Pleasure vs Happiness (?) Discussion of Hiram's "In Defense of Eudaimonia"

  • Well, Hiram, your first inclination was to arrive at Aristotle's definition, and it sounds like you used his methods as well, the logical ones. Whereas the instant _feeling_ an ordinary person gets from the words happiness and eudaimonia (as Elli has assured us strongly) is _pleasure_. Ask a regular person "what does happy mean?" and unless they are depressed, they will smile-- their face will show their meaning even more than their words. They do not have to go figuring out the root words to get a meaning.

    So this was aimed at us, you have confirmed it. Hiram, how on earth could you misunderstand Epicurus on eudaimonia and choose Aristotle instead? I am sad. Wow. If this is aimed at us, you have completely mischaracterized both Epicurus AND our group.

    Unlike you and Alex, we have attempted not to get into the "mean boys and girls" of philosophy mode and have avoided issuing personal criticisms. Our beef is on the philosophy itself, and that people who are learning are being misled.

    With Alex, it was that he repeatedly violated our rules, was rude, and had been given multiple direct warnings, including on the day he was finally removed. He was behaving in a way which was malicious towards the goals of our group, which we had published in a clear way. It made us sad that he did this and that we had to remove him. It was not out of anger or personality. I had not planned to air that publicly, but you have done so now. The quotes you made from him at the end of your article? I agree with fully. But that is not whatsoever the type of thing he was posting. He wasn't even using Aristotle's definition of happiness. He was arguing that it is possible to remove pain and not have pleasure, repeatedly, despite having had this explained to him and having been asked to stop. At a certain point, that becomes unacceptable, and he crossed the line.

    Hiram, I do not go on your webpage and debate with you. You have your perspective. We are trying to accomplish something here that is different.

  • Further, you keep saying eudaimonia is "in the sources"-- nowhere have we disputed that, nor have we ever avoided discussing it. That is dishonest to accuse us of. On the morning Alex was removed, btw, he never said eudaimonia. I have the screenshots. He said happiness. But it wouldn't have mattered. It is the same thing.

    If you go to the sources, instead of the dictionary that Epicurus didn't have, you will see clearly what Epicurus meant by eudaimonia.

    If you are faced with a language that is not native to you, you cannot just go by root words. You must talk with a native speaker and get examples, to understand the context and the "feeling". We've gotten the context and feeling from Epicurus, and in modern times, from Elli, whom we trust.

  • Do I take your meaning, Cassius, to be that Eudaimonia becomes a problem only when removed from the Greek and set into English? I can certainly understand how the following sentences might be construed to have different meanings;

    I don't think it does, but I believe Cassius does. Elli has also said eudaimonia is a perfectly good Greek word. But the bottom line is that Epicurus used the word, and we should apply the guidelines offered in his sermon against the use of empty words. This would not have been a frivolous choice, and we do not see a trace of anger or hostility against Aristotle in the Letter to Menoeceus. We see a formulation of Epicurus' and his friends' ideas. So eudaimonia / happiness is a legitimate Epicurean philosophical inquiry.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • That way they deprecate pleasure as the feeling which is the ultimate guide given us by Nature, which is exactly what Hiram's article leads toward in deprecating the role of "pleasure" even though he denies that that is his intent.

    Can you explain in what way one deprecates pleasure by rescuing the meaning of eudaimonia?

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • So eudaimonia / happiness is a legitimate Epicurean philosophical inquiry.

    Can you explain in what way one deprecates pleasure by rescuing the meaning of eudaimonia?

    Exactly in the way that the Lampe quote that you included implies - in the great majority of modern conversations, "happiness" is an abstraction, a platonized alternative to the real experience of pleasure."

    Eudaimonia is a Greek word that means nothing to most people not schooled in ancient Greek, and it has all the hazards of confusion in using an untranslated words. But even "Happiness" has the same ambiguities: it is often used to mean totally different things to different people, even though the only real commonality that is going on in that discussion is the issue of finding it pleasurable.

    But if someone means "pleasure" then why don't they SAY pleasure? Is it not because the word has been so slandered and despised by the mainline religions and philosophies (both before and after the time of Epicurus) that it is a word that is shied away from in "polite company"? This is exactly what Cicero said when he wrote that you could not appeal to pleasure in the Senate or in the legionary camps, and it is exactly the issue.

    Anti-Epicurean philosophies prevail over Epicurus largely because they have convinced people that "pleasure" is disreputable. Using a non-translated word just papers over the problem, and this is similar with "ataraxia," which is also a term that has no well-defined meaning, but people throw around with a wink and a nod as if it is the answer to every question.

    So the answer to your question is that using a term like "happiness" and "edaimonia" is perfectly acceptable, just like using the term "gods" is acceptable, if you are explicit in your definition. And just as with "gods" we have a context today in which no one understands "gods" in the Epicrurean way, and no one understands "happiness" or "eudaimonia" in the Epicurean way either.

