Carl Sagan, the 4th dimension, episode 20 of Lucretius Today, physics

  • In episode 20 of Lucretius Today there's mention of the possibility of "us being in a 'hypersphere'" and some other mathematical "possibilities" to describe our existence; among them was mentioned the comparison between "beings" that could live in two dimensions compared to us; and then, extrapolating from there, the possibility of there being a 4th dimension of reality that we could not see or understand, as the 2D beings could not see or understand our 3D world. There's a video of Carl Sagan about it here:


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    As expected, nobody in the podcast said they considered this to be true, or that they accepted these views as valid. I just wanted to post this as an example of the type of paradoxes that may confuse people into thinking that because these mathematical definitions are valid in the realm of math they could be valid in reality automatically, which was pointed out in the show and I appreciated it. This is something I think is not pointed out often enough.


    Also in the podcast, I percieved a need of most to justify that even if Epicurus got some things wrong in his physics, "he got most things right" and "it's impressive how he could explain these things", as if there had to be a balance in favor of having gotten the most things right. But there's something that bothers me about trying to say that Epicurus "had a lot of things right" when it comes to physics, as if, if he hadn't, everything else could be discarded as invalid. Ironically, I think there is something platonic about this search for the ultimate truth and most accurate description of our existence, as an ideal state of perfect knowledge; and as such, I think we should be wary of it. Mostly because we're likely to have mistakes when we extend beyond what we can experience immediately, and could suffer from founding ourselves in theories of things we may not even be able to comprehend ever, and when proven wrong or contradicted, it might conflict us.


    Whereas, if the physics is seen as something that serves the purpose of giving an adequate context, or better understanding, of our immediate reality, we can accept that they can be good for a while, and then perhaps we could find out they're actually wrong, but that doesn't change our reality. What I'm saying is that Epicurus proposed some theory of physics to give a sufficiently good context to the obvious things we experience in reality, not as a foundation of everything. I'm not saying not to keep on researching and trying to learn about our environment better. I just say that we should do it as I think Epicirus did it: Either for the intrinsic joy that the research activity brings to the researcher, or to give a context that could allow us to better understand our immediate reality and life experience, not as a way to find the ultimate and most accurate foundation of reality; as I understand it, he didn't say that his physics were the foundationi of his whole philosophy, but the Canon is, but I may be wrong about this. But still, with the Canon we can be certain of many things even if the current theory of physics is proven to be wrong afterwards, because it is related to our immediate reality and life experience.


    Using the Canon we can be aware that the fact is that not even us can experience an interaction with "beings" in 2D, because even a line in a paper is a 3D thing when looked at the proper scale and perspective. For us, there's no 2D in our immediate experience, as there's no 4D. I'm not saying there's no 4D in the universe, I'm not the owner of the truth, perhaps there is, but most importantly, it doesn't concern me; what I'm saying is that, in our immediate experience there is nothing that could allow us to think there is.


    On line with what was talked about in the episode, there might as well be a material end point to the vacuum we now think engulfs all matter in the universe (doesn't make sense to me, but we wouldn't be able to see it anyway), and there might as well be one or many supreme beings out there, creators even, with what we would call supernatural powers, in a more complex reality that we couldn't understand, and, theye may even find in the future that the model por atomic particles allows for them to propose further divisions of these particles... but the point is, even if there were, what's evident for us in our life experience is that this shouldn't concern us, because it doesn't influence our lives, or if it does we can't percieve it at all.


    So, even if the vacuum is not infinite, even if matter is finite (which it could be and we could be just existing in the right place at the right time, as we now know this could be because statistically somebody had to, not because we're special beings) and it is about to be dissipated to the point of not being able to form compounds anymore, and even if we find out that probably black holes eject into our universe matter that wasn't here before, or they disappear matter into apparently "nothingness"... all of this doesn't change the fact that in our immediate experience, even though these observations (if they were observed) may contradict the theories put forth by the epicureans, it doesn't change our immediate reality and life experience as we can percieve it with the bodies we are, in the place we are now.


    One of the key takeaways I got from reading DeWitt is that Epicirus was first and foremost an observer of nature, and thus, of our immediate experiences, so it's hard for me to accept that the physics, extended to the end of the universe, and to the infinitesimal size of atomic particles, are the whole foundation of the philosophy, as I understand has been proposed sometimes. Physics help us have a common context, most of us can agree with at some point in time, that's adequate to confirm what we experience in reality.


