Posts by Hiram

    Cassius have you read Anti-Seneca? I found this mention of "fair minded" funny because, at the end of anti-Seneca, La Mettrie serves the same irony and mockery in reverse, praising him while he mocks and insults him like Seneca did with the Epicureans. And La Mettrie is a very eloquent and refined orator / writer, which makes him seem even more like a smart-ass.

    Another thing I loved about Anti-Seneca is his explanation of how "noble" reason is held in such high esteem, when all it does is come to the aid of the passions to rationalize and justify them when people follow their passions anyway instead of their reason, how the Stoic designation of man as a "rational animal" serves to add to this air or mask or nobility and this artificial separation of humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. The truth is we are not so rational. I've never seen this explained so eloquently as in La Mettrie.

    It adds another layer of perspective to the tension between the Epicureans and Reason, and to why the Epicureans appear within the lineage of the laughing philosophers, because this way of seeing Reason makes us very cynical about how full of shit many people are, particularly virtue proponents. In contrast to this, La Mettrie sees the Epicurean approach as more natural and honest, more authentic.

    Has anyone read Seneca's "On Happiness". It might be interesting to read after finishing "Anti-Seneca" by La Mettrie, because it seems like LM was reacting to this particular work, and at the closing of Anti-Seneca, La Mettrie produces a brilliant attack-mixed-into-praise for Seneca that mimicks Seneca's own word-play when discussing the Epicureans. This was the funniest and most enjoyable part of Anti-Seneca, which is actually a GREAT work of Epicurean literature.

    The depiction of Seneca at the end of Anti-Seneca is BRILLIANT!!!!

    Either way, I found this on the original text that La Mettrie was reacting against:


    "Book X ends with perhaps the sharpest contrast I’ve read between Epicureanism and Stocism: “You devote yourself to pleasures, I check them; you indulge in pleasure, I use it; you think that it is the highest good, I do not even think it to be good: for the sake of pleasure I do nothing, you do everything.” Well, I’m glad we’re clear on that!

    Skipping to book XII, we find a nicely balanced defense of Epicureanism from the apparently common abuse that many made of the term (which is still true today, indeed arguably even more so than in the time of Seneca): “Men are not encouraged by Epicurus to run riot, but the vicious hide their excesses in the lap of philosophy, and flock to the schools in which they hear the praises of pleasure. They do not consider how sober and temperate — for so, by Hercules, I believe it to be — that ‘pleasure’ of Epicurus is, but they rush at his mere name, seeking to obtain some protection and cloak for their vices … The reason why that praise which your school lavishes upon pleasure is so hurtful, is because the honourable part of its teaching passes unnoticed, but the degrading part is seen by all.” This is a good example of Seneca’s fairmaindedness, as well as of his compelling style of argumentation, whereby he manages to both strike a point in favor of his opponents and one against them in a single sentence.

    This defense of Epicurus — something that, for sure, Epictetus would never have uttered — continues in book XIII: “I myself believe, though my Stoic comrades would be unwilling to hear me say so, that the teaching of Epicurus was upright and holy, and even, if you examine it narrowly, stern.”

    But book XIV goes back to a critique of the pleasure principle: “those who have permitted pleasure to lead the van, have neither one nor the other: for they lose virtue altogether, and yet they do not possess pleasure, but are possessed by it.”

    In XV Seneca explains why one cannot simply combine virtue and pleasure and call it a day. The problem is that sooner or later pleasure will pull you toward unvirtuous territory: “You do not afford virtue a solid immoveable base if you bid it stand on what is unsteady.”

    Even the "natural/necessary" distinction is ultimately nothing more than a rule of thumb and we don't have any significant examples of the Epicureans dwelling on it as as bright line test. ...

    THAT category helps to protect us from runaway, innumerable, limitless desires that run to infinity, and this is a crucial component of Epicureanism. If there is no satiation, if you're in a constant state of anxiety and of craving needless things, you won't be able to abide in pleasure. Diogenes on his wall includes limitless desires as one of the roots of all evils. So it IS kind of important to know that we don't need much and that what we need, we can easily procure. Everything over that is the cherry on top.

    So how are you construing it?

    It's making me think of Epicurus' promise that we will be able to enjoy CONSTANT pleasures if we apply what he taught, for instance like when he says in Menoeceus "you will never be disturbed either when awake or in sleep". I feel like this needs to be connected with the logic behind "constant" pleasures considering that it is not in our constitution to be constantly expending large amounts of energy, so we need to mind our dispositions while idle and while active. That's how I'm tending to construe it for the time being.

