Posts by Cassius

    Godfrey I don't want to bog you down back in Buddhism, because you came here to talk about Epicurus, but as we begin to put this thread aside for future reference I want to be sure I have a basic grasp of the key differences. No doubt there are many similarities in "tools" as there are between many philosophies, psychology approaches, religions, etc. Getting involved too deeply in tools has always struck me as a recipe for confusion and spinning one's wheels.

    Core differences usually come down to goals, and I gather that one very high level conclusion is that while the goal of Epicurean philosophy is the feeling of pleasure (or living pleasurably, which ought to be understood to be the same), Buddhism is ultimately "against" feeling of any kind, and thus the goal of Buddhism is to suppress / terminate feeling.

    Is that a fair summary of that aspect? To repeat i don't want to bog you down in Buddhism, but identifying the goal of Epicurus precisely is probably advanced by making clear what it is "not" and distinguishing it from other goals.

    Godfrey -- When you list those "Four Noble Truths" and "The Noble Eightfold Path" who is the authority that says those "are the most fundamental doctrines of Buddhism?" I'm not sure I've been able to establish anything that people generally take as given - were these endorsed or issued by someone in "authority."

    Of course also that list really isn't a list of "doctrines" so much as a list of "topics." Is there a list in complete understandable sentences as to what each of the four plus eight mean?

    Thanks very much for this so far.

    Here is another way of stating my summary of this problem but it requires background:

    As a first background item, Stoics and others do not like the idea of "pleasure" at all - they find it virtuousness, so they deprecate pleasure and extol pain. From such a perspective there is very little in a philosophy of pleasure which they can find to latch onto, and they have to go looking very hard at Epicurean philosophy to find anything with which they can identify.

    As a second background item, Epicurus wrote his letter to Menoeceus in a context where the prevailing analysis of Pleasure was that expressed by Plato in Philebus. Very few people today have time to read that, but if you were a student of philosophy in Athens you would have known that Plato said pleasure could not be the guide of life because the desire for pleasure is insatiable - can never be satisfied - and therefore something else is more important, and that something else is using wisdom/reason as a regulator to stop overindulgence in pleasure. Epicurus answered that objection to his students by showing them that pleasure does have a limit, and that limit is reached when our experience is full of pleasure, all pain has thereby been expelled from our experience. As a corollary of that observation, Epicurus pointed out that since our experience is full of either pleasure or pain, the *quantity* of pleasure is exactly equal to the quantity of experience in which there is no pain - so in that quantitative perspective, the amount of pleasure equals the amount of where pain is absent, or in summary terms, "pleasure = absence of pain."

    So these two combined set the stage. Epicurus was talking to people who understood his analysis that experience is either pleasure or pain, so the quantity argument was crystal clear to them. But the STOICS and others who dislike pleasure jumped on the equation "pleasure = absence of pain" and they lifted it out of the *quantity* context to argue that pleasure IN EVERY RESPECT equals absence of plain. This is **nonsense**, but they can quote the text out of context and appear to use Epicurus himself in support of their argument.

    And so the favorite technique of those who cannot believe, or cannot agree, with Epicurus that pleasure is the meaning of life transmute the argument so that Epicurus is alleged to have said that this term "absence of pain" is the full meaning of life. Again, this is nonsense, but if relieves them of defending the term "pleasure" allows them to embrace Epicurus, and allows them to say that Epicurus was a proto-Stoic or a proto-Buddhist or whatever kind of ascetic suits their personal preference.

    In my view this is why the definition of happiness and of pleasure itself is so controversial, and why so much time is spend arguing it. If by the terms of our definitions we can write "pleasure" out of existence and define both pleasure and happiness as "absence of pain" or some other amorphous ambiguous term, the the thread of Epicurean philosophy ever meaning anything to ordinary people is thoroughly extinguished.

    Frequently we see an argument that goes something like this:

    "Epicurus said that what we seek most is "eudaemonia" (happiness), and that when we have happiness we need nothing else. 'Eudaemonia' is not the same word as 'hedone,' happiness is not the same word as pleasure, and therefore we should describe the goal of life as happiness and not as pleasure."

    Here are some thoughts about that from my perspective:

    My reading of this issue, which I think is critical, is that it is indeed correct to put the word "Pleasure" in the central role. That's because even though "net pleasure" is probably the best definition of happiness, there's really no need to use another term than pleasure. We are after pleasure, and all our calculations are to maximize pleasure, which generally means "over time." But would it be wrong to grasp some huge pleasure that lasts for a short time, and give up the life after that? Was our departed friend from this group Amrinder wrong to risk his life (and lose it) for the pleasure of flying? Would we be wrong to give up the rest of our life for a friend?

