Torquatus' Statement of the Epicurean View Of The Ultimate Good In "On Ends"

  • I think I am now repeating myself but every time I read this paragraph I come back to it wondering exactly what is going on. So now I can wonder about the Reid version:


    Quote

    [39] But actually at Athens, as my father used to tell me, when he wittily and humorously ridiculed the Stoics, there is in the Ceramicus a statue of Chrysippus, sitting with his hand extended, which hand indicates that he was fond of the following little argument: Does your hand, being in its present condition, feel the lack of anything at all? Certainly of nothing. But if pleasure were the supreme good, it would feel a lack. I agree. Pleasure then is not the supreme good. My father used to say that even a statue would not talk in that way, if it had power of speech. The inference is shrewd enough as against the Cyrenaics, but does not touch Epicurus. For if the only pleasure were that which, as it were, tickles the senses, if I may say so, and attended by sweetness overows them and insinuates itself into them, neither the hand nor any other member would be able to rest satised with the absence of pain apart from a joyous activity of pleasure. But if it is the highest pleasure, as Epicurus believes, to be in no pain, then the rst admission, that the hand in its then existing condition felt no lack, was properly made to you, Chrysippus, but the second improperly, I mean that it would have felt a lack had pleasure been the supreme good. It would certainly feel no lack, and on this ground, that anything which is cut off from the state of pain is in the state of pleasure.


    I am all in favor of wittily ridiculing the Stoics, but am I the only one who finds Chrysippus' witticism hard to follow?


    Is it necessary to feel a lack of it (when it is absent) in order to identify something as the supreme good?


    Or maybe there's some entirely different point.


    I certainly think I understand the issue on how the Cyreniac position differs from Epicurus, in that the Cyreniacs considered only "active/ joy/delight" to be pleasure, while Epicurus' definition of pleasure is more wide so as to include any feeling which is not pain, but it's just not clear to me that it is obvious that we would feel the lack of the supreme good if it is missing.


    The unstated premise must be something about the supreme good must be present and available at all times or else it is missed? (And maybe that's reference back to the Platonic continuity issue that led Epicurus to his "continuous pleasure" statement.)


    But regardless of that the Epicureans must have thought this illustration was helpful and important, and I think in order for us to see it so we need to articulate what exactly is going on.

  • I think this is something we have to consider in its context. What we now know is that the seat of consciousness is in the brain; the ancients, including the Epicureans, had other ideas. Some believed that the seat of the 'soul' was in the breast with the heart. It is easy to observe in oneself the quickening of the pulse in love or fear; more difficult, to intuit that this behavior is governed by signals from the nervous system.


    The Epicureans thought that the 'soul'—call it what you will—consisted of a sort of skein of finer atoms spread throughout all the members. If a portion of this soul rests in the hand at any given point in time, and the soul's chief end is pleasure, perhaps the argument of Chrysippus makes a little more sense?


    Of course the shift of the soul from the members or the breast to the brain simply shifts the problem. Does the brain feel the lack of the Supreme good? I think of the restlessness that Lucretius describes of the Roman nobility; in the city they wish they were in the country, and in the country they wish they were in the city.


    One of Epicurus' achievements was to instruct us in how to tap new sources of pleasure—even something as simple as remembering past pleasures can be a constant source of genuine pleasure available to us whenever we need it.

  • Of course the shift of the soul from the members or the breast to the brain simply shifts the problem. Does the brain feel the lack of the Supreme good?

    Unfortunately I agree with that comment. I think in order to really understand the argument there's something about "feeling the lack" that connects "the supreme good" in a way that doesn't seem obvious (at least to me).


    More to the point, I think I can come up with an elaborate explanation of it (see above) but since we are going to be talking about this to people who are new to Epicurus and philosophy in general, we need a clear and direct way of explaining what is going on here.

  • At this moment I think I would try to link this to the discussion with Philia as an example of trying to "measure pleasure by reason" and coming to a "reasoned understanding of pleasure" in order to dig out why the illustration seems (again, to me) so unsatisfying.


    Part of the problem may be that this is an argument from Chrysippus, who has a Stoic was an arch-proponent of logic over

    feeling, trying to make a ham-handed logic-based point about pleasure (which he detests as a feeling that distracts from virtue).



    It's probably a significant part of the issue that pleasure (as a feeling) can never really be captured by a "logic" argument.


    And of course in discussing THAT issue, this from "Torquatus" shouldn't be far from our minds as a huge red flag about the attempt to bridge logic and feeling, as Epicurus himself apparently warned against it:


    [31] There are however some of our own school, who want to state these principles with greater refinement, and who say that it is not enough to leave the question of good or evil to the decision of sense, but that thought and reasoning also enable us to understand both that pleasure in itself is matter for desire and that pain is in itself matter for aversion. So they say that there lies in our minds a kind of natural and inbred conception leading us to feel that the one thing is t for us to seek, the other to reject. Others again, with whom I agree, finding that many arguments are alleged by philosophers to prove that pleasure is not to be reckoned among things good nor pain among things evil, judge that we ought not to be too condent about our case, and think that we should lead proof and argue carefully and carry on the debate about pleasure and pain by using the most elaborate reasonings.

  • who say that it is not enough to leave the question of good or evil to the decision of sense

    Others again, with whom I agree, finding that many arguments are alleged by philosophers to prove that pleasure is not to be reckoned among things good nor pain among things evil, judge that we ought not to be too condent about our case, and think that we should lead proof and argue carefully and carry on the debate about pleasure and pain by using the most elaborate reasonings.


    I can almost see Epicurus gasping "OMG!!! " if he could know that some in his own school were arguing that. Though I doubt he would have restrained his response to an expression of exasperation. Someone(s) would have had a lot of explaining to do to Epicurus as to how they managed to fall so far from the prototype. For anyone who didn't get the message after he explained it to them in person, we'd probably have some good texts on excommunication if he could have lived to write about that kind of thing. :)