Godfrey Level 03
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Posts by Godfrey

    Regarding politics, I agree with JJElbert that Epicurus pre-dated much of today's political and economic theory and therefore it's a bit of a stretch to make a case for him espousing libertarianism, Marxism or any other current or recent ideology.


    For my own curiosity about an Epicurean take on politics, I've just begun reading Wilson's How To Be An Epicurean. I've been avoiding that book because it veers into politics, but since it was listed in the recent thread on books on practical EP I figured I'd give it a chance.


    Some comments on the first pages of the book. Wilson clearly states that the book is her take on EP and that not everyone will agree with her. Paraphrasing another statement of hers, the value of studying a philosophy is in learning to think for oneself, not in becoming a follower. I find this line of thinking refreshing, particularly when considering the oft expressed desire for Epicurean "spiritual exercises" along the lines of Stoic practices.


    But I digress. Comments on Wilson probably belong in another thread. I just wanted to mention her as someone to read for an alternate take on reading politics into EP.

    Personally I haven't found a good book on how to practice EP: I think we need to write one :)


    I agree with Cassius that a major part of the process is just changing or fine tuning your world view. I'm also finding that the more that I live with that world view the clearer the practical details become and the better I'm able to interpret the nuances of the doctrines. But, at least for me, it's a long process and one that I'm still in the middle of.

    Desire, Wikipedia excerpt from post #74:

    "Desires are states of mind that are expressed by terms like "wanting", "wishing", "longing" or "craving". A great variety of features is commonly associated with desires. They are seen as propositional attitudes towards conceivable states of affairs. They aim to change the world by representing how the world should be, unlike beliefs, which aim to represent how the world actually is. Desires are closely related to agency: they motivate the agent to realize them. For this to be possible, a desire has to be combined with a belief about which action would realize it. Desires present their objects in a favorable light, as something that appears to be good. Their fulfillment is normally experienced as pleasurable in contrast to the negative experience of failing to do so. Conscious desires are usually accompanied by some form of emotional response. While many researchers roughly agree on these general features, there is significant disagreement about how to define desires, i.e. which of these features are essential and which ones are merely accidental. Action-based theories define desires as structures that incline us toward actions. Pleasure-based theories focus on the tendency of desires to cause pleasure when fulfilled. Value-based theories identify desires with attitudes toward values, like judging or having an appearance that something is good."


    Pleasure: I can't remember if I posted a specific definition other than to describe pleasure as a perception which is one of the two aspects of the faculty of Feelings.

    Returning to my obsession with pleasure v desire, I'd add the thought that perhaps when you are fully aware of your pleasure, you aren't experiencing desire. This doesn't mean that desire is opposed to pleasure, only that it can result in pleasure and is different from pleasure. If pleasure and desire were equivalent then you would experience maximum desire at the same time as maximum pleasure. I find that that isn't the case. Therefore it doesn't make sense to rank or categorize pleasures, at least not in the same way as desires. I think that this begins to separate the idea of absence of pain from the categories of desire, and might prove to be a rebuttal to the ascetic argument upon further development.... :/

    I would argue that Cicero is a cow :D


    At first blush my bovine rebuttal is that it's true that all organic life possesses the faculty of Feelings to some degree. What distinguishes you and I, but not Cicero (partly because he's dead) from a cow is our degree of awareness of our Feelings.

    I agree with Don in post #83. And I would add that to me the only point in ranking pleasures is to argue with opponents of Epicurus. The end result of that is comparable to having a fourth leg of the Canon: it's an interpretation that tries to accommodate someone who isn't necessarily interested in understanding EP but rather in undermining it. So I think at some point we reach a limit to the value of studying Cicero if our goal is to live the philosophy. I realize though that there are two agendas here: living the philosophy and promoting/defending the philosophy.


    Quote

    PD 9: If every pleasure were condensed and were present at the same time and in the whole of one's nature or its primary parts, then the pleasures would never differ from one another.

