Cassius I think you are remembering when I teasingly said Nietzsche was being "emo"-- which is not just emotive but over the top weepy and introspective pop music. And somebody got mad at me for being disrespectful to Nietzsche. Lol!
Ok, just getting to this... let me give a more complete description of my perspective.
I disagree with Don that it is inferior if a scientist makes pleasure primarily out of doing research, vs some broader collection of pleasures. If that is the most reliable pleasure for the scientist, why wouldn't she choose it? "Moment-by-moment" pleasures _can_ create an overall pleasurable life. I do not think comparing science and profligacy makes sense-- they are nowhere near the same. But I have an implicit assumption here which I need to make clear-- I am talking about a real scientist, one who understands the use of evidence the same way Epicurus did-- because that _is_ science. Such a person would not have supernatural fears or be prone to non-evidence based contagious social ideas in the first place, because of having a scientific approach. That is the person's immunity to being dragged off track away from pleasure.
My scientist was not really hypothetical. My dad is a retired physicist and my mother was a mathematician. I never knew anyone who _only_ did science, lol, but I grew up surrounded by scientists and their families, and they were among the happiest (meaning, for me, experiencing sustained pleasure) people I knew. They were not beset by superstition... but they were not explicitly philosophers either. Many of them spent long waking hours pursuing their research projects. They all had families whom they enjoyed spending time with as well, and like my dad, they often spent family time teaching their children about science. Some of my most pleasurable memories involve my dad teaching me physics, from early childhood. It was a central pleasure, which seems to me very similar to Epicurus' instructions about studying nature with friends.
I observe that if a person is securely absent supernatural beliefs, they often tend to intuitively do the hedonic calculus, and they are often quite skilled without a sense that they have a philosophy. And if they have lived a long life making wise choices but have not formally written down or thought out a philosophy, I am very resistant to saying their happy lives were just due to blind luck. No-- they were happy due to their understanding of the scientific process and their natural ability to choose pleasure (including sometimes experiencing pain for greater pleasure).
As an adult, I have met non-scientist atheists who understood just enough about science to feel secure in rejecting un-evidenced notions and social fads, and I have observed that these people, over time, develop great skill in choosing pleasure-- but they are not philosophers. This evidence, right in front of me, prevents me from making assertions that someone must have a philosophy to wisely choose a pleasurable life.
Epicurus was able to develop his philosophy because it (IMO) is the _only_ one you can have if you are a scientist and pay attention to reality. No other philosophy holds up at all, under scrutiny.
My personal experience was to have been raised with a strong science foundation, and that was what helped me avoid ideas that make no sense, like Skepticism and various idealisms. I did not have doubt about these things being wrong. My natural enjoyment of pleasure became my guide. So when I read Epicurus, I had joy to find someone who had the same perspectives, like a friend from long ago... but even before I found him and before I saw how he had beautifully put together the structure of his philosophy, I had learned to make wise choices for my life. I also had joy in realizing I could find other people who thought about life as I did, by looking for Epicureans. I am extremely glad I found Epicurus-- but I was also already practicing the philosophy without calling it one, and it was functioning well.
As far as obstacles go, for me they have not been alternative philosophies and superstitions but normal griefs of life-- which I feel fully when they come up. I am not afraid of my feelings, and similar to Epicurus I would say that the most severe griefs do not last in their most intense form very long, and the milder griefs are not difficult to cope with, when one focuses on activities that bring pleasure-- for me, the main antidote to grief is social pleasures. Hugging my friends and family, singing together, eating and talking together, etc. I have had many griefs in life, and that is what has worked for me-- I don't tend to philosophize about grief. Often pleasure is strong even after losses, when I think about how fortunate I was to have known and loved the person who is now gone, and take time to remember them. I find pleasure in the sensation of poignancy and nostalgia.