    It seems to me that "pleasure" is the right term, and the main reason we're employing other words like happiness is as an aid in describing to other people that it is stupid not to consider time: that it is generally not a good idea to sacrifice long-term net pleasure to some short term mindless activity that does not in the end practically succeed in generating greater net pleasure. But clearly time is not the only factor, and "intensity" is of at least as great importance, so in the end the single word pleasure remains the most accurate summary term - it's just up to us to clearly understand what is meant. So I think we get tripped up by the "time" issue, but in reality that should not trip us up. "Time" is not desirable in itself. According to Epicurus in the letter to Menoeceus, we don't choose the longest life, but the most pleasant life.

    Also, my read of "happiness" in actual philosophical discussions is that it tends to be the platform by which snake oil is introduced into the discussion, particularly by Aristotleians, who sneak in their other priorities - which are far different from pleasure - into the same word ("happiness"). These people argue that other things are necessary to happiness besides pleasure, and you have to be wealthy or virtuous or public-minded or obedient to the state or all sorts of other "virtues." But once you let anything into your definition of happiness besides pleasure, the definition gets corrupted not only by that other thing, but far worse: How do you know what that "other thing" is? Their answer to that of course is REASON! And then "reason" or "logic" or "wisdom" is on its way inevitably to displacing pleasure as the goal. This was explcitly Plato's argument in Philebus.

    So yes it is true that Epicurus refers to Eudaemonia in the letter to Menoeceus, but the entire philosophy must be kept in context. Here is where Diogenes of Oinoanda kept it in context:

    this topic is why we have quoted Diogenes of Oinoanda so often:

    "If, gentlemen, the point at issue between these people and us involved inquiry into «what is the means of happiness?» and they wanted to say «the virtues» (which would actually be true), it would be unnecessary to take any other step than to agree with them about this, without more ado. But since, as I say, the issue is not «what is the means of happiness?» but «what is happiness and what is the ultimate goal of our nature?», I say both now and always, shouting out loudly to all Greeks and non-Greeks, that pleasure is the end of the best mode of life, while the virtues, which are inopportunely messed about by these people (being transferred from the place of the means to that of the end), are in no way an end, but the means to the end."

    And here is where Torquatus in "On Ends" kept it in context:

    "If then even the glory of the Virtues, on which all the other philosophers love to expatiate so eloquently, has in the last resort no meaning unless it be based on pleasure, whereas pleasure is the only thing that is intrinsically attractive and alluring, it cannot be doubted that pleasure is the one supreme and final Good and that a life of happiness is nothing else than a life of pleasure."

    In fact, the entire Epicurean discussion in "On Ends" is devoted to this very issue:

    "We are inquiring, then, what is the final and ultimate Good, which as all philosophers are agreed must be of such a nature as to be the End to which all other things are means, while it is not itself a means to anything else. This Epicurus finds in pleasure; pleasure he holds to be the Chief Good, pain the Chief Evil. This he sets out to prove as follows: Every animal, as soon as it is born, seeks for pleasure, and delights in it as the Chief Good, while it recoils from pain as the Chief Evil, and so far as possible avoids it. This it does as long as it remains unperverted, at the prompting of Nature's own unbiased and honest verdict."

    Also, to people who are troubled by this issue, I would ask: "What do you perceive happiness to mean in Epicurean terms, if not pleasure?" It really doesn't solve anything to use another language's term, which is all that "eudaemonia" is. This is why I always think it is essential to translate from Greek to English (or whatever language). Leaving it untranslated just hides the ball and solves nothing, because contrary to the Epicurean joking the Greeks did not have a monopoly on clarity in speaking.

    As you go through the examples of the use of the words "eudaemonia" and "hedone" and "voluptas" in the Greek and Latin texts. I think the conclusion is clear that, just as Torquatus said, "a life of happiness is nothing else than a life of pleasure."

    For those who want to dive deeper into this, there are extensive discussions of the issue in Boris Nikolsky's "Epicurus On Pleasure" in our files section, in Gosling and Taylor's extensively documented "The Greeks on Pleasure," and of course in general in Norman DeWitt's "Epicurus and His Philosophy."

    So yes, it is true that naive or first-time readers can be confused by the use of the term "pleasure." Epicurus himself was confronted, as stated in the letter to Menoeceus, by "ignorance, prejudice, and willful misrepresentation." None of which is a good reason to stop talking about correct statements of the goal of life, any more than confusion about "gods" is reason to stop talking about correct statements about the highest forms of life that are possible.

