistent logic. Those kinds of people are Platonists. But they will never actually understand EP through logic, because EP is not primarily logical but experiential, evidentiary, and feeling based. So that doesn't do them any favors, to say that our philosophy is logic based.


    Remember that elli has explained to us that his use of the term "reasoning" did not mean logic at all but _prudence_. Wisdom, which comes from experience. We must repeatedly bring anyone who wants to learn the philosophy back to their experience of life-- not logic.

  • Elayne what I agreed with was your eloquent description of the "things productive of the pleasures of the profligate" being unable to address the anxiety and fear of the gods, death, etc. When Epicurus is saying if those things did teach the limit of desires, we'd have no reason to censure the profligate. The "limit of desires" I take to refer to the desires one choose and those one refects. Not every desire leads to pleasure and so those should be rejected. The word translated as "limit" also can have the connotation of the "perfection" of something. So if those things taught the perfection of desire - how to prudently make choices and rejections - we'd have to need to censure the "lost." The fact that he calls them ἀσώτους along with the commentary on the Menoikeus Letter leads me to believe he's not condoning their choices in any way. I believe he's clearly saying, this isn't the way to choose to live a pleasurable life.

  • Don -- use the whole context of the philosophy. Epicurus never places anything greater than pleasure. He is saying we can actually experience total-- perfect-- pleasure. That it's not abstract. The profligates are not going far enough! They are leaving some of their pleasure on the table.


    It is hard for people today to drop the middle path ideas they've been inculcated with. EP is not a middle path. It's a path of the most extreme, total pleasure, experienced by humans in reality. Epicurus could testify to it because he lived it.

  • If Epicurus lived today with the tools of technology and all the goods he had in his era.... since for writing the papers/papyri and all the works that had to be done in his Garden, it was a need to have four slaves, who treated them with respect, as we read in the sources. Thus, if it could be a way to visit us in our era, he would consider us that we are living as profligates.


    If we take an accusation by Plato and the hypocritical idealists, for being always apologized in their foolishnes what means PLEASURE, we will fall in the same trap with that person who thinks that is an Epicurean, as he is a member in a Garden in Greece, and in every meeting and in every comment he makes and on FB, he is repeating countiniously:


    "When we say pleasure we do not mean the pleasures of the profligates".


    And one day I asked him :

    - And what do we mean when we say pleasure ?

    We mean ataraxia and aponia.

    - What is ataraxia and aponia ?

    To not have the pleasures of the profligates!

    - Who are the profligates ?

    Those people that over pass the limits of pleasure and they feel pain.

    - An example? I asked him.

    They are those that Epicurus describes in his LTM, that are eating fish, have sexual intercourse with many women and boys, making parties etc.


    - Really eh? I said, except the sexual intercourse that you do not have with many women as you're being married now (but I do not take an oath for this HA 8o )... you do not eat fish, you do not drive a luxurious car, you do not have an elegant office in your work, you do not have an elegant house, you do not make parties with your family and friends.. nothing eh? You only eat bread, drinking water inside a cave. Sorry, this is hypocricy and if Epicurus lived today, he would say to you and to all of us, that wenare living as profligates ! HA ^^


    In the end I reminded him the PD 3 (that only Cassius made me clear to notice that in the past), and then I told him also :

    - who is that person that he would judge telling me what provokes to me pleasure and what pain ? Only my prudence that is all based on my experiences measured by my senses and my feelings. Besides, we have and our trusted doctors, not the charlatans, that when we feel pain in body and soul, we visit them for offering to us their advice that is based on discoveries and the experiences of the science of Medicine that is the Art of all arts. :thumbup:


    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • Some of the material we are discussing here deserves to be pulled out and discussed in more detail in a separate thread, but the discussion is so integrated here I doubt it makes sense to try to move any of these posts to a separate section.


    However on the issue of the relationship of reason and logic and the faculties, and how reason and logic work in Epicurean philosophy, we're going to be coming back to that over and over as long as we discuss Epicurus. I therefore want to set up a new thread which contains the core of Norman DeWitt's treatment of that topic, which I think is the best I have ever seen. I "try" to apply his approach myself, but this is a complex subject and the place to start is DeWitt's own analysis so we can consider his perspective in developing our own.


