Epicureans and the Ancient Greek Gods (Imagery of "Gods" / "Gods Among Men")

  • At the risk of getting too basic, I think one of the many issues that Epicurus was concerned about was the evidence implications of "Life exists only on earth."

    Much like "The earth is the center of the universe," if either or both of those are true, then there is clearly something special about the earth, and that something special would imply a supernatural explanation.

    I therefore think that it was important to Epicurus to make the obvious point that there is never only one thing of a kind here on earth, and therefore (if the universe is boundless and eternal, as he had elsewhere given his argument) then life will exist throughout the universe, and not just here.

    Once the existence of life throughout the universe is established through "never one of a kind" then you apply the "isonomia" that things also exist in a progression from "lower" to higher" in terms of complexity, and you arrive fairly easily at the conclusion that there are beings in the universe who do not die, and don't work all day to pay taxes.

    I personally am satisfied that even if Epicurus' argument is ultimately no more complex than this, that it is compelling.

  • Oscar,

    I totally understand your perspective. Although I think we have very different expectations from our healthcare providers?.

    We clearly disagree on this point:

    That I strongly stand by the idea that the gods being characterized as benign is fundamentally presupposed and the reasoning circular. My reasoning is that since there is no evidence or precedent for either the gods existing or whether they are supernatural or natural, there is no way that Epicurus can say anything about them unless he had some very intimate contact with them. No special knowledge of hypothetical entities could ever be attained to the degree of specificity as Epicurus described them to be from pure abstract reasoning.

    I believe Epicurus was a powerful and influential philosopher. In my personal pantheon of philosophers Epicurus and Epictetus are filed under “E”. The ideas of Epicurus like all philosophers, ancient and modern will be criticized posthumously over and over again. I don’t hold a special or hostile critique of him any more than I do of Pythagoras or Plotinus, they and their ideas are products of the times they lived.

    I like to evaluate all claims to a certified knowledge of the universe’s and my own raison d’être. Epicurus like many others made certified claims, so I pry deep into those ideas. That’s why we are all here discussing this philosophy. We all seek out knowledge and truth.

  • Mattheus not to try to pin you down for the sake of pinning you down, but it might help the flow of the conversation if we all understood what you personally think is the most compelling argument on the ultimate issues. Can you give that in condensed form? :-)

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  • RE: Cassius


    My opinion is that I fundamentally agree with many of the observations of the natural world and that the human senses are fundamental to how we interpret reality. I think he is spot on on with the idea that what we see and sense “is what is” and we cannot base our life on unfounded superstition or abstractions.

    I believe in friendship and the mutual benefit of living in philosophical harmony as essential to human progress and harmony.

    I believe pleasure is fundamentally good and not an evil to be denied.

    My only issue, and it was the issue that caused me to no longer refer to myself as an Epicurean was the theology issue. It was a dealbreaker. I think that aspect aside, which we discuss quite regularly, we agree on more ideas than not.

  • My only issue, and it was the issue that caused me to no longer refer to myself as an Epicurean was the theology issue. It was a dealbreaker. I think that aspect aside, which we discuss quite regularly, we agree on more ideas than not.

    Just to be sure I understand, so you reject Epicurus' view as being insufficient/illogical/whatever, but not because you are certain of your own competitive view, but because you just think his was insufficient - full stop? Or do you believe there was a particular alternative he should have embraced?

  • Oscar,

    I respect your opinions and perspective, I absolutely do. And I am very appreciative of the discourse we have here!

    As always, I am up to discuss this topic literally until the sun burns out. ?

    So anytime, you or anyone has literature, thoughts or new ideas please contact me. I take this very seriously as you can probably tell! Lol

    Peace and safety to you.

  • Cassius,

    My position is that Epicurus should not have positited his own position on the gods, in the specific way he did.

    Whether he believed in them or not, he boxed himself in. To the point he was either fabricating this whole theology or he had some sort of divine revelation. Because in my opinion the formula is far too specific.

    My personal belief is that from a philosophical perspective, Divinity if it exists, is ineffable. Literally without a specific object to subject revelation, no knowledge can ever be attained on the subject.

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  • Agreed Cassius, that is the most comprehensive description.

    The some parts of PD’s, VS’s and the a few lines of the Letter to Menoeceus also contain E’s statements on the subject.

  • I know this is asking a lot, post the specific attributes and sensations that Epicurus gives to his God(s)?