    From the beginning over two thousand years ago the enemies of Epicurus have tried to get him to back down in the defense of Pleasure. Epicurus did not back down, Torquatus did not back down, Diogenes of Oinoanda did not back down, and we should not back down either.

    Yes we educate, yes we bring people along at a pace that is suitable, but are we ever going to convince everyone? Absolutely not, nor should be set that as our goal.

    VS29. "To speak frankly as I study nature I would prefer to speak in oracles that which is of advantage to all men even though it be understood by none, rather than to conform to popular opinion and thus gain the constant praise that comes from the many."

    Of course it's not necessary to speak in "oracles" and Epicurus did not either. All that is necessary is to speak plainly and clearly without ever backing down from the truth.


    is the goal of life "Pleasure" or "Happiness"? Epicurus uses both terms at various times. Here's my analysis of that:

    I certainly would never ask anyone to take anything just because I said it. All I can say is that in my reading, I resolved this issue by concluding that other than the faculty of pleasure, it is improper to look for a single thing or term or definition of "the good" - even "happiness" - because in a universe with no god and no center there is no single answer. Nature didn't give us a single answer - it gave us a FACULTY - pleasure - and said use it as best you can. That's why pleasure is the central word that is used in the letter to Menoeceus, and it's only necessary to look for another word (happiness) because we don't choose the pleasure of the moment, we choose the maximum pleasure available to us, which generally (but not always) means that we consider time.

    But we don't even always consider time, because sometimes we die for a friend, and we don't choose the life that is the longest, but the most pleasant.

    And in the end it all comes back to Pleasure, and in many cases the Epicureans used exactly that word: On Ends: "We are inquiring, then, what is the final and ultimate Good, which as all philosophers are agreed must be of such a nature as to be the End to which all other things are means, while it is not itself a means to anything else. This Epicurus finds in pleasure; pleasure he holds to be the Chief Good, pain the Chief Evil."

    <<< No quibbling about "happiness" there, or in many other passages.

    But there's nothing wrong with the term happiness IF we understand that it refers to pleasure and nothing else. Because IF there is something else, then we need to know what that something else is, and Nature didn't give us a "something else" faculty, and so if we give in and look for "something else" then our ultimate goal will become reason/knowledge/wisdom because that is what we will need to find that "something else."

    Also remember Diogenes of Oinoanda, who does not use the term "happiness" as the final answer in this very important passage, but defines happiness as pleasure:

    If, gentlemen, the point at issue between these people and us involved inquiry into «what is the means of happiness?» and they wanted to say «the virtues» (which would actually be true), it would be unnecessary to take any other step than to agree with them about this, without more ado. But since, as I say, the issue is not «what is the means of happiness?» but «what is happiness and what is the ultimate goal of our nature?», I say both now and always, shouting out loudly to all Greeks and non-Greeks, that pleasure is the end of the best mode of life, while the virtues, which are inopportunely messed about by these people (being transferred from the place of the means to that of the end), are in no way an end, but the means to the end.

    It may be we will need to create a separate subforum for her, but let's start here. This thread originated here.

    Some links:

    Internet Encyclopedia of History Entry

    Link to Her Letters

    Internet Encyclopedia of History Entry: a. Theory of Love: The sentiment of love is predominantly an instinct. It is a passion which owes little to reason. “The precise truth is that love is just a blind instinct which one must personally experience in order to appreciate it. It is an appetite which one has for one object in preference to another. One is not able to provide reasons for why one has this particular taste (LMDS no. 2).” The instinctual and emotive nature of love precludes rational justification for its emergence and development.

    Also: For Lenclos, the activity of love is the clearest human manifestation of the fundamental inclination to maximize pleasure and to minimize pain. Rather than the virtues, it is the passions which dominate the human will in its moral choices. Natural inclination determines psychological interaction as surely as it does the physical interaction of bodies. In exploring the romantic pursuit of pleasure, Lenclos argues for the fundamental equality and reciprocity between the genders.

    I am no expert on Buddhism, but it is my understanding from my own reading, as bolstered from statements of people I respect, that (borrowing from a friend) throughout all the schools [of Buddhism] runs a thread that teaches that our existence is characterized by suffering, and that self-denial and intense meditation is required to reach a state of equanimity that is beyond suffering. As such, I have always seen Buddhism, like Stoicism, as at root all about the suppression of desire (which surely includes pleasure) and therefore totally incompatible with Epicurean philosophy.