    So my guess is that he, and they, ventured into giving an explanation of the whole universe, from the atomic to the astronomical level (I say this particularly because they were usinig mostly logic to do so, which they themselves said could not be trusted), not because they wanted to find ultimate and unchangeable truths, but because they wanted to give this common context, that helped most refute the possibility of us experiencing, in this reality we live in, in this Earth, the things that we, after observation can be sure that are impossible (like having external invisible forces influencing our lives and having things appearing or disappearing to and out of nowhere), and thus, carry on to more important things, like learning how to enjoy life.

  • Thanks for the very thoughtful post. I haven't had time to watch the video yet, but I want to make a couple of comments. I'm not prepared with time enough to write lengthy response but I want to lay out what I think are the basics:


    But there's something that bothers me about trying to say that Epicurus "had a lot of things right" when it comes to physics, as if, if he hadn't, everything else could be discarded as invalid.

    I think when we summarize by saying that we think Epicurus "had a lot of things right" we're really saying that we think he had "the important things" right -- such that the universe runs on natural principles and is not subject to supernatural oversight. In the end, I think that is a conclusion based on a combination of physics observations and choices made in epistemology, which is probably why Laertius says that the Epicureans tended to combine the discussion of the two, as Lucretius does.


    So yes I would maintain that there are things that are "essential" that he got right in his physics, that are the essential foundation of the rest, and then there are many other things that are less important, most of which he included under the heading of "we don't have enough information to know which answer is right and all we need is a set of alternatives that provide options for us to consider that are natural"


    I am in agreement with you that a search for a totally consistent and comprehensive set of physics propositions, and I think Epicurus says that himself as well, especially in the passage (Herodotus? Pythocles?) where he says that what is needed is not a comprehensive theory of everything but to live happily.


    However to bring that point back in a full circle, he could reach the conclusion that what is needed is to live happily ONLY because his physics and epistemology convinced him that there is no life after death to be concerned about reward/punishment, or supernatural gods to be concerned about obeying.


    as I understand it, he didn't say that his physics were the foundation of his whole philosophy, but the Canon is, but I may be wrong about this.


    That carries over from what I typed above, and I would say that he was confident in his epistemology NOT because it was logically sound, but because it went hand in hand and mutually supported his physics, and vice versa. The epistemology could not stand without confidence in a physics which helps us explains how the senses work, and of course our physics could not stand without our understanding and having confidence in the sense. The two are mutually supporting and both essential. The ethics follows from both together, in my view of Epicurus.


    the things that we, after observation can be sure that are impossible (like having external invisible forces influencing our lives and having things appearing or disappearing to and out of nowhere),

    And that's where we end up together, and our difference may only be that you seem to believe that it is self-evidently correct to take the position that "after observation we can be sure" that certain things are "impossible" with out a grounding in BOTH the physics and the epistemology. I would say yest that is the conclusion, but ONLY because we have confidence in our epistemology AND our physics. I think Epicurus would say that without that confidence in both we can NEVER be sure of our positions, thus we will always be plagued with significant doubts that will "by definition" keep us from enjoying the happiest life, free of the most anxieties, that we could otherwise experience.


    Sorry I don't have time this moment for more.

  • Thanks a lot for your answer Cassius.


    I am in agreement with you that a search for a totally consistent and comprehensive set of physics propositions, and I think Epicurus says that himself as well, especially in the passage (Herodotus? Pythocles?) where he says that what is needed is not a comprehensive theory of everything but to live happily.

    :thumbup:


    However to bring that point back in a full circle, he could reach the conclusion that what is needed is to live happily ONLY because his physics and epistemology convinced him that there is no life after death to be concerned about reward/punishment, or supernatural gods to be concerned about obeying.

    Well, this is something I did not touch upon (the gods), but I'm happy you brought it up; I know it's not part of the original doctrine, but I think (I'd like to learn what people would have to say about this) that there's a point of view about the gods, or god, that is not standard Epecurian, but I'd argue is not far away either.


