Epicurean philosophy vs. Stoicism in public popularity

  • Cassius yes, I agree. In regards to the "others", this varies widely between individuals. I have an unusual degree of feeling based empathy, to the point that observing violence causes my body to hurt at the site of another person's injury. So I actually get pain even at the pain of others who are strangers or enemies. I refrain from causing harm because of that.


    It's not completely symmetric on the vicarious pleasure end. I do get strong pleasure at knowledge or witnessing pleasure of strangers, very close to as strong as for those I love but not quite. However, I get no pleasure from the pleasure of those I dislike, and the reason is partly that I dislike them due to what they get pleasure from. If they get pleasure from cruelty to others, then their pleasures are directly counter to mine, and I feel no joy when they get their way.

  • I suspected my post would elicit some discussion. This is good! I don't have time this morning to respond to everything, but wanted to comment specifically to Elayne 's comment:

    Don that's not a qualifier-- it's just a description of what I like to do, not a restraint separate from my pleasure.


    I think we're splitting hairs. Merriam-Webster's definition of qualifier is:


    a word (such as an adjective) or word group that limits or modifies the meaning of another word (such as a noun) or word group


    That's what your phrase is doing.


    I do exactly plan on doing as I please.

    What do you do?

    That which involves taking pleasure in the pleasure of others.


    I don't have any problem with that sentiment. In fact it's laudable, not that you should care what I think. But it definitely qualifies/describes what you please to do. You can't say "no qualifiers" and then add a statement defining what you please to do means to you.


    PS: I should add that I realize that your qualifier/modifier is contextual. If someone is harming someone you care about (or you're being harmed yourself), you would have no qualms about NOT concerning yourself with the pleasure of the other, the attacker in this case. Nor would I.

  • If in fact, per PD10, he achieves pleasure, then in fact there is nothing to criticize.

    I knew PD10 was going to come up. :) I know we've tangled on this before, and while I accept your premise you present here, I reject that that is what Epicurus was saying. He did not observe that the person described in PD10 *would* realistically "achieve" nor *could* expect to achieve pleasure. I believe Epicurus was saying exactly what he meant here (after looking at the verb forms used) and in the Menoikeus Letter. I'm going to be obstinate on this point. To use an Epicurean pun: I'm pig-headed in this.


    If applied as written, this gives an automatic veto power over your conduct to the unqualified "outside observer" and that would be deferring to an outside force that has no more natural or idealist authority than anything Plato or Moses came up with.

    I should be more clear. I'm not implying veto power to anyone. What I'm saying is that if the Epicurean acts virtuously from a desire for their own pleasure, the outside observer sees this and assumes (incorrectly!) that the Epicurean is acting virtuously for virtue's sake. The 3rd party assumes a particular motivation for the virtuous behavior they observe. That motivation, however, is not the Epicurean's motivation. The outward appearance may be similar to the Stoic's or Peripatetic's, but the actions spring from a completely different set of motivations.

    And the Epicurean need not dissuade the 3rd party from their assumptions. That's the 3rd party's problem.


    In other words, I think the key is that you do not give unqualified "Others" veto power over the goals you choose for your life.

    Oh, yeah. I knew 39 was all queued up. :) And I agree with this, as what I stated above may imply.


    Overall, I don't have much to quibble with in your response unless I'm missing something... Other than our divergent interpretations of PD10.

  • It would be weird to remove my awareness of future consequences from actions in the present--

    I think it would be weird, too, so I'm curious where you're getting that from what's posted. From my perspective, the "awareness of future consequences" is the heart of any practice of Epicuren philosophy. That's the basis for all choices and rejections: how do actions in the present affect my current and future experience of pleasure.

    I disagree strongly about any implied absolute meaning for virtue common to all humans. If Epicurus was saying that, and I don't think he was, he would have been wrong.

    So, do you disagree with PD 5 then? Why does Epicurus single out living prudently, morally, and justly if not recognizing them as "virtues" consistent with a pleasurable life across a wide swath of people? These traits lead - by observation - to more pleasurable living. Why wouldn't he endorse them?