    Use of happiness/eudaimonia without full contextual definition introduces the same ambiguities and issues that use of "absence of pain" ataraxia / aponia does, and I would reply to that in the same way. Used without definition in standard discussions among people who cannot be expected to know the full context is a prescription for disaster, just like Ataraxia / absence of pain has led commentary on Epicurus down the road of asceticism and minimalism, which is why Epicurus has been kicked to the curb throughout the world. And Epicurean philosophy won't come off the curb so long as we follow along in the standard discussion which conveys to the minds of most normal people that Epicurus isn't worth the time of day to discuss.

  • By reverting to Aristotle's meaning of eudaimonia, which you call rescuing, Hiram, one places pleasure in a lower position than the abstract concepts of flourishing and so on. Whereas by using the word as Epicurus did, the way an average person who is not Aristotelian or Stoic or whatever would, it is clear that happiness is made of pleasures, and then everything works together to support that goal.

  • It is nearly surreal that we are having to defend Epicurus' philosophy against someone who calls himself Epicurean but is taking one of the exact positions Epicurus argued against.

  • Aside: I think we are seeing close-up the hazards that arise from not taking the DeWitt approach and pointing out early and often how Epicurus was in revolt against his predecessors, and how the war with Stoicism was very real.

    A lot of people seem to think that Epicurus was right in line with the rest of the Greeks and just decided to embrace atomism and applied a word twist on pleasure/absence of pain - but that otherwise he was substantially similar. And that's where a lot of this Stoicism-love comes from that we see so often among people who come to the forums for the first time.

    What I am calling the DeWitt approach was to point out how profoundly Epicurus was rejecting Platonism, and that includes Aristotle before Epicurus and the Stoics afterwards.

    It's hard for us today to appreciate the depth of that difference because most of us are not well versed in Plato (especially Philebus) or the details of Aristotle on the meaning of "happiness."

    But it's worse than that we are not well versed. The truth is the modern world, religious AND secular, has fully embraced the heart of the non-Epicurean viewpoint, and they recognize that it is an enemy that they think needs to be stamped out, so they demonize discussion of "pleasure" and the Epicurean view of non-absolute virtues. I think most of us sense that that is how they play their mind-control games, because they know that the Epicurean view strikes at the heart of their intellectual and civil power structure. That means we face more than just educating ourselves about the ancient context and determining what Epicurus meant.

    It means that at the end of the day, when we find out what Epicurus really did mean, we are going to find that we are a very small minority in a very hostile world, and that we had better stick together on core issues if we ever hope to be more than isolated gnats waiting to be swatted by the organized opposition,

  • It is nearly surreal that we are having to defend Epicurus' philosophy against someone who calls himself Epicurean but is taking one of the exact positions Epicurus argued against.


    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

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

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

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

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

    Don't be so pessimistic! :)

  • Todd can you remind me of your background? You've read DeWitt recently? Have you also read any of the Cambridge or other books recently, such as for example Catherine Wilson? What do you consider to be your main source of Epicurean reading? Lucretius? What translation?

    Don't worry if it takes too much time to respond; no problem, but i do think it is interesting and helps analysis to get a fix on the main sources in a person's reading. Of course some here for all I know could be professors and read in the original Greek or Latin! ;) And you may have read far more than I have!

    And how much Plato or Aristotle or Stoicism have you read?

    I may have to set up some kind of general profile question because I really think this is interesting data.

  • Cassius,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Edited 2 times, last by Todd ().

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


    Thanks for taking the time to write the description. That tells me that I need to focus on aspect of the "survey" on how much of the "original sources" people have read.

    For example, have you read Diogenes Laertius from start to finish? Have you read any of "On Ends"? I have only recently discovered myself that while the Epicurean sections are of tremendous interest, the entire rest of the book too gives great insight. It is as if - and I did not realize this - Cicero was really setting out to cover all the bases from all the schools and give a good grounding in each. So there is a LOT to be learned even from the other chapters.

    I am totally with you on the difficulty of Lucretius. I started and stopped reading it so many times over 50 years that I can hardly remember. But I finally got past my problems, and now I see it as a true gold mine. That is why i'm getting interested in a book review series on that -- I think if we can make that more accessible we can really add something to the discussion.

    I am thinking that I need to set up some kind of spreadsheet with these core books.

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

  • have you read Diogenes Laertius from start to finish?

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

    Have you read any of "On Ends"?

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

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

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

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

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

  • I agree on all points Todd, even on "A Few Days in Athens." Your comment on DL reminds me that in the last couple of years I did read (listen) to the full set of 12 books in his series, and yes that was extremely helpful, especially on the Stoics and Plato, and interesting too that he kind of downplays Aristotle (if I recall).

    I am now late in life seeing that reading the full set of Diogenes Laertius plus Cicero's On Ends would be a tremendous grounding for anyone interested in ancient Greek philosophy. had I read those early on my path would have been a lot easier. And now that i have read them I see that they aren't really "work" to read either -- DL especially can be fairly fun, as he likes to tell a lot of amusing anecdotes about each philosopher.

    Those two are easily accessible and yet sit on shelves everywhere unread.