Episode Ninety-Eight - The Epicurean View of Justice (Part One)

  • Welcome to Episode Ninety-Eight of Lucretius Today.


    This is a podcast dedicated to the poet Lucretius, who wrote "On The Nature of Things," the only complete presentation of Epicurean philosophy left to us from the ancient world.


    I am your host Cassius, and together with our panelists from the EpicureanFriends.com forum, we'll walk you through the six books of Lucretius' poem, and we'll discuss how Epicurean philosophy can apply to you today. We encourage you to study Epicurus for yourself, and we suggest the best place to start is the book "Epicurus and His Philosophy" by Canadian professor Norman DeWitt.


    If you find the Epicurean worldview attractive, we invite you to join us in the study of Epicurus at EpicureanFriends.com, where you will find a discussion thread for each of our podcast episodes and many other topics.


    At this point in our podcast we have completed our first line-by-line review of the poem, and we have turned to the presentation of Epicurean ethics found in Cicero's On Ends. Today we continue with that material and focus on "Justice" starting with line fifty.


    Now let's join Martin reading today's text:


    [50] XVI. Justice still is left to complete our statement concerning the whole of virtue, but considerations nearly similar may be urged. Just as I have proved wisdom, temperance and courage to be linked with pleasure, so that they cannot possibly by any means be sundered or severed from it, so we must deem of justice, which not only never injures any person, but on the contrary always produces some benefit, not solely by reason of its own power and constitution, whereby it calms our minds, but also by inspiring hope that we shall lack none of the objects which nature when uncorrupted craves. And as recklessness and caprice and cowardice always torture the mind and always bring unrest and tumult, so if wickedness has established itself in a man’s mind, the mere fact of its presence causes tumult; if moreover it has carried out any deed, however secretly it may have acted, yet it will never feel a trust, that the action will always remain concealed. In most cases the acts of wicked men are at first dogged by suspicion, then by talk and rumour, then by the prosecutor, then by the judge; many have actually informed against themselves, as in your own consulship.


    [51] But if there are any who seem to themselves to be sufficiently barricaded and fortified against all privity on the part of their fellow men, still they tremble before the privity of the gods, and imagine that the very cares by which their minds are devoured night and day are imposed upon them, with a view to their punishment, by the eternal gods. Again, from wicked acts what new influence can accrue tending to the diminution of annoyances, equal to that which tends to their increase, not only from consciousness of the actions themselves, but also from legal penalties and the hatred of the community? And yet some men exhibit no moderation in money-making, or oice, or military command, or wantonness, or gluttony, or the remaining passions, which are not lessened but rather intensified by the trophies of wickedness, so that such persons seem fit to be repressed rather than to be taught their error.


    [52] True reason beckons men of properly sound mind to pursue justice, fairness and honor; nor are acts of injustice advantageous to a man without eloquence or influence, who cannot easily succeed in what he attempts, nor maintain his success if he wins it, and large resources either of wealth or of talent suit better with a generous spirit, for those who exhibit this spirit attract to themselves goodwill and affection, which is very well calculated to ensure a peaceful life; and this is the truer in that men have no reason for sinning.


    [53] For the passions which proceed from nature are easily satisfied without committing any wrong; while we must not succumb to those which are groundless, since they yearn for nothing worthy of our craving, and more loss is involved in the mere fact of wrong doing, than prot in the results which are produced by the wrong doing. So one would not be right in describing even justice as a thing to be wished for on its own account, but rather because it brings with it a very large amount of agreeableness. For to be the object of esteem and affection is agreeable just because it renders life safer and more replete with pleasures. Therefore we think that wickedness should be shunned, not alone on account of the disadvantages which fall to the lot of the wicked, but much rather because when it pervades a man’s soul it never permits him to breathe freely or to rest.


    [54] But if the accolades passed even on the virtues themselves, over which the eloquence of all other philosophers especially runs riot, can find no vent unless it be referred to pleasure, and pleasure is the only thing which invites us to the pursuit of itself, and attracts us by reason of its own nature, then there can be no doubt that of all things good it is the supreme and ultimate good, and that a life of happiness means nothing else but a life attended by pleasure.




    SUPPLEMENT:


    Principal Doctrines and Vatican Sayings which are relevant to Justice.



