Posts by Cassius

    The second episode of the LucretiusToday podcast is now available for download. Lots of work went into preparing this episode, so please let us know your comments, suggestions, criticisms, etc.

    If you have questions you would like us to cover in the next episode, please place them in a comment or send us an audio file and we will try to incorporate that into a future show. Ongoing future discussion of the episode will take place here: Episode Two - The Lucretius Today Podcast

    This second program covers approximately lines 62-80 (from the 1743 Edition):

    Indeed mankind, in wretched bondage held, lay groveling on the ground, galled with the yoke of what is called Religion; from the sky this tyrant shewed her head, and with grim looks hung over us, poor mortals, here below; until a man of Greece, with steady eyes, dared look her in the face, and first opposed her power. Him not the fame of Gods, nor thunder’s roar, kept back, nor threatening tumults of the sky; but still the more they roused the active virtue of his aspiring soul, as he pressed forward, first to break through Nature's scanty bounds. His mind’s quick force prevailed; and so he passed by far the flaming limits of this world, and wandered with his comprehensive soul over all the mighty space; from thence returned, triumphant; told us what things may have a being, and what cannot; and how a finite power is fixed to each; a bound it cannot break. And so Religion, which we feared before, by him subdued, we tread upon in turn. His conquest makes us equal to the Gods.

    This is an important question about which there are several sections of Cicero criticizing Epicurus for not paying enough attention to it. I gather that the Epicureans did not admit that he omitted this, but that he denied the analysis being given to it by the logicians and asserted another approach to it that he held to be superior.

    So this part quoted below may not be something that the ancient Epicureans admitted to "dispensing" with - but asserted that they dealt with in a different way:

    categorization, logic, and abstraction are indispensable especially when communicating with others our subjective experience and the knowledge we get out of it.

    So the challenge is to articulate the Epicurean counterpoint, and probably not to admit the approach to or the priority of these subjects suggested by the Platonists.

    Great to hear from you - post whenever you can. So you've move from truck-driving to surveying? Quite a move there must be a story behind how you picked surveying!

    "the shining borders of the light",

    Interesting that you picked that reference because it is one that interests me too. I think i have seen it rendered as well "shores of light" as if a reference to a seacoast, and it has always made me wonder what was being implied by the allusion. I gather that it generally is used in context of certain atoms coming together into bodies which then become visible - which were not visible before due to their size - but it seems to have been a metaphor for birth or something else that we ought to recognize as significant given that the phrase is used regularly - and I bet this is worth discussion to bring out the subtext.

    For those who are reading along in this thread, I've had some discussions about scheduling an open session for next Wednesday night, the 29th of January, at 8PM Eastern time, so you might want to pencil that into your calendar. I'll post an agenda but pursuant to my latest thinking I suspect the best thing to do would be to devote at least part of the beginning to starting to talk about the letter to Herodotus, but then of course it would be great to hear general thoughts and commentaries and any brief "getting to know you" info material you'd like to share. More details to come.

    I trust that everyone here reading this is at least largely on the same page as to general approach to things, so it might be preferable for us to open up the invitation in stages. It would probably be a good idea for the first stage to be those of us here at Epicureanfriends as the first invitees, perhaps with some selected people at Facebook, rather than simply posting a public notice on FB or other locations.

    If you haven't joined us before we've been using Skype, so that will be the way to join at least for the first event or two.

    I understand why you say that Charles, but I am actually saying the exact opposite. The Letter to Herodotus was the first of the three listed by Diogenes Laertius, and consistent with the presentation in Lucretius, it seems probable that the Epicureans started off confirming new students in the nature of the universe before they instructed them on how to live.

    And that makes sense at a very fundamental level, because if indeed the universe had been created by gods, then Plato and the Stoics would be correct -- we should spend our time talking about how the gods want us to live, which means "virtue" in their Platonic/Socratic/Aristotelian sense of the word.

