Interpretations of PD 10 Discussion

  • This new thread grew out of the discussion of Catherine Wilson's article in The Statesman. In that thread, several of us posted differing interpretations of PD 10. Cassius suggested (correctly) that here might be a better spot for that discussion to take place to better focus the other thread. Fully agree! Hence, my starting this new thread over here.

    Elayne and ya'll: Let me see if I can correctly summarize your interpretation of PD 10:

    As Epicurus says in his philosophy as a whole, nothing stands above pleasure. As far as the "profligate" of PD 10 are experiencing pleasure, there can be no argument or censure against whatever activities they choose to engage in. PD 10 is only saying that the "profligate" can be censured in so far as they aren't experiencing the fullness of pleasure because they still have the "mind’s fears about astronomical phenomena and death and suffering." If they would resolve these pains and fears and come to a correct understanding of these, they could engage in any of the activities which bring them pleasure without anxiety. Please correct or add anything I've gotten wrong or missed. I sincerely want to make sure I fully understand where you're coming from.

  • As Epicurus says in his philosophy as a whole, nothing stands above pleasure. As far as the "profligate" of PD 10 are experiencing pleasure, there can be no argument or censure against whatever activities they choose to engage in. PD 10 is only saying that the "profligate" can be censured in so far as they aren't experiencing the fullness of pleasure because they still have the "mind’s fears about astronomical phenomena and death and suffering." If they would resolve these pains and fears and come to a correct understanding of these, they could engage in any of the activities which bring them pleasure without anxiety


    I would rewrite that as follows:


    As Epicurus says in his philosophy as a whole, nothing stands above pleasure as the ultimate good, which means the ultimate good or goal for which we do everything else to achieve, and which is not in terms an intermediate step toward any higher goal. As far as the "profligate" of PD 10 are experiencing pleasure, there can be no argument or censure against whatever activities they choose to engage in if in fact those activities succeed in bringing them pleasure which they feel to outweigh the pain which may be required to achieve that pleasure. This is because any legitimate censure would have to be based on them failing to achieve the ultimate goal of nature, and if they do in fact achieve that goal, there is no natural grounds for censuring them. PD 10 is only saying that the "profligate" can be censured to the extent that they fail to achieve their goal, which in practical human experience is likely to happen if their profligate ways do not banish the "mind’s fears about astronomical phenomena and death and suffering." If their profligate ways included a means of resolving these and all other pains and fears, there would be no proper /natural grounds for censuring them because they were in fact successful in achieving a pleasurable life.



    Now a couple of comments:


    (1) I think it's clear that what I am doing is taking "pleasure is the goal" to its logical extreme and presuming that this is a hypothetical profligate man who is hypothesized (against the odds of general experience) to in fact be successful in achieving a pleasurable life. Anyone who looks at PD10 and insists on saying that the profligate man "cannot" be successful, and analyzing it that way, is in my view not accepting this as the hypothetical it seems clearly intended to be. Taking such a position, such a person won't ever accept the conclusion I think PD10 was aimed at communicating, so I think anyone analyzing this has to deal with whether and how to treat this as a hypothetical. So my position is that PD10 is taking the same logical/hypothetical approach entailed in the Torquatus section of On Ends:

    "I will start then in the manner approved by the author of the system himself, by settling what are the essence and qualities of the thing that is the object of our inquiry; not that I suppose you to be ignorant of it, but because this is the logical method of procedure. 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. This Epicurus finds in pleasure; pleasure he holds to be the Chief Good, pain the Chief Evil."


    (2) Clarity also requires that we make clear that there is the time issue. Epicurus said in the letter to Menoeceus that the wise man isn't going to choose the longest life, but the most pleasant, so it needs to be clear that the profligate man isn't necessarily wrong because he experiences pains "longer" than he experiences pleasure. If the letter to Menoeceus is correct, then we have to let the individual involved judge whether the pleasure achieved is worth the cost in pain / effort of achieving it.