    PD06. Whatever you can provide yourself with to secure protection from men is a natural good.


    PD07. Some men wished to become famous and conspicuous, thinking that they would thus win for themselves safety from other men. Wherefore if the life of such men is safe, they have obtained the good which nature craves; but if it is not safe, they do not possess that for which they strove at first by the instinct of nature.


    PD08. No pleasure is a bad thing in itself; but the means which produce some pleasures bring with them disturbances many times greater than the pleasures.


    PD10. If the things that produce the pleasures of profligates could dispel the fears of the mind about the phenomena of the sky, and death, and its pains, and also teach the limits of desires (and of pains), we should never have cause to blame them: for they would be filling themselves full, with pleasures from every source, and never have pain of body or mind, which is the evil of life.


    PD31. The justice which arises from nature is a pledge of mutual advantage, to restrain men from harming one another, and save them from being harmed.


    PD32. For all living things which have not been able to make compacts not to harm one another, or be harmed, nothing ever is either just or unjust; and likewise, too, for all tribes of men which have been unable, or unwilling, to make compacts not to harm or be harmed.


    PD33. Justice never is anything in itself, but in the dealings of men with one another, in any place whatever, and at any time, it is a kind of compact not to harm or be harmed. [see note below]


    PD34. Injustice is not an evil in itself, but only in consequence of the fear which attaches to the apprehension of being unable to escape those appointed to punish such actions.


    PD35. It is not possible for one who acts in secret contravention of the terms of the compact not to harm or be harmed to be confident that he will escape detection, even if, at present, he escapes a thousand times. For up to the time of death it cannot be certain that he will indeed escape.


    PD36. In its general aspect, justice is the same for all, for it is a kind of mutual advantage in the dealings of men with one another; but with reference to the individual peculiarities of a country, or any other circumstances, the same thing does not turn out to be just for all.


    PD37. Among actions which are sanctioned as just by law, that which is proved, on examination, to be of advantage, in the requirements of men's dealings with one another, has the guarantee of justice, whether it is the same for all or not. But if a man makes a law, and it does not turn out to lead to advantage in men's dealings with each other, then it no longer has the essential nature of justice. And even if the advantage in the matter of justice shifts from one side to the other, but for a while accords with the general concept, it is nonetheless just for that period, in the eyes of those who do not confound themselves with empty sounds, but look to the actual facts.


    PD38. Where, provided the circumstances have not been altered, actions which were considered just have been shown not to accord with the general concept, in actual practice, then they are not just. But where, when circumstances have changed, the same actions which were sanctioned as just no longer lead to advantage, they were just at the time, when they were of advantage for the dealings of fellow-citizens with one another, but subsequently they are no longer just, when no longer of advantage.


    PD39. The man who has best ordered the element of disquiet arising from external circumstances has made those things that he could akin to himself, and the rest at least not alien; but with all to which he could not do even this, he has refrained from mixing, and has expelled from his life all which it was of advantage to treat thus.


    PD40. As many as possess the power to procure complete immunity from their neighbors, these also live most pleasantly with one another, since they have the most certain pledge of security, and, after they have enjoyed the fullest intimacy, they do not lament the previous departure of a dead friend, as though he were to be pitied.



    VS07. It is hard for an evil-doer to escape detection, but to be confident that he will continue to escape detection indefinitely is impossible.


    VS12. The just man is most free from disturbance, while the unjust is full of the utmost disturbance.


    VS13. Among the things held to be just by law, whatever is proved to be of advantage in men’s dealings has the stamp of justice, whether or not it be the same for all; but if a man makes a law and it does not prove to be mutually advantageous, then this is no longer just. And if what is mutually advantageous varies, and only for a time corresponds to our concept of justice, nevertheless for that time it is just, for those who do not trouble themselves about empty words, but look simply at the facts.


    VS43. The love of money, if unjustly gained, is impious, and, if justly gained, is shameful; for it is unseemly to be parsimonious, even with justice on one’s side.


    VS62. Now if parents are justly angry with their children, it is certainly useless to fight against it, and not to ask for pardon; but if their anger is unjust and irrational, it is quite ridiculous to add fuel to their irrational passion by nursing one’s own indignation, and not to attempt to turn aside their wrath in other ways by gentleness.







