Lee Level 03
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Posts by Lee

    My understanding of what the term "nominalistic" means is not sufficient for me to understand whether "nominalism" is accurate or inaccurate, or what that says about Adler and his opinion.

    Your comment made me realize that I had assumed “nominalism” to mean the position that there are no universals, rather, there are only words that categorize particular things. I did a bit more reading and realized that “nominalism” has a more subtle definition and can mean at least a couple of things. I included a quote below from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy with a link. My position appears to be a denial of abstract objects but an acknowledgement that our words describing general things point to some real material combination of matter.

    In other words, “redness” and “circularity” are real concepts as manifested by a particular combination of atoms in each of our brains.

    Nominalism in Metaphysics- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    ”Thus one kind of Nominalism asserts that there are particular objects and that everything is particular, and the other asserts that there are concrete objects and that everything is concrete.

    As noted above, the two forms of nominalism are independent. The possibility of being a nominalist in one sense but not in the other has been exemplified in the history of philosophy. For instance, David Armstrong (1978; 1997) is a believer in universals, and so he is not a nominalist in the sense of rejecting universals, but he believes that everything that exists is spatiotemporal, and so he is a nominalist in the sense of rejecting abstract objects. And there are those who, like Quine at a certain point of his philosophical development (1964; 1981), accept sets or classes and so are not nominalists in the sense of rejecting abstract objects and yet reject universals and so are nominalists in the sense of rejecting universals.

    Thus Nominalism, in both senses, is a kind of anti-realism. For one kind of Nominalism denies the existence, and therefore the reality, of universals and the other denies the existence, and therefore the reality, of abstract objects. But what does Nominalism claim with respect to the entities alleged by some to be universals or abstract objects, e.g. properties, numbers, propositions, possible worlds? Here there are two general options: (a) to deny the existence of the alleged entities in question, and (b) to accept the existence of these entities but to argue that they are particular or concrete.”

    The feedback to my question as been enlightening! Thanks to all who took the time to help clarify this difficult and fundamental question.

    There's clearly no innate specific word for cow-- but there is an innate recognition of the cow as distinct from the other matter in the field. The visual system, including the brain, has to perform work when presented with light reflections-- what is an object? Where are the boundaries of the object? Etc.

    I don't know that anyone has specifically studied cows-- but humans do appear to have innate recognition of snakes and spiders as dangerous. The fear of snake-shaped objects appears whether a baby has been bitten by one or not. https://www.google.com/amp/s/a…-science-snakes-video-spd

    This inborn pattern recognition doesn't include language and is not a symbolic concept-- it is an example of what I believe Epicurus meant by the prolepses. It's definitely what I would include in my own Canon-- it's like a species encoded memory of certain patterns.

    It seems possible to interpret everyone’s comments as being in agreement and simply emphasizing different aspects of the answer.

    Cassius has a good point that the terms “universal” and “accident” have a lot of historical meaning that is tied to immaterialism, essence and forms. Using the term “Events” does seem to shed some of the baggage that hangs with the other terms. He and Godfrey have emphasized the doctrine that all of reality resolves to the principles of matter and void. Cassius provided ample evidence for this with the helpful textual reference from the letter to Herodotus, Lucretius, Jefferson, Wright, etc. Thanks for sharing such a trove of useful material!:thumbup:

    On the other hand, Martin seems correct in his point that it is possible to understand “universal” as a description for a cognitive activity we all utilize as a natural part of life. This can be true while still resolving to principles of matter and void.

    Elayne’s references to child behavior and description of prolepses as, “a species encoded memory of certain patterns” seems to round out the explanation based on the experience of scientific research.

    In my opinion, Adler is generally correct in his opinion that nominalism is wrong and that these “universals” or “events” exist in the intellect. However, we must understand “intellect” as a mechanism ultimately made up of atoms that has the function of recognizing patterns found in other material configurations.

    It seems similar to how DNA mechanically encodes the same configurations in separate individuals of the same species. Intellect is how the brain decodes and records the information in each of us.

    Adler may agree with this but his finally paragraph of the chapter hints that he believes there is more to the issue where he says the brain is a necessary but NOT sufficient cause of the intellect. He still believes there is an immaterial component.