    There can't biologically be one set of behaviors leading to a pleasurable life for every single human.

    That's just not true. There are any number of behaviors that will consistently and verifiably lead to a more pleasurable life for any organism. Nature gives plenty of examples of behaviors that make an organism "fit" that are applicable across populations. Humans are no exception. I'm not saying every human being is going to have every common behavior, but I think you're going overboard to say there aren't *any* common behaviors that would be conducive to a pleasurable life. A pleasurable life is free from anxiety, want, pain, etc. There are common actions to take to achieve that.


    And even for a single human, it's not wise to make any fixed virtue that could override pleasure-- there can be extenuating circumstances, such as the classic murderer asking for your friend's whereabouts. So no virtue like honesty is fixed. Everything is relative to pleasure.

    I don't have any argument with this. I'm not advocating overriding pleasure by virtue. Virtue is *always* in service to pleasure. There isn't any absolute virtue that's followed 100% of the time. Virtuous activity and the degree to which it's carried out is always relative to the situation and context. Stoics would say that. Epicureans would say that. In any case, honesty isn't the appropriate virtue here in your scenario anyway. You're throwing up a red herring. Here the virtuous act is protecting your friend. Anyone who says that being 100% truthful at all times is living in a utopian fantasy.


    For most of us, natural empathy provides the pro-social pleasure motive. For some, fear of consequences provides the reason to abstain from harming others, which Epicurus mentioned multiple times. However, it is easy to observe that some high functioning low empathy humans have enough financial resources to protect themselves from at least some degree of asocial if not downright anti-social living. And _if_ they have pleasurable lives that way, free from both anxiety and painful punishment, only they can give testimony. It's definitely risky to live outside the typical human virtue preferences, but it can be done. Those are the folks I try to avoid strenuously!

    I understand your saying "only they can give testimony," but people can convince themselves - or try to convince others - of most anything. I would find it difficult to accept the idea that a misanthropic, antisocial person feels pleasure at their lives. That's a lot of psychological pain to work through. But it's also not my place to worry about them unless I have to interact with them... Which, as you say, it is best to simply avoid them per Epicurus's advice.

  • I think the popularity of Stoicism is largely a part of ignorance. I didn't even know about Epicureanism until I started seriously studying Epictetus. His own issues with it made me really curious about Epicureanism... and here I am today.


    When I read social media posts of Stoics bashing Epicureanism I do see a decent set of people showing how they have it wrong. I still think Stoic methods of being indifferent to *select* things to be very useful, but to me it really misses the point of life, and due to its religious foundation I expect it'll become less and less popular among humanists and scientists.

  • Welcome to the discussion, Protonus !

    I do believe also that just not many people are aware of Epicureanism as an option.

    The Stoic "indifference" and thus dichotomy of control even has antecedents in Epicurus's philosophy. I think it's a Greek thing and not unique to the Stoics.

    But I think Epicurus is on sounder footing overall with respect to this and ... Well, everything else, too:


    Quote

    Letter to Menoikeus (Diogenes Laertius, book X: 127): Remember that what will be is not completely within our control nor completely outside our control, so that we will not completely expect it to happen nor be completely disappointed if it does not happen.

    And...

    Quote

    Vatican Saying 14: We are born only once and cannot be born twice, and must forever live no more. You don't control tomorrow, yet you postpone joy. Life is ruined by putting things off, and each of us dies without truly living. [Emphasis added]

    And...

    Quote

    Vatican Saying 64: The esteem of others is outside our control; we must attend instead to healing ourselves.

  • Thanks Don. Those are great quotes, I especially love that 2nd quote!


    I assume that the context means "each of us dies without truly living" by postponing joy?

  • I assume that the context means "each of us dies without truly living" by postponing joy?

    That's probably not a bad way of summarizing. We only have one life and are not both twice. If you don't experience a pleasurable life now, you've missed your opportunity.

  • Yes welcome to the conversation Protonus....! You're dropping in as you can probably tell on a long-running sparring over some of these issues, even though I think we are very largely in agreement.