  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Episode Ninety-Eight - The Virtues As Instrumental Toward Pleasure: Justice” to “Episode Ninety-Eight - The Virtues As Instrumental Toward Pleasure: Justice (Pre-Production)”.
  • We'll plan to devote the whole of Episode 98 to justice based on the above text. If anyone has topics related to justice they they would like us to be sure to talk about, please add those suggestions here.


    One aspect I want us to be sure to cover is a set of questions that underlies all of the virtues, but is particularly stark as to justice:


    If justice (or any other virtue) is not absolute - and it seems clear that Epicurus held that it was not absolute - then what exactly IS justice (or any other virtue)?


    Is justice (or any other virtue) recognizable only in retrospect? (Meaning that we don't know whether an action was just/virtuous or not until we know the result?


    Is justice (or any other virtue) simply a name which we apply to certain categories of human action? (Such as "courage" being a label we apply to how we face adversity?)


    If we decide to talk about "examples" in the field of justice, let's try to be sure to pick examples that are at least several hundred years old so that we don't run afoul of our "no-politics" guideline. Perhaps we can even use examples like the Roman Civil War, and the conflict between Julius Caesar and the Conspirators, since it's very difficult for most of us nowadays to figure out what the fighting was all about.



    Principal Doctrines Which Are Relevant to Justice:


    PD06. Whatever you can provide yourself with to secure protection from men is a natural good.


    PD07. Some men wished to become famous and conspicuous, thinking that they would thus win for themselves safety from other men. Wherefore if the life of such men is safe, they have obtained the good which nature craves; but if it is not safe, they do not possess that for which they strove at first by the instinct of nature.


    PD08. No pleasure is a bad thing in itself; but the means which produce some pleasures bring with them disturbances many times greater than the pleasures.

    PD10. If the things that produce the pleasures of profligates could dispel the fears of the mind about the phenomena of the sky, and death, and its pains, and also teach the limits of desires (and of pains), we should never have cause to blame them: for they would be filling themselves full, with pleasures from every source, and never have pain of body or mind, which is the evil of life.


    PD31. The justice which arises from nature is a pledge of mutual advantage, to restrain men from harming one another, and save them from being harmed.


    PD32. For all living things which have not been able to make compacts not to harm one another, or be harmed, nothing ever is either just or unjust; and likewise, too, for all tribes of men which have been unable, or unwilling, to make compacts not to harm or be harmed.


    PD33. Justice never is anything in itself, but in the dealings of men with one another, in any place whatever, and at any time, it is a kind of compact not to harm or be harmed. [see note below]


    PD34. Injustice is not an evil in itself, but only in consequence of the fear which attaches to the apprehension of being unable to escape those appointed to punish such actions.


    PD35. It is not possible for one who acts in secret contravention of the terms of the compact not to harm or be harmed to be confident that he will escape detection, even if, at present, he escapes a thousand times. For up to the time of death it cannot be certain that he will indeed escape.


    PD36. In its general aspect, justice is the same for all, for it is a kind of mutual advantage in the dealings of men with one another; but with reference to the individual peculiarities of a country, or any other circumstances, the same thing does not turn out to be just for all.


    PD37. Among actions which are sanctioned as just by law, that which is proved, on examination, to be of advantage, in the requirements of men's dealings with one another, has the guarantee of justice, whether it is the same for all or not. But if a man makes a law, and it does not turn out to lead to advantage in men's dealings with each other, then it no longer has the essential nature of justice. And even if the advantage in the matter of justice shifts from one side to the other, but for a while accords with the general concept, it is nonetheless just for that period, in the eyes of those who do not confound themselves with empty sounds, but look to the actual facts.


    PD38. Where, provided the circumstances have not been altered, actions which were considered just have been shown not to accord with the general concept, in actual practice, then they are not just. But where, when circumstances have changed, the same actions which were sanctioned as just no longer lead to advantage, they were just at the time, when they were of advantage for the dealings of fellow-citizens with one another, but subsequently they are no longer just, when no longer of advantage.


    PD39. The man who has best ordered the element of disquiet arising from external circumstances has made those things that he could akin to himself, and the rest at least not alien; but with all to which he could not do even this, he has refrained from mixing, and has expelled from his life all which it was of advantage to treat thus.