    It would be interesting to try to address this specifically, although it is dangerous to tease too much out of isolated passages, single words, translations, etc.

    1. Blessed

    2. Immortal

    We have then a preconception of such a nature that we believe the gods to be blessed and immortal. For nature, which bestowed upon us an idea of the gods themselves, also engraved on our minds the belief that they are eternal and blessed.

    3. Human shape

    4. Not corporeal, but resembling a bodily substance

    5. Not containing blood, but the semblance of blood

    “For the divine form we have the hints of nature supplemented by the teachings of reason. From nature all men of all races derive the notion of gods as having human shape and none other; for in what other shape do they ever appear to anyone, awake or asleep? But not to make primary concepts the sole test of all things, reason itself delivers the pronouncement. For it seems appropriate that a being who is the most exalted, whether by reason of his happiness or of his eternity, should also be the most beautiful; but what disposition of the limbs, what cast of features, what shape or outline can be more beautiful than the human form? You Stoics at least, Lucilius, (for my friend Cotta says one thing at one time and another at another) are wont to portray the skill of the divine creator by enlarging on beauty as well as the utility of design displayed in all parts of the human figure. But if the human figure surpasses the form of all other living beings, and god is a living being, god must possess the shape which is the most beautiful of all; and since it is agreed that the gods are supremely happy, and no one can be happy without virtue, and virtue cannot exist without reason, and reason is only found in the human shape, it follows that the gods possess the form of man. Yet their form is not corporeal, but only resembles bodily substance; it does not contain blood, but the semblance of blood.

    Not part of description but of our perception of them

    6. "....an endless train of precisely similar images arises from the innumerable atoms and streams towards the gods,"

    7.In number, at least as many gods as there are humans:

    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

    8. How they spend their time:
    ... how they pass their days. The answer is, their life is the happiest conceivable, and the one most bountifully furnished with all good things. God is entirely inactive and free from all ties of occupation; he toils not neither does he labor, but he takes delight in his own wisdom and virtue, and knows with absolute certainty that he will always enjoy pleasures at once consummate and everlasting.

    9. Somewhere it is stated that they speak Greek, or a language like Greek, but I am not sure of the cite for that.

  • Obviously an allegorical god is not the same thing as a real “atomic” god. The issue is that Epicurus himself posits that the gods are in fact real.

    Hola Mateo! While I grant your point, here you touch on something interesting. Allegorical and atomic deities are not mutually contradictory, and in your persistent concern with theology you have abandoned the utility and purpose of religious experience, which is to help us experience pure, effortless pleasure.

    When Lucretius says that all of nature opens up in spring FOR Venus, he is clearly not referring to a goddess with a physical body that dwells outside of the galaxies. He is using the religious image to induce pleasure, in-spiration.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • “and in your persistent concern with theology you have abandoned the utility and purpose of religious experience”

    Hola Hiram!

    I agree fullheartedly that my persistence has become tiresome and we’ve discussed this subject ad nauseam. My purpose for the persistence was only to be “on the record” so to speak, since as we all know it’s easy to be drowned out or lost in the shuffle in online discussions. And as you know I am attempting to diminish my online presence as much as possible and will probably be online significantly less in the future. Cyber communication is often transient and ephemeral.

    But I wanted to do due diligence for a subject which I felt was very important. So important that it changed my perspective of the philosophy itself. But I think I have made my position well documented here. I know I’m exhausted from it. ?

    Peace to you.

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  • For me the most important thing about Epicurus' and the gods is that he said there is no need to be afraid of them. Whether he contradicted himself, or not, I can't decide. We know so little about the actual life of Epicurus. He was chased out of Mytilene (Lesbos), apparently in some danger to himself. I don't know the exact reasons for that. I don't know whether anyone else does. But it indicates to me that he probably did have to be a bit careful about what he said, especially given that his philosophy is about avoidance of pain. Whilst I don't know whether Epicurus said things he didn't really believe, I do have every sympathy with 'heretics' who recant when threatened with mob violence or state violence. (Botticelli, who painted the 'Birth of Venus', which is posted in this thread did the same).

    From what we know about it, Epicurus' description of the gods does seem to me to be consistent with his statement that "the gods exist" and the idea that everything consists of atoms and void.

    I have to go to to Dorset, tomorrow. While I am there I won't have easy access to the internet. I'll pick up the threads again when I get back home, in a couple of weeks time.