    There's people that believe in a completely benevolent god, so this belief doesn't bring them pain at all. They don't feel compelled to do stuff to gain their favor, and they do understand that these gods or god will not harm them because... that's beneath their divine status, if you will. This is a belief that gives hope to their lives. (From there, I know it could be a slippery slope into trying to be good to gain this god's favors, and opening the dangerous door of what this god could deem "good", but, please, bear with me, as I stated before, these are people who are not subject to this compulsion). I don't think the issue of the gods being supernatural would come to a person like this, because, unless you've been exposed to a point of view of physical/biological gods like the Epicurean ones, I don't think you've taken the time to think about whether they're material or not, you're just aware of the concept of god. But for this argument's sake, I'm not talking about supernatural gods.


    What we know now about our species is not the same that we knew back in Epicurs day. We're very destructive but we're also capable of tuning into our empathy a lot more than our fellow other animals can. I'd say this is a trait that's clearly linked to evolution and correlated to consciousness. So it's hard for me to believe that an Epicurean god would not help a less evolved being if they had the opportunity and this made them feel pleasure, while this could happen completely out of our capability of noticing it. As I see it, we can be pretty good to less evolved creatures, and I'm sure most of us are. I've thrown food to a stray dog, I've saved another one that was in pain/danger, and I've changed my walking path to avoid disturbing insects or other animals. If I find a bug in my home I try to take it out without killing it. I don't do this because I want to go to "heaven", or win the favor of a higher being, but because I it makes me feel good, to be in the presence of another being thats alive, in my vicinity, and "allowing" it to improve its condition somewhat and also to allow me to feel my empathy, to become attuned to it. I don't feel like a god, at all, :D , but it makes me feel good because I listen to my empathy, a clear and present feeling, towards them and this feels good. So, Epicurean gods, being more evolved biological entities, wouldn't hesitate, in my opinion, to do it given the opportunity, because I'm pretty sure it will be pleasureable for them too, and they would do it without us realizing their intervention, as I'm sure the dog and the bugs don't realize at all what I just did for them. I'm sure they're not living to observe us and find ways to help us all the time, though, as classic conceptualizations of god or gods could be.


    I understand we have to draw a line somewhere to be able to go forward with things, and as I understand it, Epicurean Philosphy's line is drawn at a place where no involvement from the gods (material, non supernatural) is conceivable, even if it's imperceptible; but as I stated before, perhaps this view is not that-at-odds with the philosophy, and could allow other people to benefit from Epicurean Philosophy, without having to give up their belief that there are blessings of god happening to them. Please don't banish me 8o


    That carries over from what I typed above, and I would say that he was confident in his epistemology NOT because it was logically sound, but because it went hand in hand and mutually supported his physics, and vice versa. The epistemology could not stand without confidence in a physics which helps us explains how the senses work, and of course our physics could not stand without our understanding and having confidence in the sense. The two are mutually supporting and both essential. The ethics follows from both together, in my view of Epicurus.

    I can see that. Just to clarify something, and you're going to understand me from previous posts; it is speculative physics, and physics that doesn't impact our immediate reality, that I think are unnecesary now, as were unnecesary then; particularly when they had (back then) so much to clarify in more immediate physics; and now, when we have so much more to learn about us as species (psychology, pleasure, economics, etc.) that affects us directly. So I understand how it could be a prerequisite of the epistemology to have a good physics context, but it would have to be the immediate and descriptive (rather than speculative) physics, and that type of concrete and down to earth physics I think I could see as a foundation to the epistemology and the ethics.


    our difference may only be that you seem to believe that it is self-evidently correct to take the position that "after observation we can be sure" that certain things are "impossible" with out a grounding in BOTH the physics and the epistemology. I would say yest that is the conclusion, but ONLY because we have confidence in our epistemology AND our physics.

    No, perhaps I sent the wrong message unintendedly, I don't believe observation alone is enough. But I do think that many things, like free will, are so evident without the need to give more explanation, that actually trying to do so coud probably fire back at you; for example, if you decide to 'enroll in the game' of "I need to have the undefeated explanation about this phenomenon" in order to be able to say it exists and it is happening (which is evident), you're very likely to find yourself frustrated, because most certainly you will not have an undefeated explanation about it; and if you base your philosophy on [blank] (something as obvious as free will), the reality is it will remain untouched, regardles of whether you were or not able to explain why and how something so obvious is indeed happening. And many more things are nowadays as evident and obvious as free will (to most people, after a certain age and education) than they probably were back then; so I guess my point is that the physics that are practical and useful are settled and pretty much allow, most basically educated people, to reach those same conclusions (of no supernatural stuff happening), allowing them to be able to jump into the parts of the philosophy that are actually more helpful to live happy lives. I'm not saying they're not important, I'm saying today's physics (in the domain that describes our immediate experience) are pretty much settled and serve their purpose to allow people to connect the dots easily when presented with this materialistic ontology. On the other hand... There's so much more to do about the Epistemology and Ethics!