    I, however, think the arguments raised here point out that the material brain could be sufficient to explain our experience. As the Occam's razor principle states, "Entities should not be multiplied without necessity." We do not need immaterial causes to explain similar (universal) events.

    I am very glad to have found this group of Epicurean Friends and am immensely appreciative that all of you take such pains to share your opinions.

    Best Regards,


    Thanks for clarifying this point Elayne. I see the distinction and the need to resolve our behavior back to the experience of pleasure as the primary principal.

    I believe I read somewhere (maybe De Witt’s book) how Epicurus taught that giving up one’s life for a friend could be justified/rationalized because living with the pain of choosing one’s life over that of a friend was more painful than death.

    So in sum I think your sentence there is very important, but that what you are observing does not point to "universal concepts" but to a human faculty - the faculty of anticipations, which disposes us in the direction you are looking - and gives us the disposition, which not all of us use, to exercise the ability to organize things into relationships, even though there is no divine order, no "essence," and no possibility of truly universal concepts.

    Hello Cassius, and anyone else who is willing to help to me gain a better understanding of an important issue. I am continuing to ponder universal concepts and how human behavior can be understood by anticipations in a world made of atoms and void.

    I accept the quote above from Cassius and am attempting to reconcile the position with some of the other reading I have done which argues convincingly that we have an intellectual capability which allows us to understand and generalize the sameness (commonality) in things. Moreover, this intellectual ability allows us to understand these concepts as subjects of thought rather than simply recognizing them. For example, we can recognize "triangularity" in things AND we go beyond just recognition by understanding the concept of what it means to be a three-sided figure.

    It seems clear that Epicurus thought Justice, for example, was a real thing and I am trying to better understand the kind of reality this and other concepts have.

    Attached to this post is "Chapter 2: The Intellect and the Senses" from a book called "Ten Philosophical Mistakes" by philosopher Mortimer Adler. I would be delighted if any members would care to read it and comment on the arguments made. However, I recognize the indulgence of this request and have pasted two passages below in this post. I hope to learn if others agree with me or may dissuade me of the opinion that these arguments are valid in the context of Epicurean physics and that the intellectual capabilities described could be a result of a completely material reality.

    Quote 1

    To affirm that what is common to two or more things, or thatwhat is the same about them, can be apprehended, is to posit an

    object of apprehension which is quite distinct from the objectapprehended when we perceive this or that singular particular

    as such. But this is precisely the position which opponents ofnominalism regard as the correct solution of the problem;

    namely, that there are objects of apprehension other than perceivedparticulars. Yet it is precisely this which is initially denied

    by those who deny intellect and, with it, all abstract concepts

    or general ideas.

    Rejecting nominalism as a self-defeating doctrine, one need

    not go to the opposite extreme, the extreme to which Plato


    Attributing to man an intellect independent of the senses, Plato

    also conferred an independent reality on its intelligible objects—

    the universal archetypes. In his view, it was these universal

    and eternal archetypes—of triangle and cow and everything

    else—that truly have being, and more reality than the

    ever-changing particulars of the sensible world.

    It is not necessary to go to that extreme to correct the mistakenview of the human mind that regards it as a wholly sensitive

    faculty and that, denying intellect, is compelled to adopt anuntenable nominalism. To say that the objects of conceptual

    thought are always universals is not to assert that these universalsexist as such in reality, independent of the human mind

    that apprehends them.

    Quote 2

    Not all the concepts that the intellect is able to form are abstractionsfrom sense-experience, as our concepts of cow, tree,

    and chair are. Some are intellectual constructions out of theconceptual materials that consist of concepts abstracted from


    In this respect, the intellect functions in a manner parallel tothe imagination. Some of our images are memories of sense perceptions,

    but some are constructs of the imagination—images constructed out of the materials of sense-experience;

    for example, the constructed image of a mermaid or a centaur.We call these fictions of the imagination. So, too, conceptual

    constructs might be called fictions of the intellect, with thisone very important difference. We acknowledge at once that

    the fictions of our imagination are objects that have no actualexistence in reality. But many of the conceptual constructs that

    we employ in scientific and in philosophical thought concernobjects such as black holes and quarks in physics, and God,

    spirits, and souls in metaphysics. These are objects aboutwhich it is of fundamental importance to ask about their existence

    in reality.

