Please discuss the Article "On Pleasure Pain and Happiness" in the thread below (rather than in the comments under the article)
Discussion of Article: "On Pleasure, Pain and Happiness"
Ok, that's the last of it. The differences between my perspective and Cassius, as I understand it, are:
1) Cassius does not think absence of pain in a living person is synonymous with fullness of pleasure. IMO this would require a third state, neutral, which I do not believe actually exists.
2) Cassius proposes that the cup itself can be enlarged to admit more pleasures. I would take the position I understand meant by Epicurus saying that once the cup is full, it only admits variations.
I will say that some of the metrics and visual products that have been produced lately in this forum have been exceptionally detailed. The quality of work is awesome.
I’ve only taken a cursory glance at the article, I’d love to take more time to look at it and dust off my Epicurean discussion skills. ?
I agree with the vast majority of the article. Here are my initial comments which I will try to organize according to Elayne's sections. I have included reference to Elayne's sections in the underlined headings. Then my comments on each section follow, in italics.
The feelings are only two, pleasure and pain—there is no true third state such as neutral, except after death.
- Agreed, although after death is probably not a third state, it is non-existence.
The cup analogy is not to be taken literally.
At any given moment we could see a single lifelong movie of this cup.
Only two feelings / no neutral state
- Yes there are only two feelings, and there are no neutral feelings. But this does not mean that there is a feeling about everything that comes to our attention. Something can come to our attention without eliciting any responsive "feeling" whatsoever. Feelings serve as the only guide which Nature gave us to determine what to choose and what to avoid, but that does not mean that Nature gave us an indicator to choose or avoid in response to every experience that comes our way.
What is the significance of Epicurus stressing that there are only two feelings?
- To start, Epicurus probably considered that there is no such thing as "pleasure" in the abstract. In reality, there are only individual exeriences perceived by individual living things as pleasurable. The concept of "pleasure" is a model which suffers from the same difficiences which are discussed later in this article as a hazard of model-making.
- Why articulate "pleasure" as a concept as the goal without constantly listing individual pleasures? Probably because of the logical necessity to be able to talk about the issue, and symbolize pleasures in a single word, and
- to divide feeling up into the two conceps of pleasure and pain, so as to deal with the logical arguments (such as presented by Plato in Philebus) that if there were neutral or mixed feelings, it would be necessary for there to be an arbiter to which we would have to look to separate out and rank the choices by some standard other than pleasure or pain. If we admit there is such a need for such an arbiter, then we are impelled toward the conclusion that knowledge of this arbiter is something more important than either pleasure or pain, and this would remove pleasure from is role as the highest good.
Because there is no neutral, removing all pain in life is only possible with maximal pleasure.
- Once it is accepted (IF it is accepted) that there are only two feelings, then this becomes true by definition. Whether someone understands the implications of this definition, however, is entirely different.
- I agree with Elayne that positing "neutrality" as a goal is contrary to experience; I would also say it is absurd.
- However the point which we will need to deal is that the majority of commentators read Epicurus as implying (or stating explicitly) that this condition of "absence of pain" is (meaning is equivalent too) "the highest pleasure." The presumption which is planted is that somehow "absence of pain" results in a state of exaltation which is higher and/or more intense and/or more valuable in some way than any normal pleasures of music, food, friends, sex, dance, or any other standard mental or bodily pleasure that one can name. No one can advance any explanation of this pleasure that normal people find satisfactory, but that does not stop them from doing it. The result is Stoicism on steroids.
The extent of pleasure can be maximized by making sure to attend to all parts of one’s body, including the brain.
- I think this section is well stated and at least at this time I have nothing to add.
Happiness is itself a pleasurable feeling, most easily described as the condition of a person who has maximized pleasure in all areas of life.
- I would say that happiness if a word that we use to describe a mental experience of pleasures predominating over pains. I do not think I would say that happiness requires maximized pleasures in all areas of life. I think Epicurus described himself as happy on the last day of his life, even though he was suffering excruciating physical pain. From this perspective "happiness" is a concept rather than a particular pleasurable experience or set of pleasurable experience. I would be cautious about considering "happiness" to be an experience which is separate from some combination of otherwise ordinary mental pleasurable feeling/experiences. The further "happiness" is detached from specific pleasurable feelings, the easier it is to slip in to the definition other alleged requirements, such as wisdom or virtue or money or whatever, which other philosophers assert is required to constitute a happy man.