    (3) Just as with point two we have to take a position on whether Epicurus was saying that it is more important to eliminate pain than it is to achieve pleasure. If you take the position that Epicurus was advising real people to place first priority on eliminating pain, in order to have the best life possible to a human, then you're going to slide to asceticism and minimalism. I would even argue that you're impelled toward eventual suicide at a relatively young age, before the inevitable pains of middle and older age set in. Of course I take the opposite position, and think Epicurus was saying that just as we don't choose the longest life, but the most pleasant, we don't choose the most pain-free life, but the most pleasant.

  • I agree with almost everything Cassius said, except for a slightly different take on the hypothetical being a purely logical argument. I take his formulation as a counterfactual, similar to when he said if all pleasures were distributed over the whole person and of the same intensity, they would all be the same -- there, he was asserting that pleasurable feelings _do_ have variety. Because of his observations.


    I think it's similar here-- by presenting a counterfactual, he is saying he hasn't observed such a strategy succeeding. That partying doesn't relieve fears of the supernatural-- according to his observations.


    Of course, yes, embedded in that formula is also the supremacy of pleasure as the goal, and his condemnation of the strategy because it fails at pleasure. But his point is more about his observation on the strategy and its failures than on logic and hypotheticals.

  • Ha let me quote myself:

    Epicurus was saying that just as we don't choose the longest life, but the most pleasant, we don't choose the most pain-free life, but the most pleasant.

    Is it not interesting how this statement has to be viewed carefully too. Because from the point of view of PD3 (the limit of quantity....) the most pain-free life IS the most pleasant life, by definition, at least in PD3 when considering the issue from the point of quantity alone. But if you consider that pleasure can't be reduced to a single aspect of measurement that trumps all others (certainly not quantity of time), then every time you put a caveat and say "pleasure in terms of ......." you're going to end up with a problem in measurement that isn't resolvable by any other standard of measure than going back to "pleasure" itself - which presumably is an individual standard, since only individuals can feel pleasure.


    This is why I look at the "pleasure is absence of pain" as not only experientially true, as Elayne will be quick to say, but also as "logically" true. Maybe the correct word is not "logically" because what we're NOT saying is that this can be proven by abstract logic disconnected from experience. I suppose the best words I have for this at the moment are "true reason" (doesn't Lucrestius refer to "vera ratio"?) because it is reason based tightly and closely and validated by experience. Maybe it's also "true logic," or at least "practical logic." But to return to the point, it's both logically and experientially sound.

  • Cassius maybe what you are noticing is just accurate communication of observations? Not logic? If I say that any time there isn't pain there is pleasure, by my observations, and I've observed no 3rd condition-- then anytime I say there's no pain, you can conclude that means there is pleasure. But you aren't extending a chain of logic. You are just referencing my past descriptions. You aren't making any new conclusions about reality or getting new information, just understanding my language. Just to converse, we have to do that-- but we don't actually require words to be aware of the feelings and phenomena being described. It's just a matter of knowing what people are talking about, not working a logic problem.

  • Maybe the question is the extent we are converting experience to concepts and back again. Is all manipulation of concepts something that comes under the category of "reason" or "logic?" Certainly we thing there is accurate and inaccurate manipulation of concepts, but don't we call that accurate or inaccurate logic or reasoning?

  • Cassius and Elayne , this is all *very* helpful and let's me see ya'll's thought processes. I greatly appreciate your willingness to continue to engage in this conversation. Let me now quote the areas above where we have agreement:

    As Epicurus says in his philosophy as a whole, nothing stands above pleasure as the ultimate good, which means the ultimate good or goal for which we do everything else to achieve, and which is not in terms an intermediate step toward any higher goal. As far as the "profligate" of PD 10 are experiencing pleasure, there can be no argument or censure against whatever activities they choose to engage in if in fact those activities succeed in bringing them pleasure which they feel to outweigh the pain which may be required to achieve that pleasure. This is because any legitimate censure would have to be based on them failing to achieve the ultimate goal of nature, and if they do in fact achieve that goal, there is no natural grounds for censuring them. PD 10 is only saying that the "profligate" can be censured to the extent that they fail to achieve their goal, which in practical human experience is likely to happen if their profligate ways do not banish the "mind’s fears about astronomical phenomena and death and suffering." If their profligate ways included a means of resolving these and all other pains and fears, there would be no proper /natural grounds for censuring them because they were in fact successful in achieving a pleasurable life.

    he is saying he hasn't observed such a strategy succeeding. That partying doesn't relieve fears of the supernatural-- according to his observations.

    embedded in that formula is also the supremacy of pleasure as the goal, and his condemnation of the strategy because it fails at pleasure.