What I'm wondering if I hear in Don's words-- and maybe not, Don -- please correct me if I'm wrong-- is an implication that pleasures must not just be sustained but somehow of a superior type, perhaps what I call a "meaning project", and I disagree with that. Some people do require a meaning project for pleasure, but not everyone does. It is a matter of temperament and likely neurology. But I strongly disagree that there are inferior and superior pleasures, if the pleasures are truly equivalent in their fullness. There are no trivial vs important pleasures. That is idealism and abstract thinking creeping in. Then you wind up with people saying things like "we should not try to have pleasure but meaningfulness"-- but what is meaningfulness without pleasure? What is beauty? Why would anyone want any of these things without the pleasure in them?
It is quite possible to intuitively understand and practice this without ever being a philosopher, and I've seen it done and don't even think it is extraordinarily rare. We don't see those folks on our philosophy forums, because they probably don't even know it is a thing, but they are out there enjoying life.
I should have been more specific, Cassius, about where I disagree with Lucretius' procedures. I was thinking about the section we covered last week, with the smooth, rough, or hooked atoms.
I am not so much concerned that his conclusions turned out to be incorrect as I am about how he arrived at them, through reason and analogy. Rather than this being a case of experimental error or a mistake in understanding an observation, it was a method problem. It's a great example of how reason is fraught with error.
I wouldn't have minded if he said it might be that way. But that's not how it was presented. And even in that time, I would have distrusted someone who used imagination to arrive at part of their case about the nature of things. It wouldn't have allayed my fears, because it wasn't arrived at with sound methodology, and you don't have to be a physicist to know the difference between observations and imagination/ reasoning by analogy.
I think it's important to confront problems like this, because it could make the philosophy less credible to someone who notices how Lucretius arrived at his assertions. And then to say this does no damage at all to the solid structure of the philosophy, because we can remove all the pieces arrived at by imagination/analogy and still reach the same conclusions.
Don -- I am going to summarize my opinion about this issue, so I have it in one place. I might change my mind with a strong argument against this, but right now I feel pretty definite about my position.
I find the strong assertion of "this is how it is", based on reason and analogy, in the section of Lucretius we just read as incompatible with Epicurean philosophy as I understand and practice it. The philosophy is just fine, in my opinion, but this particular approach of stating hypotheses about unobserved processes in a manner as if the hypotheses are factual is a mistake.
It is inconsistent with the Canon of knowledge, that we know what is true by observation, prolepsis, and feeling. The insistence on not using reason to determine truth (vs practical use of reason to decide on wise action, based on _observed_ truth) was one of the primary things that drew me to Epicurus.
I have for years said the atheists should not celebrate a Day of Reason. They should have a Day of Evidence.
I don't have any trouble with Epicurus saying that the possibility of multiple explanations for a single phenomenon is not a problem-- I agree. What I have trouble with is the way Lucretius is saying, to paraphrase, "it's like this, and we know it by analogy and reason." No. We do not know, because that is not how we "know" things.
I feel like Epicurus' language about these things, in the full context of his work, is more adherent to the Canon than the way Lucretius is presenting it. But anywhere that he presents a hypothesis as if it were decided fact, I disagree strenuously.
And it wouldn't have mattered if I had lived back then and not known the physics we know now-- my fears would _not_ be relieved if someone tried to reassure me using a method of determining truth that I already knew to be faulty. If the goal is to relieve my anxiety, it would not work to use that kind of extrapolation. I wouldn't trust it, and I would remain anxious about what was really going on. I would not trust someone who made assertions without evidence about the _rest_ of what they were telling me.
And leaving things that are unknown as so far blank spots on our map is fine with me, as it also appeared to be for Epicurus. That is completely different from the Skeptic position of saying we can't know anything at all.
Hypotheses are fine-- sometimes they lead to experiments which can test them, and sometimes they are just interesting.
Most importantly, because everything comes down to pleasure, why do I want to avoid confusing hypotheses with facts?
1) Because I would know my ideas about reality were derived from reason, not observation, and I would remain anxious and doubtful about my conclusions
2) Because misinformation can lead to unwise choices, more pain than pleasure, whereas being aware of unknown areas is fine. One can still make pragmatic decisions while remaining aware of uncertainties.