- As to variation, I believe Epicurus was not saying that variation is not desirable. Living another to experience more pleasures may simply be variation, but it is desirable in and of itself. I believe the references to variation are again an artefact of responding to Platonic logical objections. Epicurus was probably responding to the argument that pleasure cannot be "the good" because it allegedly has no limit by responding that pleasure does have a limit, when the allegorical vessel is full. This provides a counterargument to the logical argument of Plato, but it does not in itself diminish the desirability of variation.
- By not commenting on other aspects of this section I am not implying that I disagree with them; in general I agree with everything I read that I am not specifically commenting on.
The capacity for pain is a valuable warning system and should not be disabled except in unusual conditions, but the experience of pain is to be avoided unless it is chosen for the sake of greater pleasure/ lesser pain over the lifespan.
- I totally agree with this section.
Humans have many shared responses of pain or pleasure to specific experiences, and they also have individual variations.
- I totally agree
The standard of pleasure in one’s life must be one’s own subjective feelings, not a generic advice.
- I totally agree, even though I think Elayne thinks I disagree here. I will try to explain that in connection with my "Epicurean Worksheet." The major point comes down in my mind to the issue of turning feelings into abstract numbers. I agree that that is impossible. However I think that conditioning in the modern world has led most people to think that it is valid to rank feelings on some kind of "objective" or "absolute" scale. They have bought into this ranking system, even if they do not appreciate the implications of it. I think that this is a problem similar to the Platonic attacks on pleasure. Epicuris likely thought they were ridiculous, but he was surrounded by philosophy students in Athens who had heard the arguments and likely presumed them to be correct. I believe that is why he came up with the "limits of pleasure" argument in he first place, to show how the Platonic attacks could be defeated on logical grounds. Likewise I think is is necessary for some people to hear a response to attacks on feelings that defends feelings on at least somewhat "logical" terms, even though feelings cannot be reduced to logical representations (numbers). The goal of the Epicurean worksheet (which it may well not reach) is to illustrate the logical absurdity which would occur if "minimal pain" were actually adopted as the explicit goal of life.)
There are many pitfalls to avoid if one desires a happy, pleasure-filled life, such as a false belief in a neutral state, practices which attempt to disable the normal capacity to feel pleasure and pain, and failure to consider the long-term pains and pleasures resulting from actions.
- The part I would comment on again here is the "neutrality" part. It now occurs to me that Elayne may have more experience with eastern viewpoints than I do, and that she may be right to consider that some people really do aim at neutrality, a viewpoint I find so absurd as to not take it seriously. She may be right to aim more fire at neutrality. My difference in emphasis is that I do not believe the "conventional academic epicureans" are aiming at neutrality. I believe they are aiming at asceticism / pain / obedience / regimentation as a control mechanism over other people who, for whatever reason, they deem need to be controlled.
In discussing pain and pleasure, Epicureans stick to real life situations, not hypothetical philosophical puzzles.
- I agree with all of this!
"Ok, that's the last of it. The differences between my perspective and Cassius, as I understand it, are:"
"Cassius does not think absence of pain in a living person is synonymous with fullness of pleasure. IMO this would require a third state, neutral, which I do not believe actually exists."
- I do not consider this to be an accurate statement of my position. From my viewpoint, my position is ""absence of pain" as a term is not ***sufficient*** to describe any condition worthy of being called "fullness of pleasure. In my viewpoint, this terminology has been intentionally adopted by opponents of pleasure to imply that pleasure, or fullness of pleasure, is not an "experience." It is my view that "absence of pain" was used by Epicurus as a reference to quantity, and under the system of having only two feelings, the presence of one is by definition the absence of the other. So from the perspective of quantity, yes absence of pain is sufficient to equate to fullness of pleasure. But quantity is only one aspect of the experience of pleasure, and a full definition would require much more detail to describe the full experience. Added to that is the observation that I think Elayne makes here too, that it is essentially impossible to describe a feeling via concepts / words. We can make the effort and attempt it, but no map of the real world is the equivalent of the real world itself.
Cassius proposes that the cup itself can be enlarged to admit more pleasures. I would take the position I understand meant by Epicurus saying that once the cup is full, it only admits variations.
- I believe the cup analogy was developed to illustrate the limit of pleasure, which is itself a logical device intended to explain how pleasure can have a limit. That limit is that the human experience, at any one moment, or over a lifetime, can have only a limited quantity of experiences.
- As referenced above I believe that Epicurus held variation to be desirable in itself, because that is just another word for additional pleasure. The point in this context is not that more pleasure is not desirable, but that our human makeup only allows us to experience so much of it, and no more, within our living experience.
