Welcome Camotero!

  • Quote from Could you please elaborate on how the swerve is a precondition for the existence of free will?

    In both Democritus' and Epicurus' universe, particles and void are all there is. The distribution and movements of particles determine our reality including our thoughts about it.

    In the Democritean universe, the particles behave like hard bodies in classical mechanics. The present and future distribution and movements are determined by the distribution and movements in the distant past. Therefore, the history of the Democritean universe including our thoughts are predetermined. We may still enjoy our pleasures but do so as concerned voyeurs (like sophisticated jumping Jacks who have feelings and are integrated in a moving clockwork), not as agents who invent and choose among options for their actions. Therefore, there is no free will in Democritus' universe.

    In Epicurus' universe, a particle may deviate a bit from its mechanistically determined path. Therefore, the universe including our thoughts is no more completely predetermined by the past. Under this condition, free will may be possible.

    In which species free will exists and how it arises is still a subject of ongoing research. The conclusions still appear to be speculative.

    For the background, there are a number of difficulties with Epicurus' physics:

    It is partially refuted, completely lacks the powerful mathematical modeling with which we are familiar and is rudimentary in comparison with what we learned with Galilei, Newton and many other physicists.

    I see a strong enough analogy between Democritean physics and classical mechanics that I use classical mechanics for the Democritean universe. Others may see this as too farfetched.

    As Epicurus' ethics are based on Epicurean physics, others may reject the whole philosophy because parts of the physics are refuted. I take the refuted parts as similar to refuted or abandoned scientific theories. These theories were stepping stones for the progress to recent science and do not refute the scientific method. Similarly, the refutation of parts of Epicurean physics does not refute the whole philosophy.

    To formulate an Epicurean answer, I combine not refuted parts of Epicurean physics with modern science. Others may reject my approach as arbitrary, choose a different approach and come to different conclusions.

    Sedley's article referenced by Cassius above is probably a good read for the topic.

    I recommend


    although I do not fully agree with it. According to comments on a Facebook forum, it is quite tough for non-scientists though.

  • This is a very thought-provoking discussion. Thank you, Mathitis Kipouros , for raising these issues! And thank you, Martin , for the replies and link to that article. (My mind started to bend part way through so I plan to go back for another read. Saved it to my Pocket app.)

    One thing that came to mind when reading Mathitis Kipouros 's posts was the Epicurean concept of the limits of Nature. I may not be interpreting this correctly, so feel free to critique this. As Epicureans, we have to respect the natural limits of our abilities. We can't solve the world's problems by ourselves. We can't necessarily rescue every homeless individual we meet on the street (to use Mathitis Kipouros 's example). If we feel pain all the time in contemplating the plight of that person, it doesn't do them or us any good, leads to our living miserable lives, and wastes this precious - and only - life that we have to live. This doesn't mean we ignore the pain we feel at others' plights. It means we look soberly at what we can reasonably do, what we feel we can accomplish, what we know our personal limits of effective action can be. For some, this may very well translate into devoting one's life to living among the poor and having direct action every day of our lives. For others, it may mean supporting a charity. For others, it may mean accepting that the problem is bigger than you can personally handle at this time and revisiting your options later. Dwelling on misery and human suffering will, in the end, make you miserable and make you suffer... Unless it doesn't and spurs you to action! In which case, you will feel pleasure in the energy and excitement you feel about working for a cause you believe in. If, on the other hand, it makes you feel overwhelmed and full of pain, figure out where that pain is coming from, make a choice of what you can handle to alleviate that pain - at this moment in time - take the action, and move along. We always reserve the ability to make further choices and rejections in the future. Our future is not determined by Fate. Our future is made by the choices we make in the present.

  • I completely agree with Don's post with no buts. The "limits" issue is big - no matter how much of our time we devote to any particular goal there is a limit in what we "can" do, and if we blind ourselves to that reality then we'll never ultimately come to terms with reality, and I think that understanding the natural order is a precondition to taking successful steps to change any part of it that can be changed. There's a parallel here with death - no matter how much we struggle against it we and our friends will eventually die, and we have to come to an understanding of that and integrate our time limits into our choice of actions.