  • It's 2am for me and the only thing I have time to say before I fall asleep is "You're going to have to work a lot harder before it's time to consider Banishment!" :-). Now my problem is how to remember to come back here since I've flipped the "unseen" notification. I will have much more to say. :)

  • Ok I am back!


    It seems to me that in the past I've had several conversations along these lines so I'd like to try to move straight to the ultimate issues if I can -


    I don't think what we're really discussing is varying views of the gods (that they exist in reality vs as ideal constructions of the human mind). We have many opinion on that here among Epicureanfriends users and I don't think we have enough evidence to choose one option as the only one that was in Epicurus' mind. In fact this might be analogous to the multiple options that he allowed in astronomical matters (as long as the options all are consistent with observable facts).


    It sounds to me like what you're really arguing in the issue of gods is that we should accept that some people have views of active gods that are not destructive of and in fact beneficial to their happiness.


    I think my best response to that would be to drop back and say that I think we should keep in mind the likelihood (I think a certainty) that Epicurus was aware of the need to, and constantly did, swap back and forth between talking in terms which are primarily "logical" at times, while at other times focusing on the "practical." I think he would say that doing so does not make him inconsistent but acknowledges the limits of logic (the need to always tie it to observable evidence) and the ultimate primacy of the canonical faculties given by nature.


    So when you point to particular cases and say that particular people get particular hope from their particular views of a particular type of god, I believe Epicurus would say "of course that can happen." He basically says as much in his concluding remarks on agency in the letter to Menoeceus where he points to it being better to believe in myths than to succumb to hard determinism. That is the ultimate practical side of Epicurus.


    But I also think that Epicurus lived in a world dominated by Platonists and the rest who identify "logic" as the way to approach these issues, and so he also took a position on the "logical best" position to take, as he seems to have done on the issue of the "greatest good / good" even while criticizing the Peripatetics for walking around harping on it uselessly.


    And I think Epicurus would say that on that purely theoretical level (which I think is where you also get the best reasoning in favor of the "idealist" view of the gods) the best way for the "average" human to view the gods so as to live the theoretical happiest life with the least possible anxiety is the way he advocated -- that as a logical ideal, "gods" should be thought of in absolute terms as supremely self-sufficient and therefore not concerned about things that they have no need to be concerned about. I see that as analogous to the point which causes so much debate and (in my view) is so easy to misinterpret - that the greatest pleasure can be equated (at least in magnitude) with the absence of pain. That observation in my view is based on the logical abstraction of quantity which results from categorizing ALL experience as either pleasure or pain. In that statement I believe he is abstracting those two words "pleasure" and "pain" and expecting us to understand that those two words cover a myriad - actually unlimited - number of experiences that are each subtlety different from each other and tied to their individual facts.


    So where I end up is the view that you can definitely be right that in certain contexts certain views which we might not consider to be "ideal" can be practically useful, so it would be perverse to deny that and make "the perfect the enemy of the good."


    However at the same time it is important in other contexts to be able to engage with the world around you, and if you are surrounded by Platonists instead of fundamentalist Christians, you need to be able to identify in your own mind, in response to the Platonists, a logical formulation of the "best" view of religion -- at least if you decide to play their game of accepting for the sake of discussion that there is a "best" view at all.


    We probably ought to have an independent discussion of whether it is ever a good idea, and if it is, in what circumstances, to engage in these logic games despite Epicurus' insistence that there is no realm of pure logic, that logic itself is not part of the canon, that the canonical faculties are themselves the standard of truth, etc.


    But just like you are pointing to realities that some people do seem to profit from their "active god" religious views, there are some people who insist on being Platonists / Stoics / and idealists of all kinds, and we live in a world were in practical terms most of us cannot escape from engaging with them.


    That's the main point I wanted to make. Then there is also this:


    To the extent you are saying that it seems likely to you that advanced beings would take interest in lesser beings as a matter of pleasure to themselves, I think Epicurus would also say "of course" and he would point to his position on isonomia and on infinite numbers of worlds with life on them and he would say of course there are highly advanced beings who do exactly like that, just like we do ourselves, but on a far more advanced scale that would seem to most of us as being "godlike." The isonomia view would I think allow for an infinite progression / spectrum of advancement above us.