- As to the question of whether the cup can be enlarged, that is a reference my interpretation of the argument by Okeefe and others that the real goal of Epicurus was moderate asceticism, and my argument that if we indeed set the focus of life as "minimizing pain" then the logical course to achieve that would be (1) suicide, and (2) failing suicide, living in a cave as a hermit on bread and water. What I am saying about a variable size cup is that we as humans do have some control over the figurative "size of the vessel" of our lives. We can commit suicide at age 20, which results in a figuratively smaller vessel than someone who lives to age 40. We can choose to live in a dark cave on bread and water staring into a flame, and in my view that does result in a figuratively smaller vessel of experiences than that of a vessel representing the life of a world adventurer of the same age. It is probably also valid to consider that the size of the allegorical vessel differs based on the mental and physical capacities or disabilities of the person involved. The word "human" is an abstraction - there are only individual living people. There is no allegorical "human vessel" which is the same for all individuals. This is another limitation of the use of conceptual analogies which we have to keep in mind. In discussing an allegorical "vessel of life" that vessel is not going to be of the same type for evey individual, and I think it is useful also to consider that the vessel of our total experiences can enlarge or diminish based on our life choices. Once again, I think the limit of pleasure argument and the limit of pleasure issue was introduced for the limited purpose of dealing with pesky academic logical traps, and was never intended (nor could it serve) as a completely accurate summary of all aspects of pleasure. The full vessel analogy supplies us with a logical response to those who argue that the highest goal of life must have a defined "limit." The vessel analogy does not even begin to communicate the nature of the individual pleasurable and painful experiences which it must contain in order to be useful.
- "Cassius does not think absence of pain in a living person is synonymous with fullness of pleasure. IMO this would require a third state, neutral, which I do not believe actually exists."
- The feelings are only two, pleasure and pain—there is no true third state such as neutral, except after death.
Cassius, thank you for your comments-- it will be likely Monday before I have time to give a full response.
I will throw out there, though, that although pleasure is felt at all normal times as a response to a specific experience (as is pain), I think the activity itself is not the pleasure or the pain. My first reason to think so is that the same activity under different conditions of the same person can be pleasurable or painful. This gives the nervous system a more flexible, accurate way to indicate to us the desirability of whatever it is we are doing, in different circumstances.
The second reason I think that is the issue that under abnormal circumstances, a sensation of pleasure can be somewhat unhinged from a direct action. I can think of two ways to do this-- electrical stimulation of the brain during surgery, and drugs which bind to the pleasure neurotransmitter receptors in an abnormal way, causing prolonged feelings of pleasure with no other cause than the drug.
Although actions-- electrical stimulation and drug taking-- did initiate the feelings of pleasure, the feelings are not being produced through the normal pathways and are not serving as a useful feedback about the health and safety of the action. It is not so much that the person is enjoying the action but that artificial bypassing of the natural feedback system is going on. It's not at all the same type of pleasure-action association, neurologically, as pleasurable reading.
This is similar to a "sense of knowing", where electrical stimulation of the brain can cause a person to feel they "know something", a sense of certainty, but without any content.
I do completely agree that we know pleasure when we feel it, and that normally it's a result of activity, but not that it "is" the activity.
Ha, it's thundering here, so I will write a little more.
I need to reword the death comment--didn't intend to imply that there's anything after death, just that it's the only complete end of both pleasure and pain. Until then, one or both of those is always present.
On happiness, I see I made an error-- I meant to say maximum happiness was a pleasurable feeling resulting from maximizing pleasure in all areas of life-- basically, it is pleasure of having the full cup of pleasures, or at least more pleasure than not, especially in regards to the life time "movie" of that cup. Without including maximum, I've inadvertently left out more ordinary situations. By saying it is a pleasurable feeling, I do not believe I have left room for it to be other than pleasure, and I'm not sure how that could be derived. We have all sorts of different sources of the pleasure feeling, and the response to awareness that our life's cup is mostly full of pleasure is itself a pleasure. I will say that at least that's what I mean by happiness. The feeling is the same as for other pleasures, but the stimulus is specific.
Maybe I could just reword it as "happiness is the feeling of pleasure that comes from awareness that one's lifetime cup is more full of pleasure than pain."
On absence of pain/fullness of pleasure, I am baffled by your answer-- it seems like you are disagreeing with the synonymous aspect, although you say you aren't, and I can't get a grasp on your train of thought. I would tell the person who says minimizing pain results in maximum pleasure that he is correct, and then I'd ask how he plans go go about it. If it is by withdrawing from activity, and he wouldn't listen to my advice that this will result in more pain, not less, then I'd tell him to check in with me in a year, earlier when he gets bored.