    This (as well as the "physicians" question) is arising as a result of my work on the audiobook, because it's bringing up sources that I've never before considered with attention. I have to write introductions to the writings, which is forcing me to think about them carefully.

    The physicians--I relate this to La Mettrie, who worked with patients with venereal diseases and who made the claim along the lines of "physicians are the best philosophers", or something to that effect. This was interpreted by one author writing an essay on La Mettrie as meaning that the physicians are the best philosophers because they think about the body and soul merely in material terms, seeing the body as a machine, rather than interpreting things like the theologians or by convention.

    So naturally I wanted to see if the anti-physician discussions by Epicurus and Metrodorus had something to say on this, but I do not think that we can take things from one ancient context and apply it to the Enlightenment context.

    I understand if you insist on correcting what you see as an unEpicurean opinion, I'm simply pressing based on the need, once you correct an error, to come back to the writings and understand what the Epicureans were saying--because I have a hard time imagining that a Platonist sneaked into the Garden and added heretical notes to a scroll! :) It's more likely that the Epicureans were discussing these things and that the discussions belong to a legitimate line of reasoning, and that we owe it to ourselves to rescue that.

    So that once we say: "passive pleasures are neither superior nor inferior to active ones", we have to consider what was being discussed in VS 11.

    One of the possible things that comes to mind is that Epicurus has been cited as saying "I call you to constant pleasures", and that this line of reasoning is that passive and active pleasures both complete a lifestyle of constant pleasures. We can not be always active (or else we'd be exhausted) or constantly idle.

    And if we fail to revisit VS 11 in good faith, or if we diss "idle pleasures" which are legitimate, we are missing an important component of our ethics.

    But may the most important thing to observe here is that what you appear to be doing is looking to take this statement, isolated by someone whom we know not, nor for what purpose, to bootstrap an argument that katastematic pleasure is somehow the highest good of life. That is explicitly the argument of Okeefe and others who opine about "ataraxia" as if it is something different from pleasure.

    This is a huge error on your part, to suppose that this is what I'm implying or saying, or to over-interpret VS 11 in this manner even. Nowhere is there mention of "higher", "lower", "better", "worse", etc. Read VS11 again, and you will see. This is YOUR interpretation. The saying does not have to be interpreted in that manner.

    And finally, asked another way, is there really any purpose in discussing katastematic/kinetic distinctions other than as a way to promote "pleasures of rest" as superior to any other kind? I really can't think of any other purpose behind the distinction, and that seems to be how it developed and how it is used both then and now. And since elevation of one type of pleasure as intrinsically superior to other types of pleasure would violate core Epicurean principles, I can see the possibility that the subject captured in VS11 came up in an Epicurean argument against that assertion (against the assertion of katastematic pleasure as intrinsically superior).

    I really don't think that the author of the Vatican Sayings made the argument that one is equal or superior to the other. You're jumping over the discussion, and questioning why this should even be in the doctrines.

    VS 11 is there, so we should make a good-will effort to read it and see what it says. The recognition of the existence of both types of pleasure does not imply the superiority of one over the other.

    So one way to look at this is: in what context, while discussing what issues, would Epicurus say something like: "For most men rest is stagnation and activity is madness"? What teaching was being imparted? And WHY did this matter enough for our happiness that it needed to be included in the VS?

    The reason why this matters is that the doctrine is being offered here as an alternative to concrete ethical problems (boredom, stagnation, existential ennui, stress, madness, etc.).

    (2) I am not sure I really understand why you would take the phrase in the direction you are taking it: "VS 11 seems to be implying that philosophers should educate themselves to experience rest as pleasure rather than stagnation / ennui / boredom, and to experience action as pleasure rather than madness / stress."

    Why not simply take it at face value? Which is something like "most people do not intelligently use either their periods of rest or their periods of activity in a way that maximizes their pleasure."

    Right, but why is this an established doctrine? Why would the Epicureans make this worthy of memorization?

    The saying does not say or imply that abiding pleasures are "superior" to dynamic ones, or anything of that sort. If this is being said by anyone, we should consider that a SEPARATE argument and put it in a thought bubble and address it separately, without losing the point being presented here, which is that there is a need to remedy both ethical problems.

    I think VS 11 is pointing the finger at ailments / dis-eases that require medicine, and the way this ties to the teaching is that BOTH of these are problems for which philosophy has the remedy.

    This is from Pyrrho's biography:


    Pyrrhonism flourished among members of the Empiric school of medicine, where it was seen as the philosophic foundation to their approach to medicine, which was opposed to the approach of the Dogmatic school of medicine.

    and here is the essay on the empiric school of medicine:

    which says, among other things:


    Galen noted that the Empirics approached medicine exactly as the Pyrrhonists approached the whole of life.[1] Many of the well-known Empirics were also Pyrrhonist teachers, including: Sextus Empiricus, Herodotus of Tarsus, Heraclides, Theodas, and Menodotus.