    PD40. As many as possess the power to procure complete immunity from their neighbors, these also live most pleasantly with one another, since they have the most certain pledge of security, and, after they have enjoyed the fullest intimacy, they do not lament the previous departure of a dead friend, as though he were to be pitied.

  • Cassius , you can read this long passage to see whether I've portrayed Thomas More correctly. The quote at the bottom from John Locke gets to the real heart of what I was talking about. [Edit; See my next post]


    From Utopia, by Thomas More;



    From Letter Concerning Toleration, by John Locke

    Quote

    Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist.

  • Ok, I found the passage from Utopia that I was looking for: [Edit; See my post above]


    Quote


    [...] He made a solemn and severe law against such as should so far degenerate from the dignity of human nature, as to think that our souls died with our bodies, or that the world was governed by chance, without a wise overruling Providence: for they all formerly believed that there was a state of rewards and punishments to the good and bad after this life; and they now look on those that think otherwise as scarce fit to be counted men, since they degrade so noble a being as the soul, and reckon it no better than a beast’s: thus they are far from looking on such men as fit for human society, or to be citizens of a well-ordered commonwealth; since a man of such principles must needs, as oft as he dares do it, despise all their laws and customs: for there is no doubt to be made, that a man who is afraid of nothing but the law, and apprehends nothing after death, will not scruple to break through all the laws of his country, either by fraud or force, when by this means he may satisfy his appetites.


    A more recent take, from a sitting Supreme Court Justice;

    Quote

    "If you’re an atheist, what does an oath mean?" -Clarence Thomas

  • Excellent posts Joshua ! This really gets to the meat of the opposition to Epicurean justice. From what little I know of it, it goes back at least to Plato's Republic and the idea of the noble lie: the myth that is useful for governing the masses. Hence the fierce opposition to Epicurus, who sought truth and ended up shattering the "noble" myths.

  • We had a great discussion today and I will get the audio posted asap so people will have time to make comments and pose questions before next week.

  • Still working on the edit but let me post this before I forget. We did a good job of staying away from contemporary politics in this episode but in explaining the depth of passion that is often involved in discussing justice Joshua brought up the historical example of John Browns raid on Harpers Ferry as an example of how different people can see the same incident from starkly different perspectives.


    For those who aren't as elderly as I am I asked Joshua if he had seen the well-known but old movie on the story. The movie was "Santa Fe Trail" and here is the link below. Raymond Massey, the actor who played John Brown, did a great job of conveying Browns intensity, and he conveys the same intensity in a clip I like to use to dramatize the issue of "peace and safety" and I am posting tonight also in Kalosyni's thread.


    So if someone wanted they could enjoy a Raymond Massey film festival with these links.


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    In both of these movies I have linked I think a reasonable person could ask at the end: Is Raymond Massey's character crazy? Or is he the sanest person you've ever seen?


    PS - In "Santa Fe Trail" Massey is clearly portraying a religious zealot (which may or may not be accurate historically) so I don't think anyone would argue that an Epicurean would endorse that motivation. But someone could act similarly without a religious motivation, and the main reason for bringing up the Brown figure is the reason Joshua gave - to illustrate divergence of opinion on justice. In "Things To Come" we don't have religion as a factor at all, and I think we do have a totally safe illustration on views of feeling and pleasure we can debate in detail.

  • Right and we mentioned that in the podcast. Yes that is Reagan on the right in the still, but he is not the star - this is an Errol Flynn / Olivia deHavilland movie vehicle. I will paste a picture of Massey playing Brown below. He was a very strong actor and with this beard sort of makes me think he could have played a good Epicurus.




    And to follow up on Godfrey's comment, another interesting actor in that still photo is on the far left - that is Alan Hale, father of the "Skipper" in Gilligan's Island - when you see him in the movie theres a strong family resemblance in looks and mannerisms.

  • I've been listening to the unedited recording on my commute, and one point that I'd like to address in clear terms is "Natural Law". Cassius does a good job of covering the general idea, but we never gave it a name. When I talk to my younger relations who go to Catholic schools and listen to Catholic podcasts, I get the impression that Natural Law has become an important part of the pedagogy by contrasting it with 'moral relativism', which is, in my view, their code word for the degenerate morals of a godless society.