    It's only when someone insists on speculating "What about the TOP level of advancement" (as if there is such a thing, which I am not sure Epicurus would say that there is) that I think it would become appropriate to discuss his views of "perfect" beings. I would expect him to say that either virtually all or actually all of the advanced god-like beings that exist in the universe are somewhere on that spectrum other than at the logical top, so to greater or lesser degrees that might well take interest in things around them.


    In my mind, it is not Epicurus' views of the theories of gods that would make him reject the claim that such things as Jesus rising from the "dead" happened, or the various miracles that they claim are true did not actually happen. In my view, Epicurus would take the position that all kinds of things that we have never seen before "may" actually come to our attention, but if they do they are not "supernatural" - a logical term which is an impossibility in terms of Epicurean reasoning.


    The real persuasive objection to the claims of miracles is not the assertion of abstract logic that they "cannot" happen, but that there is no valid evidence that they do happen. Many of our technological marvels today would seem like magic to the ancient Epicureans (at least in a manner of speaking) but they would be (1) confident that the effect was not supernatural, and (2) confident that upon studying the facts long enough they would eventually be able to understand how such things were brought about naturally.


    Just because we think that it is impossible for supernatural gods to exist, that doesn't mean that tomorrow our solar system isn't going to be invaded by living breathing highly-advanced aliens from another galaxy who choose to destroy the earth in an instant for some purpose of their own.


    OK I have probably rambled enough but maybe some of these comments will advance the conversation.

  • Possibly one of the ironies here is that even to engage in a discussion for the proposition "there is no highest good" or "there are no supernatural gods" you are necessarily entering into a playing field of abstract logic where you are accepting definitions which do not map perfectly to reality. Did Epicurus do that at times? Apparently, so as to show the way out of Platonic logic traps, but it seems the later Epicureans felt forced to do so more frequently (as cited by Torquatus) and even though they perhaps fought fiercely to maintain Epicurus' original point as well, it's easy for establishment victors to preserve only what they want to preserve.


    I do think though that when "other" Epicureans went so far as to admit a fourth leg into the canon, which seems to me to have been done as an accomodation to "logic", was a fateful and fatal mistake.

  • In fact this might be analogous to the multiple options that he allowed in astronomical matters (as long as the options all are consistent with observable facts).

    I seem to recall having read something close to this, and it had to have been in this forum or in DeWitt. Something like, all the possibilities that are in line with the physics are possible until one is proved to be the right one and the others proven to be wrong? Is there a PD about this?


    as he seems to have done on the issue of the "greatest good / good" even while criticizing the Peripatetics for walking around harping on it uselessly.

    What do you mean by this? I though the greatest good was life, and the objective/end (or "telos" as DeWitt puts it) is pleasure.

    the best way for the "average" human to view the gods so as to live the theoretical happiest life with the least possible anxiety is the way he advocated -- that as a logical ideal, "gods" should be thought of in absolute terms as supremely self-sufficient and therefore not concerned about things that they have no need to be concerned about.

    The only thing that bothers me about this ideal, is that it may be looked by many as an objective in itself, instead of pleasure, justifying even the individualistic tendencies that may arise when first exposed to a philosophy like this, or, at least, an aloof position towards other's experience; like most times, for argument's sake, I'm going to an extreme, so let me explain my point of view: when you come from other philosophies/religions, where the common good is dogmatically (while being hipocritically repeated but not practiced) accepted as the greatest good, and you're exposed to a philosophy that tells you that the greatest good is life (thus, your life) and that the objetive of life is pleasure (thus, your pleasure, as it is subjective and you can't experience the other's pleasure), you get a feeling that this philosophy is a highly individualistic one.


    I do understand, though, that this ideal, used properly, can allow for greater peace of mind, and evidently comes from an observation of nature, specifically us as the most advanced species we've observed, and how we relate to the other less-advances species on Earth. I'd argue that an important (arguably the most important) part of the observations that we can make out of this comparison of species is that of our ability for empathy and compassion, and the pleasure we can get out of it, which, as I understand, from what I've read, was completely missing from Epicuru's description. Any thoughs on this?