  • 39. The man who has best ordered the element of disquiet arising from external circumstances has made those things that he could akin to himself, and the rest at least not alien; but with all to which he could not do even this, he has refrained from mixing, and has expelled from his life all which it was of advantage to treat thus."

    Thanks Cassius

    First question: This is the 39th passage from what text? Are there any arguments related to it that could give a logical explanation of why this is the case?

    I guess that what could bother me is if there would not be a logical path traced by the philosophy that could lead the most people to care about those who need help/guidance to get out of their dire situation, which I, somehow, and it could be my years of catholic indoctrination, believe is something that could be to the benefit/pleasure of most. I wish there were an argument in favor of this from within the philosophy. This is what Don addressed quoting something outside the philosophy.

    But I do recognize that we need to be aware of the limits. I was reading the other day that "complete" communication can only happen when two people are physically together. The person talking about it, a scientist, specifically a philologist, quoted many studies that said this is empirically proven (that a message conveyed directly, looking at the other person, and their body language and gestures is more complete and better communication than just talking without being there or, I guess even worse, "texting").

    So what I'm trying to say in this last paragraph is... I guess... that perhaps if all of us were aware of what's good for us, what's pleasureable and painful, we could see the pain being relieved, the pleasure being experienced, if we focused only on improving the dire situations of the people that our within our reach. So there's probably no point in starting a non profit to help the most people that you're probably never going to even meet (unless I'm going to get a lot of pleasure from the starting up of the organization, but this would be beside the point); if you don't get this pleasure, perhaps your efforts would be better spent trying to help those who are actually within your reach, if I come accross them (or seeking them if that brings you pleasure); and if you enjoyed communication, and had a pain brought to you from the awareness of the dire situation of many people, bringing this sort of arguments to the most people within our reach would be the most effective way of helping.

    Is there anything said within the philosophy about spreading its message? Oh my... I didn't mean to get evangelical... it just happened. But having these arguments at hand as a reminder for yourself and in case you get in a conversation about it with a non epicurean would be very valuable.

  • As another example, I regularly regret that the ancient Epicureans had to face the decline and fall of their civilization to Christianity, but I try to budget the time I spend on that to a minimum since unless I am able to build a time machine before I die, there is precious little I can do about it! :)

    I would love to get more into this, without having an opinion about it, and mostly out of curiosity, but I don't know if you guys would regard this thread as the place for that, or that the thread has already taken many ramifications and whether that is ideal for the organization of information in the forum. Anyhow, and a bit related to this... I discovered the discord today. I bumped into Charles there and we talked (or I guess I did, I don't know if he endorses what I'm saying) how that (discord) could be an environment prone for discussion of less organized ideas, ans possibly to dispell the doubts of new students like myself.

  • As Epicureans, we have to respect the natural limits of our abilities. We can't solve the world's problems by ourselves.

    Thanks for this post. The first time I skimmed by it but as I see it know it definitely was the basis for what I posted a few lines upstream, now that I had the time to come back and wirte a bit. I'd love your comments about it if possible Don

  • Excellent posts! I've addressed some of your questions and statements below.

    Mathitis Kipouros asked
    First question: This is the 39th passage from what text? Are there any arguments related to it that could give a logical explanation of why this is the case?

    This is the 39th Principle Doctrine as listed in Diogenes Laertius's 10th book of his Lives of Eminent Philosophers. That book is all about Epicurus and is one of the primary sources of Epicurus's works to survive from the ancient world. There are numerous translations online and the Principal Doctrines (Kuriai Doxai in Ancient Greek) are at the end of the book.

    Perseus Digital Library

    Attalus' site
    Epicurus Wiki

    Mathitis Kipouros said:
    But I do recognize that we need to be aware of the limits. I was reading the other day that "complete" communication can only happen when two people are physically together.

    This is actually a very interesting point and probably the reason there is the academic discipline of literary and textual criticism and interpretation. Without being able to see a person's body language, tone of voice, etc., there can be ambiguity even in the clearest writing even though sometimes it's all we have. Consider reading the Principle Doctrines as opposed to being in the Garden getting a lecture from Epicurus. Which would be the most "complete" way of receiving these teachings?

