Posts by Elayne

    Seems that Catherine Wilson has taken on Nussbaum:

    Part of the criticism stems from the insinuation that people can not be trusted with moral relativism. I’m not sure where I stand with that.

    Hiram, I appreciate your honesty regarding your uncertainty about moral relativism. I have suspected that is an issue for you, from reading your book and from many of your posts and comments. The alternative to relativism is absolutism, or a mixture of some relative and some absolute areas (which seems to be the most common approach to me)-- and that is not a position consistent with Epicurean Philosophy. As an online friend, I can say that you seem like a very nice person-- and not yet an Epicurean. I do not think you have fully placed pleasure as your goal in life. That is understandable-- in our culture, it is hard to adopt a fully Epicurean position. However, I have serious concerns that you have become a public figure who is thought to be an Epicurean, when you have not really embraced the whole philosophy. I believe you would have the best chance at a pleasurable, happy life if you could become comfortable with the relativism in Epicurean Philosophy-- and that those who are following you as their Epicurean expert would also be better off. I am following Epicurus' example by being frank with you here, because friends are honest with each other, and I hope other Epicureans will be frank with me should I go off course in some way myself.

    A member of our group alerted us to this video, which makes a number of serious errors. I am posting it for the purposes of illustrating the differences between Epicurean Philosophy and some inaccurate modern popularizations.

    First, as we've discussed several times in this group, ataraxia and aponia (absence of anxiety and absence of pain) are certainly integral to the feeling of pleasure-- however, these are not words to _substitute_ for pleasure, and they don't indicate some unusual or special kind of pleasure.

    Think of it this way-- to put a chair in my living room, I must have an absence of empty floor space where the chair is. But I don't say "I put an absence of empty floor space in my living room"! That tells you nothing at all about what is there instead of empty space. I say "I have a chair", and then you will know what I mean.

    In the same way, reduction of pain and anxiety is important to make room for pleasure, but a removal process doesn't describe pleasure.

    That is why Epicurus used the word for pleasure-- because everyone knew what he meant. It wasn't an esoteric term, and it didn't mean some kind of rarified monk-like state.

    Second, it is kind of hilarious how the video makers have misunderstood the movie Office Space. The scenes they show as representing Epicurean action are intended by the screenwriters as part of the long series of errors made by the lead character, Peter, and his friends. Action scenes, such as kicking a faulty piece of equipment, are presented by the video makers as representing static mental pleasure-- a bizarre decision.

    Getting stuck in a miserable Dilbert cubicle is clearly not pleasurable, but the initial efforts to get out include theft (which Epicurus advised against due to the consequences of pain) and other heedless moves. It isn't until Peter realizes he has caused danger to his friends, the pain of which is not worth the potential gain, that the plot turns.

    Instead of glorifying slacker culture, the movie takes it apart. We learn that Peter has already been doing nothing for most of his day, staring into space pretending to be busy. When he finally decides to get a job he enjoys, he is much more active than before, and he is engaged and smiling. He's enjoying working beside his neighbor. Overlooking the cliches about blue vs white collar work (one can be intellectually active too), it is clear Peter has decided to use his freedom to arrange his life for pleasure-- while his software engineer friends, in contrast, remain stuck.

    Who represents the outcome of doing nothing? The arsonist, who gets the money and uses it to sit under an umbrella on the beach, still complaining constantly.

    I would not call Peter an Epicurean model, although his final move was in that direction.

    Beware of this type of misleading presentation of our philosophy. You will miss out on your possibility for a life of pleasure if you follow this neo-Epicurean path of aiming towards minimalism, doing nothing, and blandness. Instead, understand that your choices have consequences of pain or pleasure, and make those choices wisely. Aim for pleasure! What will you do _today_ to move towards your own pleasure?


    My intuition is that many of those folks, at least the smarter ones, don't actually take those things literally. But they are afraid to break ranks. It's a naked emperor situation. More about groupishness/ loyalty than it is about belief. You show your loyalty to the tribe by saying you believe absurd notions. This seems to be a common behavior in our species. I'm an outlier, which gets called low "agreeableness" in the Big Five personality tests. Agreeableness meaning whether you will go along with your crowd, not whether you are friendly.

    As a lifelong atheist in the South, I've been at plenty of events where there is some kind of group prayer, and by keeping my head up and my eyes open, I find out who else isn't praying. It's not always who you'd guess. ?

    But this groupish dynamic shows up in all sorts of ways, not just among politicians or around religion. I have been on organizational boards where the decisions made absolutely no sense, until I realized who the "teams" were. This is why I would not make it as a politician-- because that's just not how my mind works. I figure if we're on the same team, we want to tell each other the truth, but that's not how it's done.

