Posts by Don

    I also saw this one yesterday:…_Caesoninus_(consul_58_BC)

    What caught my eye, in light of the recent discoveries about Julius C and Frances Wright et al, "reportedly a follower of a school of Epicureanism that had been modified to befit politicians, as Epicureanism itself favoured withdrawal from politics." which references "2. For a survey of Roman Epicureans active in politics, see Arnaldo Momigliano, review of Science and Politics in the Ancient World by Benjamin Farrington (London 1939), in Journal of Roman Studies 31 (1941), pp. 151–157."

    Quote from ,"Cassius"
    Quote from Don It's not that virtue isn't important, but virtue can be instrumental to our pleasure.

    I flagged this due to the word "can." I think a reading of the Torquatus section that Don is quoting from shows that for a thing to be virtuous it has to be in fact instrumental toward pleasure, otherwise it is foolishness, because the only legitimate goal is pleasurable living, not "glory" or "duty" or anything else that might tend toward an absolutist view of what is virtuous in any situation.

    Just to be clear, I used that "can" to imply that virtues are one of the things that "can" bring is pleasure. I fully endorse Cassius 's characterization here in his post. Well put, Cassius ! :)

    Quote from camotero

    Could someone explain better what's the role that virtue plays in EP, and how does it play it? From all these readings I'm getting a greater importance is put on virtue than I initially thought there would be in EP.

    I'll give it a go. :)

    It's not that virtue isn't important, but virtue can be instrumental to our pleasure. We can get pleasure from being virtuous. Whereas the Stoics would say virtue itself is the goal, Epicureans would say you are virtuous because being virtuous gives you pleasure... Therefore there actual goal is pleasure.

    We also have to be careful as to what we're calling virtue. A virtue like courage, according to Epicurus, is completely contextual. There is no such thing as "courage."

    Let me pull a couple texts here as examples:


    Principal Doctrine 5. It is not possible to live a joyous life without the traits of wisdom, morality, and justice; and it is impossible to live with wisdom, morality, and justice without living joyously. When one of these is lacking, it is impossible to live a joyous life.


    The school holds that sins are not all equal ; that health is in some cases a good, in others a thing indifferent ; that courage is not a natural gift but comes from calculation of expediency


    From Cicero: 15 49 "The same account will be found to hold good of Courage. The performance of labours, the undergoing of pains, are not in themselves attractive, nor are endurance, industry, watchfulness, nor yet that much lauded virtue, perseverance, nor even courage; but we aim at these virtues in order to live without anxiety and fear and so far as possible to be free from pain of mind and body. The fear of death plays havoc with the calm and even tenor of life, and to bow the head to pain and bear it abjectly and feebly is a pitiable thing; such weakness has caused many men to betray their parents or their friends, some their country, and very many utterly to ruin themselves. So on the other hand a strong and lofty spirit is entirely free from anxiety and sorrow. It makes light of death, for the dead are only as they were before they were born. It is schooled to encounter pain by recollecting that pains of great severity are ended by death, and slight ones have frequent intervals of respite; while those of medium intensity lie within our own control: we can bear them if they are endurable, or if they are not, we may serenely quit life's theatre, when the play has ceased to please us. These considerations prove p55 that timidity and cowardice are not blamed, nor courage and endurance praised, on their own account; the former are rejected because they beget pain, the latter coveted because they beget pleasure.



    Vatican Saying 70. Beauty (kalos καλός) and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring joy; but if not then bid them farewell!

    Quote from camotero

    But my argument is that there are other concepts, like justice, which is just a concept, that unfortunately have been misappropriated before by groups in power, but that we would be benefitted from recognizing in the same category as justice. Again, life and freedome. Of course justice. Education I think is a big one.

    I think one of the issues is trying to encapsulate these "rights" in one word: the right to "freedom," the right to "education," the right to "health care," the right to "life." What does that mean? How can Janis Joplin sing "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" and we can understand what that means.