    Since these conceptual constructs can have no perceptual instances,the attempt to answer this question must be indirect

    and inferential. The real existence of instances of such objectscan be posited only on the grounds that, if they did not exist,

    then observed phenomena could not be adequately explained.

    (also, the book The Bonobo and the Atheist is an anthropological account of the origins of morality, for which I wrote a review


    Hiram, I read your review and thought it was very good. In particular the point at the end about “is” vs “ought.”

    I completely agree with you that “ought” statements are true and it is misguided to look for a rational first principle for their validity beyond human feelings. We can reason about what we ought to do but will never find a reason for the original moral principles. Those who intellectualize morality as only about “is” statements run the risk of becoming amoral which is unnatural.

    I'm planning on discussing this actually in my Twentieth message.

    I look forward to seeing the message Hiram as I am signed up to your email list.

    Thanks for pointing out the quote from Lucretius. It seems to be an excellent example of the evolutionary-type materialist explanation of how and why we develop social bonds and eventually civilization.

    Thanks also for the link to your review of “The Bonobo and the Atheist.” I look forward to reading it.


    I think it's perilous to think in terms of "good" and "evil" and as to whether we approve or disapprove of the inclination being discussed, but at the basic level of there being any kind of inclination at all, as opposed to there being only a total blank slate, I bet the findings of the article do support a reasonable theory of "anticipations."

    However - is this next quote true? Because I would expect a form of anticipations would probably exist in all higher animals, and perhaps in all life forms.

    "Kindness towards others at one’s own expense is a uniquely human trait. While some primates have displayed a tendency to help each other out and share resources in certain situations, it is virtually unheard of across the animal kingdom for an animal to give up food he or she needs just because another is in need."

    Good points Cassius. I had also seen the grey parrot study and forgot about it. I agree that this behavior is likely not limited to humans although it may be most developed in homo sapiens .

    When I consider altruism in the context of the anticipations of friendship and justice along with the evolutionary-like mechanisms of Epicurean physics, it seems like the behavior is fundamental to our social nature because it works better than being selfish.

    I may be hopelessly biased by a Christian and virtue ethics-based upbringing and therefore looking for a justification to see life as more than a brutish survival of the fittest. However, it does seem objectively true that we all live better when we have the circumspection to see the well-being of others is sometimes more important than our own.

    Does this new scientific research support the Epicurean doctrine of anticipations? The study concluded that human beings are born with the ability to sometimes exhibit a selfless inclination for the well being of others. This seems to be an innate propensity to treat others as having equal value and shares some resemblance to justice. Does anyone agree or disagree?

    Below are two links. One is to a short summary of the research and the other links to the scientific publication.

    Born Kind? Researchers Prove Altruism Begins In Infancy

    Altruistic food sharing behavior by human infants after a hunger manipulation


    I am new to the study of Epicureanism and noticed that "A Few Days in Athens" repeatedly appeared in list of books about the philosophy. My interest was further piqued when I found the quote from Thomas Jefferson where he called the work, “A treat to me of the highest order.” After Cassius Amicus recommended the book I decided to start reading. The short description and comments that follow are to share my impression of the book and encourage others to read it.

    Frances Wright employs an effective narration to explain the philosophy that makes the book an entertaining read. She creates the book as recovered from a fictional scroll found in Herculaneum. The story on the scroll is set at the time when Epicurus was teaching in his private Athenian garden. The main character, a young man from Corinth named Theon, travels to Athens to study the Stoic philosophy with Zeno. He meets Epicurus in the street and his inquires become the literary vehicle for the exposition of Epicurean philosophy as he makes a sincere effort over several days to learn the teachings of Epicurus and how it compares to the Stoic, Peripatetic, Cynic and Academic schools.

    The book includes a series of delightful dialogs between Theon and historical figures from the schools such as Epicurus, Zeno, and Metrodorus. Theon travels back and forth between the porch of the Stoics and the the garden of the Epicureans to have question and answer discussions that follow a mostly-faithful account of the various philosophical positions on ethics, materialism, rationalism, idealism, and religion. I particularly enjoyed the last two chapters (15 and 16) which describe Epicurean materialism and the frequent harm inflicted on humanity in the name of religion.