    Now, I can address the places where our interpretations diverge with more specificity.

  • Here is my initial response to your posts above. Please let me know if I misunderstood or misinterpret anything you wrote :

    I think this Doctrine is neither counterfactual nor hypothetical. I think Epicurus is saying exactly what he means to say.

    I interpret it to be Epicurus's concrete observation as to the inadequacy of pursuing a life of "sex, drugs, & rock n roll" (to use a shorthand) if one wants to lead a pleasurable life. The "profligate" life provides momentary pleasure but will lead to multiple pains in short order. You are welcome to pursue those pleasures, but Epicurus is not going to encourage or sanction your choice. Not all pleasures should be chosen.

    I believe this Doctrine was also a direct counter to any criticism of his school of just being Cyrenaic. He needed to give a firm rebuttal to those who painted the Epicureans with the same brush as the Cyrenaics. It is also my contention that this is the purpose of the Letter to Menoikeus section:

    Quote

    So when we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasures of decadent people or the enjoyment of sleep, as is believed by those who are ignorant or who don't understand us or who are ill-disposed to us, but to be free from bodily pain and mental disturbance. For a pleasant life is produced not by drinking and endless parties and enjoying boys and women and consuming fish and other delicacies of an extravagant table, but by sober reasoning, searching out the cause of everything we accept or reject, and driving out opinions that cause the greatest trouble in the soul.

    This again is Epicurus saying exactly what he means to say: "We do NOT mean the pleasures of decadent people (άσωτος)." He uses the same word to refer to those people in both the Letter and PD 10. He clearly says "a pleasant life is produced NOT by [that lifestyle] but by sober reasoning, searching out the cause of everything we accept or reject, and driving out opinions that cause the greatest trouble in the soul." In the Letter, "sober reasoning" translates νήφων λογισμὸς "nēphōn logismos" where nēphōn literally means “to be sober; to drink no wine; to be self-controlled.” That he uses drinking to say what does not produce a pleasurable life, then says being sober does produce a pleasurable life seems to link those two opposing clauses together. One negative, one positive.


    To address Elayne specifically, I'm not saying Epicurus is advocating a middle path. I don't believe he has any problem with drinking per se (he wrote a book entitled Symposium after all) but just getting drunk and acting there fool, or with sex (he cannot conceive of the good without it), etc. But a life consisting solely of these specific decadent pleasures taken to extremes will not teach one to lead a pleasurable life.

    Anyone who looks at PD10 and insists on saying that the profligate man "cannot" be successful, and analyzing it that way, is in my view not accepting this as the hypothetical it seems clearly intended to be.

    So then to finally address your quote here, Cassius , I do not accept that this is a hypothetical and don't believe it should be interpreted that way.

  • Thanks Don -


    I think we end up in the same place because of the practicalities of human life.


    However I would say that the practical approach alone would undercut the meaning of these two:


    PD8: " No pleasure is a bad thing in itself; but the means which produce some pleasures bring with them disturbances many times greater than the pleasures."


    and from the letter to Menoeceus:


    "Every pleasure then because of its natural kinship to us is good, yet not every pleasure is to be chosen: even as every pain also is an evil, yet not all are always of a nature to be avoided."


    It seems to me that Epicurus is clearly wishing to establish as a flat principle that "pleasure" is an unalloyed good and is to be accepted as such in the philosophic scheme as an absolute premise of all other conclusions that might follow from that premise.