    However I pick out these two quotes to make a particular point:

    Virtuous activity and the degree to which it's carried out is always relative to the situation and context. Stoics would say that.


    Anyone who says that being 100% truthful at all times is living in a utopian fantasy.

    I certainly agree with the second, but I do think that that is exactly what the Stoics would urge, and thus that the first of these two quotes is not historically correct. It is my understanding of the Stoics that they DID view virtue as something that was absolute, and thus to be applied regardless of context. It's my understanding that they thought that there was a way to define all of the virtues, especially courage, wisdom, justice, etc -- in a way that did apply to everyone all the time and everywhere, regardless of circumstance. Of course I believe it's pretty easy to show that that is foolish (as in the example of lying to the burglar or murderer) but it's my understanding that they tool the position that one would not lie even under those circumstances. They (and I think the Platonists and Aristotelians too) did seem to think that due to their theological view of the universe that it was possible to identify virtue as an absolute ideal, and so this is a stark and important point that has to always be kept in mind.


    Unless I am shown that i need to revise my understanding of the Stoics or others on this point I think that I'm probably correct, and this isn't just a minor point but perhaps why we keep sparring over PD10. Truly I think that Epicurus held that the word virtue and all of its particular instances has NO MEANING unless it actually leads to pleasure, so he basically held the word to be without content except as defined in a particular circumstance, which is exactly what the Stoics et all fought against --- they refused to accept modifications of their ideals based on context, and would have considered the very idea to be blasphemous.

  • I'll admit the Stoic mention was a throwaway line. I freely admit I shouldn't have thrown that in there because i don't know enough about the Stoics to say that unequivocally. I'mma gonna take that back. So...

    Unless I am shown that i need to revise my understanding of the Stoics or others on this point I think that I'm probably correct,

    I'll concede this, but...

    and this isn't just a minor point but perhaps why we keep sparring over PD10. Truly I think that Epicurus held that the word virtue and all of its particular instances has NO MEANING unless it actually leads to pleasure, so he basically held the word to be without content except as defined in a particular circumstance,

    I don't think PD10 has anything to do with virtue. Let me be clear. The cautions Epicurus lays out in opposition to the profligate life in PD10 has *nothing* to do with whether it's "virtuous" or not. Zero. And there's no question whether the "lost" in PD10 experiences pleasure. They do. The reason that those life choices can be cautioned against is that they do not - from observation over time and multiple instances - do not reliably lead to a lifetime of pleasure. Trying to say that they do or can is living in a utopian hypothetical fantasy world. And Epicurus urged people to live in the real natural material cosmos. You can experience pleasure for a bit if you do this, but that path is not choice-worthy. You have been warned.

  • Don No, a descriptor is not the same as a qualifier. A qualifier, as you accurately say, limits or modifies -- and I am doing neither. If my description were a qualifier, it would mean that I am _not_ only doing as I please but am limiting or modifying my scope of action beyond doing as I please. And that's not the case.


    In PD5, Epicurus does not idealize the words prudently, morally, and justly. He doesn't put forth a concept of prudence that would result in the same action for every human in every situation. This is an example of why it's important to recall the context of the entire philosophy, which is without such absolutes.


    We actually do have evidence that psychopaths lack vicarious pain and can even feel pleasure instead. I stand by my assertion that for feeling, only the person actually experiencing the feeling knows what it is, exactly. But we do have supportive research. It's important not to extrapolate feelings you or I might have to those of psychopaths. I think that leads to errors in predicting their behavior towards us. https://www.webmd.com/brain/ne…paths-dont-feel-your-pain


    I am going to be bold and say that for any specific behavior/virtue you want to name as universally leading to a maximally pleasurable human life, I can name an exception. Virtues depend on pleasure for their very definition-- but feeling is a direct experience and can't be defined away. This is central to understanding Epicurus.


    In fact, this issue is key to the differences between us and Stoics, and in the difficulties we face in attracting as much interest. People resist understanding that nothing defines pleasure other than the direct experience. Maximum pleasure is not modified or limited by definitions or concepts-- it simply occurs or does not.