    After finishing the book, I did research on Frances Wright who was an interesting, rebellious and accomplished woman from the 19th century. I was astonished to learn she wrote "A Few Days In Athens" when only 18 years old.

    I recommend this book without reservation to anyone who is looking for an entertaining introduction to Epicureanism and a refreshing departure from the typical nonfiction philosophy tomes.


    I completed “A Few Days in Athens” and wanted to thank you again for your excellent reading suggestions. I have benefited greatly from the new information and look forward to continuing to work through your suggestions.


    Thanks for the helpful explanation Cassius. I will take a look at "Three Dialogues on Liberty". I was impressed with Barwis and excited to learn more since he is completely new to me.

    But my guess after reading this many times is that the kind of fault that he deserves is the kind that belongs to someone who knows the truth, but doesn't want to express it straightforwardly for reasons of his own. (Afraid?)

    I agree with your assessment. I have the impression that many writers of the past have employed esoteric styles to avoid running afoul of the authorities in their time. One of the things I respect about Thomas Paine is the courage he showed when writing

    Thanks for the helpful explanation Cassius. I suspected you would have such an assessment but wanted to confirm given my neophyte status as an Epicurean. I will take a look at "Three Dialogues on Liberty". I was impressed with Barwis and excited to learn more since he is completely new to me.

    But my guess after reading this many times is that the kind of fault that he deserves is the kind that belongs to someone who knows the truth, but doesn't want to express it straightforwardly for reasons of his own. (Afraid?)

    I agree with your assessment. I have the impression that many writers of the past have employed esoteric styles to avoid running afoul of the authorities in their time.

    One of the things I respect about Thomas Paine is the courage he showed when writing “The Age of Reason”. His honesty tarnished his reputation even to this day.


    I read chapter 15 of A Few Days in Athens and it his whet my appetite for the rest of the work. It is impressive that Frances Wright composed such an insightful book at the age of 18!

    I also enjoyed listening to the Jackson Barwis Dialogues Concerning Innate Principles that you posted. I wonder if you think the final three paragraphs are in agreement with Epicurean teachings on pleasure and pain. I have pasted them below for reference.

    Though it be true that pain or pleasure do, immediately or ultimately, result from all our actions as moral agents, yet to conclude generally that things are good or evil only in reference to pleasure or pain is a very considerable error. For in a moral view things are really good, or really evil, according as they serve or injury, or tend to serve or injure, the true interests of humanity, independently of the pain or pleasure that may accompany them. Pleasure or pain, simply considered, do not constitute what is morally good, or evil, in our nature; they are only concomitants of our good or evil actions, and more often ultimately than immediately. For the pains of vice and the pleasures of virtue are never so sensibly felt in the pursuit as after the accomplishment. 
    Many things are morally good and productive of the best moral effects although accompanied with much pain and anxiety. As, when our affections are disordered and misplaced, and our indulged passions are become turbulent and unruly, so that the oppressed voice of nature can hardly be heard in us. Who is not sensible that nature thus overstrained and thrown out of her true and proper course cannot be brought back again to a due temper and just balance without much painful attention and perseverance? Things, therefore, are not morally good or evil only in reference to pleasure or pain. And as much may be said physically, and with as good reasons, for there are many painful and troublesome operations in physic which are very conducive and even quite necessary to the good and health of the body. 
    True, said I. But do you, then, deny that pain is evil, and pleasure is good, in an abstracted sense? 
    In these abstruse questions, replied he, we are apt to be puzzled by the abuse of words; and the present difficulty is of that sort. That pain is grievous there can be no doubt, and if we confine the sense of the word evil to signify grievous only, then pain is evil; but when we extend the sense of the word evil and make it signify all evil, moral and physical, or leave it to signify, indeterminately, what everyone fancies to be evil, then to say that pain is evil is not true. Pain is that sort of evil which is grievous to the sufferer, but pain, as we have shown, both morally and physically, is frequently productive of very great good to mankind. So pleasure, abstractedly, is delightful, which indeed is only saying that pleasure is what it is. But when we say that pleasure is good, that must depend upon the signification we give to the word good. If by good we mean only pleasant, then it is indisputable, but if by good we mean morally right, just, or reasonable, or in a physical sense, conducive to health, nothing can be more clearly false. 

    Nice work Cassius! I just finished episode 1 and look forward to listening to episode 2.

