O'Keefe: "Epicurean Advice for the Modern Consumer"

  • Good find, Hiram!

    This clip shows the conclusion to that article, and I find it is a good summary of what he wrote. This is consistent with what I have generally read from Okeefe - he focuses on the advice which tends toward minimalism, and the way he writes ends up with his thumb on the scale toward asceticism, rather than emphasizing that the goal is pleasure and the circumstances determine the way to get there. "We can be content with the little we need" is his final phrase, and it says it all. But why SHOULD be content with little, when more pleasure is possible at a price that we ourselves judge to be worthwhile?

    If I thought this advice "reduce your desires and live a moderately ascetic life" were truly the message of Epicurus I would have nothing to do with it. O'Keefe's version is a total miscarriage. He is taking Epicurus' true "reduce your desires for things that cause more pain than they are worth" message and overgeneralizing it iinto a Stoic call to "reduce ALL your desires" message, which leads directly directly down the rathole to asceticism.

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Epicurean Advice for the Modern Consumer” to “O'Keefe: "Epicurean Advice for the Modern Consumer"”.
  • The only way Okeefe can logically reach this result is to carefully emphasize the Tranquility /Absence of Pain argument as a link in his chain to conclude that some types of pleasure are better than others. That's why this issue is so important. If you don't deal with that argument clearly you end up with Tim Okeefe and the stoics.

    If the focus is kept on "pleasure" as a feeling and "all pleasures are desirable" and that the main way to rule out choosing as particular pleasure is that you can reasonably predict you are going to experience more pain from the choice than pleasure, then you can stay locked on the "what will happen to me if I make this choice." If you stay locked on the practical result of the choice in YOUR situation then you don't worry about an artificial rule that the simplest choice is ALWAYS the best.

    And that's why I think they hit the limit of pleasure is the absence of pain so hard. They want to read into that phrase that "absence of pain" is special kind of particularly valuable pleasure which is worth attaining at any price. Otherwise there is no way a sane person would sacrifice a lifetime of enjoyment in order to hunker down in a cave thinking that "being calm" is a substitute for that lifetime of pleasurable experiences.

    This is where he heads into the weeds of saying that for Epicurus pleasure was not pleasure, and that he had his own "idiosyncratic analysis:

    And here is the darned "kinetic" vs "static" analysis that I think Nikolsky demolishes as not Epicurean at all:

  • This is another passage: "Peace of mind" is what really makes life pleasant." I think I would go so far to say that "peace of mind" is probably not itself a pleasure at all. A mind is always doing something and is never truly at rest. If you're lying down thinking about, or simply "realizing" what a wonderful life you have, your'e experiencing memories and actively thinking about certain things. You are calmly experiencing normal mental pleasures, not doing something in another category entirely.

    And I think this may be related to the criticism of "essences" in Aristotle. There is no "essence" of yellow, there are only "things that are yellow." There is no such thing in the abstract as "peace of mind" - there are only minds that are calmly at peace because they are experiencing normal mental and bodily pleasures, undisturbed by pains of any kind.

    What I am stating here is the "all pleasure comes through experience" argument made in the Wentham article here in the filebase.

  • Here is the argument against "essences" made by Frances Wright in A Few Days in Athens, Chapter 15. I would apply it to Epicurus' view of pleasure -- pleasure does not exist apart from the normal experiences of human life:

    “What is in a substance cannot be separate from it. And is not all matter a compound of qualities? Hardness, extension, form, color, motion, rest — take away all these, and where is matter? To conceive of mind independent of matter, is as if we should conceive of color independent of a substance colored: What is form, if not a body of a particular shape? What is thought, if not something which thinks? Destroy the substance, and you destroy its properties; and so equally — destroy the properties, and you destroy the substance. To suppose the possibility of retaining the one, without the other, is an evident absurdity.”

    I would say that the error OKeefe and others are committing is that they are attempting to conceive of a pleasure apart from experience, just as if color could be separated from things that are colored. And this is a huge error, because if Epicurus' intent in describing "absence of pain" is just to describe the experience of ordinary pleasures without any mixture of pain, then their whole argument toward asceticism is out the window - because the experience of living without pain means the normal day to life mixture of pleasures, with no mixture of pain.

    Or, as Cicero described it: "a life of tranquility crammed full of pleaures"

    Cicero, In Defense of Publius Sestius 10.23: “He {Publius Clodius} praised those most who are said to be above all others the teachers and eulogists of pleasure {the Epicureans}. … He added that these same men were quite right in saying that the wise do everything for their own interests; that no sane man should engage in public affairs; that nothing was preferable to a life of tranquility crammed full of pleasures. But those who said that men should aim at an honorable position, should consult the public interest, should think of duty throughout life not of self-interest, should face danger for their country, receive wounds, welcome death – these he called visionaries and madmen.” Note: Here is a link to Perseus where the Latin and translation of this can be compared. The Latin is: “nihil esse praestabilius otiosa vita, plena et conferta voluptatibus.” See also here for word translations.

    Or as Torquatus described it in On Ends: "living in the continuous enjoyment of numerous and vivid pleasures alike of body and of mind, undisturbed either by the presence or by the prospect of pain"

    "The truth of the position that pleasure is the ultimate good will most readily appear from the following illustration. Let us imagine a man living in the continuous enjoyment of numerous and vivid pleasures alike of body and of mind, undisturbed either by the presence or by the prospect of pain: what possible state of existence could we describe as being more excellent or more desirable? One so situated must possess in the first place a strength of mind that is proof against all fear of death or of pain; he will know that death means complete unconsciousness, and that pain is generally light if long and short if strong, so that its intensity is compensated by brief duration and its continuance by diminishing severity. Let such a man moreover have no dread of any supernatural power; let him never suffer the pleasures of the past to fade away, but constantly renew their enjoyment in recollection, and his lot will be one which will not admit of further improvement."