    I also think justice, or more specifically the sense of justice/fairness, is a different thing in that we can have a visceral reaction to injustice or unfairness as I mentioned in #27 above.

    In many ways, I don't think asserting "rights" in the abstract or ideal is adequate. I think that instead we need to advocate specific behaviors or policies that promote pleasure or happiness or eudaimonia or a pleasurable life - however you want to characterize it. As members of a community, we should choose other members of our community who find their pleasure in choosing to serve in government that will uphold and vote for those behaviors and policies that we feel will provide for our pleasure and keep society - as we envision it - safe, secure, and allow the "pursuit of happiness." As more people find themselves safe and secure enough to pursue their pleasure, the more safe and secure society as a whole will be. From my perspective, that is why policies and laws that put concrete reality to these abstract "rights" is a better path than simply asserting their being universal.

    Quote from camotero

    But, how is justice not the same as the other constructs ? It is equally idealistic. There’s no physical justice in nature that you can see or grab, the same as the other constructs.

    I am becoming more and more convinced that we are born with a prolepsis or anticipation of justice - or call it a basic sense of fairness. I've been watching a Netflix documentary series on research on babies and their development, psychological and physical. In experiment after experiment, it can be shown that babies can distinguish between what we would call fair play - or what is just - and what is not. It is fascinating! I've also seen documentaries that show other animals having similar behaviors that strongly suggest that sense of justice and fair play is innate in them as well. My understanding is then that that sense of justice is a naturally-occurring, inborn mental faculty that can be developed as we mature. It actually exists in nature in the way our brains are wired. We expand, codify, ignore, misuse, and corrupt that innate faculty as adults, but nature and evolution has given us the ability to distinguish justice from injustice at a fundamental level and to act accordingly if we so choose. So, in that sense "justice" exists in nature as differentiated from concepts such as freedom or liberty. That's why a statement such as "That doesn't feel right" (as in someone being mistreated or "having their rights withheld") can have validity, both in common language and in an Epicurean Canonical sense.

    Quote from camotero

    So we should clarify that it’s not the non-existing quality of those constructs what impedes them to be put on par with justice, but rather the fact that their grouping name sounds woo-woo. Of course they don’t exist. But of course we should try to make them valid amongst us and have as many people as possible recognize them as well , and dogmatically, as good (which I guess is the whole reason they gave them said names). Or why is justice the only one that can pass the cut? Is it not? (I truly don’t know)

    You raise very good points, and I'd like to say again that I appreciate your willingness to engage these topics. Thinking through the implications of all this, I'm not saying I have any more clarity yet for myself, but going through the process and reading other's perspective has been very helpful.

    When you say "make them valid amongst us and have as many people as possible recognize them as well , and dogmatically, as good" I think that's where you'll get push-back. When we start labeling something as good in and of itself are we starting to elevate that concept to an ideal in the sense of Plato's Ideal Forms?

    Please don't misunderstand me. I personally DO think that there are certain behaviors that lead to pleasure for people in general (to put an Epicurean spin on it): Don't kill; Treat everyone equitably; Allow everyone to live in peace; and some other "universal rights" that feel right and accord with my inborn sense of fairness and justice. The codification of these behaviors into a social contract is what makes them real. We *know* there are no God-given rights. We as humans have to do the hard work of agreeing how we are going to live in a society and how we are going to treat each other and how we are going to enforce peace and safety for members of our community. Using words to declare there are universal rights doesn't mean anything unless there's teeth behind those words. The UN Declaration (which really needs to clean up its masculine pronouns) hasn't done anything to advance the universality of the "rights" it declares. By declaring dogmatically that these rights are good doesn't increase anyone's pleasure unless it's to just feel good by holding those beliefs. Do we want to have an impact or not? What is the limit to the impact we can have? I think that's what Epicurus gets at when talking about our own pleasure and judging the limits on our time and abilities. And everyone is going to have different answers to that.