    Couldn't have said it better, Joshua! We use wisdom only to decide our actions-- the feelings are a direct interaction with reality, like the senses. A key difference of understanding between Epicurus and the Objectivists.

    This reminds me of a ridiculous sentence in a study I read several years ago, which measured the fat content in human milk over the first year of an infant's life. It rises during that time, which surprised the researchers, and becomes higher than whole cow's milk. Their conclusion was along the lines of: more study will be needed to determine if this is safe for infants over one year of age. I laughed so hard that I dropped the journal.

    I'm glad you are safe! My dad, stepmother, and brother/sil/niece moved to Oveido, just east of Orlando, so I've been checking in with them... their first hurricane drill! They said the same as Nate, no big deal. The houses are made with concrete blocks these days-- everything is tied down/braced/ storm shutters and so on. But they've decided to get a generator to be ready for next time.

    23 and 24 ... if someone is "close" to me, meaning I love them, of course my pleasure will naturally be tied up in theirs. But a "suffering world" concept may not wind up being helpful to your happiness. You may find that Epicurus' way of treating humans as specific individuals is a better route to pleasure. The other might lead you into idealist social utilitarianism, which doesn't follow from the philosophy.

    #24 My advice-- if clarity doesn't cause pleasure, who needs it? But if clarity on a certain issue increases pleasure, then it's a useful tool. What is "betterment"? Something different from pleasure?

    Your philosophy has several elements in common with Epicurus, and a few that might pull you away from a life of pleasure.

    The tabula rasa is not generally thought to be accurate these days-- there are a few holdouts, but they are regarded as similar to flat-earthers. Like other species, humans appear to have some innate pattern recognition. Some of these innate "programs" are online at birth and others appear in developmental sequence as the brain matures-- but just because the pattern recognition shows up later doesn't mean it is empirical, vs innate. Linguistics has provided some of the supporting research... also, babies in all cultures, independent of variations in experience, show specific behaviors and understandings at specific ages. Smiling, object permanence, sharing behaviors, and specific fears of snakes despite no past exposure, the dark, being left alone (reliably by 6 months old) appear on a schedule. Babies even have rudimentary physics expectations, at the same ages, not thought to be only from observation. This makes sense because evolutionary pressure would select for these patterns supporting survival to reproduce. If we had to learn everything from scratch that would be inefficient and risky.

    It appears that we have an innate sense of justice that may be based on symmetry, as we would expect from the tit for tat models. And think about partnership preferences which may be influenced by the expected health of the partner/ child bearing/raising potential-- these are likely not learned only by observing other partnerships and outcomes, because there wouldn't have been sufficient data by the time of sexual maturity. Instead, evolution has done that slowly.

    Epicurus' prolepses fit these findings perfectly IMO!

    I am confused by #12 under Physics, that the swerve is a consequence of biological complexity rather than that the universe has always been probabilistic. I don't think there's evidence for that, but if you have evidence can you cite it? Also, the use of the word "perfect", with swerves as a deviation from perfect, implies an ideal-- I understand the Epicurean position as saying ideals are nonexistent rather than that the material universe fails to achieve them.

    I have had a private and enjoyable conversation with a member about Epicurean friendship, and I think it has been a while since we specifically discussed friendship here. The member had a question about how "agape", an ancient Greek term for love which has been used for a sort of general charity and well-wishing by Christians, might be able to blend with our philosophy.

    Here is a good example of how, by sticking to the original 3 part philosophic structure of Canon, Physics, and Ethics, and by using original texts, we can take an Epicurean view of friendship. After doing so, it will (I hope) be clear to our members that trying to incorporate incompatible elements of friendship from Christianity would not have the same results.

    The Canon contains the tools by which we interact with reality-- our senses (which we take to include instruments used to extend these), the prolepses, and our feelings of pain or pleasure. Applying the Canon to friendship, it is clear that we must have our senses in order to observe the existence and behaviors of other people-- children may have imaginary friends, but real friendship involves specific, real people. I would say that the role of prolepsis here includes our evolved processes for social interactions, which emerge developmentally and are not learned from scratch by personal experience alone. And our subjective feelings of pain or pleasure upon being with specific others provide us critical information about their intentions towards us.

    From Physics, studied by means of the Canon, we know that we are mortal, that we have only this one life, and that there is no absolute morality in the universe-- no tablet of commandments and no rule about how to treat others. From the observation of nature included in physics, we see that pleasure is the evolved way organisms with nervous systems have developed to recognize what is health-giving and life-sustaining and pain the signal for tissue damage. Our observations teach us that members of the same species will tend to usually have many pains and pleasures in common, but individual variation of genetics and environment means we will also differ. Because of our more advanced cognitive skills, humans are able to consider our net pleasure, not just the pleasure of the moment, and plan our actions even more wisely.