If he asked me how to minimize pain, of course it depends on the situation he is in, but I would give him ways to maximize pleasure, and tell him it is the exact same end result, and IMO, _easier_ to approach actively by seeking pleasure than by only withdrawing from pain. But if the withdrawing did result in minimum pain, it would have worked just as well. There should be no difference at all.
I'm not even trying here to describe what pleasure feels like, if that's the issue--that's like trying to describe "sweet." If they don't know the feeling of pleasure by adulthood, I can't imagine I would be able to help them out. There isn't any sufficient description, IMO, other than by using synonyms.
On the size of the cup... I guess this is just me seeing the metaphor differently. I don't see the cup as representing numbers of experiences but the organism's feeling capacity. I don't think it helps to imagine people's cups of different sizes, if the cup represents feelings. Because then you'd have to say, well your cup might be full of pleasure but it's too small, so you aren't having enough. And how would you know? How would you measure it, if they are saying nope, I'm in total bliss here-- how can you say they could have more, based on an outside assessment of their activities? If they aren't having enough pleasure, their cup isn't full, rather than being too small-- they still have pain.
Instead of restricted experience shrinking the cup of feeling, I would see it as the cup being in mostly a pain state, perhaps of low intensity boredom.
I will throw out there, though, that although pleasure is felt at all normal times as a response to a specific experience (as is pain), I think the activity itself is not the pleasure or the pain.
Yes I agree that is an important distinction. The pleasure is the total contextual experience as the same activity can generate pleasure or pain in different contexts.
On absence of pain/fullness of pleasure, I am baffled by your answer-- it seems like you are disagreeing with the synonymous aspect, although you say you aren't, and I can't get a grasp on your train of thought.
I "think" our issue here is this - I am constantly switching contexts between Epicurus making the statement "maximum pleasure is absence of pain" to a student in Athens vs. the same statement being made at a philosophy department class in the world of 2019.
I am thinking that because the Athenian student would have had full access to Epicurus' views and an understanding that "there are only two feelings" and that Epicurus was campaigning in favor of pleasure as ordinarily understood, the Athenian student would never be confused. The Athenian student would know that "we would never know the good without ..." the normal pleasures of action, so he would never consider divorcing the term "pleasure" from "normal active pleasures.
I do not believe that the statement "maximum pleasure is absence of pain" has the same contextual meaning to a 2019 philosophy student. Due to many different factors, 2019 students will most frequently infer that "absence of pain" is a reference to some kind of esoteric/mysterious state intended to mean something similar to nirvana or sensory deprivation or just simple stoic emotionlessness. As a result, I think someone today who says "the highest pleasure is the absence of pain" is probably intending his hearer to understand something very dissimilar, or even the opposite, of what Menoeceus (or any other Athenian of Epicurus' age) would understand.
I see this is very similar to "death is nothing to us." These words in 2019 in English imply flippancy; imply almost a nihilistic message that "LIFE is not important to us." I don't think that the same message would have been heard by an Epicurean Athenian of 200 BC. I think the message was "being dead is a state of nothingness - being dead is being reduced to nothing" due to the absence of sensation. Rather than a message of flippancy I think it is conveying that we have no concerns after we are dead because there is no sensation that would drive a concern. And one of the most important results of "death is nothing to us" properly understand is something very close to "life is everything to us." As I remember DeWitt saying somewhere, pain and pleasure "have meaning only to the living."
Does that explanation help bridge our issue, or make my viewpoint more confusing?
On the size of the cup... I guess this is just me seeing the metaphor differently. I don't see the cup as representing numbers of experiences but the organism's feeling capacity. I don't think it helps to imagine people's cups of different sizes, if the cup represents feelings.
On this issue I am attempting to consider a concern that will present itself to many people to the effect that "it isn't fair" that everyone doesn't have the same size vessel of pleasure. I think this will manifest itself in many ways but maybe most obviously in comparing the life of a person who dies in childhood vs one who dies at 90 years old. Are not the feelings experienced by the 90 year old in some way larger in quantity than those of the child?
I am also concerned about the question I raised as to how we would know that the choice of living in the cave would not produce "the best life" for a human being. The minimalists will argue that by keeping the total experiences small in number, there are fewer pains, and if the pains go to zero we should acknowledge (given our formula) that this is the best life possible. Such a person might be from a background where he or she never thinks about coming out of the cave.