    If we look at PD10 solely from the "practical" point of view alone, it seems to me that we imply, or at least open up the logical possibility, that pleasure can lose its nature as good in certain contexts -- namely the context in which the cost of such pleasure is large in terms of the pain required in order to achieve it. I would submit that labeling pleasure "good" or "not good" is not at all the same as saying pleasure is to be "chosen" or not chosen," so I am suggesting that Epicurus is telling us to keep these two aspects in mind as distinctly separate.


    This seems to me to present a significant problem in analyzing the original question as set by Torquatus, (who cites it as something on which all philosophers, presumably even Epicurus, agree) which is that of specifying the highest good toward which all else aims, and which is itself not the means to something else. If you are suggesting that pleasure may at times not be a good at all, then you are pretty clearly opening up the field to say that if pleasure cannot be relied on to always be good, then you have to value something else (presumably wisdom or prudence) as higher than pleasure, since you need wisdom / prudence to know when to choose pleasure. Plato will back you into a corner and you will end up admitting, as did Philebus, that there is something more important for you to have than pleasure.


    On the other hand, the more absolute position suggested by Elayne and me would (I submit) have it both ways. You would be affirming the practical conclusion (that it is necessary to watch choices carefully) both experimentally and reasonably according to your definitions.


    I seem to remember that there is at least one reference but possibly more than one in Lucretius to a position being doubly potent, or perhaps it is "cutting off all retreat." I can't say I am 100% sure that Lucretius was thinking of that in this context, but this discussion is causing me to be more convinced than ever that Epicurus should be read as linking the experiential with the logical and fighting on both fronts. I suppose it's not "necessary" to fight on the logical level if someone is the type of supremely practical person who isn't bothered by logical problems, but I personally am convinced that the Epicurus was committed not to abandoning logical arguments, but to showing how they can be used properly in conjunction with experience.


    Probably someone arguing this position would also cite PD16 as evidence of Epicurus not abandoning reason, but pointing to its proper use:


    PD16. In but few things chance hinders a wise man, but the greatest and most important matters, reason has ordained, and throughout the whole period of life does and will ordain.



    Presuming that you or Elayne may assert it, I will continue to agree with you that it is legitimate to find it unnecessary to engage in logical debates at all. Some people can successfully go through life not worrying about certain issues, effectively saying "to heck with Plato and his arguments." But I think the evidence is overwhelming that Epicurus didn't just teach his students to ignore Plato and tell them that the Platonists that totally wrong to think about logical reasoning. I would say instead that he showed his students a logical way to reach his conclusions based on the combined use of reason and evidence.



    Note: Looks like i am thinking of a passage in Book 3 (perhaps in the mid-400's) which Munro translates as:


    "So invariably is truth found to make head against false reason and to cut off all retreat from the assailant, and by a two-fold refutation to put falsehood to rout."


    Bailey: "So surely is true fact seen to run counter to false reasoning, and to shut off retreat from him who flees, and with double-edged refutation to prove the falsehood."


    Browne: "So evidently does the true matter of fact overthrow all false reasoning, that there is no possibility to escape its force; and the contrary opinion is either way fully refuted."


    More context for that passage is here: Episode Forty-Three - The Mind is Born, Grows Old, and Dies With the Body

  • PD8: " No pleasure is a bad thing in itself; but the means which produce some pleasures bring with them disturbances many times greater than the pleasures."


    and from the letter to Menoeceus:


    "Every pleasure then because of its natural kinship to us is good, yet not every pleasure is to be chosen: even as every pain also is an evil, yet not all are always of a nature to be avoided."

    LOL! I would cite both those Principal Doctrines to defend my position, too, so we *must* be starting to meet somewhere ^^

    I did want to address this part of your post:

    If we look at PD10 solely from the "practical" point of view alone, it seems to me that we imply, or at least open up the logical possibility, that pleasure can lose its nature as good in certain contexts -- namely the context in which the cost of such pleasure is large in terms of the pain required in order to achieve it. I would submit that labeling pleasure "good" or "not good" is not at all the same as saying pleasure is to be "chosen" or not chosen," so I am suggesting that Epicurus is telling us to keep these two aspects in mind as distinctly separate.