    This information leads to our Ethics, our ways of deciding how to act in various situations, in order to have net pleasure for ourselves. Remember that ethics and virtues are not absolute but are tools to use for the resulting pleasure. Let's look at some of Epicurus' words about friendship, which were based on the Canon and Physics.

    PD 27 "Of all the things which wisdom acquires to produce the blessedness of the complete life, far the greatest is the possession of friendship" (Cyril Bailey). These are strong words. Epicurus based this on observation of his life and that of others. I find that for me, he is correct. I advise you to use the Canon to determine if this is true for you.

    Letter to Idomeneus: "On this blissful day, which is also the last of my life, I write this to you. My continual sufferings from strangury and dysentery are so great that nothing could increase them; but I set above them all the gladness of mind at the memory of our past conversations. But I would have you, as becomes your lifelong attitude to me and to philosophy, watch over the children of Metrodorus" (CB). Epicurus' pleasure in friendship was so strong that even the memory of it provided pleasure during his painful dying process. It was important to his pleasure that he knew he had taken care to provide for his friends even after his own death.

    VS 23 "All friendship is desirable in itself, though it starts from the need of help" (CB). This means that even though friendship is instrumental for other pleasures, the friendship itself is a pleasure. I find this to be very true and would go further in saying the intrinsic pleasure of friendship is the strongest.

    PD 39. "The man who best knows how to meet external threats makes into one family all the creatures he can; and those he can not, he at any rate does not treat as aliens; and where he finds even this impossible, he avoids all dealings, and, so far as is advantageous, excludes them from his life." (this translation is from I do not see the translator).

    VS 28 "We must not approve either those who are always ready for friendship, or those who hang back, but for friendship’s sake we must run risks" (CB). Advice based on observation of what happens in each of those situations.

    Those two quotes, PD 39 and VS 28, remind us that because we are using reality-based processes, not idealistic concepts, we will not have anything to do with virtues that treat all humans the same. We will not use abstract consequentialism. We must use our observations and feelings to find out who is a friend to us and who is not.

    VS 56" The wise man feels no more pain when being tortured himself than when his friend tortured."

    VS 57 "On occasion a man will die for his friend, for if he betrays his friend, his whole life will be confounded by distrust and completely upset." (both of these translations I got from

    , and there is a note that these have been reconstructed).

    These last two quotes are very important, IMO. We are _not_ being advised to feel pain or to die for friends as if to be virtuous-- these are descriptive quotes. They are observations of what true friendship feels like-- that we are so connected to our friends that their pleasures and pains cause us pleasures and pains. Although friendship must be mutual to be real, the feelings themselves are not contractual. There is not a cold calculation that we use, nor logic, minus feelings, when it comes to our friends, because we love them with all our hearts.

    Elli tells me that the Greek word for friendship is "filia", which comes from the word "filo", to love (which she says now also means to kiss).

    In summary, Epicurean friendship is not abstract. It is a real relationship, of deep mutual feeling, between individuals. It is not compatible with the religious or idealistic expressions currently described as "agape". In my life, like Epicurus, I have been more glad for the love between friends than for any other pleasure.

    I would think the decision would be based on individual assessment of net pleasure.

    I have a type of autoimmune arthritis, and before menopause, whenever I would eat meat or chicken, my feet swelled up-- so I didn't eat them. I could eat fish occasionally but not often. This was the case for about 15 years-- I used to check every so often to be sure it was still true, because I love a juicy burger, lol.

    Fortunately, that seems to be less of an issue now... but now animal protein seems to worsen insulin resistance for me, if I eat a regular serving. So I eat a little here and there, not much at one time. It doesn't bother me on a empathy basis.

    Some people may have unusual sensitivity to thinking about eating animals that causes them disproportionate mental pain, and it makes sense for them not to eat animals as long as no net pain results from that decision.

    If I were a politician, my pleasure would probably partly depend on keeping my job and upon accomplishing policy that would bring me pleasure, otherwise I wouldn't have run for office -- and to do that, I would need to consider the pleasure needs of the voters, otherwise they might vote me out. So I don't see those processes as incompatible.

    I would likely vote for an Epicurean before a utilitarian (depending on their specific policy positions), because a social utilitarian takes a quasi-religious view towards creating some kind of hypothetical "average happiness", and an Epicurean would be more likely to assess the actual pleasure requirements of real voters and not according to some sort of ideal. A person like that would be interested in what I need for pleasure, because I have friends and could influence the election, possibly. At least at the state level, I have been able to influence an occasional election by public speaking without making any financial contributions.

    Plus, I could get to know that Epicurean as a friend, and then her happiness would include mine, lol.