    The Empiric school said that it was necessary to understand the evident causes of disease, but considered the inquiry after the hidden causes and natural actions to be fruitless, because Nature is incomprehensible. That these things cannot be understood appears from the controversies among philosophers and physicians

    So I wonder if these controversies that the Epicurean founders were writing against were related to some of the writings of these thinkers in particular, and were against Pyrrhonism / Skepticism in general.

    In other words, if the empiric physicians did not believe that the body was governed by aspects of nature that were knowable, then they were unable to profit from scientific inquiry into the working of the body. Against this, the Epicureans could have argued that the "hidden" causes of dis-ease WERE knowable.

    Here, it would be VERY useful to see if Lucretius argued that germs existed. The article goes on:


    ... there are no new diseases, and hence no need for any novel methods of healing. If a patient had an unknown type of illness, the physician would not recourse to obscure knowledge....

    What matters is not what causes, but what cures the condition. It does not matter why a concoction works, only that it does work.

    Which, of course, is false. NEW viruses emerge, germs and viruses do mutate and evolve, and we are in the midst of a peculiar outbreak right as I write this!

    So the Epicureans would have argued against this that IT DOES MATTER what causes a disease, that knowing this can be a matter of life and death, and that knowledge about this will help us to avoid wasting time with false remedies.

    The Epicureans may have also produced a criticism of the epilogistic method developed by these physicians, which is defined as "a theory-free method of looking at history by accumulating fact with minimal generalization and being conscious of the side effects of making causal claims. Epilogism is an inference which moves entirely within the domain of visible and evident things, it tries not to invoke unobservables." - SO the Epicureans may have discussed methods of inference while arguing their case.

    Here is an essay on the Dogmatic School of Medicine. We would merely be speculating, but it would be interesting to imagine how the ideas of this school may have related to Epicurean doctrine.


    For most men rest is stagnation and activity is madness. - Epicurean Saying 11

    I think it was Laertius who explained that the argument of how pleasure exists in both katastematic and kinetic forms (static and dynamic) is because Epicurus was critiquing the Cyrenaics, who believed that pleasure could only exist in the satisfaction of the senses here and now. Aristippus of Cyrene told people to practice "presentism", to be present to the pleasures of the immediacy. Epicurus, instead, told people that they could also reminisce about past ones and anticipate future pleasures.

    Diogenes of Oenoanda elaborates on these arguments.

    And I know that some of the modern Epicureans find this idea of kinetic/katastematic pleasures controversial, and I know Cassius has said that he believes these categories are not found in Epicurus' extant writings. We have record of a past dialogue here.

    But we never considered this saying in discussing that. I think VS 11 does seem to name a problem that is being addressed by the kinetic/katastematic categories of pleasures, and I wonder if these Sayings can be traced back to the founders.

    VS 11 seems to be implying that philosophers should educate themselves to experience rest as pleasure rather than stagnation / ennui / boredom, and to experience action as pleasure rather than madness / stress.

    I also think Cassius is on to something; without having looked into the Greek, is it possible we're dealing with works Against Physicians, and works Against Physicists? We use the term "pre-Socratics" to refer to Democritus, Thales, Anaxagoras, Anaximander, etc. Is that a modern convention (as I presume), or a Roman one, or something else? Because all of them developed competing physical theories.

    It's modern, and highly critiqued by modern Epicureans like Michel Onfray:…er-history-of-philosophy/


    Onfray starts with Plato himself, who never mentions Democritus directly, although his entire philosophy is a war-machine against Democritus. Plato’s tactic here is to ignore, to omit, to silence the enemy, so as to diminish and disregard his value. In one passage discussing Aristoxenus, Onfray narrates how Plato once insinuated that the works of Democritus should be burnt, but two Pythagoreans persuaded him not to burn them. At all times, Onfray convicts Plato of knowingly engaging in an ideological battle, a problem which is made worse by the fact that in the “official” history of philosophy, there haven’t been enough attempts to find the real voice of his opponents.

    The academic world has adopted the Platonic narrative and delegated Democritus in the history books to the status of a “pre-Socratic”, which trivializes his intellectual achievement as the inventor of atomism, although Democritus lived at the same time as Socrates. Democritus was born in 460, Socrates in 470. Perhaps it’s easy enough for historians to fit facts and people into neat categories, but the myth of the “three classical philosophers”–Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle–has been perpetuated unthinkingly ad nauseam by academia, and has attributed an unfair amount of importance to these three to the detriment of all the others.