    I don't agree. Looking at it as "practical" provides a concrete example of the philosophy's application to a real-world situation in which people must exercise choices and avoidances as to how to live a pleasurable life. The extravagant pleasures in and of themselves are not "good" or "bad"; they are situationally "choice-worthy" or not. There's no question the "profligate" (I'm really beginning to hate that translation) are experiencing pleasure. Epicurus is not saying some pleasures in and of themselves are good or bad. He explicitly states pleasure is good, The Good. But also explicitly states not all pleasures should be chosen at all times. The import for me of PD 10, PD 8, the Letter, is to reinforce the goal is to lead a pleasurable life. I would cite:

    Quote

    PD 25 If at all critical times you do not connect each of your actions to the natural goal of life, but instead turn too soon to some other kind of goal in thinking whether to avoid or pursue something, then your thoughts and your actions will not be in harmony.

    For me, that dovetails with:

    Quote

    everything that you accept or reject in terms of the health of the body and the serenity of the soul — since that is the goal of a completely blessed life.

    Epicurus's emphasis, in my opinion, is that the "profligate" experiences pleasure but will not find "the health of the body and the serenity of the soul" nor "a completely blessed life" if they're not also addressing their fear of the gods, of death, of pain. That way of life will not teach you how to rid yourself of those impediments to a completely blessed life filled to its fullness of pleasure.

  • I certainly think that we are together on the practical result of the doctrine.

    Well, I'm genuinely glad to hear that. Originally, I wasn't even sure of that!

    I think we are just still apart on the type of argument being employed and therefore the implications involved in presenting the position as a system of thought.

    My understanding of this differing position is still that you're trying to make this Doctrine do more work than it has to. My position is that there are 40 principal doctrines that all work together to present the full system of the school. I'm also trying to take the most literal approach to each doctrine with the least amount of interpretation. In effect, I'm going to characterize my literal/conservative intent as "Epicurus said what he meant and meant what he said" and leave it at that. I think once one starts to say "what he's actually saying is..." that's "like butter scraped over too much bread."

  • I think once one starts to say "what he's actually saying is..." that's "like butter scraped over too much bread."


    I see your perspective there and think it is a good place to start. However I would not recommend stopping there, because unless you develop more of the context of the discussion it's easy to miss many implications of what is being presented. In this context I don't think Epicurus can be fully appreciated without realizing how much he amounts to a rejection of Platonic viewpoints, and that remains very important today since Platonic viewpoints are embedded in so much of modern thinking. Plato is never mentioned by name in the principle doctrines, yet it seems that Epicurus was probably thinking explicitly about the need to refute his viewpoints when he compiled his list of important doctrines. A list of principles presented as "this is important to understand" isn't fully understood until the reader understands "why this is important."



    Norman Dewitt Epicurus and His Philosophy Page 12


    He also exhibits great familiarity with the writings of Plato and he distributed among members of his school the work of refuting or ridiculing his various dialogues. His own classification of the desires is developed from a Platonic hint and he begins to erect his structure of hedonism from the point where this topic was left by Plato. A paragraph is extant in which he warns his disciples against the Platonic view of the universe as described in the Timaeus, and elsewhere he pokes a little satirical fun at that famous opus. More than half of his forty Authorized Doctrines are direct contradictions of Platonic teachings.

  • Ah, DeWitt. I have intentionally not finished re-reading all of Epicurus and His Philosophy. This is exactly what I mean by making each Doctrine do more work than it has to. When you (and DeWitt) say...:

    Quote from Cassius
    Plato is never mentioned by name in the principle doctrines

    ...I have to ask, "Then is Plato really there?" Epicurus and his school had plenty of other schools and philosophers to refute, both contemporary and older ones. I'm maintaining that PD 10 is a direct attack/refutation against the Cyrenaics.