    That observation in my view is based on the logical abstraction of quantity which results from categorizing ALL experience as either pleasure or pain. In that statement I believe he is abstracting those two words "pleasure" and "pain" and expecting us to understand that those two words cover a myriad - actually unlimited - number of experiences that are each subtlety different from each other and tied to their individual facts.


    I'm not sure I get what you're trying to say here. Could you please explain? I do think all experiences could be categorized as either pleasurable or painful, and I like the simplicity of that. Are you saying this is not so? I'd like to learn your point of view about this.

    We probably ought to have an independent discussion of whether it is ever a good idea, and if it is, in what circumstances, to engage in these logic games

    I have accepted the doctrine that there's no point in engagin in those kind of discussions. Unfortunately, I've done it many times; since they start from a place of ideallistic competition, they focus on winning or losing the argument, not in accepting and giving good arguments for the sake of growing and having a good experience; and thus, when you win, the other part usually feels offended, when nobody wins, it is seldom a fun experience since most people take it personally, and if the other one wins, you end up confused but probably for the wrong reasons.


    (1) confident that the effect was not supernatural, and (2) confident that upon studying the facts long enough they would eventually be able to understand how such things were brought about naturally.

    Agreed. Also agreed that physics are needed for this, and thus, foundational to the philosophy. Going back to my first argument about physics, what I meant is not that physics are not important, but rather that the specific physical explanations of Epicurus and Lucretius don't have to be right for the rest of the philosophy to be valid, especially nowadays that we have better explanations that allow us to reach these same two conclusions you mentioned.

  • I do think though that when "other" Epicureans went so far as to admit a fourth leg into the canon, which seems to me to have been done as an accomodation to "logic", was a fateful and fatal mistake.

    Are there any examples or anecdotes about this?

  • I am pressed for time this morning and am no doubt going to be short in these responses. Feel free to follow up.

    Something like, all the possibilities that are in line with the physics are possible until one is proved to be the right one and the others proven to be wrong? Is there a PD about this?

    This would be primarily PD 24If you reject any single sensation, and fail to distinguish between the conclusion of opinion, as to the appearance awaiting confirmation, and that which is actually given by the sensation or feeling, or each intuitive apprehension of the mind, you will confound all other sensations, as well, with the same groundless opinion, so that you will reject every standard of judgment. And if among the mental images created by your opinion you affirm both that which awaits confirmation, and that which does not, you will not escape error, since you will have preserved the whole cause of doubt in every judgment between what is right and what is wrong.


    But the issue of choosing prematurely is also mentioned in Lucretius and also the letter to Pythocles. We discuss this in this week's podcast which I hope to get out soon. Here is letter to Pythocles:




    What do you mean by this? I though the greatest good was life, and the objective/end (or "telos" as DeWitt puts it) is pleasure.

    I think most of us (certainly me) think that DeWitt is being a little broad in saying that, and it is necessary to be very specific about what perspective is the "greatest good." Certainly neither plesure nor pain has any meaning unless we are living. Does that mean that being alive is our greatest good? Sort of, from some perspectives of that word. But does that mean that when we are alive we spend every moment thinking about staying alive? No, we pursue pleasure and avoid pain, but in the context of staying alive. Those viewpoints can be fit into all sorts of word-play constructions so you have to be careful.


    is that it may be looked by many as an objective in itself, instead of pleasure, j

    I agree that NOTHING is an objective in itself other than pleasure (which assumes staying alive).



    you get a feeling that this philosophy is a highly individualistic one.

    There is little doubt about that, and I think most of us here agree, that in practice Epicurean philosophy IS highly individualistic. However it also incorporates that your greatest pleasures are necessarily tied to having friends, so the goal is never "individualism for the sake of individualism" but "whatever works for the pleasure of myself and my friends (family, etc)." That is hard for some people to swallow but there is no mechanism in nature for feeling the feelings of other people other than through your personal contact with them. You can conceptualize "I love all humanity and all living things" and that's perfectly valid to derive pleasure from that. But there is no Supernatural or Natural mechanism in play that compels everyone to that point of view. There is the practical consideration that if you go around being "mean" others are likely to respond and smack you in the head. But that is a purely practical consideration and has no mechanism naturally or supernaturally to enforce it. Sometimes people we think are bad don't get smacked in the head - it is only if real people take real action to avenge the "wrongs" done on them that such punishment occurs.

    I'd argue that an important (arguably the most important) part of the observations that we can make out of this comparison of species is that of our ability for empathy and compassion, and the pleasure we can get out of it, which, as I understand, from what I've read, was completely missing from Epicuru's description.