    I would paraphrase this as "it's silly to rank pleasures" 8o


    "The most pleasant", to me, refers to a life, not to a pleasure. And the most pleasant life would be one that has been fully aware of available pleasures and has worked to maintain those pleasures through prudent management of desires.

    The sense I was trying to get across with the "a desire is a mental concept" is that a desire is something you can think about. In fact, the thought "I want X" (and its many permutations) is itself the desire. On the other hand, pleasure and pain are something that happens to you.

    I'm still trying to wrap my head around desire as well. Don I think we're in agreement as to pleasure, although I'm not sure whether Cassius agrees with our take. (???)


    The first sentence of the Wikipedia quote lists desire as wanting, wishing, longing or craving; I've also seen it called an emotion. I agree that agency is key to desire, I'm just not sure how it all fits together.


    Thinking this through, say for example that you had just decided to give up alcohol. You find yourself walking in Munich and suddenly you are strolling by a beer garden and see and smell some of the excellent local beer. Wham! You get hit by a tremendous craving for some delicious golden brew: it's visceral. But you have agency to decide whether or not to give in to the desire. Is your mental concept the "place" where the agency comes from? Further, it's possible that you would just experience a feeling of pleasure from the sights, sounds and smells of the garden, the day, and the people enjoying themselves, without any desire at all. I'm not sure that this clarifies anything, but I've just experienced mental pleasure by imagining this scenario! Maybe mixed with just a tiny taste of desire... :)


    Bottoms up!

    Pardon the delay.... Referring back to post #66, here's the Wikipedia link for desire fwiw:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desire. I haven't had the chance to read the whole article but this excerpt from the beginning is to me pretty spot. I've underlined one sentence but the rest is also pertinent.

    Quote

    Desires are states of mind that are expressed by terms like "wanting", "wishing", "longing" or "craving". A great variety of features is commonly associated with desires. They are seen as propositional attitudes towards conceivable states of affairs. They aim to change the world by representing how the world should be, unlike beliefs, which aim to represent how the world actually is. Desires are closely related to agency: they motivate the agent to realize them. For this to be possible, a desire has to be combined with a belief about which action would realize it. Desires present their objects in a favorable light, as something that appears to be good. Their fulfillment is normally experienced as pleasurable in contrast to the negative experience of failing to do so. Conscious desires are usually accompanied by some form of emotional response. While many researchers roughly agree on these general features, there is significant disagreement about how to define desires, i.e. which of these features are essential and which ones are merely accidental. Action-based theories define desires as structures that incline us toward actions. Pleasure-based theories focus on the tendency of desires to cause pleasure when fulfilled. Value-based theories identify desires with attitudes toward values, like judging or having an appearance that something is good.

    I wouldn't limit a desire to a mental concept, it could also be a physical or psychological craving.


    I'm not very familiar with Nussbaum. Is she in the "absence of pain" camp? I can see how, if one was so inclined, they could mistakenly interpret Epicurus' categories of desires as tending toward asceticism. I look at them more along the lines of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which maybe could be thought of as a positive, not negative, hedonic treadmill. More of a hedonic ladder.

    Quote from Cassius

    But in the end, the whole exercise is nothing more than posing the same question: How much pain is my chosen pleasure going to cost me to obtain? And in that, you rank the intensity and satisfaction you get from your pleasure, and you rank the intensity and length of the pain it is going to cost you, and you make a totally personal and subjective decision based on your own unique circumstances.


    The result (to me) is that you've performed a mental exercise that really does nothing but help you reflect on what you expect to be the pleasure and pain that you yourself expect to experience, and you decide to go forward or not on that basis.

    I agree with much of this, but I still think that there are subtle but useful differences between desire and pleasure.


    - Pleasure is a Feeling, a faculty, a criterion or measurement. Desire is not.


    - To my limited understanding, pleasure and desire are neurologically/biochemically different.