The issue of how much inquiry and science learning relates to pleasure is an individual preference. Like people who enjoy opera or the Three Stooges or both. I definitely get a lot of pleasure from science.
My argument against the supernatural gods going around interfering with humans has more to do with a complete _lack_ of evidence, and this was also true in Epicurus' time. Observing nature helps a person notice that supernatural action does not show up, and a lot of this is from the predictability of natural processes that Lucretius has already made note of, that we never see the bizarre things happen that would be frequent if reality were not material. That is a reasoning process, to be sure, but it is tightly tied to observations and is not the same as the leaps of analogy in the section we just read. One does not need to be a physicist or neuroscience to understand that line of argument.
I think Cassius and Elli have put it just as I would.
The only things I have to add are that I prefer to dwell in reality and not imaginary hypotheticals like this, because the devil is in the details. Let's say that such a machine exists. Who designed it? How much do you trust both their motives and their skills-- is it really wise to hand over your sensory input to a machine which could be taken over by someone else and used to torture you? What if the machine breaks? And you can't access reality to extricate yourself? I do not think an Epicurean would typically accept a hypothetical where those things couldn't happen, because that takes the scenario out of reality as we know it. A decision would have no relevance to us or bearing on our real life philosophy.
Our ability to perceive through our senses is critical to being able to choose pleasure. In making this imaginary choice, a person typically tries to "double" themselves-- but they can't fully double. They can't really let go of the pre-machine condition of knowing that life would be going on without them-- that they wouldn't really be seeing their friends, only imagining it. That they would miss out on the pleasure of knowing they are really there for their friends-- the pleasure of _being_ a friend. That creates a pain in the imagination which can't be removed in the hypothetical. It has nothing to do with valuing something other than pleasure. It is an inability to believe there would not be a feeling of painful loss in the machine. A sort of anticipatory loss. And no matter how many times you reassure a person that they won't know they've lost reality, they can't imagine it. So a normal person will not choose the machine.
We don't have to make something new-- we have Epicurus already. We just need to build our community so that we revive the classic philosophy.
Don as to the question why they would do that, it seems clear to me, partly because I tried it out also. It is for the pleasure of community and the ease of familiarity. Although I didn't grow up with those myths, having been raised atheist, everyone around me was Christian. I got interested in their myth, as a metaphor, and it was 100% more available than making something new up. The beautiful buildings were already there. Some of the music is stunning. The rituals can be beautiful and pleasurable.
For those who grew up in that tradition, however, there would be even more reason. Those hymns can be like Proust's madeleine. Lots of layers of memory and positive associations for them.
I did participate in an "atheist church" group a few years ago, in a friend's home, and that was fun, although no one shared my philosophy. I'd actually say some of the atheist Christians came closer, because fewer of them were universal consciousness types and had less of a humanist flavor. The atheist group was kind of a mishmash of secular Buddhism, humanism, Platonism, and secular paganism. We took turns providing material for the meetings. We had many discussions in which I unsuccessfully tried to persuade them on most of the points in Epicurean Philosophy, without knowing anything about Epicurus. I might have done better, had I known how to outline things the way he did, but idk. I had the parts but they weren't all organized.
When I tried to start a local Epicurean group, I got a few humanists. I made better arguments for Epicurus that time, but his words fell on deaf ears.
So you see, it is not easy to build a group like that-- it isn't surprising that they want to re-purpose the existing structures. IMO the only flaws are that their philosophy is not Epicurean. Lol, I think any philosophy that is not Epicurean is a flop!
And let me be clear-- just because our specific pleasures and pains developed through survival and reproduction advantages does not make survival/ reproduction our primary goal. There is no absolute good in survival and reproduction. I was just giving the descriptive background. Once a species has evolved the capacity for pleasure and can make choices, pleasure itself is the goal of life.
I'm not defending their philosophy, but I think it is important to be clear on exactly how they are using language and not create straw men to criticize. There is plenty to criticize about them without doing that.