I do see issues in thinking about the vessel being changeable in size, so I want to think about that more, but I suspect I am going to think it best to deal with that issue as a limitation in the model, and a contextual issue, because the "person living in a cave on bread and water" is so dominant a theme in Epicurean academic commentary that I think we almost immediately have to deal with that situation using the vessel analogy in some way. And it might be useful to relate the "size of the vessel" to the part of life that is within our agency / "free will" to influence.
I don't see the cup as representing numbers of experiences but the organism's feeling capacity.
On this specific part - this is where I worry that it is important to stress BOTH that the vessel provides the limits of the capacity (meets the logic test of having a limit), but that what is contained within the vessel are many different "real" experiences (ie pleasure means pleasure and not emotionlessness). I therefore prefer to try to hit hard that the contents are food, music, dance etc -- real understandable feelings -- rather than ambiguous terms like "absence of pain." Again, the issue is more who we are talking to, and what meaning they are predisposed to hear in the term "absence of pain." For the present contexts I am thinking that 90% of the people observing our discussion will immediately think to themselves "What does he mean?" when they hear the term "absence of pain."
And not to be to harsh on "modern" students, apparently Cicero himself thought it was very effective to suggest that "absence of pain" is a worrisome term. And he was apparently right to think that, given how persuasive his argument that "absence of pain as the highest pleasure makes no sense" has proven to be. When competent Epicureans were around to explain they were probably confident of their terminology, but without them around to defend it, the argument has become devastatingly effective. Epicurean philosophy has been mutated into form of Stoicism.
Elayne, after reading the draft once, the content appears already fully agreeable to me except that I think that it might be possible to meaningfully quantify feelings and hedonic calculus. (I may or may not get more into this after looking at Godek's/Cassius' spread sheet.)
The major new thing for me is a clearer understanding where the limit of pleasure actually comes from. I always had problems with the cup analogy and may still have some but no more with respect to the limit. The optimum of stimulation based on the physiology of feeling pleasure explains the existence of the limit well. I was not consciously aware of that before.
I found only one mistake in language:
"The conditions for pleasure are not absence environmental input and action."
"The conditions for pleasure are not absence of environmental input and action."
I think I have a way to allay those concerns about modern people not knowing what pleasure is.
1) I will add a mention that in addition to absence of pain not being a hypothetical "nothing" experience, it is also not a hypothetical type of pleasure different from what we already know as pleasure from ordinary activities. This, I believe, is another key aspect of what Epicurus said about only variation after the cup is full. It's not a different feeling.
Along this line, I disagree with the idea that a person who has deep enjoyment of a smaller variety and number of experiences and thereby achieves continual pleasure as often as anyone can is somehow having a less full cup or smaller cup than someone who enjoys a great many experiences. And vice versa-- both can be fully happy. Some of that is really just a preference. If a person in Ancient Greece couldn't be fully happy with the limited variety of availability activities compared to the much wider number of experiences to choose from now, due to technology, this philosophy wouldn't make sense. However, if the person feels a lack of variety, she has not met her personal need for it and should do more things.
2) I will add a section on the most effective practical method of minimizing pain, which is to maximize pleasure. If both methods worked as well, they would have the exact same end result-- pleasure-- but in practice, focusing on pleasure is more effective.
3) I will add a section explaining that humans are not fundamentally insatiable.
the idea that a person who has deep enjoyment of a smaller variety and number of experiences and thereby achieves continual pleasure as often as anyone can is somehow having a less full cup or smaller cup than someone who enjoys a great many experiences.
Certainly as they would perceive it their cup appears full to them, and that is what matters to them. And any additional pleasure that they would receive from engaging in a wider variety of pleasures would be, as you say, more of the same.
And yet another day of pleasure is always desirable, just as any pleasure is always desirable. I think what we are dealing with here is:
PD20. The flesh receives as unlimited the limits of pleasure; and to provide it requires unlimited time. But the mind, intellectually grasping what the end and limit of the flesh is, and banishing the terrors of the future, procures a complete and perfect life, and we have no longer any need of unlimited time. Nevertheless the mind does not shun pleasure, and even when circumstances make death imminent, the mind does not lack enjoyment of the best life.
In this context I think this is another reason why the "limit of pleasure" should be taken as a logical / rhetorical device as a way of conceptualizing the goal and sparring on logic grounds and even as a matter of reconciling us with death -- but it is not in itself a positive prescription for what to do with our own time in our own circumstances.
Just in the same way that the first PDs serve that same purpose. Having confidence that gods do not direct and and that death is nothing does not tell us POSITIVELY what to do --- they are tremendously valuable antidotes to poisonous error, but they don't tell us to eat ice cream or dance or listen to music or build a rocket ship to Mars.
