Catherine Wilson's January 2021 article: "Why Epicureanism, Not Stoicism, Is The Philosophy We Need Now"

  • Here is a new article by Catherine Wilson:…sm-philosophy-we-need-now

    Who can disagree with the title?


    OK I just looked at this one and see it is actually a new article by Catherine Wilson. It contains some good philosophical points along with some not-so-good, but is something most of us would personally agree with. However it's focused on politics, and my view is that it would probably not be a good idea to post it, especially right now.

    All of us in the USA are no doubt aware that political tensions right now are probably higher than any time in our lifetimes, so this is probably a particularly good time to adhere to the posting guidelines for the greater good of our mutual project here.

    I almost want to post the article solely for this following paragraph, and I might pull the paragraph out somehow and post it anyway. This increases Catherine Wilson in my estimation, but the danger involved in opening discussion into humanism and politics is probably too great to post the whole article.

    I even hesitate to post these confidential comments because I want us to stay away from politics as far and as long as we can. But at the very least we need to be open to discussing where the limits are, and I think at least here in this confidential group we have a close enough relationship we can at least discuss where the limits are, if anyone has any comments.

  • Actually I want to pull back my first good impression of that bliss drug comment. Now that I look at it again, is the analysis really correct? Is she in fact showing that she does not understand the importance of maintaining that pleasure is pleasure and good in itself, and that the reason that the problem with a bliss drug is its IMPRACTICABILITY, not the desire for total pleasure?

    The second paragraph seems to hint at the right analysis, but..... she isn't stating WHY it is good to experience the world as it is....

    Elayne I particularly want to know what you think about that! The more I think about it the less I like it. I think she is buying into the "we must have pain in order to experience pleasure" argument which might give us a good example of why Epicurean divinity has an important use -- to illustrate that pain is not necessary to the best life ??????

    Oh my this implicates a lot of our discussions! Is Wilson so focused on the practical feeling / experience aspect that she has lost the importance of the "logical" argument by which we must maintain that pleasure is desirable in and of itself? Is this an illustration of how we must constantly recognize BOTH the logical and practical arguments lest we slide down a slope in which we lose our focus on the need for both?

    Now I have raised two topics (1) the political angle of the article, and (2) Wilson's bliss drug analysis. Of the two, the SECOND is far more important than the first.

  • First impressions on the article:


    I agree with her take on the "bliss pill."

    She gets a little utilitarian but that may just be for historical context.

    I'm less enamoured of the last two paragraphs. They seemed tacked on to me.

    She's not an ideal Epicurean spokesperson but Epicureans aren't into Platonic ideals anyway.

    At least someone is getting Epicurean airtime against the Stoics!

  • Ack. I think the article is pretty bad.

    She says the application of rationality must itself be enjoyable or no reason to do it-- untrue. If studying boring material for a test leads to passing a class and gaining access to a more interesting class, I would (and have) done it. That's basic EP, sometimes choosing a pain for greater pleasure.

    Self control reducing pain to others and the self? Basic misunderstanding that pain to others is painful to us (most of us), so it should not be listed separately. If we didn't care about them and there were no consequences from them, they wouldn't enter into consideration. It's empathy that causes us innate inclusion of their pleasure.

    She lists associations of consumerism without clearly linking those to the reader's pains. Lot of assuming there.

    Did Epicurus have security for "all" as a goal? I don't see that.

    We've discussed the bliss pill a lot. She's wrong that the person wouldn't be in reality-- the pill is real, so the effects and pleasure experiences are real. The problems we've identified are that hypotheticals don't contain real world details. If it really were continual pleasure, complete pleasure, there would be nothing missing. If it was boring or somehow unsatisfactory it wouldn't be bliss as advertised. If it felt unreal in an unpleasant way, it wouldn't be bliss. The flaws in her argument aren't a logical failure just a failure to remember pleasure is an actual feeling. She is substituting a reasoning process for the feeling.