    Quote from camotero

    I would only think that freedom and life could be universal rights, if there was any. Property I’m a bit more doubtful about. But I agree with you that these could be achieved from seeking justice, in the Epicurean way. And what I argue is, if they are so evidently effective towards producing more pleasure than pain, why do we have to have an organized body of government to recognize them and enforce them, if we could do it as well. If we understood that the pain that would cost us to defend our fellows' rights to life and freedom is something that could be pragmatically pleasure producing for all in the not so long run, we could easily accept them in the same category of justice, just enforced by everyone, instead of having a judge to determine it.

    My understanding is that an organized body of government is necessary to enforce what we're calling "human rights" because there's no other option. We, as individuals, can see the value in freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, etc., but, we, as individuals alone, have no power to enforce them. These rights only exist as a shared consensus or contract among individuals that we as a society value them and, as such, expect our government to uphold them, enforce them, and adhere to them. Outside of that agreed-upon framework, these concepts do not exist. They are just words. Breath upon the air. Ink on a page. Breath that can be dissipated in the wind. Pages that can be burned. Holders of those concepts that can be silenced, imprisoned, or killed.

    I think this is similar to what Cassius is saying about the original Cassius. If we believe these ideas give us pleasure, and by extension allow our society to let us pursue our pleasure, then we must defend the society or government that allows us the freedom to pursue our pleasure against those who would institute a form of government that would curtail our pleasure. As you said, another option would be to flee. But, if one feels there nowhere to flee, then possibly fight is the only other option. Cassius can speak for himself (and I need to read that Sedley article before I can think about endorsing this idea), but I think that's his position.

    And, so, I see this as an example of your "enforced by everyone." Everyone has a stake in a stable society that allows everyone to pursue their pleasure. Judges don't determine this. The social contract is agreed upon by the members of a community (sometimes the size of countries, the UN tries to make it the world). Ideally, the government is there, as representing the will of the people. Judges reflect the agreed upon view of justice.

    As I said, I struggle with this. This relative, contextual view is a natural outcome of accepting that all is atoms and void but I'm not saying it's easy to truly accept it after years of thinking about ideas like universal human rights or natural rights. I have definite ideas of ideas I hold dear and feel everyone should endorse, but Epicurus has made me question the origin of these ideas while I may continue to see their value.

    On the difficulty of finding a suitable single word English translation of kalos καλός, I offer the following:


    For a better understanding of what κάλος means, see

    Woodhouse, S. C. (1910) English–Greek Dictionary: A Vocabulary of the Attic Language‎[1], London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited.

    Synonyms for kalos include:

    admirable idem, page 12.

    artistic idem, page 42.

    auspicious idem, page 53.

    beautiful idem, page 68.

    buxom idem, page 107.

    capital idem, page 111.

    comely idem, page 145.

    creditable idem, page 183.

    elegant idem, page 265.

    estimable idem, page 283.

    excellent idem, page 288.

    exquisite idem, page 296.

    fair idem, page 302.

    favourable idem, page 311.

    fine idem, page 321.

    fortunate idem, page 340.

    good idem, page 366.

    goodly idem, page 367.

    handsome idem, page 383.

    happy idem, page 384.

    high-principled idem, page 400.

    honourable idem, page 405.

    hopeful idem, page 405.

    lovely idem, page 502.

    lucky idem, page 504.

    noble idem, page 559.

    ornamental idem, page 580.

    picturesque idem, page 611.

    plausible idem, page 618.

    pomantic idem, page 625.

    principled idem, page 641.

    promising idem, page 653.

    propitious idem, page 653.

    reputable idem, page 699.

    righteous idem, page 715.

    skilful idem, page 780.

    specious idem, page 799.

    spruce idem, page 806.

    virtuous idem, page 954.

    well-favoured idem, page 974.

    PS: Just FYI - kalōs καλώς is the adverb ( and kalos καλός is the adjective.

    Quote from cassius discuss the last ten PDs

    camotero mentioned an unfamiliarity with the PDs so I wanted to add this here.I know I tend to take some jargon for granted sometimes.

