Posts by Godfrey

    I had no idea: maybe I'll read up on Caesar.... The article is illuminating not just regarding Caesar and activism, but also has many examples of how to live as an Epicurean. It would be nice to find other lives to examine in this way.


    This brought thoughts about the definition of justice. And what missionaries usually do, trying to impose their worldview unto others'....

    In this case the missionaries were absolutely convinced of the truth of their beliefs and actions. They considered the locals to be heathen savages. The only inkling of respect they had for them was that, if they converted, they (the locals) would be rewarded in heaven; otherwise they would rot in hell for eternity. This is a pretty good illustration of justice: by dramatizing the evils of an idealized conception of justice, Michener leaves it up to the reader's prolepsis of justice to reach a conclusion as to what might actually be just in this situation.


    The calculus of pleasure, which is something I’ve come to identify as very epicurean... sounds very utilitarian to me. Could someone elaborate on what are some big differences between utilitarianism and epicurean philosophy?

    Very pertinent question! To perhaps over simplify, utilitarianism was an effort to further develop Epicureanism in an attempt to encompass the greatest good for the greatest number of people. This involved reconsidering both pleasure and justice. The main proponents were John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. This topic has been discussed elsewhere in the forum; you might find reading those discussions to be helpful.

    Where utilitarianism seeks the greatest good for the greatest number, an Epicurean seeks personal pleasure as the guide and goal of a good life and understands justice as an agreement between people, all of whom are pursuing their own pleasures; the agreement leading to security and safety. The problem with utilitarianism is in determining exactly what IS the greatest good for the greatest number. Who decides that? What are the criteria? Do some people end up with more "good" than others? Why? Also one person's good may be another person's evil (which is quite evident in an election year!). Utilitarianism involves a great deal of tabulation and calculation in an attempt to answer these and other questions; Epicureanism justice involves negotiation between the interested parties.

    I'm actually not aware that there's any mention by Epicurus of a hedonic calculus per se. He says that some pleasures can lead to greater pains (and vice versa), and discusses natural, necessary and vain desires. But these don't involve calculation so much as evaluation using the sensations, prolepses and feelings. I think you're right in thinking that a calculus of pleasure is utilitarian, camotero. I'm not sure how it came to be associated with Epicureanism, but to me it seems like an attempt to bring an excess of reason into the consideration of pleasure, while utilitarianism to me is an unsuccessful attempt to elaborate on Epicurus' understanding of both pleasure and justice.

    As an aside to that last sentence from Cassius, I apply that to the "calculus of pleasure" or "hedonic calculus" as well (to which camotero referred above). To me "calculus" is a poor word choice as it implies an ability to precisely quantify feelings. Maybe "balance" is a word that would work in its place. Because the proper basis of evaluation always comes down to a feeling, regardless of a number on a spreadsheet. (Additionally I mention this partly in reference to a thread on the subject from a few months ago.)

    Another aside regarding natural law, religion, power.... I've been reading James Michener's novel Hawaii. It's a bit of a doorstop, weighing in at 1200 plus pages, but it's a great look at the subject through the development of and interaction between various cultures through the melting pot of an island paradise. Immigrants from Bora Bora, China, New England missionaries, whalers, merchants, lepers.... For the most part a good read: I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to examine the last ten PDs through historical fiction.

    To follow up Don's post, our truth is found through the sensations, prolepses and feelings. The value of a practicing Epicurean honoring that truth is consistent, not relative. We individually uncover what is "practical, prudent, just..." through this measure of the Canon. Therefore it's incumbent on us to gather the most reliable information available to us and to be extremely sensitive to our percepts so our actions will maximize our pleasure.

    "Find the sweet spot" for maximum pleasure? Pretty slangy though. "Define the target" and "triangulate" seem like they're on the right track.... Something along the lines of "apex" or "peak" in the sense that on one side is not enough and on the other side is too much. "Optimum?"

    I just Googled "sweet spot synomyms:" sweet spot definitely won't do lol! =O

    From this it appears that fears and desires are opposite mental constructs. But there are visceral fears and desires as well. I'm thinking that Epicurus might say at this point that everyone knows from experience what "fear" and "desire" mean; what we need to understand is how to work with them.

    Which leads us to the quotes above and to "limits." As we live in a world of atoms and void, limits would be different for each of us. Not the definition, which we know from experience, but where a limit occurs. Would a limit then be the sweet spot at which one achieves maximum pleasure?

    In terms of the Canon, I think pleasure/pain is a reaction to a sensation or prolepsis more than to an action directly, sort of an ongoing feedback loop with feelings being the feedback. Physical actions cause sensations, to which feelings are reactions. Do mental actions stimulate prolepses to which feelings are a response? Since there's some uncertainty regarding the prolepses, I'm not sure if this holds. It seems logical though. Maybe I should say it feels right. ;)

    Are we in agreement that desires are distinct from pleasures?

    As to desires v impulses, I'm thinking that that might be going too far down the rabbit hole to be useful. What's important regarding desires is evaluating them as to whether or not to pursue them. In order to do that we must be cognitively aware of them which is the point at which they become useful.

    Exactly! But as I think further an impulse isn't cognitive/rational: it's an urge to act. A desire can be cognitive/rational or not.

    For instance advertising is designed to create a desire for something. Maybe craving is a useful word. A desire/impulse/craving can stimulate a pathe/feeling as you describe.

    Biologically, to my limited and simplistic understanding, dopamine is involved in anticipation, craving and desire. Serotonin is involved in pleasure/pain. To me this is a potentially helpful distinction, although I'm really not sure if this is scientifically accurate....

    Maybe we should go ask Alice ;) (I'm dating myself on that one!)

    This is where I distinguish between faculties and impulses. I think that biologically it's a difference between serotonin and dopamine if I understand it correctly. I've been trying to clarify this for myself and I think it's an important detail although I may be in left field.

    All pleasures are good, all pains are bad. These are faculties. But some desires are natural, some vain, some needed for life or for well being or other reasons. These are impulses, as I've been thinking of them. The removal of pain is a pleasure due to their dichotomous relationship. But the desire to remove pain might be pleasurable or it might not be.

    "You have to tell me if your reaction to that desire itself is pleasure or pain. Why are you pursuing it? Because the consequence of that desire leads to more pleasure than pain."

    Bingo! It's not the desire itself that's a pleasure or pain, it's your reactions to it and to the consequences of it.

    I didn't state that very well: I'm agreeing that there's no neutral state.


    1) An act (or state) is never neutral, but our lack of attention to the act may make it appear neutral.

    This was intended as a rebuttal to someone who might think something is a neutral state.

    As for the desire to remove the headache pain in your walk-through, I guess you could call that a pleasure of anticipation but I would just call it a desire to remove pain: an avoidance of pain. Same with the desire to locate and take medicine. But these are subjective: your experience might be the anticipation of the pleasure of relief, but I'm imagining being in the throes of the headache and just wanting to get rid of it. We both experience pleasure as it begins to dissipate. Further, although eating is generally a pleasurable experience, not so with taking a pill. Again, that's subjective but the relief of hunger or of the headache are both pleasures. My point is that daily experience is a constant interplay between pleasure and pain, our reactions to them and our choices and avoidances regarding them. This is biology, whether our goal is pleasure or the absence of pain. However our higher level choice of a goal affects how we approach everything and, at least to me, this is the key difference between our approach and Jordan's.

    I brought up the neutral act/state because I think that that is a place where someone pursuing "absence of pain" would be likely to go astray, thinking that they're experiencing a "fancy pleasure" when they've really just dulled their feelings.


    Is the decision to take the pill pleasurable? According to Epicurus, it has to be pleasure or pain. Every action has to elicit a reaction either painful or pleasurable. He didn't leave any middle ground.

    In this case, taking the pill is not necessarily pleasurable (unless you take it with honey as per Lucretius ;)). It is a reaction to the pain. If the pain goes away then that's pleasurable. So we're following the feelings as a guide to action. Pleasure can be an attraction and/or a reward, pain an aversion and/or punishment. We can either strive to elicit a feeling, or notice and respond to a feeling. Or one after the other. That's how we've evolved to operate, to my understanding.

    But you're raising an interesting point Don in that taking a pill could be considered a neutral act. That brings two thoughts to mind. 1) An act (or state) is never neutral, but our lack of attention to the act may make it appear neutral. 2) An act (or state) may be subservient to another act or state and so may appear neutral because of 1). Which leads to 3) the more aware we are of our feelings, the more pleasure there is available to us. Which then becomes another argument against pursuing "absence."

    [Cassius Admin Note: This thread was excerpted from a longer discussion on another topic, but it quickly turns into a discussion of desire and its relationship to pleasure.]

    Say I have a headache. An aspirin might remove the pain, in which case you could say that the resulting pleasure is a byproduct. Or a pleasant nap in the shade might remove the pain, where you could consider pleasure to be the active principle.

    Or say I'm depressed. I could take a pill, which might remove the pain, with pleasure as a byproduct. Or I could actively pursue activities meaningful to me, pleasure being the active principle.

    I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but having put the thoughts in writing I would react that using pleasure as the active principle is certainly more empowering and, well, pleasurable.

    Obviously I can't speak for Cassius, but do have some comments of my own....

    I enjoyed your blog post and I think Sherman had some excellent observations regarding a state that won't allow further improvement. Personally, what made his observations so potent for me was that in reading them I was able to feel a state of complete pleasure. For me, this was beyond contentment, it was joyful. But to a large degree I think we are trying to describe the same thing. Going with that assumption, why call the goal pleasure instead of absence of pain?

    When I set a goal for myself, I put it in positive terms. Likewise, in my mind the highest goal of my life should be positive, not something that I want to avoid. I'm going to think in terms of striving for good health, not avoiding getting cancer, heart disease, dementia and on and on. There's the example of "don't think about the monkeys" and then all you can think about is monkeys. So to state a highest philosophical goal in negative terms seems to be selling the philosophy short.

    Another drawback, to me, of "absence of pain" is a tendency to confuse it with some sort of Zen state. As a former Zen practitioner, I see one of the beauties of Epicurean philosophy as an extremely nuanced examination of pleasure and pain on a personal level. (Actually, as one advances in Zen practice, there is examination of various states of body and mind: the "Zen state" is something of a stereotype.) The stereotypical Zen state (or whatever one prefers to call it) is actually more of a neutral state. For Epicurus, pleasure and pain are binary: there is no neutral state. Again speaking personally, I think we as a society have become desensitized to the niggling little pains and it becomes quite easy to confuse a state of contentment for a state of pleasure. Having said this, this is solved by personally developing one's sensitivity to one's feelings more than nomenclature. But I think that pursuing pleasure leads to opening to the feelings, while avoiding pain leads to a tendency to dull the feelings. The entire basis of the Canon is opening up to sensations, prolepses and feelings, so anything that leads to dulling any of these faculties is counterproductive in terms of pursuing the philosophy.

    Stating the goal as pleasure has another advantage of being thought provoking, much more so than absence of pain. Once one is pursuing the philosophy it's thought provoking in a good way in that I think it's more effective in getting one to understand the nuance than is the pursuit of absence of pain, for the reason of opening to the feelings as I described above.

    Lastly, to put some words in Cassius' mouth, I think he sees "absence of pain" as an attempt by critics of Epicurean pleasure to equate Epicurus' philosophy with that of the Stoics and others. If so, this is a gross misrepresentation of the philosophy by said critics.

    There are these:

    PD3 The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain either of body or of mind or of both together.

    PD4 Continuous pain does not last long in the flesh; on the contrary, pain, if extreme, is present a very short time, and even that degree of pain which barely outweighs pleasure in the flesh does not last for many days together. Illnesses of long duration even permit of an excess of pleasure over pain in the flesh. (well it's not pleasure but it's continuous, fwiw)

    I read that blog post last night, so I'm writing from memory. My overall impression was "favorably mixed." I had actually saved it to read again but haven't done so yet.

    I agree with the points you make Cassius . For me, the positives were that he (Sherman, I think) was able to explain what he got right in very clear terms. Relating to the blog quote (and Cicero quote), I liked when he continued from that point to an explanation of why most of us aren't experiencing the limit of pleasure: the niggling, everyday doubts, worries, concerns that we barely notice. I think this is a very important point, and I don't even mind that he expresses it in terms of the absence of pain. Since the feelings are pleasure and pain, it's important in living EP that we are sensitive to both feelings. Personally I think we're so conditioned to thinking there's a neutral state that we don't even notice these "discomforts;" at least that was my experience as I began studying EP (and still is, to a lesser degree). So this is where I think he's heading in the right direction: he seems to be starting his thesis with absence of pain but then reeling that back towards a more complete understanding.

    Maybe this is how one has to approach it in academia; as you say, it's a step in the right direction. X/


    I am thinking that a "desire" is something closer to a "concept" in being the result of a conscious thought process where someone is picking among alternative courses of action as the one to pursue. Clearly that's a different issue than "feeling" which is as you said above more of a "reaction."

    Yes that's exactly the point I was trying to make. I think it's a helpful distinction in order to understand and follow the ethics.

    Going back to the expensive car example: you may desire an expensive car because all your friends have one, or because James Bond has one, or because you think your clients expect you to drive one, or any number of other reasons. The resulting desire is, to me, much different from a pleasure/pain. "Concept" is a good word for it; I also like "impulse." The thought of driving the car may bring pleasure, but to me that is a reaction to a mental impression where the desire for the car could be thought of as a compulsion.


    Continuing with "I want to buy an expensive car" example, but on an alternate route: you may experience pleasure at the thought of zipping along the interstate, but as you stay with the desire for a while you may also experience a niggling little doubt/pain that you can't quite place. At this point maybe it's helpful to think in terms of natural v vain desires, and perhaps you realize now that it's really more important to you to save and invest prudently to achieve financial stability or retire early. But the key point is being keenly aware of your feelings, understanding that they are indeed a criterion of truth.