• 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.

    I read about Isonomia in DeWitt and did not understand it, it seeming suspiciously platonic. I left it for later and haven't gotten to it. How important is this concept? Could you ellaborate on what it is and what is it useful for?


    Thanks.

  • You probably need to look directly at the Vellius statement in "On the Nature of the Gods" as that is all there is - and there is not much.


    I personally don't see it as Platonic however - I see it as absolutely the practical inference from the fact that here on earth we "never" see "only one thing of its kind." Extraplolating that out to the rest of the universe, which we presume absent evidence to the contrary is analogous to Earth, then that turns into something we expect to find everywhere.


    Now I think were you are heading there is to a discussion of Philodemus' "On Methods of Inference" and I highly recommend the DeLacy translation (free on internet everywhere) and especially his appendix which attempts to unwind the full story of Epicurean reasoning from observation to conclusions.

  • Wikipedia doesn't seem to help much:


    Isonomia (ἰσονομία "equality of political rights,"[1][2] from the Greek ἴσος isos, "equal," and νόμος nomos, "usage, custom, law,"[1]) was a word used by ancient Greek writers such as Herodotus[3] and Thucydides[4] to refer to some kind of popular government. It was subsequently eclipsed until brought back into English as isonomy ("equality of law").


    Isonomia - Wikipedia

  • Yes I think DeWitt says that is one of the few and maybe only occurrences of this (at least in the Epicurean texts) so it's hard to be sure what it means. Presumably we could reconstruct it if we rigorously thought about the basic Epicurean physics and all the issues involved in infinite universe, eternal time, limited number of shapes and methods of combination, application of analogies of what we see here to the rest of the universe, etc.



    We know they thought about dust moving in a beam of light. I could see them contemplating things like "what happens when you take a jar of ocean water and shake it continuously without stopping? (I presume the particles get distributed somewhat evenly if not perfectly so.) And from that kind of thinking all sorts of analogies are possible.

  • I'm deeming it, for now, as an unuseful abstraction. The more I read about it, the more it seems like a magical ideal. But I'm open to being corrected.

  • Oh I don't think it is "magical" at all - I think they saw it (and I see it) as purely an extrapolation of what we see here, along the lines of the analogies I used. I bet you'll get more comfortable with seeing it as an extrapolation when you tackle Philodemus "On Methods of Inference." I suspect they saw isonomia as a great example of their extrapolation process.


    But as to how useful it is, it's probably most useful in thinking about life throughout the universe, and the nature of the gods, neither of which are probably at the top of "immediate problems" list.


    Some people I respect strongly reject the science of eternal and infinite universe, and they don't see any issue arising from that rejection. Isonomia is probably in that category as well. If a person isn't bothered by those issues then I see no problem -- BUT


    I think that Epicurus saw them as crucial to "connecting" with "common-sense" questions that most laymen ask, and I think that way myself. So I see this as one of those issues that is relevant and important depending on you're talking to, and I doubt it makes sense to try to require either camp to see things the way the other camp does.

  • Reading more on isonomia, I can see this as the under-pinning logic that gets us from one observed world, to many conjectured worlds, as one example. In that case, it is a species of inductive argument: "the inference of a general law from particular instances".


    There's a quote in one of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories where Sherlock Holmes says that if a logician were presented for the first time with a drop of water, he could infer the existence of a Pacific Ocean and a Niagara Falls without ever having seen either.


    Isonomia would be an even more direct line of argument; someone presented for the first time with a Niagara Falls could very reasonably infer the existence of a Victoria Falls.


    If you hold as a premise that "nature never furnishes only one thing of a kind", then the argument becomes deductive and the conclusion stands or falls exclusively on the merit of that premise.


    So the obvious question that imposes is this; do we accept or reject the premise? Does nature ever furnish only one thing of a kind? Bearing in mind, of course, that each kind of atom always occurs in refulgent quantity.


    (Some atoms are unstable and do not, evidently, occur in nature. It requires a particle accelerator to produce them and they only "survive" for a fraction of a nanosecond. But the potential to produce them is always there.)

  • Joshua just to be clear from what you wrote, which was excellent,let me confirm: while they are clearly related, do you see 1 isonomia, and 2 nature never makes a single thing of a kind, as separate and distinct arguments?

  • Quote

    Joshua just to be clear from what you wrote, which was excellent,let me confirm: while they are clearly related, do you see 1 isonomia, and 2 nature never makes a single thing of a kind, as separate and distinct arguments?

    That is an excellent question, for which I don't have an easy answer!

  • Why is isonomia important to us? How is it useful? How does it helps us understand nature better?


    And also, when you talk about many worlds JJElbert you main many configurations similar to earth in this universe? Or other universes similar to our own? (Why would nature allow only one kind of universe like ours)...


    Sorry for the apparently stubborn and foolish question, but I think it reinforces for me that this is a concept I don't need at all, but, again, I'm very open to have my mind changed.

  • You asked Joshua but if you'll pardon my making a comment:

    Or other universes similar to our own?

    That's why it's always necessary to be clear in terminology. As for me I refuse to depart from the traditional terminology, and for me "universe" will always mean "everything that exists." Others may way to talk about multiverses and multiple universes but I'm too old for that ;)



    Why is isonomia important to us? How is it useful? How does it helps us understand nature better?