    - Pleasure is "The Goal", desire is not.


    - As a Feeling and as "The Goal", pleasure is what organisms strive for from birth in order to thrive. Desire is something that can be either good or bad, and often needs to be reined in.


    - For me, when considering whether or not to do or partake of a given thing, there's a significant difference between thinking of something as a desire as opposed to a pleasure. Thinking of it as a pleasure, which is inherently good, means that it is worth pursuing on its own merits but may end up involving more pain than pleasure. Thinking of it as a desire, which I posit that it is until it is experienced, means that it may not even be worth pursuing on its own merits. For me, this greatly simplifies decision making. For someone else it may not. I see the exercise of evaluating desires, which Epicurus proposes through the use of his categories, as more "scientifically" (for lack of a better word at the moment) and psychologically sound than trying to rank duration and intensity of pleasures and pains. At a minimum, it provides an alternative method for choosing and avoiding. The bottom line I imagine is to work with and compare both methods.


    - Again for me, I find evaluating desires to be good for a first pass at choosing. Sometimes that's all that I do, other times I take another pass and consider pleasures v pains. It's something of a process.

    Communicating is a good start! :D


    So to me the key idea is that desires are fundamentally different from pleasures. At least this is how I understand it. As to categories, I think that Epicurus would consider his categories of desires to be "natural", but a useful tool.


    Unfortunately my dinner is getting cold so I'll need to come back to this....

    I was trying to point out that "these things" or "these matters", being the various categories of desires, "makes it possible" or "enables one" to refer choices and avoidances to pleasure and pain. So, conversely, without understanding the categories of desires one can't make proper decisions regarding pleasure and pain.


    It wasn't my intention to question that bodily health and freedom from disturbance could refer to anything other than pleasure in this instance. Apologies for the lack of clarity!

    LM 127, Epicurus Wiki: One should keep in mind that among desires, some are natural and some are vain. Of those that are natural, some are necessary and some unnecessary. Of those that are necessary, some are necessary for happiness, some for health, and some for life itself. A correct view of these matters enables one to base every choice and avoidance upon whether it secures or upsets bodily comfort and peace of mind – the goal of a happy life.


    LM 127, Long and Sedley's The Hellenistic Philosophers: We must reckon that some desires are natural and others empty, and of the natural some are necessary, others natural only; and of the necessary some are necessary for happiness, others for the body’s freedom from stress, and others for life itself. For the steady observation of these things makes it possible to refer every choice and avoidance to the health of the body and the soul’s freedom from disturbance, since this is the end belonging to the blessed life.


    Skipping over meats for a moment, there's the above from the Letter to Menoeceus. The underlined portion, to me, says that without understanding the categories of desire we wouldn't be able to make proper decisions relating to pleasure. Which implies, to me, that if we want to usefully rank anything it would be desires, not pleasures.


    I still want to dig into the PDs, but I just ran across this :/

    Well there I would say that each reference goes in the direction of the purely practical: "What will happen to me if I make this choice?" So rather than "categorizing" which would be definitional logical analysis which might actually sound platonic, I would say he is emphasizing the reverse and say evaluate them pragmatically only by their results. And their results are not measured by categories but only by the resulting feeling. In that respect I see "natural and necessary" categories in that same way - strictly biological or feeling-driven, rather than by any intellectual categories.

    To me, by giving categories of desires he's providing a method for prudent analysis of a given decision or action. The feelings are a critical part for evaluating but having the framework of categories is, to me, a major innovation: we experience feelings but we can work with desires.

    So we still have to deal with the question: "Are all pleasures the same in all respects so that we should consider the choice of any pleasure to be equivalent to the choice of any other?"

    Of course they're not. But at what point are we becoming Plato writing Philebus? Neither pleasures nor desires should be generalized, they are all specific to person, time, situation, etc. But isn't discussing whether duration is more important than intensity (regarding a particular Feeling) tantamount to discussing whether it's better to look at a squirrel than a tree (an admittedly poor example regarding the importance wrt a particular sensation)?