    Most wouldn't take it bc in real life, we use pain as a warning of tissue damage, and this pill might severely shorten our lives if we had no way to know our appendix was rupturing, etc. It would require not just a bliss pill but total safety from all life-shortening harm that we would lose our ability to notice. Most of us also wouldn't necessarily trust such a medication without extensive testing. If we had a way to stop all harm and threat of harm, then we wouldn't need the bliss pill anyway 😂.

    Although we can't increase the height of pleasure past the limit of removal of pain, most people do want to extend the area under the curve, longevity-- we want to continue our pleasure. So this bliss pill would be a risky move.

    I don't find this a justification for chains of logic. Instead, although there are some pragmatic issues, mainly she seems to forget pleasure is a feeling.

    On the political side, she has confused EP with social utilitarianism. Not the same. In EP we would expect to see people trying to max their pleasure, including their vicarious pleasure at that of others, probably by a negotiation process, making justice contracts.

  • The more i thought about it the more i expected Elayne to blast the article, and I see I was not disappointed. In my view this is one of Elaynes strongest areas (of many).

    I understand (I think) why Don reacted the way he did, because I see this article from several different angles. But there's something fundamentally wrong with Catherine Wilson's approach to Epicurus which really gives us some great oppportunities to discuss.

    I really think there is a lot of important material here to digest, and I will probably suggest we cut this out to a public post while treating the politics at a very high level, as Elayne did. But I am in the road for 4 hours so can't do that til tonight. I hope more will comment.

    We should never be afraid to disagree with each other and on this topic above all our discussions will help us articulate the issues better and see where obstacles stand in our way.

    There's nothing more important than this in Epicurean philosophy, and the road to explaining how we get there is crucial. The interplay of the logic and the feeling aspects still seems to me to be one of those where we can improve our presentation. I see that aspect slightly different from Elayne but I need to work on articulating how. I think Wilson is failing dramatically in her understanding of the logical issues.

    Catherine Wilson is providing us great material for growth in these areas.

  • I'll weigh in a little more so Cassius can see if he was right in his understanding of my motives :)

    I'm not a huge Wilson fan, but my perspective is that she should be cut a little slack in this article. She's writing for a popular magazine for a popular audience. Her arguments are not going to be finely detailed or nuanced. I'm sure she had a hard word limit, too.

    Wilson says:

    If the exercise of our rationality in learning, thinking and communicating were not pleasurable, there would be no point in trying to master any subject or practice.

    So, she doesn't say if it's a long-term pleasure or immediate pleasure etc. Just that learning, thinking and communicating can be pleasurable. Maybe she means short term pain of study leading to long term pleasure. Maybe the pleasure of learning something new. Can't tell. I'm willing to defer judgement. The fact that pleasure is said to be worthy in a popular article: good enough for me right now.

    The whole "bliss pill"/"experience machine" thing is *always* going to come up in any popular article about pleasure being a worthy goal, so she needed to address it. I think she did an acceptable job in addressing that in a few words. Additionally, I agree with her on the general principle she lays out. I'm not going down that alley here though. Again, word limit. Asked and she answered after a fashion.

    Finally, I'm just happy to see Epicurus's name in a popular magazine where it's not some Stoic writing how unworthy pleasure is as a goal then going off on their "following nature" and virtue rant.

  • This bit about the 'bliss pill' is a very modern-sounding thought-experiment, but its roots are ancient. Homer proposes a similar problem in his Odyssey with the land of the Lotus-Eaters, memorably captured by Tennyson in a poem of that name.

    If you could spend your life on an exceedingly pleasant island in the Mediterranean eating narcotic flowers, drowsy and content and forgetful of family and duty and honor, would you choose that? The 'right' answer for Homer and all good pious Greeks was no. It might be worth exploring what the Epicurean answer would be.

  • Well that's more specific, narcotic flowers. Def no. I hate the feeling of opiates. I don't even take them after surgery. Even back then, you'd get habituation to opiates and then all you get is wanting but not liking. Addictive substances are miserable.

