Epicurus Discussed On The PartiallyExaminedLife.com Podcast

  • Here is the link to the Episode: https://partiallyexaminedlife.…pfs-APw1ubX_6jub2BLEENxX4


    And here are my preliminary comments:


    I haven't had time to listen but I have read the summary. Among the areas to dispute would include:


    (1) "Epicurus was even more down on sex than his follower Lucretius; this obvious pleasure brings with it too many difficulties to make it worth pursuing." <<< Epicurus observed generally that things that can bring great pleasure can also entail great risk of pain - sex being just another example. Only an ascetic is going to automatically conclude that all sex is to be avoided, and Epicurus was not only not an ascetic, he said he did not even know how he would recognize "the good" were it not for the pleasures of things such as sex.


    (2) "Epicurus thought that physical pleasures and pains are the basic, and that mental pleasures and pains are always referential to physical ones. Worries about death and loss are ultimately, on this view, worries about a physically painful experience. But does this view capture his support for friendship as a key good? First and foremost, he says, we need friends as a mutual support network; they can help us when times are bad. But we also simply enjoy their conversation, i.e.. the content of their ideas, and that doesn't sound very physical." << This is very superficial criticism. The starting point of all analysis is that nothing exists except matter and void, and the material is the physical. Everything in human experience stems from matter of one kind or another, including friendship.


    (3) "Again, Epicurus prescribes a strict regimen whereby things like the love of philosophy and artistic endeavors shouldn't be pursued for their own sake, but only insofar as they help us achieve peace of mind" << "Peace of mind" is not the goal. If you prefer that, then drug yourself comatose. The goal is pleasurable living, and Epicurus says that over and over.


    (4) "But Epicurus thought that our wants are fundamentally distorted by social values, so serious interventions are needed to help us rediscover our "natural" selves, to see the wisdom of a quiet life free from vain exertions." As above, Epicurus defined the goal as pleasurable living, not "a quiet life free from vain exertions." The writer is advocating asceticism which Epicurus did not advocate.


    (5) "so he started The Garden, which was basically a cult to totally immerse people in his teachings and overcome any "irrational" attachments that members might have to their "vain" desires" <<< Insulting and purely ridiculous.


    (6) "Despite the supposed connection between this way of life and a proper scientific understanding of the physical world, they were not known as good scientists (as the Aristotelians were)," < More insults. What's a good scientist, someone who lives better due to his discoveries, or someone who can count 576 varietes of mosquitos?


    (7) "Likewise, they learned philosophy solely to defend Epicureanism against conflicting views, not to really understand those other views and try to objectively weigh their merits." Geez, what garbage.


    (8) "Epicurus picture by Genevieve Arnold." I am sure G. Arnold is a wonderful person, but that is an atrociously ugly picture and a lot of time was wasted coming up with that.


  • For people who come across this who are new to Epicurus We just welcomed a group of new members today, and so I'd like to repeat a warning to them about podcasts like this. What you'll get here is the standard viewpoint of Epicurus, not the viewpoint of people who agree with Epicurus and work to interpret his philosophy sympathetically. If you want that, please consult Norman DeWitt's "Epicurus and His Philosophy."


    In contrast, what you have here is primarily just a beer-drinking bull session, which is what they describe themselves as their goal on their website:


    What are you guys trying to do here?


    The Partially Examined Life podcast is our attempt to recreate the good old days when we'd meet up after a seminar to drink beer and talk shop or get some teaching yas out where students couldn't talk back. We're recording it to share our joy in "doing" philosophy with all who care to listen (and occasionally ranting bitterly about the profession that we so long ago escaped).

  • Here are my preliminary comments on major points made in the podcast. At this point I don't have time for lengthy analysis but I did want to point out the points that I think are largely or partly wrong and should be scrutinized against the work of DeWitt and others. At the very list, this provides a good list of points that are controversial within Epicurean philosophy about which people need to study and reach their own conclusions:


    3:00 They say their discussion is based on Nussbaum and Okeefe, {And they are critics, not supporters, of Epicurus.}


    3:20 The say "only one of the letters is about ethics so we will ignore the other two" {But they do comment later that the ethics are closerly related to the physics and epistemology}


    4:30 They say that Epicurus falls within the tradition of virtue ethics. {strongly disagree}


    4:40 They say that both Aristotle and the Stoics make happiness the highest good! {strongly disagree}


    6:27 They say that Epicurus is a version of hedonism that ends up as a kind of asceticism. {strongly disagree}


    11:00 They say that animals/infants are used by Epicurus as an example because they do not overreach and thus they know their own limits,and this is an example of Epicurean limits. {This is probably not correct, so it is unfair to criticize Epicurus for something he did not say.}


    14:13 They say that Epicurus advocated minimizing our desires. {strongly disagree.}


    15:36 They say that the highest pleasure being tranquility, the state of not being bothered by desires, and that is weird. {Yes it would be weird if it were true.}


    16:30 They say both the Stoics and Epicurus aim at tranquility, and only issue between them is whether we call that pleasure or not. {Strongly disagree}


    17:36 They say that looking at the differences between Epicurus and the Stoics is the difference between a glass half full and glass half empty. {Strongly disagree}


    18:03 They say Epicurus advocated both minimizing attachment and minimizing desire. {Strongly disagree}


    18:33 They say both Epicurus and the Stoics accepted Fate's role in affecting us negatively, Epicurus just tells us that if we are sick we will be dead soon. {And of course they ridicule this superficial view}.