    I'm definitely NOT saying that Epicurus and his school didn't need to address Plato's philosophy, and I agree with DeWitt *in general* on that point. But, frankly, Dewitt's penchant for finding precursors of Christianity everywhere in Epicurus makes me wary of his finding anti-Platonic elements everywhere, too.

  • Don, if you don't take each PD in the context of _all_ the PDs, then you can easily wind up "proof-texting" and drawing conclusions Epicurus did not make.

    Cassius, I don't mind it so much when people use reasoning to explain a point as long as they do not imply that a conclusion can be drawn from logic that is as valid as conclusions from observations, and as long as they don't get caught up in worrying whether observations that challenge their logic are challenging the philosophy itself, because that is not a thing with EP. The logic at all times must follow the observations, never lead them, and the logic must constantly be available to revision when the observational premises broaden.

  • Don, if you don't take each PD in the context of _all_ the PDs, then you can easily wind up "proof-texting" and drawing conclusions Epicurus did not make.

    Point taken, but I don't believe I'm proof-texting in relation to PD 10. I've seen people try to proof-text with excerpts and fragments (e.g., lathe biosas), and I fully agree that's a problem.

    When I say that it seems to me that ya'll are making PD 10 do more work than it has to, I'm not saying it should be read in isolation. Each Doctrine is one of 40 bricks in the wall supporting the school (to use an Oinoanda metaphor), so I don't think every brick needs to carry the whole structure. Individual bricks can respond to specific tenets of the philosophy or specific refutations of other schools. Of course, each doctrine is a part of the philosophy and needs to fit in properly. However, from my perspective, there's danger in both the urge to prooftext and to overinterpret.

  • Don then maybe you would be more inclined to agree if I frame it as what PD10 does _not_ say? PD10 does not say that prudence is more important than pleasure. It does not say anything that would rule out a bliss pill, IF said pill was known to reliably give the person in question pleasure-- if it was an accurate decision, to take the bliss pill, and had the intended results, which would have to include not having anxiety over imaginary things like gods. PD 10 does not say that it would be impossible to use prudence accurately to choose a bliss pill, because it is not considering that particular hypothetical, so it can't be used as evidence Epicurus would say no.


    PD10 does not say anything to rule out the pleasures of the profligates if the painful consequences could be removed, or if they could be combined with the pleasure of information about reality that would remove false fears. Nor does it say anything to rule out the possibility that there could be an individual who successfully enjoyed those pleasures without having pains. So it can't be used as an argument against that possibility, which would certainly be permissible in the whole context of the philosophy.

  • Okay. That seems like it might be a fruitful approach. Here we go:

    PD10 does not say that prudence is more important than pleasure.

    Agreed.

    It does not say anything that would rule out a bliss pill,...

    Agreed. However, I'm not going down the "bliss pill" rabbit hole again. This whole topic is like asking, "Would you have a unicorn for a pet?" but even less defined. At least we "know" what a unicorn "is" basically.

    Also, I see Epicurus's philosophy as one of individual responsibility. Each of us is responsible for our own pleasure. We get to make choices. Let me be clear, I'm not placing decision-making above pleasure. It is a means to pleasure. If someone wants to take the pill, take the pill. As I see it defined, it takes away the ability to choose and reject, to chart ones own path. Okay, it's the *final* choice one could take, but the pill/machine is so ill-defined, I'm reluctant to keep flogging a dead unicorn.


    In the end, the argument doesn't provide benefits to real people. For PD 10, I'd rather deal in reality and practicalities as Epicurus said philosophy should do.

    PD10 does not say anything to rule out the pleasures of the profligates if the painful consequences could be removed, or if they could be combined with the pleasure of information about reality that would remove false fears.

    Agreed, but again I don't believe Epicurus is dealing in hypotheticals or counterfactuals here. He has observed that that lifestyle - in reality and in everyday experience - is not conducive to a pleasure-filled life. It does NOT teach how to remove false fears. I agree with your proposal that it doesn't rule it out, but I believe Epicurus is addressing a real person in the real world who asks "Can I have a completely pleasurable life engaging in "the objects which are productive of pleasures to profligate persons"?" To that, I believe he would answer "No."