    The devil is in the details lol

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “More Analysis of Catherine Wilson: Her January 2021 article in New Statesman:” to “More Analysis of Catherine Wilson: Her January 2021 article in New Statesman: "Why Epicureanism, Not Stoicism, Is The Philosophy We Need Now"”.
  • Finally, I'm just happy to see Epicurus's name in a popular magazine where it's not some Stoic writing how unworthy pleasure is as a goal then going off on their "following nature" and virtue rant.

    Ok this is I think a good summary of your point and I certainly agree with it - you're cutting her a lot of slack because of this, and indeed that title -- explicitly promoting Epicurus over Stoicism - is impossible not to appreciate. How infrequently we see anything like that in the popular material that we read is a testament to how bad things are out there. Catherine Wilson deserves tremendous credit from that point of view.

    So within that context I can certainly appreciate that you want to be generous. I tend to think the same way -- I've watched some of her videos and I like her personality. She seems honest and friendly and clearly means well. And I think she realizes that even to the small extent she's wandered from the academic orthodoxy, in her circle she's pretty much out on a limb on her own, with few allies. So I can appreciate that she's being brave even being in the game at all.

    But having said that, I think Elayne's criticism still stands. It would not be very hard for Wilson to word these passages more accurately, and I don't really think that she was being sloppy -- she seems to really draw back from the full logical conclusions that Epicurus' logic compels her to draw. Elayne's point about Epicurus saying clearly that we sometimes choose pain in order to eventually achieve more pleasure --- that really is a super-fundamental point. I cannot imagine a really no good excuse for her not making that very precisely and clearly except that she doesn't want to -- she doesn't want to say explicitly that wisdom or knowledge is not desirable in itself unless it brings pleasure. That's just too much for the academic world to tolerate, and she's not willing to go there even though that is clear Epicurean doctrine.

    As to the bliss pill, I also see Elayne's point that the general principle that she's laying out is very wide from the mark. She's choosing to emphasize that the problem would be that "the causes of pain and pleasure would be obscured." Well, why is that a problem? If the bliss pill works, who cares WHY it works -- that's principle doctrine 10 in spades. The clear implication of this phrasing is that it is the KNOWLEDGE of the causes that is of concern to Wilson. She's clearly implying that knowledge in and of itself is good, which is totally wrong in Epicurean terms. It is even somewhat contradicted by what she has just said in the preceding paragraph, where she implies that the benefit of experiencing pain is to "keep our appetites sharp."

    Here's the main point I wanted to come back and add, and this is a little different from what Elayne wrote:

    Rather than Wilson failing to appreciate pleasure as a feeling, I think the thing that bothers me about her approach is that she seems to back away from taking the doctrines to their logical conclusions. As Elayne pointed out, her emphasis on the pleasure of "all" is Wilson's own arbitrary humanist addition, and isn't at all supported by the texts. She's universalizing and humanizing the edge because she isn't willing to follow the logical progression to the end, which involves real feelings of pleasure for real people and not universalized abstractions about what would be nice if the world were like that. Same with her observations about "justice."

    Probably the best way I can express my concern at the moment is that I think you have to accept that Epicurus was preaching pleasure (a feeling) a the goal while at the same time employing words in a system that he wanted to be rigorously logical and consistent. If you can't follow the principles he set out to their logical conclusions, you're really ignoring them and producing something that might seem pleasing to us for the moment, but isn't true to what Epicurus was teaching.

    So I think in order to really understand and appreciate Epicurus you have to be ruthlessly logical in identifying and then applying Epicurus' chain reasoning, as I think is DeWitt's strength. We can debate in good faith all day long whether it is necessary to follow his chain reasoning on eternality and infinity, but even those of us on different sides of that question are on the same team. We ultimately pick up the chain at some point where we all affirm materiality and lack of supernatural forces, and so we're ultimately holding the same chain, just at different starting points.