    I would not say at all that that is completely missing. He emphasized that friendship is the most important tool for securing safety and happiness (pleasure). That means we have to be to some degree cooperative. What appears to be "missing" to many people is that because Epicurus held that there are no Gods or idealistic mechanisms to enforce the extension of friendship to the whole world, Epicurus didn't choose to invent one like Plato and the rest did. He acknowledged how Nature functions and says that's "The Way Things Are."


    I'm not sure I get what you're trying to say here. Could you please explain? I do think all experiences could be categorized as either pleasurable or painful, and I like the simplicity of that. Are you saying this is not so? I'd like to learn your point of view about this.

    What I am reacting to here is that some people think that Epicurus was only talking about "Bodily" pleasure (food drink sex etc). I believe it is clear that Epicurus included EVERY activity in life, even those which we consider to be purely "mental" as experiences that generate pleasure and pain. The reason to emphasize this is that Epicureans are attacked for allegedly thinking that "their god is the belly" and that is false. Epicurus clearly stated that "mental" pleasures and pains are frequently more intense and important than "bodily" ones. (That is clearly stated in Torquatus' section in On Ends)


    Unfortunately, I've done it many times; since they start from a place of ideallistic competition, they focus on winning or losing the argument,

    Yes and I too think it is unavoidable. Epicurus clearly did. If you live in a world of Platonists / Stoics like we do, there's going to be no way to avoid responding to their logic games.

    what I meant is not that physics are not important, but rather that the specific physical explanations of Epicurus and Lucretius don't have to be right for the rest of the philosophy to be valid, especially nowadays that we have better explanations that allow us to reach these same two conclusions you mentioned.

    I would just emphasize there that the ultimate conclusions are either certainly or probably still valid. I certainly think that the ultimate conclusion is that the universe operates on natural principles (not supernatural) and that there is no human life after death. Those I put in "certain" I also personally think that the other conclusions about "infinite space" and "eternal time" and "no infinite divisibility" were also very important to Epicurus, and remain highly probable at the very least, but I certainly understand that not everyone agrees with that and it's not such an important issue to resolve immediately that we can't all work together. However anyone who admits the nose of "supernatural" or "eternal soul" under the tent is in my view simply too far outside the limits to be considered an Epicurean.


    Are there any examples or anecdotes about this?

    There are several references in DeWitt which discuss this, but the main two text sources that talk about the deviations are:


    (1) Diogenes Laertius in discussing the number of legs of the canon, and


    (2) Torquatus (in On Ends) discussing how some Epicureans (himself included) think it is necessary to prove that pleasure is the goal by abstract means

  • Life can't be the "greatest good," otherwise, death would conversely be the "greatest bad." And death is nothing to us.

    Pleasure (i.e., living a pleasurable life) is the goal, telos, beginning, and end.

  • Life can't be the "greatest good," otherwise, death would conversely be the "greatest bad." And death is nothing to us.

    Pleasure (i.e., living a pleasurable life) is the goal, telos, beginning, and end.

    I think that is another perspective issue. Being dead is nothing to us, but losing our lives prematurely before it is necessary is a huge thing to be avoided (that gets us into the issue of how long should we seek to live.) That's a huge issue that deserves its own discussion. It is NOT a matter of indifference to me if I die tomorrow vs 20 years from now which I might reasonably hope to do given state of health, etc. So that "Death is nothing to us" line is something else that has to be parsed VERY carefully.


    So I think that we have a big issue here about being very careful about defining what we mean by the "greatest good" -- and I think we have several texts that warn about that exact issue, including the Plutarch "walking around talking about...." text.

  • I believe the "greatest good" discussion to be one of those things that Camotero is discussing that we seem to be unable to avoid, but which is in reality a "logic trap" that has to be approached very carefully.


    My view is that Torquatus has to be viewed in that way as well -- I do not think Epicurus himself would have agreed to frame the issue the way Torquatus did without a lot of explanation, only some of which we probably have from Torquatus.


    It depends entirely on your conceptual definition of "good" as to whether there is a "greatest good" -- and there is nothing that is INTRINSICALLY desirable other than pleasure itself. Add to that issue the issue that while the word pleasure is a concept, pleasure is itself ultimately a FEELING that we all experience individually, not a concept. So the entire discussion is a minefield in which contexts can be dropped at any moment to reach an erroneous result.