    Mathitis Kipouros said:
    So there's probably no point in starting a non profit to help the most people that you're probably never going to even meet (unless I'm going to get a lot of pleasure from the starting up of the organization, but this would be beside the point)

    On the contrary, I think that's exactly the point. If you're going to be fulfilled by the starting of such an organization and will find pleasure in the work, then (I believe) Epicureanism would have no argument against your starting it up. You should still have a realistic expectation of the limits on the organization. However, also consider Epicurus' warning about the inherent pains of getting involved in politics and such if the organisation will take on a lobbying function in the political arena.

    Mathitis Kipouros said:
    Is there anything said within the philosophy about spreading its message? Oh my... I didn't mean to get evangelical... it just happened.

    :) Actually, Epicureans *were* an evangelical bunch and their "good news" spread throughout the ancient world. There's a great (albeit depressing) book about the downfall of the ancient pagan world, including the burning of Epicurean texts: The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey.

  • Camotero your last posts have given me a lot more information about "where you're coming from." You indicated above that you had found the forum through the Lucretius podcast and I presumed from that (for some reason) that you had read extensively in Epicurus.

    Now that I see that you have not, I want to double back and reinforce the recommendation I always make about reading the Dewitt book as the best place to get a balanced view of the philosophy. When someone doesn't have a fairly broad background in the philosophy then my experience is 99 out of 100 times they have come across only a few points that hit them as good, but they haven't seen how it all fits together. Most other modern books and articles hit on these "feature points" but in my humble opinion don't give you the background you need to fill in the blanks, and worse than that, they produce the impression that the background is not important ever to know. The result is lots of people just move on to new and spicier writers without ever understanding why Epicurus said what he said or where he was going.

    So if there is anything I would urge you to do while you are fresh and enthusiastic about Epicurus it is to read the Dewitt book. There will be parts with which you won't agree, and parts which you'll definitely find questionable, but DeWitt gives you pretty much the FULL picture of ALL the parts of the philosophy in one place, and I think that helps to put everything in a good perspective. You'll find lots of discussion about his book here from people who read it critically too (like Don's posts) and I think in the end you will find that once you get past a couple of issues of interpretation, DeWitt's approach and conclusions are generally sound and well documented. Again the point is not that you should agree with him, but if you don't read something like Dewitt most people just won't have the time to pull things together on their own.

    Given your background it is also possible that something in DeWitt that is a stumbling block to people like Don and me, you yourself might find attractive and interesting -- which is the comparison and relationship of Epicurus to early Christianity. If you're into that, you'll find DeWitt's "St Paul and Epicurus" very interesting as well.

    Right now I am detecting that you are substantially committed to certain positions and you're looking to see to what extent Epicurus is consistent or helpful in that, and you're probably keeping an open mind but doubtful as to how much attention to devote if Epicurus' positions don't end up squaring with your views. That's perfectly fine and to be expected, and in the end I think Epicurus stands for following your feelings in the way you are going. But I do think the best approach is to get into the "whys" of Epicurus' views and THEN decide to what extent you agree with his conclusions. And there's no better introduction to that than DeWitt IMHO.

  • Also Camotero as much as you are comfortable and think it would be helpful I would encourage you to give us more background about yourself and your reading so far and anything about the direction of your thought that would be helpful for us all to communicate more clearly. It particularly gives me food for thought to realize that you have been listening to the podcasts without knowing the background of the principal doctrines. It's possible that I need to add to our introductions some more basic pointers about what is presumed to be understood, and what the listener should check out if they haven't already. I know we do stress the DeWitt book in the opening of the podcasts but it would be easy for us to include or at least reference where other preliminary material can be found.

    Here on this page we have the FAQ and the Core Texts menu but I shouldn't presume those are easy to find.

  • Also please don't interpret my comments on the DeWitt book as a "RTFM" response ;) Feel free to go ahead and ask any and all questions you have even before and during your reading of that and other books. That's the purpose of the forum. The advice to read the book is more in the "you'll save yourself time" variety. If you just go ahead and ask questions first, that's fine, and it actually helps the forum :)

    Also please be sure to look through existing threads and subforums because as you ask particular questions it would be optimum if we "file" them in those locations so others can find them in the future, rather than having everything strung under this "Welcome" post.