    19:49 They say that Epicurus was in ataraxia even as he was dying in pain. {Strongly disagree.}


    21:00 They think that defining the highest good as not being perturbed is very weird. {So they struggle with this again, but this is not what Epicurus said.}


    21:45 They say that for Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy is to obtain a happy tranquil life characterized by ataraxia (peace and freedom from fear) and aponia (absence of pain), and that the root of all neurosis is death-denial. {strongly disagree}


    24:50 They attempt to make sense of the definition fo the best life by discussing the alleged distinction between kinetic and katastematic pleasure. {totally off track}


    25:43 They repeat OKeefe's criticism of Epicurus: OKeefe says that if we are in katastematic pleasure, and that is the highest good, what if we are offered a bon-bon? Would that not add to our pleasure? Then it is wrong to consider katastematic pleasure as the best state!! {So they struggle with that, and try to reconcile it by discussing "variation," but they are far off base from what Epicurus taught.}


    26:00 They say that according to Epicurus the desire for variety is an unnecessary pleasure. {strongly disagree}


    26:30 They say that according to Epicurus curiosity is natural, but not necessary {Strongly disagree}


    28:24 They talk about Lucretius differing from Epicurus. {strongly disagree}


    29:00 They say that since the Epicurean gods don't lack anything, they don't DO anything. {Strongly disagree}


    29:25 They struggle with the idea that Epicurus could endorse anything ambitious as part of natural human functioning. {Strongly disagree - it is clear ambition is healthy}


    30:30 They cite O'Keefe as rejecting the "realist" view of Epicurean gods - the view that Epicurus was serious that "gods" really exist. {Strongly disagree with Okeefe}


    30:42 They cite O'Keefe as arguing that gods are thought constructs and laugh that this is really a stretch on OKeefe's part. {Here I fully agree with them.}


    32:00 They argue over whether ataraxia is "tranquility full stop" or "tranquility in the natural functioning of the human animal" (which they attribute to Nussbaum). {This should be clear - the best Epicurean life is not "tranquility full stop."


    34:30 They say that commentators argue about what ataraxia means, and say it is a paradox and it's hard to say what Epicurus meant. {It's true what they say about the commentators, but it is not hard to figure out what Epicurus meant.)


    35:45 They say it is really hard to say what to make of Epicurus {strongly disagree}


    37:54 They say that the quote "when we have no pain we have no need of pleasure" is in tension with other parts of Epicurus. {This is the heart of the problem in that they and most commentators do not reconcile the apparent contradiction correctly - we have no need of MORE pleasure because our experience is full of pleasure at that point.)


    38:40 They say that Epicurean philosophy is weak because "pain" and "pleasure" are too abstract to perform what Epicurus wants them to perform. {Strongly disagree}


    41:10 They ridicule PD 20 "The flesh receives as unlimited the limits of pleasure; and to provide it requires unlimited time. But the mind, intellectually grasping what the end and limit of the flesh is, and banishing the terrors of the future, procures a complete and perfect life, and we have no longer any need of unlimited time. Nevertheless the mind does not shun pleasure, and even when circumstances make death imminent, the mind does not lack enjoyment of the best life." {Strongly disagree with their interpretation, but they are making the same mistake over and over of defining the highest good as tranquility}


    41:30 They say that according to Epicurus mental pleasures of philosophy, mathematics, and music are vain and empty pleasures because such pleasures do not belong to those who are naive and uncorrupted. {Strongly disagree}


    42:00 They say that Epicurus held that any sort of higher, socially-dependent pleasures are vain and empty!! They say as evidence that cats and babies do not enjoy music!! {Strongly disagree}


    42:40 They say that this is an example of how Epicurus was so different from Aristotle and other Greek philosophers, because those others taught the desirability of pursuit of knowledge and reaching out to others, but Epicurus did not. {strongly disagree}


    43:45 They say that there is no reason Epicurus could not have been more sophisticated than he chose to be! {Strongly disagree - he was and they do not acknowledge it!}


    47:00 They say that you can't reduce the psychological benefits of friendship to physical pleasure. {Strongly disagree}


    48:46 They say that the Garden was in part a mutual defense and aid society. {This is probably in part true.}


    Next session they will discuss their analysis and criticisms -- this first session was just supposed to be the facts!

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Upcoming: EP on PartiallyExaminedLife.com podcast” to “Epicurus Discussed On The PartiallyExaminedLife.com Podcast”.
  • I have spent more time looking at their page and i do have significant respect for their work. But what we've got here is the classic issue - almost that which is discussed in Lucian's Hermotimus. What they are doing is diving into "philosophy" like diving into a pool of water, and their just examining whatever they run into, and talking about their feelings about it, and moving on -- never coming to any real conclusions that they have confidence in advocating or applying. Or, if they do come to conclusions implicitly (which everyone does, and they do too) they are standard Plato/Aristototle/Stoic conclusions that are not at all Epicurean.


    I come at this from the perspective that Epicurus is essentially correct in every major conclusion about human life in the universe. Minor points of physics that can be made more precise with new data are not important because the conclusions are not contradicted. And I think everyone in every walk of life would profit from knowing the basic approach.


    But the path of just plowing through everything is just something that most people do not have the time to do. They need a distilled, clear, and firm presentation of the Epicurean perspective without all this weaving back and forth and attempts to "improve" it by combing it with other views that are ultimately incompatible. And the real pity of that approach is that most people wear out from the exercise long before they gain anything productive.


    I think what I am saying here is pretty much exactly the "Epicurean criticism of Socrates" and that criticism is still 100% applicable to mainstream philosophy today. For those who have the time and resources to spend their time this way, I say "more power to them." But for most normal people, their approach leads to no answers that real people can live by, it only confuses them further and turns them off to identifying a philosophy with which they can identify and live by.