    Catching up here-- and I see that part of my post today on FB is relevant and echoes what others have said:

    "VS 56 The wise man feels no more pain when being tortured himself than when his friend tortured.

    VS 57 On occasion a man will die for his friend, for if he betrays his friend, his whole life will be confounded by distrust and completely upset. (both of these translations I got from and there is a note that these have been reconstructed).

    These last two quotes are very important, IMO. We are _not_ being advised to feel pain or to die for friends as if to be virtuous-- these are descriptive quotes. They are observations of what true friendship feels like-- that we are so connected to our friends that their pleasures and pains cause us pleasures and pains. Although friendship must be mutual to be real, the feelings themselves are not contractual. There is not a cold calculation that we use, nor logic, minus feelings, when it comes to our friends, because we love them with all our hearts."

    Perhaps we could assign a number or nickname to each error type-- corresponding to the Not Neo-Epicurean list? And then note some common patterns by the same shorthand-- "this is the 1-2-5 error", etc.

    Back when I was politically outspoken on my prior FB personal page, I got tired of making repetitive rebuttals to nonsense. So I wrote a long, numbered "note" with all my arguments, evidence and references included. Every time someone would use one of the arguments I'd already countered, I would just post a link to my note with the relevant number. Occasionally there were long conversations in which my opponents kept repeating the same long fallacious statements, nothing new or creative, and my responses were only numbers, often the same numbers repeated.

    Well, the "Martians" might be even more gullible... it would depend on the evolutionary pressures in their environment, I guess?

    I am thinking that there is generally always a subset of humans who have their minds changed by evidence, and then there is a larger subset who will maintain their current beliefs as a social issue, no matter what the evidence says. For religion, that middle group always seems to find a way to pretend there are two magisteria. The dying out of those beliefs may involve some social process different from exposure to facts. I have seen research that people in affluent, stable societies with low socioeconomic disparity tend to become much less religious.

    And then there is a smaller but vehement subset who are the "flat-earthers", out of touch with both science and the cultural majority.

    Ok, I have inserted a section on Aponia and Ataraxia. I had actually already referenced PD 3 just prior to where I inserted the new section, so I have removed that reference to consolidate things and replaced it with PD 3 in the new section. Happily for me, this meant I didn't have to re-order my end notes!

    This results in hitting on the "only two" aspect several times in different sections, but I think this is such a critical point that it is better to repeat it in different ways.

    So you don't have to go back and hunt for that section, here it is below. Elli, what do you think?

    Ataraxia and Aponia

    I have mentioned ataraxia as a word commonly misunderstood by neo-Epicureans. Some neo-Epicureans make the mistake of thinking ataraxia is a “fancy pleasure”, and they put this new interpretation of Epicurus' words as their goal instead of the real life pleasure he recommended. Because Buddhism has become a fad for many Westerners, I have seen some conflate detachment – part of the way Buddhists see tranquility—with ataraxia. This leads neo-Epicureans to think that they should not seek pleasure but just take a detached perspective on life and not get ruffled. They may think this is “fancy pleasure”. It is not pleasure—it is a disconnection from reality which leads to pain.

    So what is ataraxia? What are those neo-Epicureans missing? Ataraxia is the Greek word for "without agitation", and agitation is pain of the mind. Ataraxia is paired with aponia, "without pain" of the body. If you apply these descriptions, without pain of body and mind, to your cup of feelings, it should be clear by now that you will be left with only pleasure of body and mind, not some alternative to pleasure or pain. Remember, there are only two options, pleasure and pain-- not three options, pleasure, absence of pain, and pain.

    A person with ataraxia and aponia is enjoying the full wellbeing of pleasure, the most pleasure humanly possible, in their entire body and mind! And this wonderful feeling is available to us during the course of many ordinary days in an ordinary human life, if we plan wisely.

    From now on, when you read commentary saying Epicurus wasn't advising actual pleasure but just to be untroubled, as if there is even the possibility of freedom from pain and agitation which is not wholly pleasurable, you will know that writer has completely and thoroughly misunderstood Epicurus.

    When you read PD 3 in this light, you will have an accurate understanding: "The limit of quantity in pleasures is the removal of all that is painful. Wherever pleasure is present, as long as it is there, there is neither pain of body nor of mind, nor of both at once"(6).

    I am pretty sure my term "fancy pleasure", as I explained it, takes care of the idea that there is something other than regular pleasure.

    But I will revise the ataraxia part as Elli suggested and probably put in another section-- I think in my own words, I have described exactly the situation of ataraxia/ aponia elsewhere, but I see why it is a good idea to have a specific section to cover it.

    Not sure I will have time to get to this until Saturday, but I will do it before next week for sure!