  • Which is the definition of the "greatest good."

    Well you SAY that, but I am not sure Epicurus would enthusiastically endorse that exact construction. :)



    Is that in the PDS or even the letter to Menorceus? I don't think that "greatest good" appears there, does it?

  • Which is the definition of the "greatest good."

    Well you SAY that, but I am not sure Epicurus would enthusiastically endorse that exact construction. :)



    Is that in the PDS or even the letter to Menorceus? I don't think that "greatest good" appears there, does it?

    We need to define terms. What are we referring to in the texts when we use "the good" or "the greatest good"? Are we talking about when Epicurus only uses ταγαθον (tagathon) "the good" as it appears in the Tetrapharmakos or Fragment 67 (can't conceive of "the good" ταγαθον without...) ?

    Or the "primary and innate good" in the Letter to Menoikeus:

    "This is why we say that pleasure is the beginning and the end of a completely happy life. For we recognize it as the primary and innate good, we honor it in everything we accept or reject, and we achieve it if we judge every good thing by the standard of how that thing affects us."


    Are we referring to what Epicurus calls the telos? Cicero and Lucretius's summum bonum?


    I think it might behoove is to gather every mention of each of these and their context and how they're defined. Otherwise, we're groping around in the dark.

  • I think we have Cicero's definition through Torquatus (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)


    And that is the problem. We don't have Epicurus endorsing that specific formulation.


    This formulation presumes that we have the ability to discover something that completely and accurately fulfills this definition for all times, all places, all people. I suspect rather strongly that that is not possible. THE end? Why should we presume that there is only one? Or that it is the same for all?

  • This formulation presumes that we have the ability to discover something that completely and accurately fulfills this definition for all times, all places, all people. I suspect rather strongly that that is not possible. THE end? Why should we presume that there is only one. Or that it is the same for all?

    It seems to me you're conflating moral/ethical ends with instrumental or practical ends. Pleasure is THE (to use your capitalization) end to which everything points. Why are people virtuous? Because it gives them pleasure. Why do babies suckle? Because it gives them pleasure. And so on. Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is the only thing that is "the same for all."

  • I agree with all that as a matter of one way of presenting the logic of stating that pleasure is the alpha and omega and all that. However in the end the logical statement comes back to the "feeling" of pleasure which is not something that can be uniformly defined for all people at all places and all times. So i think it's necessary to be very careful once you engage in this as a logical debate. Apparently Torquatus thinks that his position on this is better than that of Epicurus, which I think should not be accepted at face value.

    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. Accordingly they declare that the perception that the one is to be sought after and the other avoided is a notion naturally implanted in our minds. Others again, with whom I agree, observing that a great many philosophers do advance a vast array of reasons to prove why pleasure should not be counted as a good nor pain as an evil, consider that we had better not be too confident of our case; in their view it requires elaborate and reasoned argument, and abstruse theoretical discussion of the nature of pleasure and pain.



    And as to the issue of instrumental or practical end, which is the "greatest" end?

  • I agree with all that as a matter of one way of presenting the logic of stating that pleasure is the alpha and omega and all that. However in the end the logical statement comes back to the "feeling" of pleasure which is not something that can be uniformly defined for all people at all places and all times.

    It's not a statement of logic. Epicurus was identifying the one thing - given to us by nature or natural selection/evolution - not gods, not God, not logic - that we could steer our own little boats by. Those feelings of pleasure and pain are the only reliable guides - not virtue, not logic. He wasn't positing a logical argument. He was pointing out what nature had provided for us. He didn't think it needed a logical proof because it was self-evident. Pleasure is "the end fixed by nature" in the Letter to Menoikeus. PD25 talks about "refer each of your actions to the end prescribed by nature."


    PS: This is the other quote from DL X.137 I was looking for:

    Quote from Diogenes Laertius

    ..as proof that pleasure is the end [Epicurus] adduces the fact that living things, so soon as they are born, are well content with pleasure and are at enmity with pain, by the prompting of nature and apart from reason.

  • The feelings are the primary and the final guides for our little boats, but like the other canonical faculties they need to be considered and evaluated to be acted upon in the most advantageous way in each given situation.


    Considering and evaluating are not part of the canon but they're definitely crucial to choosing and avoiding. They just tend to mislead without the canon and are therefore useless on their own.