    I have taken excerpts from the book which lead up to Chapter 7, "The Canon, Reason, and Nature" and pasted what appears to be some of the most material here for easy reference: The Role of Reason and Logic in Epicurean Philosophy

    I highly recommend this material as a place to "reboot" one's thinking on this topic - that's what I intend to do myself.

  • Don -- use the whole context of the philosophy. Epicurus never places anything greater than pleasure. He is saying we can actually experience total-- perfect-- pleasure. That it's not abstract. The profligates are not going far enough! They are leaving some of their pleasure on the table.


    It is hard for people today to drop the middle path ideas they've been inculcated with. EP is not a middle path. It's a path of the most extreme, total pleasure, experienced by humans in reality. Epicurus could testify to it because he lived it.

    My thought is that we're unlikely to make too much more progress in this thread on the "role of logic" question, so what we should really get back to and is more to the point in terms of Wilson's article is this point being made by Elayne here, where she is focusing in on the ultimate conclusion that "Epicurus never places anything greater than pleasure." As I see it, that's exactly correct, and it includes wisdom or prudence -- those are valuable only insofar as they lead to pleasure, and the apparent unwillingness of Catherine Wilson to embrace that conclusion is part of how this thread originated in the first place.


    I suspect Don would say that he agrees with that point, so maybe the issue is more "why do we think there is an issue in how to express this?"

  • I suspect Don would say that he agrees with that point, so maybe the issue is more "why do we think there is an issue in how to express this?"

    Quick response, short on time right now, but...:

    A) Yes, I agree about pleasure.

    B) I think y'all are making PD 10 do way more heavy lifting than it has to.

    I'll try and add more detail later.

  • Thanks Don! If it turns out that we turn our attention broadly to PD10, maybe we should also branch off and discuss that in more detail somewhere here: Doctrine 10 - If the things that produce the pleasures of profligates...


    Just in case Ms. Wilson ever drops by herself, we should probably at least think about keeping this thread focused on the broader question of whether she is doing a good job of describing Epicurus' position on pleasure is the ultimate goal.

  • Good idea, Cassius . I'm going to move over to the PD10 link to continue that discussion. I really want to understand ya'll's* interpretation of that Doctrine. I'm not saying I agree with it (yet, maybe?), but we may be talking past each other in some ways. I'm going to try and use Daniel Dennett's presentation of Rapoport's Rules. I don't think we're opponents, but I do see us as having different interpretations.


    *Note: English really needs an official 2nd person plural pronoun instead of the ambiguity of "you." For now, I'm picking "ya'll" ;)

  • 1 - Well for at least Elayne and I in our geographic area of the USA, "ya'll" is by far the preferred and dominant pronoun ;)


    2 - I do think it's easy to talk past each other on several of these subjects as I see them as subtle and complex. Sometimes it's a challenge to keep up good spirits and not get discouraged, but I am personally convinced that hammering these things out is one of the most important things we can do and is not only educational for us but could be of great use to other people as well. Good humor is essential as we have to be aware that these discussions can sound come across in the way that Cicero wrote in On The Nature of the Gods:


    Hereupon Velleius began, in the confident manner (I need not say) that is customary with Epicureans, afraid of nothing so much as lest he should appear to have doubts about anything. One would have supposed he had just come down from the assembly of the gods in the intermundane spaces of Epicurus!


    We have to be prepared to both be keep good humor and be able to laugh at ourselves as we struggle forward toward confidence. We shouldn't be afraid to have doubts and questions on difficult issues, but at the same time we shouldn't accept doubt when greater precision is possible.


    Now I have to go back to the intermundia for a while.....

  • I moved to NW Florida a year ago and I'm still resisting the allure of "y'all". In lieu of bringing back "ye", which contrary to popular notions was historically plural, I'm still clinging to "you guys". But more generally I try to reframe my sentences so as to escape the problem altogether!

  • Ha - I started to list you along with Elayne and me in the "ya'll" camp but I pulled back and erased that. Probably my doing so and your post are absolute scientific proof of the existence of telepathy in humans. :)


    As as for the intermundia we have lots of odd place names in the Southeast but I am not sure I have ever seen "Intermundia 10 miles" on any of the road signs!