    The "PD"s are the 40 Principal Doctrines (sometimes called the Sovran Maxims in older transitions; Kyriai Doxai in Greek) laid down by Epicurus himself or by the early Epicurean community as a summary of the doctrines or beliefs of the philosophy. Diogenes Laertius ends his book on Epicurus with these 40 doctrines. There are numerous translations online, but here is a quick list to choose from:

    Perseus Digital Library (Hicks translation)

    Peter St-Andre Public Domain translation

    Epicurus Wiki translation with original text

    and I'm sure Cassius has a favorite or two.

    Thank you for posting your reply, camotero . I struggle with this idea of "universal human rights" in the Epicurean context as well.

    My understanding is that a "universal" right veers close to - or is - a Platonic Ideal against which Epicurus fought. The Epicureans saw something like justice to be a contract among people to live without being harmed and to not harm others. Everything is contextual.

    BUT Epicurus also held that the notion of justice can change. Something people thought just at one time can become unjust later. Was it always unjust then? Possibly. Possibly it kept people safe before and now is no longer needed.

    I would say that there are some things that promote people living together but I don't want to go down a Utilitarian rabbit hole. However, the more people feel safe individually, the more everyone benefits as a group. The more equitably the laws are applied to individuals, the more society benefits in that people feel protected.

    However, in reality, "rights" are only as real as the society that upholds them and the government that enforces them. Political dissidents can't enforce their universal human rights individually. They can desire to have intellectual freedom, etc., but if their government throws them in prison, an abstract ideal is not going to be of much practical use. That's not to say that what is happening to them is just! Working for justice might be a better path than proclaiming universal rights. As I said, I struggle with this idea.

    What would you posit to be universal rights? I'm genuinely curious, although Cassius may feel this veers too close to politics. I'll let him make the call. As a start, do you see the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights as outlining your thoughts?

    Hmm. I'm intrigued by DeWitt's take but I'm skeptical of his "ending up in sound without sense" translation of "τὰς δὲ περὶ ψιλὴν τὴν φωνήν." I see no negation ("without") in that phrase nor the sense of "ending up in" although DeWitt may just be idiosyncratically paraphrasing. My sense though is that he's maybe stretching his paraphrase too far.

    I'm also unclear on the "quest for definitions." I get that we shouldn't look for ultimate eternal Platonic meanings for Order, Essence, etc., but agreed upon definitions are essential for communication. If we don't agree on shared definitions, communication is impossible. In light of that, I would say laying out agreed upon definitions would have to be allowable.

    So, overall, I'm in agreement with DeWitt on p. 131, I just think he may be stretching his thesis a little to do more work than it has to.

    Oh, now I like your explicit statement that words and by extension language itself is a convention. Just like other cultural phenomena, e.g., a group of people make contracts to not harm nor to be harmed... Likewise language evolves in a particular context to facilitate co-existence among people.

    I also agree with your last paragraph. So, I don't think we basically disagree. I just don't want to stretch this farther than it needs to be.

    My take is that this is saying language is a socially-evolved tool for understanding and communicating reality just like math or geometry. As such, we don't want to hide reality behind complex arguments in any of those spheres, but be as direct as possible. I will say that I could see this being used as an argument for so-called elegant solutions to math and science problems. Using the least amount of argument to explain the most widely applicable solutions.


    I think Epicurus was thinking that all communication through words is inherently limited and fall short of reality, just like math and geometry are inherently limited in what they can do. I believe that this position is one of the most important in the philosophy as providing the antidote to rationalism. No matter how clear we try to make our words or our theorems they will always fall short of reality.

    I'm open-minded here, but what leads you to think this? I agree that we experience reality subjectively, but the only medium we have to communicate anything is through shared language. If Epicurus had the realizations he did and only experienced it for himself but didn't use language to communicate it, we wouldn't be discussing any of this.

    Now, I will admit that we can communicate with "body language" - a comforting hug, a stern look - and that is immediate if the cultural context is shared. But that can't convey complex ideas from my head to yours. We have to use language, and Epicurus is advocating using the most simple, direct language to accomplish this to cut down the possibility of misunderstanding. Now, we have to interpret his words because we neither live in his cultural context nor speak Ancient Greek as a first language.