I strongly think that is how we should see PD3/4 as well. They are anitidotes to poison but they make no attempt to tell us how to spend our time from moment to moment. That is the role of pleasure itself in our own circumstances - we follow the feeling of pleasure, not logical abstractions about gods, death, and "limits."
Hence Epicurus refuses to admit any necessity for argument or discussion to prove that pleasure is desirable and pain to be avoided. These facts, be thinks, are perceived by the senses, as that fire is hot, snow white, honey sweet, none of which things need be proved by elaborate argument: it is enough merely to draw attention to them. (For there is a difference, he holds, between formal syllogistic proof of a thing and a mere notice or reminder: the former is the method for discovering abstruse and recondite truths, the latter for indicating facts that are obvious and evident.) Strip mankind of sensation, and nothing remains; it follows that Nature herself is the judge of that which is in accordance with or contrary to nature. What does Nature perceive or what does she judge of, beside pleasure and pain, to guide her actions of desire and of avoidance?
And to get overly concerned about the logical arguments is also probably a sign of falling into the trap of the dialecticians, as indicated by the text that immediately followed. This was not an improvement on Epicurus but a weakening in the doctrine:
some members of our school however would refine upon this doctrine; these say that it is not enough for the judgment of good and evil to rest with the senses; the facts that pleasure is in and for itself desirable and pain in and for itself to be avoided can also be grasped by the intellect and the reason. Accordingly they declare that the perception that the one is to be sought after and the other avoided is a notion naturally implanted in our minds. Others again, with whom I agree, observing that a great many philosophers do advance a vast array of reasons to prove why pleasure should not be counted as a good nor pain as an evil, consider that we had better not be too confident of our case; in their view it requires elaborate and reasoned argument, and abstruse theoretical discussion of the nature of pleasure and pain.
And that is Just as i think it ended up being a weakening of the doctrine to accept an expansion of the criteria from three to four. Logical abstractions (which I think is what "perceptions of mental presentations" are) must be strictly kept in their subordinate place with their limitations firmly in view! :
Now in The Canon Epicurus affirms that our sensations and preconceptions and our feelings are the standards of truth; the Epicureans generally make perceptions of mental presentations to be also standards. His own statements are also to be found in the Summary addressed to Herodotus and in the Principal Doctrines.
It may be necessary at times to focus on logical argument - and we may be in a situation that we at times have to fight on that field - but if we put logical argument in the central place of our efforts we are falling for the trap of the enemy.
It makes no difference that our logical arguments are "correct" if we see our friends and families and eventually ourselves wiped out in real life by our "enemies."
"Absence of pain is pleasure". This is a definition which shouts out loud, and not a description. In general, oral and written speaking, for the descriptions, we use words and verbs that declare motion. What on earth of a motion has a word like "absence"? And the more some are trying to give a definition on pleasure or pain i.e. the feelings, the more they fail, and the more they are trying to speak about absolutes and the like. Because descriptions for being more clear have to be described with actions, and examples with experiences.
So, we see many theorizing and speaking more and more about asceticism, apathy, fantastic worlds, second life in heavens, and the like. But they are like that stupid fox of Aesop that when she saw sweet grapes, as she could not reach them, she named them as bitter. Bitter are their endless definitions.
This is the methodology of dialectis, and idealism in general that leads us to discussions without end, but the worse of all, it leads us to nihilism, inaction and slavery. The procedure of all that matters for Epicurus, it is to learn his methodology i.e. his way of thinking/acting. Humans' feelings and all the phenomena in Nature, and in our materialistic reality, can be given only by descriptions and not by definitions. Descriptions use words with as much clarity as they could, and the more the clarity they have, the more there is a human that has such experiences for understanding and the like through the empathy.
Time within the reality is flowing and when something happens in present it becomes quickly as a past. Observe a star and its light, it is not its present, it is not its future, it is its past.
Moreover, do you know how many deletions have been made in our brain when after a long time we are trying to give a description to a friend or even to our self about a fact that has happened to us either that fact was painful or pleasurable? Many deletions. Because our brain is focused not in the quantity but in the quality of that experience. And the quality is in self-sufficiency, in generosity, in pride of what we have achieved, and in understanding through empathy for the likes.