Eugenios, what I am saying is that they are using it exactly that way. They are using it entirely metaphorically and they are _not_ bringing in religious belief. For instance, if they say "God", they are referring to the entire universe, just the material universe. Not to any sort of being-- it is exactly the way Epicurus uses the word Nature. It is not true that the Christian atheists have gone halfway. They do not believe at all in the literal truth of any of it.
There is a different group you may be thinking of, just broadly progressive Christians or those who understand parts of the bible as literary devices but other parts not. They would definitely be subject to the critique you give.
However, because I personally know some of the real Christian atheists, I assure you that they are using these terms the same way as Lucretius did. Their philosophy is a mess, but they are not in any way literalists.
I agree with everything Cassius has said, Eugenios, and I think this is an extremely important issue to understand, in order to thoroughly grasp this philosophy. Once you have fully gotten it, you won't have trouble recognizing when people aren't understanding it.
One way people can accidentally slip into idealism on this subject is through using personifying language about nature. Epicurus did do that, but I am sure he made certain his students knew what he was doing. If that is tripping you up, you might want to avoid using metaphorical language and see if it is easier to avoid this trouble.
The actual way we got to develop both the capacity for pleasure and specific preferences is through evolution. Humans who followed their desires to pursue pleasure and avoid pain survived and reproduced-- but it is not that the sweet fruit which was life-supporting was designed for us and the poisonous fruit not. We evolved together. The sweet fruit propagated by having us eat it and evacuate its seeds, so those fruits which matched our tastes most closely were propagated more, and we learned to continue to eat them-- humans who had a taste for them and could get those calories survived. The poisonous fruit which does not spread that way survived humans eating it by mutations which killed or repelled through taste --- the fruit without that taste and/or poison mutation didn't survive, if our eating it killed it off. The humans who ate food tasting that way didn't make it. None of this was according to any kind of design.
The typically shared pleasures of our species were evolved, such as a tendency to empathy and cooperativeness... but the "cheater" niche, which includes sociopaths, is a consistently filled niche in most if not all species. It isn't unnatural. It has advantages and disadvantages, and a member of the cheater niche is going to feel pleasure and pain from different stimuli than the rest of us. Their subjective pleasure can only be sensed by them. Species with cheaters also evolve ways among the typical members to detect and contain cheater activity within a certain range-- or else that population tends to die off. Unchecked cheating is not a successful evolutionary event.
In the last two paragraphs, I have gone beyond what Epicurus said, because he did not have all the evolutionary science available to him which we have now. But I think what I have said is coherent with the philosophy. I have not yet found any observable material phenomena to conflict with his philosophy, because it is based in reality.
On Christian atheism-- it's actually a thing, not an oxymoron at all. It is people who take the supernatural elements of the bible metaphorically, even thinking that's how the words were intended. The same as we read Venus in Lucretius metaphorically. They think literalists missed the whole point of those writings. People like John Shelby Spong. It's a fairly popular position in the progressive churches.
Eternal life for them does not mean individual life-- more what we talk about, that the matter doesn't die, but also that sense of timelessness people have in moments of strong love.
I tried this practice out myself many years ago. I was attracted to the love aspect, because I'm a person with strong feelings, similar to many others who practice it. And I enjoy singing with others.
It's different from humanism in that it isn't a generic love for undifferentiated humanity-- it isn't utilitarian. There's even a lot of pleasure in it. But because of the archetypal sacrifice myth it is centered around, it places self-sacrifice and sacrificial service way up there. It has the weird Christian discomfort with money. And it advises non-judgment of others as well, which doesn't always make sense. It prefers being a lily in the field, not activity-- being Mary, not Martha-- and as we've discussed, either rest or activity is fine depending on which is needed, timing-wise, for pleasure. Pleasure is not at the center of Christian atheism. Sometimes pleasure requires dying for another person, and certainly generosity with property and time is often a huge pleasure, but it is even better if we are able to live together with our friends enjoying life instead.
When pleasure is not the goal, there is no way to keep a philosophy from going off the rails.
Interesting-- I thought he was saying that most people don't do either rest or activity pleasurably, rather than that rest was preferable. For pleasure you would do best to rest or sleep when tired and be active when activity is more pleasurable. People get sore when they sit around all day, and it feels good to take a walk.