    I think it's our culture having integrated so much Stoic and Platonic thought that makes people resist this reality-- even here, on an Epicurean platform! But it's possible there is some evolved neuro-developmental barrier as well.

  • No, a descriptor is not the same as a qualifier. A qualifier, as you accurately say, limits or modifies -- and I am doing neither. If my description were a qualifier, it would mean that I am _not_ only doing as I please but am limiting or modifying my scope of action beyond doing as I please. And that's not the case.

    I still think we're splitting hairs. I'm using modifier, descriptor, and qualifier as synonyms. Maybe that's sloppy, maybe not. You're using each with a specific narrow definition from what I can see. This could spiral down a sophist rabbit hole, so I'm content to abandon this particular thread.

    I do want to respond to your other points, but that'll be a bit later.

  • I am going to be bold and say that for any specific behavior/virtue you want to name as universally leading to a maximally pleasurable human life, I can name an exception. Virtues depend on pleasure for their very definition-- but feeling is a direct experience and can't be defined away. This is central to understanding Epicurus.


    In fact, this issue is key to the differences between us and Stoics, and in the difficulties we face in attracting as much interest. People resist understanding that nothing defines pleasure other than the direct experience. Maximum pleasure is not modified or limited by definitions or concepts-- it simply occurs or does not.


    I think this is particularly well stated and important. And I also think that it is good that Don continues to respond on this point because if there is any that we need to be as sharp as possible in explaining, it is probably this one. At least from where i sit, that is the best interpretation I have of Don's viewpoint --- we seem to be wrestling over whether it is every proper to generalize that a standard of conduct is so reliably productive of pleasure that it can be generalized into being always virtuous, or whether crossing that line is always going to violate other Epicurean observations about the contextual nature of feeling and nature itself.


    That's what I get out of:

    The reason that those life choices can be cautioned against is that they do not - from observation over time and multiple instances - do not reliably lead to a lifetime of pleasure. Trying to say that they do or can is living in a utopian hypothetical fantasy world.

    And that is why Elayne is (in my view) responding properly with:


    I am going to be bold and say that for any specific behavior/virtue you want to name as universally leading to a maximally pleasurable human life, I can name an exception. Virtues depend on pleasure for their very definition-- but feeling is a direct experience and can't be defined away.

    Can't be defined away, and can't be predicted with certainty because there is no "necessity" or "fate" involved to require the outcome.

  • I have to come back to this, and also emphasize I am not directing it at Don:


    In fact, this issue is key to the differences between us and Stoics, and in the difficulties we face in attracting as much interest. People resist understanding that nothing defines pleasure other than the direct experience. Maximum pleasure is not modified or limited by definitions or concepts-- it simply occurs or does not.


    I think this is a HUGE problem. This is where people have their pre-existing virtue systems of their group or even just themselves, and they have an extremely hard time accepting that imposing their system on others cannot be justified philosophically through Epicurus or anyone else, and certainly not through religion.


    This is the aspect that I think makes Epicurus so revolutionary. The upheavals brought about by Karl Marx would eventually pale in comparison to the widespread adoption of fundamental Epicurean philosophy. And there are deeply entrenched institutions throughout almost every aspect of society and every corner of the modern world that are going to do everything they possibly can to make sure (from their point of view) that such a revolution never takes place.

  • In PD5, Epicurus does not idealize the words prudently, morally, and justly. He doesn't put forth a concept of prudence that would result in the same action for every human in every situation.

    I never said he idealized those "virtues" as capital-V Virtues.

    In fact, that's exactly why he did NOT write:


    Quote

    It is not possible to live a pleasurable life without Wisdom, Morality, and Justice; and it is impossible to live with Wisdom, Morality, and Justice without living pleasurably. When one of these is lacking, it is impossible to live a pleasurable life.

    as if they were Platonic ideals or absolutes. He used adverbs to clearly show he was not talking about specific actions but rather acting prudently, morally, and justly in any given situation.