Once, an epicurean friend Mary Stamatiadou, who is a scientist in quantum biogenetics, she had said to me for Epicurus : Elli, there is no the issue of time in the way of thinking by Epicurus, there are no definitions in his methodology. There are no absolutes and standards in his manifold way of thinking. The only standard as the first principle, for him, is the particles and the void. The only he is doing is to describe probabilities according to whatever we experienced in the past and what we're wishing for the present or future. To describe and at the same time to eliminate those probabilities that are obstacles to the goal of pleasure. Since, for him all the issues and the phenomena in Nature get different values in accordance with the materialistic reality, and the experiences in life of what we choose and what we are wishing to choose, and what we are able to choose for the goal of pleasure and eudeamonia.
"Man is the measure of all things" as Protagoras said, and this is something as a good starting point for the existential Psychology to liberate the persons from fears and lead them to more and higher conscientious thoughts and actions of autonomy. Nature has many causes and many effects and some facts/things are similar, some are not similar. What we have to focus on, to observe in, and study of, as much as we can, it is Nature, our nature with the usage of our agency/faculties as given by her, for the achievement of ataraxia and aponia that these two words are also a description of pleasure and eudaemonia, which are also addressed to whom they can't understand us. And why many can't understand us? Because they do not HAVE it deepen in their hearts i.e. they did not conquer it "ex apalon onychon" i.e. from childhood. They are not the masters of themselves. They live in misery and trouble and they fight to each other to climb that throne, which has for its basis mud as Nietzsche said, and as I say not only mud, but shit.
But they are like that stupid fox of Aesop that when she saw sweet grapes, as she could not reach them, she named them as bitter. Bitter are their endless definitions.
For me, Elayne's comparison of pleasure/pain to atoms/void is very helpful in clarifying the discussion of pleasure and pain.
Pleasure is the absence of pain, likewise pain is the absence of pleasure.
Regarding the cup:
- Length of life wouldn't affect the size of the cup, there are just more frames in the movie of the cup.
- Everyone gets the same size of cup. If the size of the cup varies between people, it will also vary from moment to moment for a given person. There is no absolute from which to look down and measure the cup.
- IMO the simplest model is the most useful.
Great article Elayne and a really insightful discussion!
Stilpon of Megara
Stilpon was a representative of a smaller Socratic School of Megara, especially known for its dialectical acrobatics, claimed that is not allowed for a person to give another predicate except itself. We only say that man is man and not that man is rich, because man and rich are two different things. Stilpon attributed to the "being" completely different meaning from the real.
Thus, the epicurean Colotes with satirical mood writes :
"How shall we live really, if we cannot say a man good, neither a man Captain, but must separately say a man man and separately a good good and a Captain Captain, and if we're talking about ten thousand horsemen and fortified city, we must say that the horsemen are horsemen, the ten thousand ten thousand; and so on."
And now : "Pleasure is the absence of pain". The acrobatics of dialectics to define issues and things with the absence of their opposites. But above all is the separation/division in the characteristics, and that is because we do not want to give descriptions with clarity, but absolute definitions. We do not want to see that when we mix black and white, we see that there is a graduation of grey among them. No, we want the dilemmas of either black or white.
But the whole movie of life can't be watched in cut pieces, and when we want to define things with the absence of their opposites is totally false. Because, someone may also say : "life is the absence of death". Do you think so ? Because when I study the Nature I observe that life can't exist without death. How the carnivores shall live without the death of herbivores ? And how the herbivores shall live without eating plants ? And how the Universe shall exist without fundamental interactions, also known as fundamental forces ?
Βut if the epicurean young man with the name Colotes would be alive today, hearing that "pleasure is the absence of pain", he could say : How shall we live really our life, if we cannot just say that "pleasure is the supreme good, and our alpha and omega"… but we must to define pleasure in the absence of the opposite feeling of pain. And when we say pleasure we must separately divide its characteristics surpreme, surpreme, good good, alpha alpha, omega omega. And when we speak for the feeling of pleasure, we must say that we feel it separately in our body and separately in our soul. And when we eat our whole body separately enjoys the food i.e. separately enjoys our mouth, our throat, our stomach, our cells, our mind, our hands, and so on and so on.
And if we talking for ALL the pleasures of our life, we must to define them separately, dividing the pleasures in motion, and the pleasures in rest. And if we are talking about the whole Universe we must speak for it in relation to time. So, we must say separately dividing it with a starting moment and an ending moment, as well as, to define and separately dividing the Universe with the up up, down down, left left, right right, and so on, and so on.