    My initial response is twofold—first, that Natural Law is not simply wrong-headed but actually quite harmful; and second, that the whole history of their religion and it's scripture is one of clear moral relativism, which they express most obviously by saying that Jesus' resurrection stands as a new relevation, and that thereby some (but by no means all) of the laws of the Torah no longer apply. Thus it becomes acceptable for a Christian to wear mixed fibers, make graven images, and allow women to be teachers—but no longer acceptable are polygamy, concubinage, or "an eye for an eye".


    What is this if not moral relativism?

  • I completely agree and this is a subject that needs lots of attention.


    I think it's quite proper to refer to "laws of nature" and there's a lot of that in Epicurus/Lucretius if I recall correctly, but they were talking generally in terms of physics. They were also talking carefully about the issue of "properties" and "events" or "incidents" (I hate the word "accidents" as I think its connotations make it misleading in this context) and I think most modern discussions skip over that without realizing the important implications.


    And then there's the biblical "slave of the weak and beggarly elements" reference which also is a point of connection where we can show how the Epicureans were directly translating their physics into implications for human life.


    But I think you're exactly right. There is this long "laws of nature of of nature's god" that appears in even in Jefferson that is being used to establish the viewpoint that social / political conventions were themselves written by "Nature," and most of those implications I think go way too far.


    This is a part of the subject of justice that really cries out for expansion to clarify where Epicurus was going.

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Episode Ninety-Eight - The Virtues As Instrumental Toward Pleasure: Justice (Pre-Production)” to “Episode Ninety-Eight - Justice (Pre-Production)”.
  • Continuing to edit the podcast I see that I made reference to this quote from Thomas Jefferson in reference to justice as viewed by regular people as against experts:


    – Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787


    “He who made us would have been a pitiful bungler if he had made the rules of our moral conduct a matter of science. For one man of science, there are thousands who are not. What would have become of them? Man was destined for society. His morality, therefore, was to be formed to this object. He was endowed with a sense of right and wrong, merely relative to this. This sense is as much a part of his Nature, as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the true foundation of morality, and not the [beautiful], truth, &c., as fanciful writers have imagined. The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body. This sense is submitted, indeed, in some degree, to the guidance of reason; but it is a small stock which is required for this: even a less one than what we call common sense. State a moral case to a plowman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, & often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.”

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Episode Ninety-Eight - Justice (Pre-Production)” to “Episode Ninety-Eight - The Epicurean View of Justice (Part One)”.
  • Episode 98 of the Lucretius Today podcast is now available. In this episode, we tackle the fascinating subject of the Epicurean view of Justice. As always we invite your comments and questions, and we will try to incorporate them in future episodes.


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  • Another citation in the body of the podcast is to this quote from Cicero's "Republic" - in which he is stating the standard Platonic/Aristotelian view of justice, to which Epicurus objected:


    Quote

    True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrong-doing by its prohibitions. And it does not lay its commands or prohibitions upon good men in vain, though neither have any effect on the wicked. It is a sin to try to to sic alter this law, nor is it allowable to attempt to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is, God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst penalties, even if he escapes what is commonly considered punishment.

    I'll look for an exact cite and link so this can be read in context.


    Here is an article that discusses the issue: https://www.academia.edu/43419…tural_law_as_Right_Reason

    Quote

    In De Re Publica [On the Commonwealth] 3.33, on behalf of the Stoic Laelius, Cicero left for posterity an unsurpassed definition of natural law:


    True law (lex) is Right Reason (recta ratio) in agreement with nature (naturae congruens); … it summons to duty by its command, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions. … We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or by people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be one master and ruler, that is, God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst penalties, even if he escapes what is commonly considered punishment.

  • I listened to this podcast last night. In response to the short discussion on torture:


    Quote

    Torture is one of the most extreme forms of human violence, resulting in both physical and psychological consequences. It has been used for thousands of years and it is still occurring throughout much of the world. The right to freedom from torture is a universally recognized human right and one of the foundations of international law. Torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, is banned in all times and cannot be justified.


    The most precise definition of torture is outlined in the UN Convention Against Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which defines it as “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

    5 Reasons Why Torture Does Not Work and Can Never Be Justified
    Torture is one of the most extreme forms of human violence, resulting in both physical and psychological consequences. It has been used for thousands of years…
    www.humanrightscareers.com