  • Don which means morality itself depends on the pleasure of the specific perceiver, since it isn't ideal. Yet you argued above that there are behaviors that will consistently and verifiably lead to a pleasurable life for "any organism." That isn't true.


    The strongest true statement is that there are behaviors which are highly likely to lead to a pleasurable life for most typical members of a species. Those things are useful to know as a starting place, but for maximum life pleasure, an individual must learn if and how they are atypical-- and 100% typical humans are, in my experience, nonexistent. In medicine, every person I've met has at least one feature that is not within 2 std deviations on a Bell curve. It would be surprising if that weren't the case considering the huge number of features we have. It's why docs should be very careful about ordering unnecessary tests, because every extra lab we get increases the chance of finding a meaningless out of range result.


    Why wouldn't we expect the same to be true of pleasure, and thus of virtue?


    When you said honesty wasn't the most important virtue in my hypothetical but protecting the friend was, that is exactly the kind of thing virtue ethicists say-- while failing to acknowledge that the actual deciding factor is pleasure, not protection of another.

  • When you said honesty wasn't the most important virtue in my hypothetical but protecting the friend was, that is exactly the kind of thing virtue ethicists say-- while failing to acknowledge that the actual deciding factor is pleasure, not protection of another.

    Let me rephrase then: The pain I would feel if my friend were harmed is actually the deciding factor.

  • The strongest true statement is that there are behaviors which are highly likely to lead to a pleasurable life for most typical members of a species. Those things are useful to know as a starting place, but for maximum life pleasure, an individual must learn if and how they are atypical-- and 100% typical humans are, in my experience, nonexistent.

    I agree but I'll also offer that I think Elayne is reacting to the argument here, and i think we would probably all agree that "those things" aren't really just a starting place, but probably take is quite a way toward the goal in most instances -- but they won't all the time, and it's the exceptions that prove the rule -- and the rule is that while we can make make general conclusions which high degrees of confidence in many instances, we have to always be looking to be sure that we aren't in a situation where the facts are different from prior situations so as to cause a very different result.


    In other words I don't think any of us have a problem with saying that "in general" we can use the past to point the right direction in the future, but we certainly can't do that all the time, and we have to understand that the universe isn't mechanistic or determined or fated or guided by divinity and so walk and chew gum at the same time.

  • Cassius yes, I agree that it's an important starting place. It's the same in medicine-- there's almost no treatment that works for 100% of patients. But we obviously want to start with the thing having the highest success rate for most people! And move on to something else if it doesn't work.


    I am arguing that the exceptions don't prove the rule so much as they demonstrate the scope of the rule, including its limits. Part of that is because of the current discussion ... and part of it is because I am myself highly atypical in several areas. Without understanding my atypical characteristics, I would be looking for pleasure in the wrong places.

  • I am going to be bold and say that for any specific behavior/virtue you want to name as universally leading to a maximally pleasurable human life, I can name an exception.

    Whether you can name an exception to an action in a specific circumstance doesn't really prove anything. Acting justly, prudently, and morally *is* contextual. It may be that the same action in a different situation would not be acting prudently, justly, or morally.

    Maybe I should say that in a specific situation, there are actions within that given scenario that would lead to a more pleasurable life for (almost) anyone. The identical action in a different situation may not lead to a more pleasurable life. Therefore, there are no absolute or uniquely virtuous actions; only virtuous actions contextually for a given circumstance.

    People resist understanding that nothing defines pleasure other than the direct experience. Maximum pleasure is not modified or limited by definitions or concepts-- it simply occurs or does not.

    There's nothing to argue about here in that pleasure or pain *are* direct experience, just like the senses. Pain and pleasure are two non-rational/pre-cognitive guides we use to make choices and rejections.

    How do you define what Epicurus meant by the "limit of pleasure" or the "maximum pleasure"? Can you expand on what you mean by it "simply occurs or does not"? And if it "simply occurs or does not" what use is it to make choices or rejections in an effort to bring the maximally pleasurable life about?