    In ethics though it's hard to say that we're even on the same chain with Catherine Wilson. Wilson understands that "pleasure" is identified as the goal, but she takes all sorts of liberties with other aspects of the ethics, so she reaches conclusions that are more personal preference than they are illustrations of the principles. She's taking principles and showing how SHE applies them without identifying the fundamental issues involved in them, so she ends up teaching "Wilsonism" rather than Epicurus' process, approach, and system. By doing so she lowers the discussion away from the "philosophy" part entirely and makes Epicurus into simply an ethicist with whom we should agree.

    My greatest concern then is that because she isn't following the course logically, she ultimately isn't going to be able to deal effectively to what I see to be one of the biggest obstacles we all face -- dealing with the "pleasure as the absence of pain" passages.

    Unless you get used to seeing Epicurus as a master logician, you're going to try to make sense of the "by pleasure we mean the absence of pain" passages thinking that he is talking in terms of feelings that we should grasp directly, when -- in my humble opinion - he is talking in primarily LOGICAL terms in order to address the Platonic logical arguments against pleasure as the highest good such as expressed in Philebus. He's expecting us to remember that the logical context is that there are only two feelings, so that BY DEFINITION - by logic - the presence of one equals the absence of the other. If you try to take that passage in purely experiential or "I know it because i feel it" terms without keeping in mind its logical context you're going to crash on the rocks, because in "feeling" terms it doesn't feel right to identify the goal of life - the greatest joy we can experience, as "absence of pain."

    You're got to be prepared to approach Epicurus at the same time as both (1) the master architect of human happiness -- a masterful conveyor of the importance of "feeling," as well as (2) a master logician who was superior to Plato in explaining the goal of life in terms of ideas.

    If you can't walk both paths then you're going to stumble. If you're too focused on emotion and feeling you will stumble when you confront the logical ideas of the Platonists, but at the other extreme if you're too focused on logic you'll fail because you sound like as much of an emotionless robot as the Stoics.

    I firmly think you have to be grounded in *both.* Catherine Wilson is primarily explaining Epicurus in terms of her own feelings, and that's not good enough.

  • As to the bliss pill, I also see Elayne's point that the general principle that she's laying out is very wide from the mark. She's choosing to emphasize that the problem would be that "the causes of pain and pleasure would be obscured." Well, why is that a problem? If the bliss pill works, who cares WHY it works -- that's principle doctrine 10 in spades. The clear implication of this phrasing is that it is the KNOWLEDGE of the causes that is of concern to Wilson.

    I don't want to go down the "bliss pill" rabbit hole again, but, in principle, I agree with Wilson about this. I continue to assert that PD 10 is about personal responsibility and it's specifically saying the "pleasures of the profligate" are not recommended, and that the most important word in that Doctrine is *if*. If they do these things, then we have no complaints... But those pleasures *don't* provide freedom from fear or teach us limits, etc. That's the point. Plus it has to be taken in context with the Letter to Menoikeus which appears to me to be commentary on PD 10:


    10If the things that produced the delights of those who are decadent washed away the mind’s fears about astronomical phenomena and death and suffering, and furthermore if they taught us the limits of our pains and desires, then we would have no complaints against them, since they would be filled with every joy and would contain not a single pain or distress (and that’s what is bad).

    In the Letter to Menoikos: So when we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasures of decadent people or the enjoyment of sleep, as is believed by those who are ignorant or who don't understand us or who are ill-disposed to us, but to be free from bodily pain and mental disturbance. For a pleasant life is produced not by drinking and endless parties and enjoying boys and women and consuming fish and other delicacies of an extravagant table, but by sober reasoning, searching out the cause of everything we accept or reject, and driving out opinions that cause the greatest trouble in the soul.

    If we're on the bliss pill or on the experience machine or constantly intoxicated or eating lotuses, we can't use "sober reasoning" or "search out the cause of everything we accept our reject." Taking the bliss pill could be a personal choice, but I think it would fall under the unrecommended pleasures of the profligate (literally, the lost) and I don't believe Epicurus would endorse that. Pleasure is pleasure, but not every pleasure should be chosen.

    I realize I may be a minority opinion, but this is one I haven't been convinced to change yet.

  • I agree with Wilson about this

    I'm afraid we can't unwind this without being more clear what we are agreeing with, because i am no longer certain what we are talking about as Wilson's opinion.

    As to the bliss drug, let's ask IF IT WORKED TO PRODUCE PERPETUAL LIFETIME BLISS (which seems to be the issue, some of us are presuming it works, others are simply concluding it can't), would you take it? Again, for purposes of this answer, let's presume that the hypothetical is that the bliss drug is in fact effective to produce perpetual uninterrupted bliss for the rest of one's life. And let's just say "lifetime" so that we're not arguing that the bliss pill extends or shortens life.

    So :

    (1) Is Catherine Wilson saying Epicurus would say to take it, or not? She seems to be saying that most people (with whom she apparently agrees?) would say no, but let's be clear as to what she is saying or implying that Epicurus would say. What is she saying is the Epicurean answer to the bliss drug question?

    and therefore in terms of whether you agree with her Don,

    (2) Would you (Don) take that pill?

  • (1) She's saying Epicurus would say "Don't take the pill."

    (2a) Short answer: No. :)

    (2b) Longer answer: The drug's effects, once taken, would serve as a barrier between me and the cosmos and I would no longer be able to prudently make decisions about how to achieve my own pleasure. Prudence is instrumental in achieving the goal of feeling pleasure. Prudence and wisdom don't sit above pleasure. Some might say, "but you've achieved pleasure with the pill." I've achieved pleasure but it's someone else's definition of pleasure. The creator of the drug has decided for me the hormone levels (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin) that will produce "my" pleasure. I have a similar reason for not wanting to upload my mind into a computer to live forever. Who owns the hardware? What parameters have they programmed into it? Same way with this hypothetical pill (that I'm defining here as producing hormone levels determined by someone else's chemistry). The pill is someone else's hardware. The only way in this universe to achieve pleasure is to make choices and rejections based on one's own senses, one's own reactions of pleasure and pain, and whatever the prolepses are.

    My take is that this is the crux of Wilson's argument expressed in the least number of words for her article.


    Most would rather experience hardships, ups and downs, and the pains of off-and-on deprivation that keep our appetites sharp.

    The Epicurean can agree entirely. A bliss drug would not be a source of real pleasure because it would wipe out experience. Blissed out, we would not be encountering the world as it is, but a distorted world in which the causes of physical and psychological pleasure as well as pain were obscured.

    To bring this back to Wilson, she's not saying experiencing hardship and pain are somehow superior to pleasure. She's saying without encountering the real world, we have no way to make choices of how to achieve pleasure. We don't *want* or desire to experience hardship or pain, but we recognize that the world is full of both. Having the *choice* of either experiencing the world *as it is* and making *my* choices and avoidances based on the input of *my* senses etc. or being "blissed out" on someone else's definition of an abstract ideal "pleasure" for me, I'd choose the " hardships, ups and downs, and the pains of off-and-on deprivation." It's not a Stoic glorification of enduring pain. It's a proclamation of the fact that I have one life to live; it should be lived pleasurably; and the only path I have is for me to make my choices and aim at that goal - directing myself as best I can using the Canonic faculties I've been given by natural evolution.

  • As to your last paragraph, "To bring this back to Wilson..." I totally agree. As to the first paragraph, I see we are, as you warned, in the rabbit hole of dealing with hypothetical without firmly agreeing on the terms of the hypothetical first.

    As to Wilson (not you) I see that as another example of my concern about her logical consistency. If you're not going to go all the way with the logical argument in a piece like that, I would say it likely does not make sense to bring it up, else you end up creating just the kind of ambiguity that causes the doubts we're now discussing.

    Because if the "bliss drug" were defined as the equivalent of transforming you into an Epicurean god, then surely I think Epicurus WOULD say to take it. Would you agree with that?

    I think that the answer is probably yes, but given the way she has written her statement I am not clear that Wilson would say yes, and in fact I would read her as likely saying "no."

  • Oh my! We already have a hypothetical drug and now we're talking about ill-defined gods. Yikes.

    My answer is still no. Epicurus wouldn't advocate taking the drug. How would it make me a god? How would my atoms replenish themselves to make me incorruptible?

    That's a quick reply. More later.

  • Don If the awareness of choosing is essential to bliss, then the bliss pill must provide that too-- if anything at all is missing from total pleasure, then it's not a total bliss pill, by definition! If someone else's bliss is not yours, and it's marketed as total bliss for you, then it's false advertising! That would go into my own reasons not to take it, lol-- I would not be convinced there could be a pill that would give complete bliss to a wide variety of individuals.

    I don't think you understand PD 10. If you take it in context with the entire body of writings, it is very clear Epicurus places nothing above or equal to pleasure. The problem is that the pleasures of the profligates not only produce more pain than pleasure but that they leave anxiety unaddressed, and thus they can't produce complete pleasure. They leave the pain of anxiety. And he is talking about limits not because of the modern concept of "knowing our limits." He is referring to the understanding that once you have removed all pain, you will be full of maximum pleasure, a real and wonderful feeling, and that we are not (as was argued in his time) forced to seek more and more pleasure endlessly, if there is no pain. He is saying complete pleasure can actually happen for humans.

  • Here's another analogy-- if our need for pleasure were like an infinitely large universe, complete pleasure could never happen for a human, not even for a second. We would always need more and more.

    But in contrast to his view of an unlimited universe, he taught that our capacity for pleasure does have a limit, the point at which all pain is removed and pleasure is full! So this is a good sort of limit to have. It doesn't reduce our pleasure, as if we need to moderate pleasure -- it makes pleasure completely blissful, no pill needed. He is saying we can be satiated. We are not doomed to endless dissatisfaction with incomplete pleasure.

    And I find by observation of my life that this is exactly true. It's not whatsoever a logic process for me but direct observation. Of course, as he acknowledged, pains do come in life which are unavoidable. But I have also had not just moments of feeling full pleasure but extended periods, and what disrupts that is _not_ inability to be satiated but a change in conditions. If I have eaten enough, I am not becoming disappointed with that satisfaction in a few hours, but my food gets digested, a change in conditions, creating hunger again.

  • Epicurus wouldn't advocate taking the drug. How would it make me a god? How would my atoms replenish themselves to make me incorruptible?

    if anything at all is missing from total pleasure, then it's not a total bliss pill, by definition!

    OK I see this discussion as reinforcement of the need to be more aggressive in the logical side. As Elayne is pointing out, the only way to resolve these questions is to look at the definitions, and that's the problem that has to be addressed with hypotheticals at the very beginning -- stating the terms extremely clearly.

    Does the difficulty with clarify in hypotheticals mean that we should never use them? I can see the possibility of arguing both sides of that, but the step of arguing both sides would probably be extremely helpful for being clear on the benefits and limits of the use of hypotheticals.

    I think that's behind our different viewpoints on PD10. I think that Epicurus WAS setting up an extreme hypothetical in which he was in fact suggesting what Don is resisting -- PD10 in my view is as hypothetical or a logical challenge or whatever you would like to call it, set up specifically as an "in your face" statement of the position that the ultimate goal is pleasure, and forcing you to confront what some people are going to think are uncomfortable truths.

    So if you state in your hypothetical that the "bliss drug" is in fact fully effective in providing you with a lifetime of unmitigated and undiluted pleasure - the effective equivalent of Epicurean godhood as set forth by Torquatus in on ends -- then yes indeed I do think that Epicurus would say: "Of course you should take it - that's the whole goal of my philosophy!"

    [Note: I am referrring to this section from Torquatus, which I see as itself a hypothetical such as we are debating: "

    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."]

    I'm not trying to criticize Don here because he's not the one who wrote the article for public consumption that ends up creating the confusion that I think Wilson is creating. The more I think about it the more I think she has raised exactly what Epicurus held to be the ultimate point -- that "pleasure" must be defended to the end on both logical and experiential grounds, and she has flubbed the test.

    Which is not to say that she is by any means unique, because it appears that later people who thought they were following Epicurus have been arguing about this for 2000+ years, if the comments in Cicero's "On Ends" in the underlined section below are any indication:


    This Epicurus finds in pleasure; pleasure he holds to be the Chief Good, pain the Chief Evil. This he sets out to prove as follows: Every animal, as soon as it is born, seeks for pleasure, and delights in it as the Chief Good, while it recoils from pain as the Chief Evil, and so far as possible avoids it. This it does as long as it remains unperverted, at the prompting of Nature's own unbiased and honest verdict.

    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? 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.

    I will address expected comments here by saying that I think even this doesn't state the issue the way I would state it. I think that the first part about "grasped by the intellect and reason" is what Epicurus was doing, and they were not in fact refining upon Epicurus' doctrine, because everyone knows that the intellect and reason aren't feelings that can detect pleasure and pain. So my view is that this first position is that the a a proper intellectual and reasonable argument that "the good" is pleasure can and does go hand in hand and with the observation that no outside proof of pleasure is necessary or even possible.

    I think the error -- the one that Torquatus says he agrees with, is that "the nature of pleasure and pain" requires elaborate and reasoned argument and abstruse theoretical discussion. There's no way to appreciate pleasure and pain except to experience it -- to me that is clear, and that is I think Elayne's position. But if it were truly unnecessary to engage the question of "what is the good?" logically, then we wouldn't even be having these discussions at all. We'd just say "look over there" and the discussion would be over.

    Even the statement "What does Nature perceive or what does she judge of, beside pleasure and pain, to guide her actions of desire and of avoidance?" is in fact a logical proof that supports and bolsters the "experience-based" position.

  • Cassius -- of course, we can't really even have conversations and think without any reasoning at all. However, a strong appeal of this philosophy to me is that logic is _nowhere_ in the Canon. It is a supplemental tool _only_. Primarily used for explanation to others, but not as the fundamental basis.

    I know we have different opinions on prolepses, but it is going too far to assert that the basic conclusions of EP must include contributions from logic that are not already established as evidence. That is adding logic to the Canon itself.

    I would stay instead that when it comes to applying logic, be sure to conform your logic to observations and not the contrary. We can't refrain from logic completely but in this philosophy it is secondary.

  • I know we have different opinions on prolepses, but it is going too far to assert that the basic conclusions of EP must include contributions from logic that are not already established as evidence. That is adding logic to the Canon itself.

    I really think I agree with your comments Elayne, but I don't think we have fleshed out what we really mean by "logic." We are using logic or reason or something whenever we communicate, and we're using logic and reason in all our "formulations." And we agree that the logic has to be based on observations of the senses. So i think that the issue is coming to an articulation of what we mean by "true reasoning" so that we can apply some kind of label to the process of the deductions that Epicurus was drawing. The "pleasure is the absence of pain" formulation is something other than pure sensation - what would you prefer to call it?

  • PD10 in my view is as hypothetical or a logical challenge or whatever you would like to call it, set up specifically as an "in your face" statement of the position that the ultimate goal is pleasure, and forcing you to confront what some people are going to think are uncomfortable truths.

    I don't see it that way, and I know we had this conversation previously. I don't think Epicurus is dealing in hypotheticals at all in this doctrine. I think he's being very concrete. Especially taking the Letter to Menoikeus along with this, I think he's saying, "Look at those people who stay drunk all night and treat their bodies so badly. Yes, that's pleasure, but they don't consider the consequences of their pleasure. That's not what I'm calling you to do. You can't live a pleasurable life without living nobly, justly, and prudently. The lost are not living nobly, justly, or prudently, and so will find it impossible to live pleasurably."