    So while we probably should not go line by line and as slowly as we are going through the Lucretius poem, if we devote a couple of sessions to the letter to Herodotus first then that lets us cover the 12 Fundamental Principles, and gives us the foundation so that when we get to the PDs and the VS we have a background on what is meant by pleasure. The letter to Herodotus has the direct references from Epicurus as to how we consider the "feelings" as a standard, and that is essential to the ethics:

    And besides we must keep all our investigations in accord with our sensations, and in particular with the immediate apprehensions whether of the mind or of any one of the instruments of judgment, and likewise in accord with the feelings existing in us, in order that we may have indications whereby we may judge both the problem of sense perception and the unseen.

    (Do a word search for feelings within the letter to Herodotus and it occurs numerous times. This sets us up for seeing the role of feelings within the ethics, without which there is no basis for Epicurus asserting the role they should play.)

    I think I am beginning to take the position in general that the letter to Menoeceus needs to be among the LAST things presented to a new student of Epicurus, and for better or worse the PDs and the VSs are in a similar category. Although they do contain a general statement about not fearing gods, they don't explain WHY -- if you start with them you are at the position of answering "Why don't we fear the gods" by saying "Because I say so!" and that's not a good answer. And that's because none of these establish within themselves the basic views on the nature of the universe, and on how to think -- they all look back at the points that were discussed first in summary form in the letter to Herodotus and in more detail in "On Nature" (that we have through Lucretius).

    I write this after having edited the second episode of the Lucretius podcast. It strikes me that it is extremely helpful to be going through that from the beginning, rather than going straight to the Principal Doctrines or any other fragments, because it grounds us in the basics first.

    For that reason I've revised the "prospectus" for what we would do in this project, both the online meeting and the open discussion, to say that rather than starting with the Principal Doctrines and Vatican Sayings that we go first through the Letter to Herodotus, Epicurus' most basic letter, and then after that move to the PDs and VSs.

    Of course we can cite them as relevant during the discussion of the letter to Herodotus too, but by sticking with the letter we get Epicurus' most basic advice at the beginning.

    I don't have an elaborate comment on Mike's suggestions at this moment but i suspect that a large part of the answer relates to DeWitt's discussion of "anticipations" in Chapter 13 of his book, along with the opening of the letter to Herodotus:

    For those who are unable, Herodotus, to work in detail through all that I have written about nature, or to peruse the larger books which I have composed, I have already prepared at sufficient length an epitome of the whole system, that they may keep adequately in mind at least the most general principles in each department, in order that as occasion arises they may be able to assist themselves on the most important points, in so far as they undertake the study of nature.

    But those also who have made considerable progress in the survey of the main principles ought to bear in mind the scheme of the whole system set forth in its essentials.

    For we have frequent need of the general view, but not so often of the detailed exposition. Indeed it is necessary to go back on the main principles, and constantly to fix in one’s memory enough to give one the most essential comprehension of the truth.

    And in fact the accurate knowledge of details will be fully discovered, if the general principles in the various departments are thoroughly grasped and borne in mind; for even in the case of one fully initiated the most essential feature in all accurate knowledge is the capacity to make a rapid use of observation and mental apprehension, and this can be done if everything is summed up in elementary principles and formulae.

    For it is not possible for anyone to abbreviate the complete course through the whole system, if he cannot embrace in his own mind by means of short formulae all that might be set out with accuracy in detail.

    Wherefore since the method I have described is valuable to all those who are accustomed to the investigation of nature, I who urge upon others the constant occupation in the investigation of nature, and find my own peace chiefly in a life so occupied, have composed for you another epitome on these lines, summing up the first principles of the whole doctrine.

    First of all, Herodotus, we must grasp the ideas attached to words, in order that we may be able to refer to them and so to judge the inferences of opinion or problems of investigation or reflection, so that we may not either leave everything uncertain and go on explaining to infinity or use words devoid of meaning.

    For this purpose it is essential that the first mental image associated with each word should be regarded, and that there should be no need of explanation, if we are really to have a standard to which to refer a problem of investigation or reflection or a mental inference.

    And besides we must keep all our investigations in accord with our sensations, and in particular with the immediate apprehensions whether of the mind or of any one of the instruments of judgment, and likewise in accord with the feelings existing in us, in order that we may have indications whereby we may judge both the problem of sense perception and the unseen.

    What may be intended as humor instead becomes a redefinition or repudiation.

    I very much agree with that. I feel sure that the Epicurean texts could not have been totally straight and humorless - that would contradict everything we should expect. No doubt they would be earnest, but also incorporate humor and joking.

