"All Good And Evil Consists In Sensation" - Comparison of Translations

  • Today I was looking at the graphic I did which lists four key aspects of Epicurean thought, and I prepared this to focus on alternate translations of the third of the points:




    Posted at FB with this discussion starter:


    Here is a significant passage from the Letter to Menoeceus which mentions "good" and "evil." Some might choose to read this as saying simply that we cannot recognize good and evil without our senses, but others will say that Epicurus went further, and taught that independent standards of good and evil do not exist in the universe apart from our sensation of them. Here are six translations of this passage into English to think about and consider his wording:

  • Quote

    Train yourself to hold that death is nothing to us, because good and evil consist in sensation, and death is the removal of sensation. συνέθιζε δὲ ἐν τῷ νομίζειν μηδὲν πρὸς ἡμᾶς εἶναι τὸν θάνατον ἐπεὶ πᾶν ἀγαθὸν καὶ κακὸν ἐν αἰσθήσει· στέρησις [deprivation] δέ ἐστιν αἰσθήσεως ὁ θάνατος.

    I see anytime that ἀγαθὸν and κακὸν occur, you should be able to substitute pleasure and pain, respectively. Try that and see how that changes the tenor of the translations.

  • Yes Don if those were substituted I do think the modern interpretation of that would change a lot, because I don't think today we consider good/evil synonymous with pleasure/pain at all. But I also feel sure that Epicurus understood that there was a dramatic issue involved in choosing between the two sets of words, so we need to take a position on whether the "wider" meaning (referring to good and evil) is more true to what Epicurus said, or whether it's the more narrow reference to pleasure and pain. I don't think we today - or they back then - would have much issue in saying that pleasure and pain end with the end of sensation at death, but "good" and "evil" are much bigger questions.

  • I always go back to the Tetrapharmakos where ταγαθον t'agathon "the good" is easily obtained and το δεινον to deinon "the terrible" is easily endured. I firmly believe both of those are supposed to denote pleasure and pain, respectively, in those four lines. Those words taken in the context of the Principal Doctrines leads me to believe that good/evil, agathon/kakon (or deinon) refer to pleasure and pain in the Letter and elsewhere. Every pleasure is a good, every pain is an evil.

  • I've been thinking some more about this. Without any sort of "Platonic" ideal form of "good" or "evil" the only way to judge good or bad is if it elicits pleasure or pain. That is why I believe Epicurus can say pleasure is *the* good. There's no other yardstick - literally, canon - to measure "the good."

  • Yes on your posts 4 and 5. I think your conclusion is absolutely correct as to Epicurus, and i suspect we agree on what I am about to say as to the manner of presentation:


    Until someone sees the Epicurean conclusion that you just stated, it isn't appropriate to collapse the reasoning process too fast.


    Just like in the Epicurus quote about "the meaning of good" and walking around endlessly discussing it, Epicurus would have been faced with opposing schools constantly talking about "the good." So I would presume Epicurus was often doing exactly what we are doing now, and pointing out that there is no basis for good except pleasure and no basis for evil except pain. In order to explain the point, however, it is necessary to use the terminology of both schools, and refer to platonic good and evil. So I would expect that there is good reason to translate them as the translators are doing. (Using good and evil).


    And that is why I continually point to Epicurus using "logical" arguments at times, even though he is pointing to feeling as the only reason to apply logic (or to do anything else). Just like Epicurus would have had to do with his own students, we have to acknowledge and use the terminology and approach of both schools if we are ever going to clearly show how they are different.

  • So I would expect that there is good reason to translate them as the translators are doing. (Using good and evil).

    The translators are just taking the literal route:

    αγαθός = good, literally http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/h…99.04.0057:entry=a)gaqo/s

    κακός = bad, literally http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/h…p%3D16%3Aentry%3Dkako%2Fs

    Most translators - academically speaking - especially older ones - appear uncomfortable with the word "pleasure" and most likely took the opportunity to translate agathos and kakos literally instead of delving deeper into what Epicurus was trying to convey.

  • Without any sort of "Platonic" ideal form of "good" or "evil" the only way to judge good or bad is if it elicits pleasure or pain.

    And for this reason indeed there is a general equivalency in our school between the use of ἀγαθὸν as pleasure and κακὸν as pain, even though it seems we cannot press for a total equivalency because of instances such as "oὐδεμία Ἡδονὴ καθ᾽ἑαυτὸ κακόν (KΔ8) no Pleasure by itself is bad" Here we have to admit difficulty taking κακόν as an exact equivalent to pain, as it requires the conceptual framing of "bad/evil." Which takes us to:

    In order to explain the point, however, it is necessary to use the terminology of both schools, and refer to platonic good and evil.


    Mελετᾶν οὖν χρὴ τὰ ποιοῦντα τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν.

    It is necessary to study what produces wellbeing.

  • I just realized that the good/pleasure and evil/pain equivalency is stated in Cicero's De Finibus with Torquatus speaking:

    Quote

    Some members of our school however would refine upon this doctrine; these say that it is not enough for the judgment of good and evil to rest with the senses; the facts that pleasure is in and for itself desirable and pain in and for itself to be avoided can also be grasped by the intellect and the reason.

    That seems to me to underscore what I've contended here. We judge good and evil in light of the reaction of pleasure and pain, respectively.