Posts by Cassius

    Phaedrus the Epicurean From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Phaedrus (/ˈfiːdrəs, ˈfɛdrəs/; Greek: Φαῖδρος; 138 – 70/69 BC[1]) was an Epicurean philosopher. He was the head (scholarch) of the Epicurean school in Athens after the death of Zeno of Sidon around 75 BC, until his own death in 70 or 69 BC. He was a contemporary of Cicero, who became acquainted with him in his youth at Rome.[2] During his residence in Athens (80 BC) Cicero renewed his acquaintance with him. Phaedrus was at that time an old man, and was already a leading figure of the Epicurean school.[3] He was also on terms of friendship with Velleius, whom Cicero introduces as the defender of the Epicurean tenets in the De Natura Deorum,[4] and especially with Atticus.[5] Cicero especially praises his agreeable manners. He had a son named Lysiadas. Phaedrus was succeeded by Patro.

    Cicero wrote to Atticus requesting Phaedrus' essay On gods (Greek: Περὶ θεῶν).[6] Cicero used this work to aid his composition of the first book of the De Natura Deorum. Not only did he develop his account of Epicurean doctrine using it, but also the account of the doctrines of earlier philosophers.

    Great point. I know I have a blurb at NewEpcicurean on that letter from Plotina asking for help with the Epicurean school but we need that here, and to research this further.

    It's easy to see from the titles of the thread that we haven't used this subforum regularly. Might be best to fold this into "General Discussion" but maybe let's keep it separate a while longer because over time we really need to do more with this. Already a few of us have a regular 20th Skype call, and that needs to expand to include more people. If you would like to join our Twentieth Skype call, or suggest another 20th activity, please post below.

    This thread is for discussion of Caesar as an Epicurean, with particular focus on the material contained in the article by Frank Bourne - "Caesar the Epicurean"


    This article contains many interesting points and can be read for free here:…=1#page_scan_tab_contents

    It's interesting to me that Bourne doesn't really deal with what I presumed to be the main issue - that there is no real record of Caesar calling himself an Epicurean - but he produces a long list of circumstantial evidence that seems very persuasive to me.

    In fact the only real reason to doubt that Caesar was an Epicurean is the same "presumption" that all Epicureans were against involvement in politics, because once you deal with that by recognizing the contextual nature of such advice, the rest of Caesar's life does reveal numerous similarities, and the author documents.

    I was familiar with the episode from the Cataline conspiracy where Caesar recommended against execution of the conspirators on the ground that that is really not as severe as long-term incarceration, so that makes sense to me, but the author doesn't attempt to make much of Caesar's father-in-law being the owner of the Epicurean library at Herculaneum, which also seems to me to be relevant.

    But in general I think it's a very well written article packed with lots of references to Epicurean theory and good citations to how a life of activism CAN be consistent with Epicurean theory, if that's the type of person you are and that's the kind of thing you find pleasure in:


    So I see this as a very well written and useful article covering a lot of topics in one place.

    I have now finished reading the full article "Caesar the Epicurean" and find it to be very well written and reasoned. It's interesting to me that the writer never really deals with what I presumed to be the main issue - that there is no real record of Caesar calling himself an Epicurean - but he produces a long list of circumstantial evidence that seems very persuasive to me.

    In fact the only real reason to doubt that Caesar was an Epicurean is the same "presumption" that all Epicureans were against involvement in politics, because once you deal with that by recognizing the contextual nature of such advice, the rest of Caesar's life does reveal numerous similarities, and the author documents.

    I was familiar with the episode from the Cataline conspiracy where Caesar recommended against execution of the conspirators on the ground that that is really not as severe as long-term incarceration, so that makes sense to me, but the author doesn't attempt to make much of Caesar's father-in-law being the owner of the Epicurean library at Herculaneum, which also seems to me to be relevant.

    But in general I think it's a very well written article packed with lots of references to Epicurean theory and good citations to how a life of activism CAN be consistent with Epicurean theory, if that's the type of person you are and that's the kind of thing you find pleasure in:

    So I see this as a very well written and useful article covering a lot of topics in one place.