    Maybe it would be more productive to examine the PDs as the best record of Epicurus' own thinking. This is off the top of my head, but if I'm not mistaken, the only mechanism that Epicurus gives for evaluating choices and avoidances is by categorizing desires.


    This is getting interesting, digging into the weeds!

    Don makes an excellent point!


    Thinking out loud (as it were), pleasure is nothing more than one "side" of the faculty of feelings. That's it. It's a reflex and a guide. If the goal is a life of continuous pleasure, all that means is to continuously be aware of and be guided by your faculty of feelings. So wouldn't all the talk of duration, intensity, absence of pain and so forth really be misleading? At least it seems so in terms of daily living. Analyzing one's desires would be far more useful and effective in determining how to live pleasurably. Continuous pleasure just means, at least in this line of reasoning, that one is living well by prudently choosing and fleeing from one's desires.

    It seems that one could do a hedonic calculus when making choices, but if the underlying assumption is that short-term physical pleasures are equally as important as long-term mental pleasures, then the long-term results will be a mixed bag (pleasure mixed with pain or pleasure resulting in pain), and/or one will find oneself on a never-ending hedonic treadmill.


    So an Epicurean philosophy of life would be a life of guaranteed continuous pleasures ---- of a medium intensity (a nice well built fire to warm oneself together with one's friends) vs. a high intensity (too much fuel on the fire burns out too quickly). And this would be the difference between the Epicureans and the Cyrenaics.

    I'm not sure that it's correct to have an underlying assumption that short-term physical pleasures are equally as important as long-term mental pleasures. To put words into Epicurus' mouth, I think that he would say that the most important thing is a correct understanding of his philosophy and that this would provide the pleasure of freedom from fear. Having achieved that, one can vary, embellish, and add icing to the cake through various other pleasures, both short- and long-term and of varying intensities.


    Further, if the hedonic calculus is indeed subjective then the underlying assumption is different for each person: some preferring short-term physical pleasures and some preferring long-term mental pleasures, and of varying intensities. And preference would be different in time as well, varying over the course of an individual's life.


    So I don't come to the conclusion that an Epicurean philosophy of life leads to continuous medium intensity pleasures, although the fire and friends example is quite pleasant! That conclusion, to me, is more like population based medicine which ignores the individual and averages out the entire population.


    As to the Cyrenaics, I can't recall their overall philosophy at the moment, but I would consider that in comparing them with Epicurus (or anyone else). Epicurus has a very coherent overall philosophy, of which pleasure is a part, and the way that I understand that philosophy brings me great pleasure as being a fairly accurate representation of "the way things are". If the Cyrenaic philosophy as a whole made more sense to me then I would consider applying that to my life.

    That's a juicy question Marco !


    There has been a controversy over the centuries over just that, and the terminology is "katastematic" v "kinetic" pleasure. Katastematic is considered "stable" pleasure and kinetic is considered "active" pleasure. There's a ton of technical debate over whether there are actually two types at all and whether one is a "higher" pleasure or whether pleasure is pleasure, period.


    Here's a place on the forum to explore the subject:

    Kinetic and Katastematic Pleasure


    The "go to" paper on the subject is Nikolsky's article in the forum filebase: Nikolsky - Epicurus On Pleasure


    As I recall, I got a lot out of reading Wenham's paper which is shorter and maybe a good preparation for reading Nikolsky. I can't find Wenham's paper in the filebase, so I've attached it below.


    Having said all that, I see that your question also touches on "duration", which is often combined with "intensity" in describing pleasure. I think this terminology is more practical, where the katastematic/kinetic debate might be considered more philosophical. "Practical" as in choosing between pleasures of varying durations and intensities in a given situation, with the knowledge that a given pleasure is not universally better than any other pleasure.