Toward A Better Understanding of Epicurean Justice And Injustice (With Examples of "Just" and "Unjust")

  • Just thinking, we need to be careful to distinguish among behaviors or laws that are just, that are moral, or that are ethical. The latter two bleed into the area of absolutists. But we *should* be able to decide if an act or law is just or not. We're supposed to have prolepseis of that after all.

  • Don I think you are running into the same issue here, and I have the same objections. Justice is no more absolute than virtue is.


    But I want to get back to your original statement to see if/how you have modified it before I respond further.


    You said: "People who take pleasure in what the average human would find morally or ethically repugnant aren't living according to Epicurean principles and so we would have reason to intervene and attempt to get them to change. Just because they are feeling pleasure doesn't make their life choice-worthy. I wrestle with this, but the more I think about it, the more I'm coming to these conclusions."


    When I gave an example of a known issue where "average humans" find certain harmless acts repugnant and questioned if that would make you declare the action automatically not Epicurean, you couldn't go there, so you started talking about justice.


    Is your new assertion "People who take pleasure in what a just human would find unjust aren't living according to Epicurean principles and so we would have reason to intervene and attempt to get them to change. Just because they are feeling pleasure doesn't make their life choice-worthy. I wrestle with this, but the more I think about it, the more I'm coming to these conclusions."


    Have you substituted "just" for "average", and "unjust" for "repugnant"?


    If so, as Cassius has explained, there is the same issue. People have some commonalities in what they consider just, but there are also significant differences. Lol, contract negotiations would be so much easier otherwise! There are no absolutes.


    I would also say it's not correct to label someone taking pleasure in _anything_ as not Epicurean. Remember that for me, taking pleasure means including all the consequences including future effects. However, if their pleasure impedes mine, I'll certainly make an effort to stop them!


    Btw, it's 100% natural for humans to establish taboos, unjust or not. These happen even without religion. It's not supernatural-- it's a real phenomenon we have evolved to enact. I notice that people tend to label things they don't like as unnatural, but there's no grounds for that here. Also, Epicurus doesn't appear to use the word "natural" to mean innate.


    I can see it makes you very uncomfortable to confront the lack of definite moral standards apart from individual pleasure. I think that's what makes this discussion relevant to where it started, because that's exactly why people cling to the fixed virtues in Stoicism rather than to pleasure.


    They do not want to say they endorse a philosophy that could conceivably lead to a person making choices for their own pleasure which harm others-- but this is in fact _inescapable_ in a reality-based philosophy. The moment they start putting their preferential behavioral constraints on others as if there is something magical about their own morality that will make their choices work for everyone, they have left the material realm for wishful thinking.

  • Is your new assertion "People who take pleasure in what a just human would find unjust aren't living according to Epicurean principles and so we would have reason to intervene and attempt to get them to change. Just because they are feeling pleasure doesn't make their life choice-worthy. I wrestle with this, but the more I think about it, the more I'm coming to these conclusions."


    Have you substituted "just" for "average", and "unjust" for "repugnant"?

    There's revision from there, too. It may be tweaking around the corners but I'll submit this:


    Quote

    PD10A: If the objects which are productive of pleasures to persons engaged in unjust acts really freed them from fears of the mind — the fears, I mean, inspired by celestial and atmospheric phenomena, the fear of death, the fear of pain — if, further, they taught them to limit their desires, [then] we should not have any reason to censure such persons, for they would then be filled with pleasure to overflowing on all sides and would be exempt from all pain, whether of body or mind, that is, from all evil.


    Sorry. I couldn't resist. But that's my basic argument... "What is just and unjust from an Epicurean perspective, and what is choice-worthy?"

    I would also say it's not correct to label someone taking pleasure in _anything_ as not Epicurean.

    You're right. Experiencing pleasure or not doesn't make one an Epicurean. Every living thing does that. To be an Epicurean, we need to make decisions based on the Canon, etc.


    Btw, it's 100% natural for humans to establish taboos, unjust or not.

    In the current discussion, I don't believe homophobia can be termed a taboo although you may be able to define taboo broadly enough to include anything culturally prohibited. But even with that, I would assert it ultimately springs from a religious prejudice even if it eventually becomes "cultural."


    I can see it makes you very uncomfortable to confront the lack of definite moral standards apart from individual pleasure. I think that's what makes this discussion relevant to where it started, because that's exactly why people cling to the fixed virtues in Stoicism rather than to pleasure.

    Is it that obvious? ;) Frankly, that's one thing that bothers me. Maybe I'm not cut out for Epicureanism after all. Maybe I am a Stoic or a Buddhist after all. This discussion is very interesting from that perspective too in making me confront prejudices and proclivities of my own.

  • Is it that obvious? ;) Frankly, that's one thing that bothers me. Maybe I'm not cut out for Epicureanism after all. Maybe I am a Stoic or a Buddhist after all. This discussion is very interesting from that perspective too in making me confront prejudices and proclivities of my own.

    Yes it's THAT obvious ;'-)


    But that just makes you in the camp of about 99% of the world that hasn't been exposed, or hasn't confronted and come to terms with, the logical conclusions of Epicurean philosophy.


    And that's why it is so helpful to talk to you about this.


    If you, who are so well disposed to Epicurus otherwise, are not willing to cross what is probably the ultimate threshold, then we certainly can't have much expectation of being successful with people who haven't even been exposed to Epicurus.


    Talking it over in this context helps a lot to move forward in articulating the argument in the strongest way possible.


    It may in fact be that Epicurean philosophy will always be a small minority of people, but I am convinced it could be a LOT more than currently exists. Cicero complained that it was "taking Italy by storm" - but maybe the Romans were much more practical-minded than we are, and of course they were not infected with Judeo-Christian "poison" that Nietzsche denounced so strongly. Today's mixture of Judeo-Christian monotheism and humanism (monotheist religion without the god) is apparently much stronger than the old Greco-Roman religion, but I am convinced that we can hope to make strong inroads into it.

  • I can't shake the idea that it has to be possible to determine if an action or law is just or not. Why else would Epicurus devote so many of the Principal Doctrines to justice?

    I intellectually understand no divine or absolute source for morality, and life is contextual. But Epicurus's prolepsis of justice has to have some practical application.

    What is it but to help us choose how to act justly which goes hand in hand with living pleasurably?

  • I can't shake the idea that it has to be possible to determine if an action or law is just or not. Why else would Epicurus devote so many of the Principal Doctrines to justice?

    Maybe we need to be very precise as to what it is that justice relates to. For example what does "courage" relate to? Will power? What does "temperance" relate to? Self-control? What does "wisdom" relate to? Practical application of knowledge?


    In all of those areas, I think Epicurus is saying that the only test in that area of human life is whether it is the positive virtue, or the "un-" reverse of that virtue, is whether the particular display of that virtue in fact leads to pleasure, or in fact leads to something else, under the cirumstances then and there existing. As a result it would never be possible to judge beforehand whether the action is wise, or just, or prudent, or whatever, until we know the result.


    Perhaps the area of human life that "justice" relates to is simply "our relationship with other people" and the question involved is "does this or that relationship in fact lead to pleasure for each person concerned, or does it lead to pain for one of more of the people concerned?


    Is it possible that the question of just or unjust is as simple as that?


    I don't think the question of whether a thing is wise, or courageous, or prudent/temperate has any other meaning --- citing Torquatus:



    And of course all that is in context of how the subject was introduced:


    Quote

    Those who place the Chief Good in virtue alone are beguiled by the glamour of a name, and do not understand the true demands of nature. If they will consent to listen to Epicurus, they will be delivered from the grossest error. Your school dilates on the transcendent beauty of the virtues; but were they not productive of pleasure, who would deem them either praiseworthy or desirable? We esteem the art of medicine not for its interest as a science, but for its conduciveness to health; the art of navigation is commended for its practical and not its scientific value, because it conveys the rules for sailing a ship with success. So also Wisdom, which must be considered as the art of living, if it effected no result would not be desired; but as it is, it is desired, because it is the artificer that procures and produces pleasure.



    Now maybe there is a limit to the point that the action can only be judged in retrospect, in that given our experience in human nature, we can guesstimate based on past percentages that certain courses of action are more likely to lead to pleasure than others. But the point which proves the rule is still that the only reason we desire the quality is that it brings pleasure. We may not be able to apply the talent or quality perfectly, because we cannot predict the future and we cannot take all circumstances into account. But in fact in order to even come close to applying these qualities as one would want to apply them, one needs to take into account as much experience and as much information as one can possibly apply toward the subject. And all of those experiences and pieces of information were the result of their prior contexts and circumstances, so there was never any art of seeing through to the will or god or to anything absolute, but simply doing the best job we can possibly do to evaluate all the circumstances and calculate our actions based on them to lead to pleasure. And surely if we thought that there was any other goal (such as pursuing the virtue in and for itself) we would miss our ultimate goal because we took our eyes off of pleasure as the final goal.



    Quote

    22. We must consider both the real purpose, and all the evidence of direct perception, to which we always refer the conclusions of opinion; otherwise, all will be full of doubt and confusion.

    The apparent point of 22 being that we are considering the real purpose (pleasure) and all the evidence available to us (which does NOT include any objective definition of the virtues) if we are to avoid doubt and confusion and do our best under the circumstances with which we are faced.

  • Maybe we need to be very precise as to what it is that justice relates to. For example what does "courage" relate to? Will power? What does "temperance" relate to? Self-control? What does "wisdom" relate to? Practical application of knowledge?

    Cicero gives the spectrums as a starting point:

    • Wisdom < > Rashness
    • Temperance < > License
    • Courage < > Cowardice
    • Justice < > Unrighteousness

    Of course, you know I want to see the original Latin and various translations. For now, I won't digress. It seems to me that these each relate to a different decision-making process, i.e., to which end of the spectrum do we gravitate:

    • How do we decide on courses of action?
    • How do we decide on which desires to pursue?
    • How do we respond to danger?
    • How do we treat other people?

    Cicero - and possibly Epicurus - seems to imply that a more pleasurable life will be lived by the person who gravitates to the left than to the right.

    Perhaps the area of human life that "justice" relates to is simply "our relationship with other people" and the question involved is "does this or that relationship in fact lead to pleasure for each person concerned, or does it lead to pain for one of more of the people concerned?


    Is it possible that the question of just or unjust is as simple as that?

    I think it is. Look at the experiments with children and monkeys and fairness (i.e., justice). They know when the puppet or they themselves are being cheated. I believe that's the concept of fairness (Lisa Feldman Barrett maybe) or prolepsis (Epicurus) that forms the basis of our idea of justice.

    I think it's important to look at PD 31 and the exact words used:


    Quote

    31: Natural justice is a covenant for mutual benefit [σύμβολον τοῦ συμφέροντος, lit. "an agreement of interests"], to not harm one another or be harmed.

    Τὸ τῆς φύσεως δίκαιόν ἐστι σύμβολον τοῦ συμφέροντος εἰς τὸ μὴ βλάπτειν ἀλλήλους μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι.

    [St-Andre note to PD 31] The word σύμβολον refers to a covenant, contract, or other mutual agreement, especially (in a legal sense) a treaty between two city-states to safeguard trading between them. The verb βλάπτω means to hurt or damage someone or something, but not in a way that reflects willful injustice or wrongdoing (for which the verb ἀδικέω is used)

    Τὸ τῆς φύσεως δίκαιόν is a little more complex than "natural justice" would imply. To dikaion (Τὸ ... δίκαιόν) has to do with behaving in an orderly manner, adhering to mutual obligations in contracts, observant of duties to gods and men, etc. The modifying phrase (...τῆς φύσεως ...) tēs physeōs is literally "of nature" or to paraphrase natural, but also the natural form or constitution of something. "The most fundamental form of the mutual obligations of two parties" is a long-winded way of getting at the nuance of the topic of PD 31.


    And what is this "natural form"? To not harm or be harmed refers "to not hurt or damage someone or something in a way that reflects willful injustice or wrongdoing." Therefore, willful injustice or wrongdoing are not "just" ways of acting. You have to consider intention in deciding if one's actions are just or not.


    Injustice ἀδικία rears its head then in PD 34:

    Quote

    34: Ἡ ἀδικία οὐ καθ’ ἑαυτὴν κακόν...

    Injustice (ἀδικία) or "hurting or damaging someone or something in a way that reflects willful injustice or wrongdoing" is not purely bad in itself... (but only because of the fear caused by a suspicion that you will not avoid those who are appointed to punish wrongdoing. )


    So, do we act justly or righteously to simply avoid this disturbance and anxiety? Is Epicurus just saying you will lead a pleasurable life if you act justly because you won't be looking over your shoulder your whole life? I think this is part of it, but there also seems to be a societal component as well. But that can wait until tomorrow!

  • If we're taking a deep dive into the meaning of justice and injustice in Epicurus's Philosophy, I'm going all in. Mostly for myself, but y'all are welcome to ride along. Let's hold our breath!

    In trying to get a handle on what the last few Principal Doctrines mean, I'm looking next at 32:

    Quote

    Saint-Andre translation: With regard to those animals that do not have the power of making a covenant to not harm one another or be harmed, there is neither justice nor injustice; similarly for those peoples who have neither the power nor the desire of making a covenant to not harm one another or be harmed.

    I'm using Saint-Andre's translation because I find it more literal than some of the others. Even so, it's helpful to parse the original text along with it.


    Quote

    32 Ὅσα τῶν ζῴων μὴ ἐδύνατο συνθήκας ποιεῖσθαι τὰς ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ βλάπτειν ἄλλα μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι, πρὸς ταῦτα οὐθὲν ἦν δίκαιον οὐδὲ ἄδικον· ὡσαύτως δὲ καὶ τῶν ἐθνῶν ὅσα μὴ ἐδύνατο ἢ μὴ ἐβούλετο τὰς συνθήκας ποιεῖσθαι τὰς ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ βλάπτειν μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι.

    Here we find βλάπτειν and its forms again, so we're dealing with intention it seems. But who are these people (εθνών) referred to as

    μὴ ἐδύνατο ἢ μὴ ἐβούλετο whose situation is similar to animals? They're not (μη) ἐδύνατο nor (μη) ἐβούλετο...

    ἐδύνατο had to do with having power or the ability to do something.

    ἐβούλετο had to do with making choices or preferences.

    So these people (εθνών ethnōn, related to English ethnography, ethnicity) had no power and no ability to make choices. It sounds like Epicurus is referring to conquered peoples or those unwilling to choose to make agreements (enemies?).

    My unease here stems from the fact that he seems to be equating the situation with these peoples with the situation with animals. We can't make agreements with animals, we can't make agreements with these peoples, and so there's no justice nor injustice with relation to them.

    Is he saying "don't worry about how you treat animals and people with whom you have no covenant"? There is no justice or injustice in these situations is what he's saying. Is this giving credence to "might makes right"? If so, I have some issues. Isn't part of the humanist - humanist not Epicureanism - philosophy that those weaker or less fortunate should be protected by and from those with more power?

    Reactions?

  • Right I see your last comment as accurate about humanism, and I think you are correct it conflicts with Epicurus.


    Now as to "don't worry...." I don't think he would go that far. Epicurus would have been very familiar with Persians and other enemies of Greece with whom no treaties had been possible (arguably) so yes I think that he is saying that with enemies with whom war is possible, "justice" is not going to be a relevant concept. On the other hand of course you would have to "worry" about them because the Persians were very capable of doing great harm to the Greeks, so it was necessary to deal with them with knowledge of that fact.


    I think you're on the right track that he is separating (1) the practical (yes you do have to worry about your enemies lest they kill or harm you, so you better be prepared to respond and/or protect yourself), from (2) the philosophical (in such a relationship where no agreements have been deemed possible, "justice" is not a relevant concept, any more than it is a relevant concept in how you treat the hungry cobra or the lion or the bear. Certainly they deserve lots of respect, and we even get pleasure from seeing them in the wild, but we don't analyze our relationship to them in terms of "justice."

  • Let me talk this out:

    So, humanists deal in ideals. "The powerful *should* protect the weak." There's no natural source for this. It simply derives from the humanist idealist perspective of the "intrinsic" value of human life. It's an article of faith if you will. Epicurus rejects ideals and absolutes. So...

    Question 1: What, if any, intrinsic value does Epicurus place on human life? I'm seeing the answer as "none" with the caveat that he also places great value on the life of the individual since this is the ONLY life you get... And we should strive to make it as pleasurable as possible.

    So, maybe the idea that Epicurus doesn't place an absolute value on human life needn't bother me? But...

    Question 2: Is Epicurus equating animals with the people who don't have the power to - or who chose not to - enter into social agreements? On one level, that's true. From a naturalist perspective, we're all animals. On the other hand, this idea has been used to rationalize some heinous atrocities throughout history. Does Epicureanism recognize such events as atrocities (e.g., Holocaust, Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Cambodian Killing Fields, etc etc)? Or, if the people involved had no power, is there any injustice? What is an Epicurean response to these kinds of events - historically and contemporary? If there one kind of response or just individual responses? What is the practical response? What is the philosophical response?

  • The powerful *should* protect the weak." There's no natural source for this. It simply derives from the humanist idealist perspective of the "intrinsic" value of human life.

    The "intrinsic value of human life" has a very religious sound to it, doesn't it?


    I'm seeing the answer as "none" with the caveat that he also places great value on the life of the individual since this is the ONLY life you get... And we should strive to make it as pleasurable as possible.

    That would be my conclusion too, with the emphasis being on the "intrinsic" part because nothing has "intrinsic" value except in relation to its use by a particular living being. As DeWitt says somewhere, only the living have need of morality or ethics (I need to find the particular quote so I don't mess it up, but it is part of DeWitt's conclusion that Epicurus held one's life to be one's greatest good, rather than pleasure, again with the issue being on the precise definition of the words involved, with pleasure being the goal but one's life being more like one's greatest "asset."


    On the other hand, this idea has been used to rationalize some heinous atrocities throughout history.

    I think that this of course is what is said about "hedonism" in general, or the need for some kind of absolute morality in general, that if indeed no supernatural gods exist or no absolute morality exists, civil society is impossible. You recall what Diogenes of Oinoanda had to say about this, right?



    Further ---


    What is an Epicurean response to these kinds of events - historically and contemporary?

    Although one could easily argue that what Cassius Longinus was reacting to wasn't in the category of your examples, I don't think there is any philosophical difference between them, and we know what Cassius Longinus, Panza, and other Roman Epicureans did when they thought Caesar had stepped over the line. And of course in that context don't forget the very high-ranking-on-the list PD 6. "Whatever you can provide yourself with to secure protection from men is a natural good."


    ... as well as Torqatus examples of justifying all sorts of fighting in Epicurean terms, plus his: "Yet nevertheless some men indulge without limit their avarice, ambition and love of power, lust, gluttony and those other desires, which ill-gotten gains can never diminish but rather must inflame the more; inasmuch that they appear proper subjects for restraint rather than for reformation." ... in which "restraint" probably has a very extensive application, at least in my view.



    So in summary I don't think an Epicurean has to yield to anyone else in terms of the ferocity of their willingness to defend, with force if necessary, their view of what they think is "right" (meaning in terms of pleasure, of course). An Epicurean would just be clear-sighted and not try to justify his or her actions on nonexistent supernatural gods or absolute moralities.

  • Don also relevant to this discussion is the example of Frances Wright, which I think we discussed elsewhere. Although I have some concerns with some of her interpretations, I think her "A Few Days In Athens" was probably one of the greatest contributions to Epicurean literature since the ancient world. To me, that means that she had a very good assessment of the importance of Epicurus, and his general direction at least as to supernatural gods, and issues like virtue (and I think as to life after death too, but as I write this I can't remember that part as clearly). The important thing for this conversation is that despite her great interest and knowledge in Epicurus, she essentially put the philosophy on the shelf and devoted the rest of her life to "politics" in ways that were only so-so successful.


    Now I am not questioning her decision to do so if she personally thought at the end of her life that she made the right choice, but when I look back at her writing talent and communication skills I often wonder how much could have been accomplished at a more fundamental level if she had kept her sites trained on religion, and devoted her efforts to restoring an effective Epicurean philosophy school, rather than devote her time to politics.


    Like I said everyone has to make these decisions for themselves, but I see the bad results of religion and absolutist philosophy to be so far-reaching that it is worth it to me (again, not saying this about everyone) to put aside at least most of day-to-day politics so as to focus on the "real" enemy that is largely behind most of the day-to-day problems anyway.


    So that's part of my answer to your question -- if you REALLY want to crusade for social justice, consider the possibility that the ultimate purveyor of the worst social injustice is supernatural religion and absolutist / idealist philosophy, and that little will ever be accomplished against them unless some segment of people are willing to pick up the foundational philosophical work that Epicurus started.

  • Okay, I'm working through whether I concur with all your assertions and citations. Leaning towards some, others... Jury remains out.

    Let me propose an alternative history scenario (and I know I'm going against my "no hypotheticals" policy):

    • The Confederacy and the United States sign a treaty in the 1860s recognizing the Confederacy as a separate country.
    • The institution of slavery continues in the South.
    • Does this represent no injustice since enslaved people have no power to enter into a social agreement?
    • What would an Epicurean - either northern or southern - have to say about this after the treaty between the two countries was signed?
  • As to the hypothetical you posed (I know you love hypotheticals!) first, you know that Frances Wright was a big anti-slavery agitator, correct? But that at least through her books she was looking for resolution short of war....


    Anyway:

    Does this represent no injustice since enslaved people have no power to enter into a social agreement?

    This kind of question takes us toward the logical conclusions, yes......


    You are focusing on the "no power to enter in the agreement..." but it's probably the same thing to focus on the "unwilling" part, in that masters in slave societies throughout history are generally "unwilling" to enter into agreement to change that.


    So when a slave murders a slaveholder, would justice be involved? I would say no, because there was no prior agreement by the slave that is violated, and even if somehow the slave had originally agreed (indentured servitude an example?) then Epicurus is still saying that the justice changes when the circumstances cease to be of benefit to the involved parties.


    Another example might be the Greek slaves.... do I not recall they they where largely a conquered people? So presumably they too did not agree to become slaves, so there to a Helot (is that the name) killing his/her master would not be "unjust" or "just."


    I want to reserve the right to revise these answers because I am answering them off the cuff, and no doubt there are tricky implications as with all hypotheticals, but I think the GENERAL point is that its very difficult to generalize about "an Epicurean" either northern or southern or modern or ancient. I think surely most people who admire Epicurus would agree that a state of freedom is far superior than a state of slavery, and therefore as to our family and friends we would certainly want freedom for them. As to ever-widening circles outward from that, no doubt the same generalization holds, but also I would think no doubt it weakens the further removed you are from the situation. Today you might pull out your guns and go attack anyone in your city who claimed the right to hold slaves, but we don't do the same think in those parts of the world today where the right to hold people in what is essentially slavery is also claimed even today.


    I think a lot of this comes down to my prior comment that an Epicurean does not feel his emotions less than any other type of person - he feels them MORE deeply, and he's going to be willing to take action against what we detest MORE QUICKLY than a true Stoic would (thus the commentary in Sedley's "Ethics of Brutus and Cassius" that Brutus and Cassius did not bother trying to recruit Stoics into the conspiracy (or, at least, there were few Stoics involved was Sedley's point). So I think someone concerned about social injust need look no further than Cassius Longinus and Francis Wright as role models -- they can go hyper-Frances Wright and devote their entire lives to social reform, on the grounds of the pleasure that it gives them to do so - if they so choose. It's just that an Epicurean can't look to Plato's realm of ideas or to supernatural gods for "justification" for that decision.

  • The more I think about this, the more I wonder if we can include slaves in the ethnos έθνος mentioned in the Principle Doctrine. Slaves, although powerless, are still bound by the laws put in place by the slaveholding state. However, such law is not for the mutual benefit or pleasure of both parties.

    Now, I can see the ruling class of such a state using a rationalization that the enslaved need to be "civilized," that they can't take care of themselves "by their nature", etc. which is not based on observation but prejudices.

    As such, it seems to me that such a law would have to be unjust. It does not meet the fundamental quality or prolepsis of justice in providing an agreement to neither harm nor be harmed. One party is obviously harming the other. As such, any law sanctioning slavery is unjust whether ancient or modern. Whether or not Philodemus encourages using slaves or treating them kindly.

    Now, an enslaved person who rises up against the one who oppresses her is not necessarily engaged in a just act. That's still harming another. However, if it was in self-defense or in direct reaction to being harmed by the unjust law of slavery, maybe it could be determined to be just.

    On the other hand, if two parties sign a contract of indentured service and the servant rises up against the other party, that is unjust. In that case, even though one party has more power than the other, each agreed to the contract.

    The whole idea of agreements, mutual benefit, security from harm, seems the only way to determine if justice or injustice is present. Maybe in some situations, it simply doesn't exist. For example, there is no justice or injustice if a tiger kills and eats a human. There was never any agreement. If another human kills and eats a human, that is an injustice because there are laws against that. By living in a society with those laws, citizens "agree" to abide by those laws.

    I'm still trying to work out the identity of the ethnos who do not have power or who decide to not enter into agreements. This gets much more complex when dealing with humans than the animal scenarios. How and when are agreements made? Is the international community one society under some laws?

    Obviously, I'm still thinking out loud. Maybe spend some time in JSTOR or Long & Sedley's Hellenistic Philosophers.

    I may pause this one and continue to delve into parsing the remaining PDs.

  • I'm still trying to work out the identity of the ethnos who do not have power or who decide to not enter into agreements.

    You might want to consider the situation with children as well, or those who we would agree in fact have some kind of mental issue / disease that impairs their mental abilities.


    Obviously, I'm still thinking out loud. Maybe spend some time in JSTOR or Long & Sedley's Hellenistic Philosophers.

    I may pause this one and continue to delve into parsing the remaining PDs.


    Probably a good idea. Our discussion is taking on an almost "brain-twister" aspect and probably suffers from some of the same issues we've discussed in regard to hypotheticals in general. I think some of the basics are pretty clear (justice not being absolute and being contextual) but the discussion of in what situations the term even applies seems less clear -- but it does seem to be something worth exploring, since it appears Epicurus himself considered it to be important. I suspect the answer lies at least partly in that we currently have such an ingrained disposition to think that justice is absolute and applies everywhere that we have difficulty thinking outside that paradigm.

  • Okay, moving on to PD 33, it appears pretty straightforward:


    33 Οὐκ ἦν τι καθ’ ἑαυτὸ δικαιοσύνη, ἀλλ’ ἐν ταῖς μετ’ ἀλλήλων συστροφαῖς καθ’ ὁπηλίκους δή ποτε ἀεὶ τόπους συνθήκη τις ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ βλάπτειν ἢ βλάπτεσθαι.


    Saint-Andre translation: 33 Justice does not exist in itself; instead, it is always a compact to not harm one another or be harmed, which is agreed upon by those who gather together at some time and place. [St-Andre note: The word συνθήκη, translated here as "compact", means essentially the same as the word σύμβολον from Principal Doctrine 31.*]


    Here, it's important to note that there's not a word meaning absolute although the intent is the same. Epicurus specifically says:


    Οὐκ ἦν τι καθ’ ἑαυτὸ δικαιοσύνη...

    "Righteousness does not exist in and of itself"


    δικαιοσύνη is an abstract noun formed from δῐ́καιος (díkaios, “just”) +‎ -σῠ́νη (-súnē, "forms abstract nouns from adjectives or nouns"). So, δικαιοσύνη = righteousness, justice (as an abstract concept); fulfillment of the law. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/h…04.0057:entry=dikaiosu/nh


    Epicurus states unequivocally that there is no such entity as δικαιοσύνη that exists independent of context. There is no Platonic Form of righteousness in the Cosmos.


    ... but/instead... ἀλλ’...


    it is always a compact

    ...ἀεὶ ... συνθήκη...


    ...ἐν ταῖς μετ’ ἀλλήλων συστροφαῖς καθ’ ὁπηλίκους δή ποτε ... τόπους ... τις...

    agreed upon by those who gather together at some time and place.


    ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ βλάπτειν ἢ βλάπτεσθαι.

    to not harm one another or be harmed

    (Note our old friend βλάπτειν from the previous PDs)


    Some important words:

    ἀλλήλων expresses an action done in two directions: of one another, to one another, one another, each other, mutually, reciprocally. So, the compact/agreement has to be reciprocal and mutually agreed upon.


    συστροφαῖς is a mass or gathering of people. This is the dative plural form of συστροφή. The -στοφη -strophē is akin to strophe in English as in a poem's twisting lines or the word apostrophe. I imagine a coming together of people, swirling in from disparate locations, to form a bustling community.


    ὁπηλίκους refers to the idea of no matter how big or how small. The size of the gathering doesn't matter when it comes to making an agreement. This is potentially important for our discussions.


    I'm also putting βλάπτειν back in here http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/h…999.04.0057:entry=bla/ptw and its opposite αδικέω which notably Epicurus chooses NOT to use: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/h…3Dn0&prior=captus#lexicon That may also continue to be important as this discussion moves doing.


    Let the games continue...

  • FYI: I'm going to start using KD (Key Doctrines) instead of PD (Principal Doctrines) to maintain the same KD initials for English and Greek (Kyriai Doxai). Call me pedantic. I can take it. ^^


    KD 34: Ἡ ἀδικία οὐ καθ’ ἑαυτὴν κακόν, ἀλλ’ ἐν τῷ κατὰ τὴν ὑποψίαν φόβῳ, εἰ μὴ λήσει τοὺς ὑπὲρ τῶν τοιούτων ἐφεστηκότας κολαστάς.


    Saint-Andre translation: Injustice is not bad in itself, but only because of the fear caused by a suspicion that you will not avoid those who are appointed to punish wrongdoing.


    So, there's really no such thing as an unjust act or injustice itself it seems, just like righteousness doesn't exist in and of itself. Okay, that's at least consistent. Wrong-doing (another translation of ἀδικία) isn't "bad in and of itself" ("οὐ καθ’ ἑαυτὴν").


    What I'm reading here is that breaking the law - transgressing that mutual contract - isn't bad in and of itself. It's only bad because of the fear you as the criminal experience from the anxiety that you might get caught.


    Frankly, this is where Epicurus begins to lose me. This KD, along with the next one (KD 35) which we'll look at below, clearly seems to say that the only unjust act, according to Epicurus, is one that will make you fear you might get caught breaking a law. What if you have no conscience? What if you don't fear punishment? Granted, punishment was much harsher in ancient Greece and Rome than it is currently in modern culture. Consider the prisons in ancient Rome. They were terrible places! Check out this article from the Center for Hellenic Studies on "Punishment in Ancient Athens". Some punishments listed include "imposed fines, imprisonment, a set time of public humiliation in the stocks, limited loss of political rights, total disfranchisement, exile from the city ..., and death...." It could also include torture and what the article calls "bloodless crucifixion" that sounds horrible and was for citizens. The article goes on to say even convicted murderers were expected to try and break out of prison and go into exile, ridding the polis of their poisonous influence and giving the criminal a new possible life elsewhere. So, even the justice system of Ancient Athens had loopholes! Epicurus's conscience deterrent seems woefully lacking and without real teeth. It *almost* seems - dare I say - idealistic, and expects humans all to be subject to the same fear.


    In KD 34, Epicurus does decide to finally use ἀδικία "injustice" ἀ "not" + δικία "just" http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/h…99.04.0057:entry=a)diki/a


    This KD is going to be better parsed by bringing along the next one, KD 35. As Cassius has pointed out, there are no numbers in the original manuscripts. This one also stars with another Οὐκ ἔστι "it is not" like 33 and 34:


    KD 35: Οὐκ ἔστι τὸν λάθρα τι κινοῦντα ὧν συνέθεντο πρὸς ἀλλήλους εἰς τὸ μὴ βλάπτειν μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι, πιστεύειν ὅτι λήσει, κἂν μυριάκις ἐπὶ τοῦ παρόντος λανθάνῃ. μέχρι γὰρ καταστροφῆς ἄδηλον εἰ καὶ λήσει.


    Saint-Andre translation: It is impossible to be confident that you will escape detection when secretly doing something contrary to an agreement to not harm one another or be harmed, even if currently you do so countless times; for until your death you will be uncertain that you have escaped detection.


    ...ὧν συνέθεντο πρὸς ἀλλήλους εἰς τὸ μὴ βλάπτειν μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι,...

    ...contrary to an agreement to not harm one another or be harmed,...

    (Note our old friend βλάπτειν again!)


    Here again, the emphasis is on the uncertainty of escaping detection. Was Epicurus relying on someone's fear of being tortured or of being removed or exiled from the city to maintain security and peace! It appears so. I find that a weak argument on several fronts. It also seems an odd way of defining injustice.


    Thoughts?

  • Epicurus's conscience deterrent seems woefully lacking and without real teeth. It *almost* seems - dare I say - idealistic, and expects humans all to be subject to the same fear.

    I think his response would be that the options are (1) human feelings (the conscience you refer to) or (2) supernatural gods or (3) platonic ideals being somehow self-enforcing. Since 2 and 3 don't exist, (1) wins by a landslide!

    Epicurus's conscience deterrent seems woefully lacking and without real teeth. It *almost* seems - dare I say - idealistic, and expects humans all to be subject to the same fear.

    No I don't think Epicurus was relying on feelings to be self-enforcing at all! He was relying on human feelings as motivators to human action, including armies, and police forces, and law courts, etc! This is another illustration of why it is absurd to think that Epicurus suggested everyone live in a cave -- these functions are vital to our safety as Epicureans (and to everyone else) so someone has to perform them, including Epicureans like Cassius, who took ultimate civil authority into his own hands in helping lead the revolution against Caesar.


    So in the it is one of those dangerous aspects of life that some people have no conscience and are killers, just like wolves and lions. We in civil society will organize force to deal with them and if done rationally can hope to be successful most of the time.