    I would contend that rationalism makes use of rhetoric and flowery speech to obfuscate reality. Epicurus advocates direct language to uncover and convey reality as it exists. That's still a blow against elevating rationalism but he can't argue against rationalism unless he sets the parameters of what kind of language to use.

    Quote from Cassius

    I think that's a very useful dive into the meaning of that section, but I do think there will remain an important distinction between the realities of things, which we detect through the senses, and our opinions about them, which can only be expressed through words, and which will always include the possibility of error mixed in to those opinions. Otherwise there would be little need to have made the point, since he had already in section 37 made the point about the importance of clarity.

    It's important to remember that section 34 is Diogenes's commentary about the Epicureans, and 37 is Epicurus himself writing to Herodotus. So, when you say "he had already ... made the point..." that's not the case. Epicurus is making the point about clarity of language in 37 for the first time here.

    A *VERY* (almost painfully) literal translation of Diogenes's commentary in 34 is:


    τῶν τε ζητήσεων εἶναι τὰς μὲν περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων, τὰς δὲ περὶ ψιλὴν τὴν φωνήν.

    And of inquiries (there) are, on the one hand, those concerning of concrete things; on the other hand, those concerning simple language.

    (Note that the second is singular, so I am inclined to translate it singular as in language, speech, and not plural as in words.)

    There two are listed using μεν...δε.... That's where the "on the one hand... On the other" come in. This is a very common feature of Ancient Greek. If you want to dive a little deeper, here's a good intro to that online.

    My conjecture is that Diogenes is setting up a dichotomy of inquiries where Epicurus saw a means to an end. It wasn't inquiries about words, it was inquiries using simple, direct language. The only inquiries about words would be to establish the clear meaning of words so works could be easily understood and not "run on ... ad infinitum." The only way we are going to transmit the truth of our canonical observations and the truth about the nature of things (atoms, void, etc.) is to through the clearest, simplest language possible. Epicurus is saying we don't use flowery rhetoric or poetry (Sorry, Lucretius) because there's a chance the results of our inquiries would not be understood.

    In DL X.34, Diogenes describes two kind of inquiry or investigation (ζήτησις "zētēsis") carried out by the Epicureans:


    "there are two kinds of inquiry, the one concerned with things, the other with nothing but words."

    This translation seemed unsatisfactory to me, so I wanted to delve a little deeper into the original text. However, it appears a note to the text references section 37, which does shed light on the latter part of the sentence in 34:


    DL X .37: "In the first place, Herodotus, you must understand what it is that words denote, in order that by reference to this we may be in a position to test opinions, inquiries, or problems, so that our proofs may not run on untested ad infinitum, nor the terms we use be empty of meaning. [38] For the primary signification of every term employed must be clearly seen, and ought to need no proving; this being necessary, if we are to have something to which the point at issue or the problem or the opinion before us can be referred."

    So it appears the investigation into 'nothing but words" refers to an investigation into the clear meaning of the language used in any inquiry. This also appears to be borne out by the original text. The first kind of investigation is "concerning pragmata" τὰς περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων.

    πραγμάτων (pragmatōn) is the genitive plural of πρᾶγμα (pragma) and means:

    - deed, act, fact

    - occurance, matter, affair

    - thing, concrete reality

    - thing, creature

    - thing of consequence or importance

    - (in the plural) circumstances, affairs

    - (in the plural, in bad sense) trouble, annoyance

    So, it would appear the first kind of inquiry is of "things" in concrete reality. We're looking at existence, things as they exist. This could also be investigations into deeds, acts, I.e., the why and how things happen possibly..