    Lucian may be relied on here for a further insight;

    "Torches and squills" must refer here to some kind of traditional sham medicine?

    Very likely.

    I also remember that the fragment "Friendship dances around the world …" was inspired in a traditional medicinal practice where people danced around the patient, that there was a curative ritual of a sort. I wonder if the argument that the founders were making was that It is FRIENDSHIP that offers the medicinal placebo effect.

    Also, the Hippocrates essay says:


    Hippocratic medicine was humble and passive. The therapeutic approach was based on "the healing power of nature"

    Obviously, this doctrine of there being a "healing power of nature" is confirmed by the existence of an immune system, and we know much more about this today. But an Epicurean critique to the passive method of Hyppocrates (and ancient physicians) would have been to propose ACTIVE measures that could be taken for one's health. After all, health is a natural and necessary pleasure.

    aaah, here is the Hippocratic oath:


    I swear by Apollo Physician, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.

    To hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents; to make him partner in my livelihood; when he is in need of money to share mine with him; to consider his family as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they want to learn it, without fee or indenture; to impart precept, oral instruction, and all other instruction to my own sons, the sons of my teacher, and to indentured pupils who have taken the physician’s oath, but to nobody else.

    I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion. But I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art. I will not use the knife, not even, verily, on sufferers from stone, but I will give place to such as are craftsmen therein.

    Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free. And whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession, as well as outside my profession in my intercourse with men, if it be what should not be published abroad, I will never divulge, holding such things to be holy secrets.

    Now if I carry out this oath, and break it not, may I gain for ever reputation among all men for my life and for my art; but if I break it and forswear myself, may the opposite befall me.[6] – Translation by W.H.S. Jones.

    which strikes me as fairly innocent and useful, I remember Philodemus associating piety and oaths and saying that they were solemn and had to be upheld

    Here is the biography of Hippocrates himself, which reminds me that ancient people, when they got sick, used to visit the TEMPLE OF ASCLEPIUS and sleep there, believing that through dreams the god would heal them. There MUST have been an Epicurean critique of this, which was a very common practice of his day, as well as any type of reliance on oracles for healing.

    So I'm pretty sure some of what occupied these critiques may have been natural explanations of diseases and of dreams, which could easily be recreated today.

    Now, Hippocrates denied supernatural causes to diseases, BUT had a wrong theory of them. Wikipedia says


    However, Hippocrates did work with many convictions that were based on what is now known to be incorrect anatomy and physiology, such as Humorism

    (article on humorism is here: - and it's possible that Metrodorus and Epicurus produced a critique of this theory from an atomist perspective, maybe arguing that microbia the size of small particles cause diseases.)

    Do we see in Lucretius at least a brief mention of the germ theory? If so, this may have been inspired in those reasonings.

    But are we sure we are talking about "physicians" or "physicists" because I have the impression that referring to physicists may be a reference to hard determinism such as from Democritus but I am not sure at all.

    Good question / let's look into this.

    The Physicians. Meaning, the doctors, or whatever passed for medicine back then.

    I wonder if Hippocrates lived before Epicurus, and if so, did his teachings and his famous "oath" have philosophical implications that inspired a critique?

    Laertius just mentions that these works against them were written by Metrodorus and Epicurus, which means they must have had MANY and LONG conversations about them, or exchanges with them.

    Does anyone have any idea why both Epicurus and Metrodorus seem to have dedicated not just one but a collection of writings to a long critique of "the physicians"? Were the ancient Greek physicians a school of philosophy, or did Greek physicians have particular views that inspired an attack by them?

    Metrodorus wrote THREE books, and Epicurus an epitome of objections against them.

    "They are all soul, ignoring their bodies; let’s be all body, ignoring our souls."

    It will be interesting to see if Mettrie walks this statement of his back or carries it further because the rest does look very promising.

    His book "Natural history of the soul" will show you that part of his project is to convince people that the soul is 1. physical / natural, and 2. mortal, and his study of the faculties of the soul will furthermore show you how familiar he is with the Epicurean canon.

    Interesting that he includes Hegesias (a Cyrenaic) among the stoics and idealists.

    It was against him that Anniceris wrote, when he proposed a philosophy of friendship (replacing Hegesias' misanthropy with philanthropy) and believed happiness to be attainable (replacing Hegesias' pessimism with optimism), and these developments make him THE CHAIN that connects the Cyrenaic tradition to the Epicurean tradition, so much so that scholars consider Anniceris a "proto-Epicurean".

    Here are my notes on Hegesias from Lampe's book: