Posts by Todd

    6) P 27 I may be over my head here-- could use some help. She includes the sense perceptions of sweet, bitter, etc as "conventions" as opposed to "natural"-- I think she has misunderstood.'s also a bit strange to quote Democritus on physics as a way of elucidating what Epicurus taught about ethics.

    My take on her overall point is that Epicureans did not take things like the existing social structure, culture, traditions, laws, beliefs, etc. for granted. Those things are only to be considered useful to the extent that they provide pleasure to humans (edit: Wilson would apparently include other species here too), and not useful to the extent that they do not. In other words, Epicurus was a radical, which I think DeWitt also says, and with which I agree. She's talking about ethics.

    The Democritus quote seems like a non-sequitur. He's talking about physics, not ethics. He's saying that things like flavors don't have a physical existence. Only the molecules exist. The flavor is only the way our taste buds and brain perceive the molecules, to which we assign the words bitter, sweet, etc.

    If I try really hard, and squint my eyes, I can kind of, almost, see an analogy there. But really, I think she's conflating two entirely different categories of things, and creating unnecessary confusion.

    she makes the astonishing statement "we live longer than our ancestors but in a sicklier fashion." Really? I have not seen evidence of that. Seems like she needs to cite sources.

    I presume, based on the preceding context, that she is referring here to so-called diseases of civilization, such as obesity, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, certain cancers, etc. And by "our ancestors", she probably means our pre-agricultural ancestors. I don't know what evidence there is to support this claim, but in-context, it doesn't seem totally preposterous.

    4) P 24 "they sought... to balance the ethical treatment of others with our own self-interest"-- omg. So, what is ethical, then, lol? "Balance" used this way is a huge pet peeve of mine. There is no need to balance-- the pleasure of others is on the same side of the scale as my own, inseparable, although this depends on specifically who they are. These things are inseparable for a typically empathetic human. Understanding this is absolutely critical to understanding Epicurus, I believe. Believing that these pleasures are on opposite sides of some imaginary scale will lead to nonsense finagling, every single time. You only wind up with this stuff if you forget about subjective feelings.

    I would like this 100X if I could! The importance of this when it comes to ethics and justice cannot be over-emphasized.

    5) P 24, discusses what she sees as the 3 key claims of Epicurus-- material nature of reality, no divine oversight, and finality of death. Although I do think these are important, I do not know that I would consider them more important than the way he put subjective feelings of pleasure and pain into the Canon or that this can be derived from those 3 items without the experience of feelings.

    In Wilson's defense, the Kindle preview I'm looking at only says that these are Epicurus' "most famous" teachings. I might dispute that, but I don't see her explicitly stating that she believes they are the most important (although that might be reasonably inferred).

    In any case, what we consider most important is going to be a subjective thing. For people coming from a religious background, these may well be the most important lessons to be learned from Epicurus.

    7) P 34 "Epicurus himself pointed out that the direct pursuit of pleasurable sensations is usually self defeating." What? Did he do that? I missed it. She doesn't give a reference

    This is going to go down as one of the most ridiculous statements in the book.

    LOL! I'd be very interested to see a reference for that one!

    I probably fluctuate between low-carb and keto most of the time.

    I'm a big fan of Mark Sisson, who I would describe as an unconscious Epicurean.

    And so maybe the entire passage by Epicurus is not referring to language or communication but is referring to having confidence in our own thought processes?

    IMO, the importance of the "first mental image" is in a rhetorical or polemical context.

    I think the point was to be wary of people who insist on definitions for words that we all understand intuitively. The Platonists and Aristotelians being the likely suspects.

    Two examples come to mind:

    First, that Epicurus refused to define pleasure, to avoid being led into an argument where someone would twist the words of his definition to mean something entirely different from what we all understand by pleasure.

    Second, an anecdote from Diogenes Laertius, where some philosopher has defined "man" as a featherless biped. Later, someone shows up with a plucked chicken and says, "Behold, a man!" (I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist of it.)

    Would it be helpful to have a list of core texts that people could include with a checkmark or something to indicate if they have read it?

    Yes, that would definitely be helpful. First, it makes it easier for people to do, but also it gives an idea of the kind of things you're looking for.

    Ideally, it would be nice to have a pre-defined list, plus the ability to add custom entries.

    have you read Diogenes Laertius from start to finish?

    The biography of Epicurus, yes. If you literally mean all of it, then no.

    Have you read any of "On Ends"?

    Yes. I may have read the whole thing long ago, but I've certainly read the parts related to Epicurus.

    How about Frances Wright? Did you read "A Few Days In Athens?"

    Yes. I remember enjoying it the first time I read it, but I started re-reading it recently, and it seems to have lost some of its appeal for me.

    I think the difference is that I know more about Epicurus' philosophy now, and Wright sometimes has Epicurus saying things that I seem not quite consistent. Probably she was trusting Cicero to give a fair presentation.

    I have no trouble with people expressing their own views on Epicurus, though I may disagree. But to have the words coming from Epicurus' own mouth is...jarring.


    I've read and re-read DeWitt a few times over the last ~5 years, or so. That was my introduction to Epicurus, and I keep coming back to EAHP, just to make sure I stay mostly on the right track.

    I've read Lampe, and some others (academic and non-academic). I read a lot, so you'll have to forgive me if I can't name too many names off the top of my head. I usually only remember the ones I liked.

    I have not read anything by Wilson. I was intrigued when I saw she had a new book coming out, but a quick skim of the Amazon preview turned me off. (I have to say, though, that I was pleasantly surprised by the video of her talk that you posted here. Maybe I'll give her a second chance.)

    Lucretius...I've tried, but I just can't make myself do it. I don't seems like a lot of words to explain (or confuse?) a simple concept. I guess I'm just not a fan of didactic poetry.

    In the past, I've read some Aristotle (and Scholastic analysis), Plato, and the Roman Stoics. All in translation, of course.

    I've spent a lot of the last 25 years or so studying and thinking about economics, ethics and politics. I'm continuously surprised by the overlap between Epicurean philosophy and my economic and political views, which developed long before I had any interest in Epicurus. (At least I feel like there is a lot of overlap, but I realize other Epicureans may not agree!)

    Edit: I neglected to mention that I discovered DeWitt via, so I have you to thank for that!

    no one understands "happiness" or "eudaimonia" in the Epicurean way

    You paint a bleak picture, Cassius, but I don't think things are quite as bad as that.

    I think most people DO understand happiness in the Epicurean way, although they may not articulate it in the same terms.

    I'm sure you know this, but I'll say it for the benefit of others who may come across this thread. Many of Epicurus' ideas on pleasure can be understood as descriptive, not normative. It's not that we should pursue pleasure. We do pursue pleasure. We almost can't help it. But when we're not conscious of that, it's easy to be misled as to the appropriate means for achieving the end. And that, to me, is the great value of Epicurus' philosophy. (To give credit where it's due, I probably read this in DeWitt, but I can't recall).

    Don't be so pessimistic! :)

    The ultimate issue in this discussion, as I see it, is the polemical issue


    Here is a case where the situtation is actually in our favor! Our understanding of happiness is actually very close to that of the average person.

    We should be seizing that opportunity, and I feel like at least the title of Hiram's article is exactly on the right track there.

    It's Stoicism, which despite its current (and hopefully fleeting) popularity, is at a disadvantage. Stoicism seems appealing, until you find out that this thing they call happiness, really isn't what you had in mind at all!

    "Wait. Happiness is Virtue??? WTF?!?! Hey, I heard the Epicureans had some different ideas. (Thank you, Seneca!!!) Maybe I should check them out..."


    Additional thoughts I'm having on this topic:

    I can't help but think of Stoicism as the gateway drug to Epicureanism.

    "Stoicism: Suffering is a Virtue. Happiness consists in Virtue. Therefore, Suffering = Happiness. Got it?"

    The problem of leading with pleasure in our marketing efforts is that we've been so conditioned to think of pleasure as a vice, that there are many people it's just not going to appeal to. But everyone wants to be happy.

    I'm not at all trying to suggest that we should de-emphasize pleasure. More like, "Want to be happy? Try Pleasure."

    Epicurus used the word eudaimonia himself, but had his own definition and context, just as he had for "gods."

    How do you reconcile this with Epicurus' advocacy of clarity of language, and using words in the sense that immediately comes to mind?

    (His refusal to even define pleasure is a wonderful example, by the way.)

    I have no doubt that other Greek philosophers, and maybe even later Epicureans, were debating the definition of eudaimonia, but I suspect Epicurus would not have used it if his meaning was liable to be misunderstood by the average Greek of his day.

    Now, possibly eudaimonia does not translate precisely to what we (modern non-academics) understand by "happiness", but given the usual contexts, that translation seems quite reasonable to me, and unobjectionable in relation to the rest of Epicurus' philosophy.

    As for "gods"...yes, it does seem that he is using that term to mean something rather different than what the average person would have understood. But then, he also wrote entire books to explain his ideas. Also, I've noticed that in some places the translation is "immortal beings" rather than "gods". Could it be that he chose that phrase instead of "gods" deliberately?

    Sorry if this is a bit of a side-track to this thread. I just couldn't let your statement pass without comment! :)

    I think dishonesty is learned though!

    I say this just as an interesting thing I've observed with my daughter - I'm not trying to make any point related to this discussion of Justice.

    Do you agree?

    Edit:. After I wrote this, I realized that we're probably not thinking of the same thing when we use these words, and that is the root of much of the seeming disagreement.

    When you say honesty or Justice, you mean feelings, but when I use those words, I'm thinking of concepts.


    I can't imagine Epicurus defining justice two different ways-- a prolepsis AND a definition for what counts as justice and what doesn't.

    Right, but if we trust the sources, it seems like that is exactly what we are faced with. I'm inclined to give more weight to the PDs relating to justice, which all contain some form of "justice is" or "justice is not". If he was describing the conditions that give rise to a sense of justice or injustice, I'd expect them to read differently. Could this be an issue of translation?


    But they should be aware of the types of actions that will trigger each other to sense injustice.

    Yes! Very important!

    I fully approve of strict reading!

    So, I see now that you are being very narrow in what you mean by justice: it's an agreement (necessary, but not sufficient), but not just any agreement; it's specifically an agreement not to harm.

    I can work with that definition for the sake of pursuing this discussion. As per one of my previous comments, I don't think that invalidates any of my arguments.

    I would personally go further, to say that it's unjust to violate ANY of our explicit agreements (not merely to withdraw from them - but to deliberately violate), but I can see where some might object, and I don't think it's a terribly important point right now.


    Epicurus referred to justice as an agreement to avoid harm, but does that necessarily mean it is the inverse -- to maximize pleasure? As you observe later in the post justice is a small part of a circle encompassing "pain." Does reducing pain in that area necessarily lead to maximized pleasure? I will have to think further about that.

    I guess I should have made a distinction.

    In some of my references to maximizing pleasure, I'm thinking of explicit agreements. I see no reason to limit the scope of our agreements to avoidance of harm. If you want to say agreements to increase our pleasure are strictly outside the scope of justice, I won't object, but I don't really see much of a difference.

    Also, I have in mind that maximizing pleasure should be the ultimate aim of ALL our actions, including how we think of justice, and the specific agreements we make regarding it. Again, I won't argue if you want to define the scope of justice more narrowly.

    The distinction between avoidance of harm and maximizing pleasure is more important in relation to tacit agreements, because in that context we often have very limited information about the other person's preferences, and we want to avoid making incorrect assumptions (inadverently causing pain for both of us).


    I think Todd may be attempting to do what all of us moderns would first attempt to do - to rescue some vestigte of absolute justice

    By no means. At least that's not how I see it, but maybe you see some aspect of my argument that I'm missing. (No sarcasm intended there.)

    Justice is what we define it to be, with the goal of minimizing harm (or maximizing pleasure - a detail we can discuss later). I tried to be clear about that. Justice is not absolute, it is what we agree to - and we are free to refuse to agree to anything if it suits us (not wise, IMO, but still an option).

    I think the agreement part is crucial because the whole point is to facilitate cooperative social relations, and recognizing that cooperation is a much more effective way of pursing pleasure than each of us acting as individuals in social isolation.


    as if agreement alone is all that is necessary to establish "justice."

    Wait...didn't Epicurus say exactly that in PD 31-33??? I'm not sure how to even respond to this statement.

    I thought this was the most NON-controversial part of my post! :)


    Rules are patterns that are "set in stone" regardless of circumstances

    I disagee. Who says they have to be set in stone? We can agree on some rules (a contract) for some period of time. If at some later time, those rules are no longer conducive to our mutual pleasure (or avoidance of harm, if you will, but I see no necessity to limit the scope of our agreements to avoidance of harm), then we cancel that contract and make a new one. Or we go our separate ways.

    A contract essentially IS a set of rules to govern the behavior of the parties in a relationship. If you say Epicurus doesn't approve of rules-based agreements, then I think the whole series of PDs relating to justice doesn't make a lot of sense.