    Camotero in regard to the part of this thread devoted to "fighting" / "war" etc, I came across today this very interesting article by Frank Bourne that elaborates at length on how Julius Caesar's actions can be reconciled with his being an Epicurean.

    I have only read about half of it so far myself, but I bet you would find it interesting. It can be read for free here:…=1#page_scan_tab_contents

    Anything less than than would be pure assertion on our part, and make our philosophy arbitrary, as a result of which it would rightly be laughed out of Athens.

    I wonder if my implying that the ultimate test of the validity of the system is that is logical makes me a Platonist myself? ;-)

    I think Epicurus would smile at that thought too, but that ultimately this is the example of how "true logic" or "true reason" (a term I gather at least Lucretius used) does in fact support Epicurean conclusions, because we are resting the validity of our assertions on the observations of the sensations, anticipations, and feelings.

    Camotero something else going on here that I think is relevant, and I see myself making this point a lot lately:

    It may look like we (I? Epicurus?) are taking things to unnecessary extremes by carrying things out to "extreme" logical conclusions, but I think that is exactly what Epicurus was doing. Epicurus was faced with teaching philosophy in ancient Athens, where everyone who was anyone was expected to know and understand the arguments of Plato and other similar authorities, starting with Philebus on pleasure but also lots of other dialogues with similar arguments. Those guys in Athens were fully committed to "logic" as the key to everything, so Epicurus could ill afford to take half-measures and appeal to practicality like we might do today. I think that is one reason that some of us have problems coming to grips with how extreme some of the conclusions can sound, but after going through Philebus and other Platonic dialogues a couple of times I am convinced that Epicurus thought that if he left any logical conclusion unanswered then his entire system would be ridiculed into obscurity.

    Yes we are appealing to the sensations and feelings as the ultimate guide of how to live, but we are doing so only after a rigorously logical argument as to why we are doing so. Anything less than than would be pure assertion on our part, and make our philosophy arbitrary, as a result of which it would rightly be laughed out of Athens.

    Lots more good discussion. Here are a couple of comments:

    otherwise avoidable atrocities

    justify otherwise avoidable atrocities. But, what I'm gathering is, that within the framework of EP, anything is justifiable, as long as you were true to your sensations and feelings?

    It's key to realize that "atrocity" is a relative term. What is an atrocity to one person (flying a plane into the world trade center) is an act of highly pleasurable "patriotism" to others. It's key to see that there is no universal definition of "atrocity" any more than there is of "virtue." That doesn't mean that those terms are not useful, and that we should not consider things to be atrocious or virtuous, but the issue is that we have to understand that these things are so from OUR point of view, and not necessarily from the rest of the universe's point of view.

    I wouldn't quite say that "being true to your sensations and feelings" is exactly the way to say it -- the point is just that the sensations and feelings of individuals are the only factors in play by which to judge anything as "good" or "bad," and that's just the way living beings operate.

    From all these readings I'm getting a greater importance is put on virtue than I initially thought there would be in EP.

    But it is critically important to see that "virtue" too is totally relative toward whatever goal is chosen. In Epicurean philosophy the goal is more pleasure/less pain so that is the ultimate standard according to which an action is virtuous or foolhardy.

    if lived using the criteria. If not lived using the criteria, it's just a missed chance to live a more rational, conscious existence, controlled experience. Interesting

    Again the goal is not to live a "more rational, conscious existence, controlled experience." The goal is judged entirely by whether it in practice results in more pleasure less pain. Certainly the rational pursuit of that goal is generally going to be more successful than the irrational pursuit of it, but it is critically important never to confuse the end with the means.

    Perhaps there could be a scenario where our freedom could be curtailed in order for some other basic pleasure be continued (either immediately or later on)?

    Absolutely yes. Just like the Romans had dictators when war made it necessary as one example, but the bottom line is the conditions dictate the appropriate response, and even though freedom is generally highly valuable for pleasure, there are going to be times when practicality requires group action inconsistent with "normal" freedoms. PLEASURE is the goal, not freedom.

    It's not that virtue isn't important, but virtue can be instrumental to our pleasure.

    I flagged this due to the word "can." I think a reading of the Torquatus section that Don is quoting from shows that for a thing to be virtuous it has to be in fact instrumental toward pleasure, otherwise it is foolishness, because the only legitimate goal is pleasurable living, not "glory" or "duty" or anything else that might tend toward an absolutist view of what is virtuous in any situation.

    I think I can agree with this definition. Is this an interpretation of yours Cassius or is it shared by others in this group? Is there evidence among the texts that this is a definition that aligns with Epicurean Philosophy without the risk to becoming too intangible?

    There are probably several texts that can be used in support of this point, but one of the clearest is where DIogenes Laertius says "The internal sensations they say are two, pleasure and pain, which occur to every living creature, and the one is akin to nature and the other alien: by means of these two choice and avoidance are determined." That's Bailey, but I think we've discussed recently that most translators use "feelings." That means EVERYTHING we feel, from whatever source, mental or bodily, is either pleasure or pain.

    There is also Torquatus' characterization of Epicurus:

    "Hence Epicurus refuses to admit any necessity for argument or discussion to prove that pleasure is desirable and pain to be avoided. These facts, be thinks, are perceived by the senses, as that fire is hot, snow white, honey sweet, none of which things need be proved by elaborate argument: it is enough merely to draw attention to them. (For there is a difference, he holds, between formal syllogistic proof of a thing and a mere notice or reminder: the former is the method for discovering abstruse and recondite truths, the latter for indicating facts that are obvious and evident.) Strip mankind of sensation, and nothing remains; it follows that Nature herself is the judge of that which is in accordance with or contrary to nature. What does Nature perceive or what does she judge of, beside pleasure and pain, to guide her actions of desire and of avoidance?

    Also From Torquatus:

    (1)The Ends of Goods and Evils themselves, that is, pleasure and pain, are not open to mistake; where people go wrong is in not knowing what things are productive of pleasure and pain.

    (2) Again, we aver that mental pleasures and pains arise out of bodily ones (and therefore I allow your contention that any Epicureans who think otherwise put themselves out of court; and I am aware that many do, though not those who can speak with authority); but although men do experience mental pleasure that is agreeable and mental pain that is annoying, yet both of these we assert arise out of and are based upon bodily sensations.

    (3) Yet we maintain that this does not preclude mental pleasures and pains from being much more intense than those of the body; since the body can feel only what is present to it at the moment, whereas the mind is also cognizant of the past and of the future. For granting that pain of body is equally painful, yet our sensation of pain can be enormously increased by the belief that some evil of unlimited magnitude and duration threatens to befall us hereafter. And the same consideration may be transferred to pleasure: a pleasure is greater if not accompanied by any apprehension of evil. This therefore clearly appears, that intense mental pleasure or distress contributes more to our happiness or misery than a bodily pleasure or pain of equal duration.

    So, from my understanding so far, yes, everything has to end in something physical, to be real. Literature and music produce emotions in us, that are atoms (molecules if you will) that make them real. What other "pleasures of the mind" can we think of to see if they hold up to this test? Can you tell me of some pleasures of the mind that stay just there, as mental constructions and as such "are pleasant" without producing an effect in our bodies?

    I think you are probably trying to separate out mental and bodily pleasures in a way that would contradict the position just stated in the above quotations. If one feels pleasure it can be from any source, mental or bodily, and this I think is playing in to your resistance to the saying that the wise man will on occasion die for a friend, which is something that can be extended very far into war, etc. If in our own personal calculatons/feelings we would feel so awful if our friend died when we could have attempted to do something about it, then for some number of people such a result would mean such agonizing pain for the rest of their lives that they would rather die. That's the comparison that each person has to make for themselves, weighing the result of each action in terms of total future pain and pleasure (and this again is a situation where I think duration - length of time - is only one of the factors involved).

    Lots of good material in the recent posts and rather than just "like" I want to emphasize:

    (1) Dons post #23 is exactly on point in explaining the direction I think is implicit in Epicurus. This is not something easy to do because I like presumably everyone here has been brought up in a "natural rights / human rights" environment that talks as if these are self-evidently true. Yes most of us agree that these are desirable, and that they bring us pleasure, and therefore we should "fight" for them as appropriate, but the starting point for the analysis is that the things that bring us pleasure frequently require action on our part to obtain, and they are not handed to us free by god or nature - they require effort. So I strongly think we *should* pursue these things, and I think Cassius Longinus is an example of doing that. We aren't always going to be successful, and we have to make our decisions in the full context of our circumstances, but we don't need fictional gods or fictional myths to justify these actions - we need to ground them in what is real -- which is our "feelings" about them (pleasure and pain).

    (2) In post 24 I think Camotero is raising issues that need further discussion. If the issue he is raising is why "justice" gets special treatment as an abstraction, I think he is on the right track of implying that it should not. I think we need to articulate better that "abstractions" are not by nature bad or inappropriate - they are very useful tools for pleasure and they can also cause great pain. So we need to be careful in implying that abstractions are somehow something to be avoided. This is as in many other cases, so long as we observe the limits of what they are capable of, they are important tools. It is when we elevate them to ends in themselves, not under the supervision of pleasure and pain, they they become loose-cannon monsters. We probably need to discuss this further if Camotero will elaborate on his question.

    (3) In post 26 I think Don does a good job of dealing with the problems of utilitarianism. The main issue comes down to the problems of "greatest good for greatest number" as he observes. Of course being a utilitarian can bring great pleasure and happiness to the utilitarians who agree on the things to pursue, the problem is that those who don't agree cannot be expected to go along and give up their own views of pleasure and pain. Which is not to say that utilitarianism is any worse than any other form of government, but only to say that you have to examine the specific implementation and judge it according to the results in that context. We can probably generalize from the PD's and other texts that the greatest happiness of the greatest number would result from each of those involved achieving the most pleasure and the least pain for themselves and their friends, but that doesn't end up producing a real-world rule that can be used to make specific day to day decisions. This is the point that is exactly opposite to that made by Cicero in his "true law is right reason in accord with nature,..." where he says that such law is the same in Athens and Rome and the same for all people at all times, all places, etc, and that it is enforced by god.

    (4) Don's post 27 does an excellent job summarizing the practical result, so Camotero if you have specific questions or concerns about what is said in that one, that's a good place to pull out quotes and ask.

    All this is VERY helpful and absolutely within the scope of things that are proper for this forum. This is not partisan politics or the type of "careerism" that I think Epicurus was mainly warning against. This is basic-level theory that in my mind is closely akin to the observation that friendship is among the most important tools for achieving happiness. Practical reality is that we are social animals and we need to understand the implications of that in an atomist universe.

    I presume there’s nothing pleasurable in taking part in war, and it could only be if there was some level of sociopathy/psychopathy, but perhaps I’m not seeing something.

    Yes this is the place where I think we have to begin. I think the difference here stems from too narrow a definition of "pleasure" -- in my view of Epicurus' teaching, pleasure is EVERYTHING that we find to be desirable, including our attachment to our friends and our family and our "country" and innumerable other things. I think it is dangerous to narrow the definition at all beyond "what we feel to be desirable" and that means that certainly mental constructs and abstractions are pleasurable and desirable too. Remember, the Epicureans held that mental pains and pleasures can be / often are more intense than "physical" ones. We don't have much problem seeing that in terms of visual art and music and dancing, but it also extends to literature and to any and all other forms of abstractions as well. So in sum for this paragraph, I would say that Epicurus was not in any way at war with "abstractions" or with "logic" in general - he was at war with misuse of them for goals other than pleasure, at war with setting them up as ends in themselves, or as mechanisms that supercede feeling.

    So absolutely I think that a person can employ Epicurean philosophy not only to die for a friend, as Epicurus specifically included, but also to die for any number of things if we find our value (our pleasure) to be deep enough in that objective.

    I would cite two texts in support of this:

    First, remember what Torquatus had to say about his ancestors and the way they acted in war:

    And I think this issue shows up even better in the correspondence of Cassius and Cicero, which I've included and referenced here, but I want to include some particularly apt parts here, especially Cassius' reply below showing that Cassius saw himself in specifically Epicurean terms:

    In the end the argument goes in the direction Torquatus points -- Epicurean philosophy can be used to justify leading a war, or even executing your own son, in appropriate circumstances. If we think that there are any absolute bright lines at all then we're forgetting the basic premises of the Epicurean system. It is only the circumstances and events and the "feeling" of the individuals involved at the particular time and place that can provide us answers on how to live.

    Also I want to add that I think this statement from Cicero is highly relevant:


    ...In this formula the words "within this year" are not usually added; so even if it is now two or three years since, bewitched by the blandishments of Pleasure, you sent a notice of divorce to Virtue, I am free to act as I like. And yet to whom am I talking? To you, the most gallant gentleman in the world, who, ever since you set foot in the forum, have done nothing but what bears every mark of the most impressive distinction. Why, in that very school you have selected I apprehend there is more vitality than I should have supposed, if only because it has your approval.And I think that is relevant because it is the mistake that many people make, to underestimate the power of feeling to serve as the guide of life. As a result they make the mistake of underestimating the "vitality" of the school of Epicurean philosophy, because they put aside feeling when they should realize that feeling is in fact the center of everything that makes life worthwhile.

    But this is a logical mistake to make if someone thinks that "painlessness" or "absence of pain" or even "immediate bodily pleasure" is the goal of Epicurean philosophy. I think Epicurus was very clear from his deeds and words that such asserts are dramatic misunderstandings, but they will recur so long as people talk about Epicurus in these terms instead of diving deeper into the text to see the underlying role of feeling as the true guide of life rather than virtue/ being good / being holy / being reasonable etc.

    I'm sorry to come late to this discussion, but I thought it was better to continue this thread than to open another one.

    Camotero I meant to comment on this earlier. I think I have turned off the forum software's warning against posting in old threads. You didn't see that warning did you? Because if you did, or people see it elsewhere, I need to work harder to turn it off.

    There are some hazards even for us in reusing in old threads, because I realize that what was said back when the thread started has now slipped my mind, and I needed to refresh myself on why the subject came up. But in general I don't see this as a software support or other type of forum where information becomes obsolete. in general much of what we are discussing is as close to timeless as you can get, so there's no harm and much good in reusing old threads, even those which are much older than this one, so people should feel free to comment on any thread, no matter how old.

    Well stated Joshua! Of what you wrote I would particularly echo this;

    The men and women of the European Enlightenment needed there to be inalienable rights; they did not have the luxury of choosing between the best of all possible political theories.

    I think what you just referenced has to be kept in mind in a lot of what we read in commentators on Epicurus too. For most of the last 2000 years, even today in many instances, the circumstances in which people live dramatically colors what they find to be important and what they are willing and able and "need" to say.

    Referencing the American founders again, there was a lot of talk in that period about freedom OF religion, but not quite so much about freedom FROM religion. So when we cite them (even some of Jefferson's statements) we find them talking more about neutrality between opposing religious sects more frequently than they talk about liberating people from ALL of the oppression of all the religious groups, no matter whether those groups are familiar and local or unfamiliar and exotic. And so now we have enshrined in the Constitution (Bill of Rights) a provision that gives shelter to all kinds of practices and viewpoints that would otherwise be outlawed but for the protection of religion.

    But the point is that everyone lives in a certain context, just like we do today, and people are going to use whatever tools are at hand to achieve their goals. During the "enlightenment" it appears that natural law theory gave them an opening against religion that was harder for the church to refute (given that god supposedly acts through nature), so they used that opening for its immediate effect rather than worrying about what it might mutate into later.

    I think many people use Epicurus in the same way -- they see an argument for "absence of pain" or "tranquility" and they employ Epicurus' name, regardless of whether they really agree with Epicurus' underlying assumptions and direction.

    And that's why many people who talk about Epicurus stop short and don't ever want to talk about the last ten PD's, or many of the other and deeper implications of Epicurean philosophy. They are employing Epicurus for a totally different purpose and direction than he intended, and they end up with a monster (like "natural law") that in its own turn will have to be dismantled when it turns on them in a way that they did not necessarily intend or anticipate.

    "Painlessness" as the ultimate goal, with its implication of desirability of lack of sensation, when sensation is the foundation of life, is as much of a monster as is the concept of a "natural law" when "law" of the type we are discussing is an entirely human creation, which "nature" of itself has no necessary connection, any more than do supernatural gods.

    Thanks for the list of links Don. It's *always* good to compare various translations. I generally default to the Bailey translations first, since they are the most recent "published" public domain translations that I know of, but the more the better. I have most of the Bailey versions transcribed into the menu above under "Core Texts"

    I default to Bailey for the reason stated, but he is by no means my favorite, and I am not sure there is any list anywhere that I fully endorse. Almost all of them seem to have issues and that's why I ended up setting up a subforum for each of the Doctrines and well as each of the Vatican Sayings so we could explore them in detail over time. DeWitt did not produce his own list, and I've for a long time meant to go through and pull out of his texts all of those that he translated (which are many) but I have not found the time to do that. In most cases he has creative ways of looking at them that I think are very helpful. I think a LOT more work needs to be done on almost every one, with a commentary on each one, which I don't think is currently available anywhere.

    No i don't feel this veers to close to politics, because it is impossible to discuss the last ten PDs without going into all this. We need to be careful and it is best to use historic references rather than current issues, and make them generic if possible, but it's an area that demands to be dealt with and fully appropriate here.

    It is an issue that most everyone is going to struggle with but I think it is probably one of the first that people will find their way to after battling through the implications of the totally natural and atomistic universe. In such a universe, where there are no gods and no ideal forms, it is literally impossible for there to be "universal rights" apart from what humans create for themselves. There are many aspects of this, and not the least is the multiple meaning of "right" as "something we approve of as correct" vs a "civil right" or a claim that we can make and expect other people to respect. We all want to believe that those exist in some way, but if we rigorously follow the implications of Epicurean physics I think we find that we have to create and uphold those for ourselves.

    I ran out of time earlier to link to David Sedley's article "The Ethics of Brutus and Cassius" which does not pay nearly enough attention to this issue as I would prefer, but which makes several comments that the Epicureans were much more willing to take action, as a matter of principle, than were the stoics, to preserve their "rights." There is a lot more to develop on that, but that is why I use the example of Cassius Longinus' discussions with Cicero. Cassius was emphatically and specifically calling upon his Epicurean principles as justification for his fight for justice as he saw it, while Cicero was largely on the sidelines in the battle, and - as Sedley points out - Brutus didn't even bother to ask the true Stoics to participate, since as Sedley says there is no tradition in Stoicism of that kind of action to protect rights. (I am paraphrasing too loosely in interests of time but it is a good article. It contains a short reference linking these ideas back to Epicurus himself:

    find it here:…he-expense-of-the-stoics/

    In light of that, I would say laying out agreed upon definitions would have to be allowable.

    I would think DeWitt would say "yes of course" to that. I think he's saying that Epicurus was totally practical, accepting the good that comes through definition, while strenuously guarding against the bad that come can from it if not kept in check.

    So many times this rings in my ears:

    "And so it was that the lively force of his mind won its way, and he passed on far beyond the fiery walls of the world, and in mind and spirit traversed the boundless whole; whence in victory he brings us tidings what can come to be and what cannot, yea and in what way each thing has its power limited, and its deepset boundary-stone. And so religion in revenge is cast beneath men’s feet and trampled, and victory raises us to heaven."