    True, said I. But do you, then, deny that pain is evil, and pleasure is good, in an abstracted sense?

    Further, I would probably agree with Barwis that the answer to this question is "No" if we are talking "pain = evil" and "pleasure = good." Just as Barwis said, "that must depend upon the signification we give to the word good" and issues of terminology are important to honor, just as we have to deal with terminology issues in "absence of pain" not being equal to "pleasure" in every respect.

    If Barwis were wanting to replace John Locke's blank slate by a strong call to return to "religion" or to "virtue in the Platonic/Stoic sense" in a way that Epicurus would have strongly objected to, this passage, here at the end of the book, is where Barwis would have hammered home the point.

    And ONE MORE THING! You did not quote the FINAL WORDS OF THE DIALOGUE! ---->

    Here we were interrupted by the presence of the ladies who came out to meet us; when our conversation turning upon more agreeable things, our discourses on these subjects ended, and were not renewed during my stay in the country.


    No hammering home of the virtues of religion and devotion to god and religion - instead they turn to the ladies, and to more agreeable (pleasing!) discussions, and the conversations "were not renewed during my stay in the country."

    I do think that ending speaks legions as to what Barwis really thought! ;-)

    Boy that reminds me of how much I like that Dialogue, and consider it almost to be a work of art in itself!

    Excellent question Lee. No, certainly not fully consistent, but I think if you re-read from the beginning of the dialog, and especially if you were to read the "Three Dialogues on Liberty" that are similar in form, you would conclude as I do that Barwis' is at best a Deist and maybe not even that, and that his religious references are more superficial than fundamental. In fact in Three Dialogues on Liberty he makes lots of references to how religion is a foe to liberty.

    Further, on this precise question, he also seems to be dealing with the definitions of "good" and "evil" which need to be dealt with. It seems to me that while he is admitting that pleasure and pain are the fundamental drivers, he is trying to carve out a caveat for the words "good" and "evil" as more broad terms, maybe in the way that we can describe physical exercise as good (in being productive of ultimate pleasure) while being painful while we do it. It seems to me that he wants to use good and evil to describe "actions" to account for the fact that the same action as we know can sometime be pleasurable and sometimes be pleasurable.

    So in the end I think to answer the question by asking Barwis whether, if he is not referring good to pleasure, what IS he referring it to? And in reading the text he does not give a clear answer, other than maybe some lofty words. Now lofty words are trademarks of Stoicism / Platonism / Religion, so I would not argue with someone who wants to fault him for that. But my guess after reading this many times is that the kind of fault that he deserves is the kind that belongs to someone who knows the truth, but doesn't want to express it straightforwardly for reasons of his own. (Afraid?)

    So yes taking this passage out of context it definitely rings with problems. But when you look at the rest of the text, and see that the purpose of the work is to undercut the "blank slate" theory by focusing on feeling, without giving any real credit to standard religion or standard idealism, I think the final result is something that I do think is very helpful for someone who is thinking about how to apply the Epicurean insight that "feeling" is the real standard of Nature.

    Thanks Godfrey, I have not heard of that. Is that a phone OS program? I think the key is getting the podcast listed in the main central providers, and that is what I need to investigate next.

    In the meantime I am pleased to say that we have Episode 2 of the Lucretius podcast recorded and it should be ready in a couple of days.

    i think it would be interesting to dive into the latin etymology of "voluptas." The core seems to be related to "desire" of some kind, does it not, rather that strictly "pleasure"? I need a better online reference for the Latin because most of the discussions don't go into the roots of the Latin itself - they site the latin final forms which mean pleasure, but don't discuss the latin root forms from which it is composed.

    i am perfectly prepared to grant that words can be used in special ways and that we shouldn't rush to judgment. Epicurus clearly used special meanings for words like "gods" which have to be taken into account.

    But the accumulated thrust of stoicism is also very clear - words like "Indiffference' - "apathy" - "stoic" all have taken on generic meanings which cannot all be so far from the truth. The stoics were pretty clear about what they clearly were getting at, and what they were getting at was pretty repulsive, even in the form that it is used today covered over as "Therapy."