A person who doesn't realize pleasure requires getting out of bed in the morning would be in a stupor... a person who doesn't realize pleasure requires taking breaks and also sleeping could get manic. A certain percentage of the population does get hypomania when sleep deprived.
If the person can remember that neither rest nor activity is the main goal but only a means to pleasure, then that person could enjoy both.
I had taken the word "vain" here to be the less commonly used English definition of futile. We usually say "in vain" for that, but "vain" alone can be used the same way. Vs the other meanings of worthless or prideful.
It wouldn't seem in character for Epicurus to call desire worthless or prideful, or even the object of desire-- but as Elli said, it's simply something that has no existence and thus cannot be obtained. We would desire it in vain because it doesn't exist-- say, infinite power, inexhaustible money, etc.
I think the article is fairly thoroughly dreadful. It pushes that weird tranquility view instead of actual pleasure, and it wants us to gloss over the real fear and grief involved in this pandemic in a way that seems Stoic.
As far as I know, Epicurus wasn't opposed to reality-based fears-- just unnecessary anxiety over things that don't exist. We are not anesthesiologist philosophers. Some of what is happening and will happen with the virus will be quite sad. It's normal to be afraid and to grieve. Just be wise, learn the facts, and take action for your pleasure, including looking after the people you love.
I have been busy seeing patients-- in Alabama, they weren't testing until a few days ago, and now "suddenly" we have 5 patients. Despite cases encroaching on our borders on 3 sides, officials kept saying "it's not here." Of course the virus does not read maps! So we are behind the 8 ball, a shame when we did have such a good advance notice to prepare.
So now that there are cases in the state, though the Georgia cases are closer, my town has gone into a panic and bought all the food. The photo is my local grocery! And bottled water-- who knows why. All they need to really do is social distancing but instead they bought all the toilet paper. I've read people are buying bidets off Amazon.
I am definitely concerned about my elderly friends and family. The case fatality rate is very high for them. I'm sticking to work and home right now, because I'm one of the few docs who decided to think ahead and wear a mask to work last week. The others are going to be out on quarantine soon, I bet, so I will be busy.
At the exponential doubling rate, every 6 days, we will soon see worse problems than Europe unless people do take social distancing seriously, because we have a bad shortage of ventilators and hospital beds. Many rural hospitals in my state have gone bankrupt and closed in the past several years. Several counties have no hospitals. 1 in 4 grandparents here is raising grandchildren without parents, due to drug arrests, compared to 1:10 nationwide -- the age group harder hit. Who is going to take those kids, I wonder?
If people do take this seriously, it might wind up looking much better.
I am curious whether we are being told the truth about the leveling off of new cases in China. I wouldn't be surprised if they were lying, given their past record.
I suggested to my elderly Chorus friends that if any of them run out of something which one of us can share, I will help by letting the sharer (if not me) put the item in my car trunk and I can drive to the receiver. They can get it from my trunk without coming in contact. We all have some supplies and will be able to help each other if necessary. So we are not alone in this. Of course I have some dried beans, like Epicurus did!
It's early in the morning and i don't have time to continue but i think in Eugenios' post THIS part will bear further elaboration:
We REALLY have to define what we mean by "living pleasurably" I think. Almost by definition, someone who derives "pleasure" - and I deliberately put that in quotes - from their heinous crimes isn't living pleasurably by almost any rational societal understanding
Eugenios, we must remember pleasure is strictly a feeling, _not_ a rational understanding that we define. It isn't defined other than by the feeling itself. So not only don't we need to define it further, doing so would be counter to Epicurean philosophy. We all know what the feeling is.
Some people will have pleasure in activities that most of us would abhor. We share most of our genomes-- it shouldn't surprise us that humans agree on many pleasures and pains. We aren't clones, though, and we have unique life experiences, so we'll also have some differences in pleasure.
Because there is no absolute standard of what "should" bring pleasure, only the person having the feeling knows if they are living pleasurably or not. Pleasure cannot be measured from the outside, only subjectively.