    However when in the face of generalizations like that I get:

    "You don't know what XXX said in the year YYYY!" And of course there are hundreds of XXXs and dozens of YYYY's so the implication is we can't get a fair assessment of Buddhism til we have studied all of them.

    Further, I get:

    "Well that may be the position of the 100 million Buddhists in India, by there is Guru XXX in YYYY who had a couple of dozen followers but he was exactly like Epicurus - so don't judge Buddhism by those 100 million!"

    And last but not least for this into post, I get: "But Epicurus is all about "freedom from pain" as the goal of life! That's exactly what Buddhism teaches! "

    And I have to just sigh and start over with them on what Epicurus really wrote about pleasure.

    That's just a sample. The purpose of this thread and subforum is to collect material that will help us all better distinguish Epicurean philosophy from Buddism.

    I do ask this: Please try to avoid the above dismissals and let's attempt to fairly generalize, so that people can read this thread and subforum and be educated about the high-level situation, and not the details which are clearly exceptions to the general rule.

    Also: The Facebook thread that originated this topic.

    Not sure what to say about that other than that I have little regard for Buddhism or Hinduism, so I don't consider their lack of a parallel to be an issue. But i think the real issue is more to be resolved by modern science anyway, and I don't gather that there is a lot of confirmation of the mind receiving info from outside directly. But it's possible that the experiments such as the primitive one mentioned about cell phones and other methods of manipulating the brain will lead in that direction.


    A poster:

    Just remember that the Hebrew word for 'heretic' is 'אפיקורוס' or 'Epikoros'. This author of this blog (referenced here) is much more favorable to Epicureans than many I've read.

    For example, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Epicurean Philosophy "stands for a refined and calculating selfishness [...] a [...] principle, but one which he wrongly applied, since he got rid of what was true [...] The whole philosophy may well be described in a trenchant phrase of Macaulay as 'the silliest and meanest of all systems of natural and moral philosophy'.

    These are some of the shittiest ways of saying 'Epicureans just wanna have fun' I'm come across. []



    Well. There's a solid billion human beings who (blindly, or otherwise) follow a system that maintains that our outlook is both 'silly' and 'mean'.

    Fair enough. I think their system is 'cruel' and 'brutal'. Early proto-Catholic in-fighting, and persecution of Arianists and Chalcedonians, violent crusades against Catharists, vicious wars between Catholics and Protestants, marginalization of Calvinists, persecution of Mormons ... and that's just sectarian in-fighting between people who all believe in Jesus and an afterlife. Not to mention their treatment of Jews and Muslims, who also believe in transcendental powers and an afterlife.

    They don't know what to do with us. 😆

    -------------------- end of poster's comments ---------------------


    Here is a a clip from that page, with a phrase we all know, but which is increasingly significant to me:


    And that does not necessarily mean simply what we see, touch, taste, hear, or smell. Because PLEASURE and PAIN are feelings, and our minds
    process those feelings, yes in part based on current senses, but also on what we have experienced in the past.

    I believe this means that "all good and evil" are in our emotional feelings / reactions to life. Not in simply the data that our senses present to us, but in our FEELINGS about that data.

    No automatic alt text available.

    Death is the end not only of what we see and taste and hear and feel, it is also the end of our consciousness' ability to FEEL ***anything***

    pleasurable or painful.

    Life without feeling - STOICISM - is a living death. And that is what some philosophers, some religions, some people - really want - slaves - a living death! They want us to be ROBOTS. You might as well call Abrahamism and Stoicism with this name: ROBOTISM. They can consider us heretics, I will consider them traitors to the human race - enemies of the human race.

    1) "because all books can teach us something new." Yes indeed that is true, but it is also true that life is short, and you only live once, and you have to be selective about how you spend your time.

    2) No I would not think that is a good summary of the sex position. The GENERAL position, of which sex is just a subcategory, is that all pleasure is desirable but some pleasures cause more pain than they are worth. Since there is no god and no fate and no mechanistic determinism, you have to evaluate each potential love interest and determine whether greater pleasure or greater pain will come from it. There is no one single answer to that question, and the idea that there MIGHT be a single answer is inconsistent with Epicurus at a fundamental level. There are no absolute moral rules. Everything is judged according to context in how much pleasure and pain it brings, considering both intensity and duration (time). If you are 25 and have a great time today, but die from a disease tomorrow when you could have lived to 80, you have very likely poorly judged the pleasure/pain calculus.