    The second kind of investigation is concerning "nothing but words" τὰς περὶ ψιλὴν τὴν φωνήν. This makes it sound trivial, but section 37 gives this form of inquiry more gravitas. It's not "nothing but words" but it's an investigation into understanding the clear meaning of all words and language used to argue a point. This comes out clearer if we look at the definitions of the terms involved:

    τὰς περὶ ψιλὴν τὴν φωνήν

    ψιλὴν = psilēn

    (Note: this is the latter part of the names of the Greek letters u-psilon and e-psilon)

    accusative feminine singular of ψῑλός

    - naked, bare

    - bald, smooth

    - unclad, uncovered

    - small, frail, delicate

    - simple, plain

    - (military) light (troops)

    - unarmed

    - (of words) without meter (i.e. prose)

    - (poetry) without music (Epic vs Lyrical)

    - (singing) without music (a capella)

    - (music) without singing (instrumentals)

    - (grammar) without the rough breathing (i.e. with the smooth breathing)

    - (grammar) describing the unaspirated voiceless stops, π (p), τ (t), κ (k), as opposed to the aspirated voiceless stops, φ (ph), χ (kh), θ (th)

    φωνήν = phōnēn

    accusative singular of φωνή (phōnē, e.g., English telephone)

    - sound

    - Usually of the human voice: voice, cry, yell

    - The voice or cry of animals

    - Any articulate sound (especially vowels)

    - speech, discourse

    - language

    So, I would offer that the second kind of investigation is concerned with plain language, unadorned speech, no flowery discourse. Say what you mean, know what you're saying, and make your point.

    I'm putting this here as a placeholder, because I'm unclear on what that portion that you underlined actually means. Not just here as you posted, but recently as I've been re-reading DL. I want to dig into the text and get clear what it actually means:


    τῶν τε ζητήσεων εἶναι τὰς μὲν περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων, τὰς δὲ περὶ ψιλὴν τὴν φωνήν.

    Fragment 116 says, and according to Attalus's Usener website, from Plutarch:


    Plutarch, Against Colotes, 17, p. 1117A: Such is ... the man who, in in the letter to Anaxarchus can pen such words as these: "But I, for my part, summon you to sustained pleasures and not to empty virtues, which fill us with vain expectations that destroy peace of mind."

    The pleasures Epicurus calls us to are ἡδονὰς συνεχεῖς hedonas sunekheis "constant, continuous, sustained." So I don't think this refers to length of time, but he is calling us to make decisions that lead to one pleasure after another and pleasures or pains that lead to pleasure "down the line" even if not in this present moment. I still maintain this kind of terminology refers to long-term pleasure as opposed to the longest time. I've had this discussion elsewhere on the forum.

    Lucian is an interesting author including being called the first sci-fi author. Since he was writing satire, we need to interpret his works carefully. It's sometimes hard to tell when he's reflecting reality, expanding on stereotypes, turning things upside down.

    It's been awhile since I read him but this was a good reminder!

    Quote from camotero
    ...indeed it does look like the vallue of truth is relative, which may be something that makes us uncomfortable but it might none the less be true. Perhaps, the question should not be if the value of truth is relative, but rather if the value of us honoring our truth is relative, which it seems to be the case.

    Something doesn't feel right to me with that phrase "the value of truth" is "relative." I agree with Cassius that Epicurus would be comfortable saying there is no absolute capital-T Truth. No Platonic ideal of Truth. But I don't think you can really talk about the "value of truth" being relative or absolute. I'm not even sure what the "value of truth" means. There are things that are true and things that are false. And as Lucretius says, if it seems false, arm yourself against it.

    However, I think I know what you're getting at in that second part. If by "honoring our truth" you mean proclaiming the truth of atoms and void and pleasure etc. loudly, publicly, and always, I think that would be a mistake. We make choices and rejections based on real situations to aim for pleasurable outcomes. Plus, check out the characteristics of the Epicurean sage in that they will make speeches if requested and other situations. Epicureans will not be the street-corner preacher handing out pamphlets and carrying a sign. We will share our Philosophy both individually and in groups of interested or receptive people, but we don't require people to listen to us. We're practical, prudent, just, and can take advantage of situations that arise to share what we know to be true, not false.