    I understand the need to keep some order over the discussion- especially when recording for broadcast. Just keep me in mind in more participants are required. Otherwise, I will happily enjoy your podcasts as they become available.

    Hi Cassius. I am interested in all of the projects. I may lack the ability and knowledge of the other participants but am happy to take part and ask the occasional pertinent question.

    My schedule is very flexible at the moment and so any day or time should work. I own the Munro translation of Lucretius and will start to reread On the Nature of Things.

    I don't think Epicurus' literal description of the swerve has turned out accurate, but the general understanding that the future is not pre-determined is still the prevailing view-- and that is what I personally would take away from his thoughts about the swerve. The current prevailing view in physics is that future events are probabilistic. Exactly how that works, we don't know. Exactly how matter which can experience itself participates in those probabilities, we don't know.

    Hello Elayne. I believe you are referring to the quantum world of matter when you mention probabilities. I have read a little of Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy about the surprising behavior of matter in the microcosm/quantum level of reality. I keep thinking that this indeterminacy of particle behavior may eventually help explain the indeterminacy of human agency. We seem to understand very little about much of the workings of matter.

    I also find it intriguing that Aristotle described matter as “potential” all those years ago. I’m tempted to call it simply coincidence and yet his insight into the world was extraordinary for his time and I wonder if he was inferring this behavior of primary matter by observing change at the macro level in everyday life.

    Hello Cassius. Your answer was helpful as always.

    The first think I would focus on is the part of the question "how can the swerve account...." I don't think that the swerve "accounts" for free will as much as it "allows" for free will. There is no explanation offered for the mechanism of the swerve in Lucretius, and it is strictly a logical deduction of the "it must be" variety in order to explain how atoms began bouncing rather than continuing in straight lines in the first place, plus as you say accounting for the fact that we observe that we do have some degree of agency / control over our actions.

    There really is no attempt to explain a precise mechanism other than to relate speculations about atoms of "soul" or "spirit" being particularly smooth and light and relating atomic aspects like that to particular dispositions of particular animals.

    I now better understanding what level of precision to expect from the theory of The Swerve. The fact that we do not have a more detailed account from Epicurus is understandable given that even with the scientific progress in our time we still debate the phenomenon of human agency. It is even now common for people to doubt it exists.

    The Thomas Jefferson passage you shared was delightful! His substantial intellectual talents always impress me. I will take your advice and read Frances Wright's A Few Days in Athens Chapter 15 and Cooper's "The Scripture Doctrine of Materialism“. I wish there were more free hours in the day to devote to all the delectable readings you are suggesting. 😉


    Thanks for your willingness to share your understanding of the indeterminacy in Epicurean materialism.

    It can be difficult to approach Epicurus without an understanding of the mental universe of the Greeks with whom he argued. Cassius, and by no means he alone, has observed the degree to which the philosophy of Epicurus is simply a systematic dismantling of Platonism. It's not much different here.

    This dismantling of Platonism seems to be an important theme. As I read De Witts book I see more and more how Epicurus was arguing against the errors of idealism.

    Epicurus dismisses the first objection as a corollary to dismissing fate and the participation of the gods. He dismisses the second objection by proposing the Swerve. An indeterminate cosmos is to that extent non-mechanical. Instead of lifting your arm against the full tide and current of atomic motion, there is enough 'play' in the system to allow you to lift your arms through the atomic matrix.

    The two objections you referenced help put in context the purpose of the Epicurean argument. It isn’t to explain HOW the indeterminacy operates as much as it describes that it MUST be happening in the context of the atomic matrix. Although we would all like more details, I accept the fact that our understanding of the mechanics is limited and that something which we can call The Swerve must be at work.

    Not quite, and that is why it's different from a faculty. The evidence suggests that there is a pre-populated _specific_ pattern expectation. That is, not just the ability to recognize patterns in general but the expectation and then recognition of particular patterns. This is not a concept-- no words or abstract thought is happening. Non-human animals do it.


    Your clear and insightful description of innate pattern recognition was extremely interesting. It was helpful that you contrasted this with the blank slate hypothesis because I hadn’t made the connection to compare the blank slate with Epicurean anticipations or prolepses.

    Thank you for providing more interesting ideas for rumination!