    I am starting this thread to compile a list of every time the words Ataraxia, Eudaemonia, and Tranquiitas appear in a core Epicurean text. This will give us a good list by which to compare and study the way these words were actually used by the ancient Epicureans, as opposed to the way we today *believe* they were used. Please feel free to contribute instances, preferable in the form of:

    Passage (quote in English from the passage using the term, and citing who the translator is), Reference Work (Letter to Menoeceus, etc) and cite (line or other reference number to aid in finding the original Greek or Latin.

    When this thread develops enough entries, I will create a wiki page where this will be easiest to find in the future.

    And I have recently put together this new one, which I added to the FAQ. The latest version will stay at the FAQ, but as of 12/15/18 as I write this, the version is below. But don't just copy this, use it for what it is worth, but nothing will sink in until you write your own.

    1. The Universe Operates on Natural Principles And There Are No Supernatural Gods
      1. Gods Are Never Observed to Create Something From Nothing Or Destroy Anything to Nothing
      2. The Universe Operates Through Natural Processes Based On Combinations Of Matter And Void
      3. The Universe As A Whole Is Eternal And Was Never Created From Nothing
      4. The Universe Is Infinite In Size And There Are No "Gods" Outside Of it
      5. True Gods Would Be Self-Sufficient And Would Not Meddle In the Affairs Of Men
    2. There Is No Life After Death
      1. All Things In The Universe Which Come Together Eventually Break Apart
      2. The Soul Is Born With The Body And Cannot Survive Without It
      3. Death Is The End of All Sensation, And There Is No Consciousness Without Sensation
      4. There Is After Death No Heaven or Hell For Reward or Punishment
      5. Life Is Short And Therefore Our Time Is Too Precious To Waste
    3. The Standards of Truth Are the Senses, The Anticipations, and the Feelings, Assisted By Reason
      1. He Who Argues That Nothing Can Be Known Contradicts His Own Argument
      2. Reasoning Is Based On The Senses And Is Not Valid Without Them
      3. The Sensations Are Without Reason, Incapable of Memory, And Do Not Inject Error Through Opinion
      4. The Reality Of Separate Sensations Is the Guarantee of The Truth Of Our Senses
      5. Not Only Reason, But Life Itself, Fails Unless We Have the Courage To Trust The Senses
    4. The Guide of Life is Pleasure
      1. Pleasure, Along With Pain, Is A Feeling, One Of The Three Standards Of Truth
      2. Pleasure and Pain Include All Types of Physical And Mental Experiences
      3. The Mental Pleasures And Pains Are Frequently More Intense Than The Physical
      4. Feelings Of Pleasure Are Desirable And Serve As The Guide of Life
      5. Pain Is To Be Avoided But Is Accepted For The Sake of Greater Pleasure Or Lesser Pain
    5. The Goal of Life Is Happiness
      1. Happiness Is a Life In Which Pleasure Predominates Over Pain
      2. If We Have Happiness We Have All We Need; If We Lack Happiness We Do Everything To Gain It
      3. There Is No Absolute Virtue, Piety, Reason, Or Justice To Serve As the Goal of Life
      4. Virtue, Piety, Reason and Justice Are Valuable Only Insofar As They Bring Happiness
      5. All Actions Are To Be Judged According To Whether They Bring Happiness

    I don't want to too liberally paste from the work of others on Facebook, especially where pasting might be out of context, so two threads where these discussions originated and some very helpful comments by others are here:…rmalink/1947949955253955/ (Cassius thread on validity of senses)…rmalink/1948794961836121/ (Nate thread on gods)

    More relevant texts:

    Cicero mocked Cassius and the entire subject of images in this and other places, but his mentioning of them points up their significance and is evidence they deserve our attention:

    "I expect you must be just a little ashamed of yourself now that this is the third letter that has caught you before you have sent me a single leaf or even a line. But I am not pressing you, for I shall look forward to, or rather insist upon, a longer letter. As for myself, if I always had somebody to trust with them, I should send you as many as three an hour. For it somehow happens, that whenever I write anything to you, you seem to be at my very elbow; and that, not by way of visions of images, as your new friends term them, who believe that even mental visions are conjured up by what Catius calls spectres (for let me remind you that Catius the Insubrian, an Epicurean, who died lately, gives the name of spectres to what the famous Gargettian [Epicurus], and long before that Democritus, called images).

    But, even supposing that the eye can be struck by these spectres because they run up against it quite of their own accord, how the mind can be so struck is more than I can see. It will be your duty to explain to me, when you arrive here safe and sound, whether the spectre of you is at my command to come up as soon as the whim has taken me to think about you - and not only about you, who always occupy my inmost heart, but suppose I begin thinking about the Isle of Britain, will the image of that wing its way to my consciousness?"