Elli: Given what you just wrote how do you explain to someone that the letter to Menoeceus seems to say " when.. we mantain ...pleasure... we do not mean.... but freedom from pain the the body and trouble in the mind"
"When, therefore, we maintain that pleasure is the end, we do not mean the pleasures of profligates and those that consist in sensuality, as is supposed by some who are either ignorant or disagree with us or do not understand, but freedom from pain in the body and from trouble in the mind."
Ok, here is an alternate sort of wording: "In the absence of pleasure, only pain can occur, not any hypothetical neutral state. In the absence of pain, only pleasure can occur, not any other state. This is the same as knowing that where there isn't void, only atoms will be present, and where there are no atoms, only void." And I will work on adding the other details I've proposed, such as there being no third sort of "mystical pleasure" feeling that's different from regular pleasure feelings.
I really do think this is a key point and that we should not concede any ground to confused people who think any feeling other than pleasure will happen when pain is _effectively_ minimized.
I also continue to strenuously disagree with the idea of representing feelings in abstract numerical form, especially given Epicurus' known antipathy towards the way math was used in his time. I'm an old calculus team gal, who is very comfortable with math, but it does not belong as a representation of feelings-- I advise we must always stay with the feeling itself when deciding which result we want. Seeing that graphic with the numbers makes me cringe, lol.
However, I can include a line that there is not a consensus on this point.
(1) As to the spreadsheet graphic, I want to hear what Martin has to say and I will still want to get more feedback from others. I fully agree with the problem of reducing feelings to numbers, but I think that there is a subset of people who won't cringe but who will find the exercise useful. But I could be wrong I am not sure whether there is a better way to approach it than to test it more widely. As for Elayne's objection I know where she is coming from and I appreciate it. However with other people I suspect that the hot button I am going to hit is not "how dare you reduce feelings to numbers!" but rather "how dare you suggest that minimizing pain is not the goal!" That second group is my intended target.
(2) As to the alternate wording, I do think your suggestions are helpful. However I am also thinking that (maybe in the same way as with the spreadsheet?) we are bombing different targets. I think that "neutral state" is probably not what most people are wondering about. Definitely some do worry about that, and I think "neutral state" is important for discussing the logical problem of whether there is a third feeling besides pleasure and pain. But I think most people are not thinking "Pleasure, pain, and neutral" - they are thinking that Epicurus taught "pleasure, pain, and 'a higher pleasure he called ataraxia." They aren't fascinate by it because it is neutral, they are fascinated by it because they think that he was describing some kind of "higher" pain. On this point I don't generally like to discuss untranslated greek words because I think that obscures the issue, but in this context maybe we should talk about "ataraxia" because that is part of the Okeefe game. Not only imply that it something higher than pleasure, but always give it the fancy Greek name to imply that they have some kind of esoteric knowledge that no one else has.
As I said in the past, in this paragraph Epicurus does not use the words "freedom of pain" or "absence of pain", he uses "neither - nor" next to the verbs "algein" and "tarassesthai" in the grammatical form of greek language that declare motion i.e. activities. Pleasure is to do such actions e.g. study the Nature, celestial phenomena, and our nature and on the basis of our personal limits to not feel pain in the body and disturbance in the soul. To maintain a pleasure I have to do something i.e. maintenance of pleasure depends on our activities and similarly to chose a pain and then minimizing this pain is for the achievement of a greater pleasure. Prudence and the study of Nature teaches us where to set our personal limits, in accordance with the experiences and the reality and the society we live, and how to use tools as called virtues to live a pleasant life. This is the way that goes the hedonic calculus in the Canon that includes both of our feelings pleasure and pain, and not a neutral state of anesthesia or amethexia that leads to apathy and the decadence of any society.
We have to realize also that Epicurus speaks for gradation among pleasure and pain, as well as, all the things/issues get constantly different values depending of what we choose to do for the achievement of the goal of pleasure. For this the division on pleasure to kinetic and katastematic pleasures is not given by him anywhere. The only he speaks is for eudaemonia and this is how he starts his letter to Meneoceus and how he is ending it : when we do not possess eudaemonia we do EVERYTHING to win it. This is the art to live like gods among men.
Imo the behavior of a profligate is the same behavior with that one that says he is is humble and live in simplicity and frugality. Both such behaviors are antisocial and without limits, both they produce pain. And both declare men that are not the masters of themselves, both are slaves recognizing other masters than themselves. Eudaemonia is not an issue that is possessed by them (ex apalon onychon) i.e. from childhood , because for the achievement of eudeamonia first you have to possess yourself and that means self-sufficiency and self-restrain, (egratia) that is synonym with freedom and bravery, because your goal is pure pleasure that its limit is neither to feel pain in the body nor agitation in the soul.