To my mind, Epicurus was speaking of a normal, typical person, who would live in fear of being caught (and I would add for myself, in dread of the grief due to empathy for whoever I harmed).
A sociopath often does not experience the same kinds of worries we would, and certainly not empathy/remorse. If sociopaths get pleasure from acts that harm us, it's real pleasure for them. Some of them do get away with it in the long run and have pleasurable lives hurting others.
There is nothing about this philosophy that says the pleasures of people won't come into opposition. It's not a philosophy that will cause every person to adhere to the same practices. But because we care about our pleasure, we would be wise to do our best to avoid dealing with sociopaths and if necessary, we can attempt to restrain them. If we structure things wisely, we can increase the chance that a budding sociopath _would_ realize a benefit from not murdering, etc.
As a side note, sociopaths appear to respond to rewards more than punishment. Punishment is not a highly effective deterrent for them, partly due to typically high impulsivity.. If they see a path to pleasure that involves following laws, they do sometimes take it.
Mike, the most coherent explanation is that ataraxia is not itself a full description of a state-- it is merely the absence of disturbing conditions, fears, and the like, which would impede pleasure. And yes, if there's no pain, there's pleasure, for sure!
What has happened is that modern understandings of the word tranquility, instead of "without disturbance", imply a very passive state of muted pleasure, so people have gotten confused and think that's the goal.
There is no such thing as too much pleasure, because then it would be pain, at the moment it is felt to be "too much"... a person will have fluctuating energy levels and intensity levels that will suit them best. Less than that intensity will leave them searching for more, due to remaining pain, and too much intensity of a stimulus will be painful, causing them to back away. It's not a balancing act of pleasure-- it's finding the maximum pleasure point in the action that we want.
Of course, the joke in that song is that while singing it, Baloo, a bear, is demonstrating "bear necessities" to Mowgli. It's obvious Baloo is completely missing that Mowgli can't make use of bear necessities, because he is human-- Mowgli fumbles when trying to copy Baloo. Bagheera is watching them and gets what is going on.
Baloo's necessities, despite being presented with the play on "bare", are as luxurious as a bear could imagine, which is also part of the joke-- that he's going on about simple, etc, while he is eating delicious food and playing. Who wouldn't want to eat pawpaws and swim in a beautiful river? It's like a person on an expensive tropical vacation bragging about their simple life. We are supposed to get that this bear is _not_ living a restricted life. He has a pleasurable life. Pleasure itself is shown as the bear necessity.
If you take it beyond the species-specific message, you could say that the individuals have their own pleasures-- just as a bear pleasure necessity is not a human pleasure necessity, one person's pleasure is not always another's. Bagheera knows that, and that pain is the result of not getting the message. Mowgli lets pleasure guide him at the end, not just his species pleasure but his own.
"Nature" is what has caused the phenomena of keeping up with the Joneses and working to impress others. It's not an artifact of civilization. Social status in human groups is a serious issue for health-- it's even an issue for less advanced primates. So nature won't help a person make those decisions, which are quite natural, unless the person has fully absorbed the primary lesson that pleasure is the goal. By taking pleasure as the goal, a person would avoid getting caught in unpleasant social competition but could engage in it strategically if necessary to serve pleasure.
When I go for a job interview, I make sure my clothes and typed CV are in condition to make a good impression on strangers-- for the pleasures I will use my income for. I'm aware of competing with others for the position. If it were necessary to do that "constantly" to gain pleasure and prevent pain, there are times that would be the wisest choice. It would only be unwise if there were more pleasurable alternative choices.
If he meant this as anything other than "pleasurable measure", he was wrong. IF, Hiram. IF. I do not think he meant it the way you are running with it.
I do not think he was talking about some kind of Buddhist-like happy medium of wealth either. In many settings, extremes are unpleasant, but it is not because they are extreme that we avoid them, merely because they are unpleasant.
I don't think you are deliberately leading readers away from pleasure. I just don't think you understand the big picture.