Welcome Philia!

  • It was the Stoics and Cicero who concocted and publicized the false report that Epicurus counted pleasure as the greatest good. This is mistakenly asserted in all our handbooks."

    You will find that there is a lot of subtlety both in Epicurus and the way DeWitt presents Epicurus, much of which you'll probably appreciate no matter how far you get, and some of which you'll not accept - but having considered it will help you anyway, I would argue.

    In this case, I would liken DeWitt's observation to his reference to the multiple meanings of the word "true" in the "all sensations are true" statement.

    DeWitt wrote an article on the "Summum Bonum Fallacy" and you'll want to read that part of his book and consider it in detail. I think one way of interpreting what DeWitt and/or Epicurus was saying is that there are mutiple meanings of the word "good" / "greatest good" that have to be considered.

    A phrase that I remember from DeWitt is something to the effect that "pleasure and pain have meaning only to the living" and I think that is a very valid point - that Epicurus knew (PD2) that being alive is a precondition even to experiencing pleasure or pain. If that's part of the point, perhaps the issue is that a good can refer to an "asset" (such as for example a house) such that your greatest "good" may be your house (in terms of money value anyway) while it's also understood that in a more basic sense your greatest good is your life or health that allows you to live in it. And there's also "greatest good" in the sense of a "goal" or a "guide."

    It does seem clear that Epicurus was wrestling with the Platonists and Peripatetics over straining too much over the meaning of the word "good" as further referenced by that fragment about those who walk around endlessly prattling about the meaning of good.

    I sometimes think that it is better to think of pleasure as a "guide" rather than a "good" -- and indeed there's a phrase in Lucretius that Don can help us with the latin on where Lucretius calls Venus / Pleasure what is translated as "divine pleasure, guide of life" (I think it's "Dux vitae, dia voluptas".) Book Two:

  • Also in this thread I think it would be good to point out that Cicero's "On Duties" would be an important point of reference that will help compare and contrast the view I am suggesting is in common between Stoicism and Humanism against that of Epicurus. Don I cannot remember if you and I have discussed whether you read that. Years before I converted over to Epicurus, "On Duties" was one of my favorite classical works, and now in retrospect I think my affection for it made it a lot easier for me to come to terms with the dramatic difference between the "mainstream Greek" approach vs. Epicurus.

    Although i don't recall that very much of it explicitly names Epicurus, views such as those of Epicurus are clearly the target. if I recall correctly you could pretty much characterize the whole think as "The Anti-Epicurean" almost as much as you could consider Nietzsche's "AntiChrist" to be anti-Christian.


    Now, among the many important and useful subjects in philosophy that have been discussed by philosophers with precision and fulness of statement, their traditions and precepts concerning the duties of life seem to have the widest scope. [4]Indeed, no part of life, whether in public or in private affairs, abroad or at home, in your personal conduct or your social relations, can be free from the claims of duty; and it is in the observance of duty that lies all the honor of life, in its neglect, all the shame. This, too, is a theme common to all philosophers. For who would dare to call himself a philosopher, if he took no cognizance of duty? Yet there are some schools of philosophy that utterly pervert duty by the view which they propose as to the supreme good, and as to the opposite extreme of evil. For he who so interprets the supreme good as to disjoin it from virtue, and measures it by his own convenience, and not by the standard of right, — he, I say, if he be consistent with himself, and be not sometimes overcome by natural goodness, can cultivate neither friendship, nor justice, nor generosity; nor can he possibly be brave while he esteems pain as the greatest of evils, or temperate while he regards pleasure as the supreme good. These things, though too obvious to need discussion, I yet have discussed elsewhere.1 Those schools, therefore, can, if self-consistent, say nothing about duty; nor can any precepts of duty, decisive, immutable, in accordance with nature, be promulgated, except by those who maintain that the right is to be sought solely,2 or chiefly,3 for its own sake. This [5]prerogative belongs to the Stoics, the Academics, and the Peripatetics; for the opinions of Ariston, Pyrrho, and Herillus1 were long since exploded, though they might fittingly have discussed subjects pertaining to duty, if they had left any ground for the preference of one thing over another, so that there might be a way open for the ascertainment of duty. In this treatise I shall follow the Stoics, not as a translator, but drawing from their fountains at my own discretion and judgment, as much, and in such way, as may seem good.