    And my answer to that, from what I believe was probably Epicurus' perspective, is that many people would conclude (if they believed that this earth was the only inhabited place in the universe) that that would mean there is something "special" about us, leading directly to a likely conclusion of divine action to explain that "specialness". Taking the position that life is naturally occurring means it's likely to naturally occur in an infinite number of places (given the view that the universe is infinite in size) so those views go hand in hand.


    And to the extent we're talking about isonomia as a spectrum of complexity from extremely primitive to something we would call "godlike" that also provides a general overview to why humans should not be considered to be the highest form of life in the universe, and leads us to think about what is higher, which is something that seems to be an important part of Epicurean philosophy and helps explain why we should not, in fact, generally be satisfied with living in a cave on bread and water.

  • Coincidentally this paper discussing isonomia showed up in my feed. I've only skimmed it as it's pretty academic, but what I gather is that isonomia refers to opposites and the idea that DeWitt is referring to is that in an infinite universe, if something exists, then so must it's opposite.


    Apparently this relates to the pre-Socratic writer Alcmaeon's theory of health (ἰσονομία, equilibrium of opposite forces in the body) and disease (μοναρχία, domination of one excessive force).

  • think about what is higher, which is something that seems to be an important part of Epicurean philosophy and helps explain why we should not, in fact, generally be satisfied with living in a cave on bread and water.

    A platonic red flag was raised in my mind when I read this: This may put you on track to disregard your pleasure by searching for "something higher". I'm pretty sure you didn't mean it the way I'm putting it but I think it's important to clarify it for future reference.

  • And my answer to that, from what I believe was probably Epicurus' perspective, is that many people would conclude (if they believed that this earth was the only inhabited place in the universe) that that would mean there is something "special" about us, leading directly to a likely conclusion of divine action to explain that "specialness".

    I see what you say but I still think that you can get to that conclusion from the materialism and naturalism of the Philosophy; I don't need isonomia for that. I would even go as far as saying that there being other places where life like outs exist doesn't automatically discard the possibility of a supernatural intervention, these supernatural gods could've very well decided to create others "as special as we are".

  • Well supernatural intervention is ruled out from the basic physics and is extrapolated by extension to the universe as a whole as a fundamental to which there can be no violation, so that's what rules out supernatural no matter how far out you get.


    Now as to beings who have superior technology to us that is of course possible and even probable -- but it's never "supernatural."

  • I just re read the text from DeWitt you pasted... re reading it now a second time helps in understanding it a bit better (the text, not the concept), but it's still pretty dense, obscure and convoluted for me, and it doesn't help me see isonomia as something different than pure logic and without practical application.


    Perhaps I'm too early in my studies to be able to grasp the practical implications and/or usefulness of such a concept.

  • It concerns me a little that Dewitt explicitly states "[isonomia] is lacking in extant Epicurean texts," but then goes on to weave this elaborate complex explanation of what Epicurus meant by isonomia, how important it is, etc. If it is "lacking in extant Epicurean texts," where does DeWitt get the justification for all this? How do we know Cicero got it right with his one mention?

    Quote from Cicero

    Moreover there is the supremely potent principle of infinity, which claims the closest and most careful study; we must understand that it has the following property, that in the sum of things everything has its exact match and counterpart. This property is termed by Epicurus isonomia, or the principle of uniform distribution. From this principle it follows that if the whole number of mortals be so many, there must exist no less a number of immortals, and if the causes of destruction are beyond count, the causes of conservation also are bound to be infinite.

    That's it. That's all I can see in Cicero's text. And Dewitt even takes issue with Cicero's interpretation, but there's so little to go on and the term "is lacking in extant Epicurean texts" I'm thinking it's esoteric enough that, *if* Epicurus found it to be a helpful concept, it wasn't uppermost in his mind.

    All I can see is that, basically, it says if something *can* exist in the universe, it probably exists in abundance due to the infinite nature of the universe.

    It seems to me Dewitt is off and running on one of his "I have a tiny snippet of information, and I can build and extrapolate on that to infinity and beyond."

  • From Cicero’s statement as well as from Alcmaeon, I don't see isonomy implying a hierarchy of beings. I read it as "equalities of opposites" (mortal/immortal, creation/destruction, good/evil, light/dark...).


    This seems valid to a point, but it seems like at some point it could just turn in to sophistry or Platonism where one might name a random thing and then claim that another random thing is it's opposite, leading to endless logical nonsense. Come to think of it, the principle of isonomy requires that since there is an infinite amount of common sense in the universe, there must also be an equally infinite amount of idiocy in the universe ||


    I wonder if this is what led Pyrrho down his path of not knowing?

  • Quote from Cassius

    The isonomia view would I think allow for an infinite progression / spectrum of advancement above us.

    Quote from Cicero

    From this principle it follows that if the whole number of mortals be so many, there must exist no less a number of immortals

    First, I think that the Cicero quote is more accurate as to the meaning of isonomia: it sounds to me like it deals with opposites and not a progression or spectrum.


    Second, I don't agree with Cicero's conclusion that there must be an infinite number of immortals: this seems like a juxtaposition of a Platonic ideal with a living reality. To me it's no more valid than saying "if the number of mortals be so many, there must exist no less a number of rocks." Ah, logic....


    So the problem, I think, is determining what the "exact match and counterpart" of a mortal (a mortal defined as a living human being, subject to dying?) is, and if this would have been a useful idea for Epicurus. Although the idea of a spectrum of beings makes perfect sense to me, I don't understand that as isonomia. But of course I could be confused about that :/