Preconceptions and PD24


  • I propose that ΦAΝTAΣTΙΚΗΝ EΠΙΒΟΛΗΝ TΗΣ ΔΙAΝΟΙAΣ is used as a placeholder in PD24 for ΠPOΛEΠΣIΣ.


    While continuing to expand my glossary, I came across an interesting phrase that has lead me down a rabbit hole, from which I am still attempting to emerge. Join me, and note that the following phrase is taken from the middle of the somewhat-lengthy KD24:


    ΠAΣAΝ ΦAΝTAΣTΙΚΗΝ EΠΙΒΟΛΗΝ TΗΣ ΔΙAΝΟΙAΣ


    As I understand it, Epicurus is employing the rhetorical device of repetition. In this case, the sentence separates three ideas by the conjuction “and”, indicating that the same value is being placed on each of the three ideas — they are equivalent. Given that the first two ideas are “Sensations “and “Feelings”, the structure of the sentence would indicate that the third idea should hold the same value, or would be placed in the same conceptual category as “Sensation” and “Feeling”. It is irregular to suppose that the "phantastikai epibolai tês dianoias" would be anything but “preconceptions”.


    Let’s turn to the translators, themselves. Our 13-or-so English translators since 1850 have rendered the following:


    Of the 1st Criterion:

    - “Sensation”, “the Senses”, “Sense-Perception”


    Of the 2nd Criterion:

    - “Affectations”, “Feeling(s)”, “Passions”.


    Of the 3rd Criterion:

    - “conceptions of the mind which arise from the observable representation”,

    - “mental apprehension”,

    - “mental examinations of confirmed conceptions”,

    - “focusing of thought into an impression”,”

    - “intuitive faculty of the mind”,

    - “application of the intellect to presentations”

    - “mental examinations of confirmed concepts”,

    - “imaginary twist of mind”,

    - “layers of imagination involved in your thoughts”,

    - “some percept of the mind itself”,

    - “perception”,

    - “presentational application of thought.


    While further researching the issue, I came across the following observation, provided by the Oxford Handbook of Epicurus and Epicurean Philosophy: “Preconceptions are direct apprehensions, true beliefs, concepts, and universal thoughts that are formed fromt he outside by the repeated impressions of simulacra emitted by objects, which ultimately are stored in our memory through an act of focalization of the mind [EΠΙΒΟΛΗΝ TΗΣ ΔΙAΝΟΙAΣ]” (310). The author explicitly describes prolepsis according to KD24.


    As I understand, this definition of prolepsis seems to drastically expand the number of concepts that qualify as “true preconceptions”.


    However, an older group of Epicureans present a different interpretation:


    “According to Diogenes Laertius (10.31-2 = LS 17A), Epicurus recognizes three criteria of truth […] his followers added ‘impression-applications of the intellect’ (phantastikai epibolai tês dianoias). […] As for the ‘impression-applications of the intellect’, these were coubtless introduced to cater for cases like those of the gods, apprehended by images directly affecting the mind rather than through senses.” (Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics: An Introduction to Hellenistic Philosophy, 19).


    So, the “Epicurean Sophists”, as Diogenes documents, seem to indicate that a 4th Criterion (Impression-Applications of the Intellect) is needed to elaborate on the 3rd Criterion (Preconceptions), since the 3rd Criterion (Preconception) required those “anticipations” to have been “impressed” by the 1st Criterion (Sensation), whereas concepts that are not directly, physically sensible except through the theatre of the mind (like “the Gods”), cannot be justified by prolepsis, and requires a separate kriterion to add to the other three.


    I note that the word kriterion is ONLY used once in the Kuriai, and happens to be found in KD24, which, as far as I can tell, is also the ONLY doxa to list the criteria of Sensation and Feeling, indicating that Preconceptions would also be there.


    Thus, the “Epicurean Sophists” (as ancient Athenian traditionalists argued), have misinterpreted the phrase EΠΙΒΟΛΗΝ TΗΣ ΔΙAΝΟΙAΣ to express “concepts (like ‘gods’ and ‘justice’) formed from other, foundational concepts, or even dreams” (4th Criterion), versus the correct understanding which is that EΠΙΒΟΛΗΝ TΗΣ ΔΙAΝΟΙAΣ includes BOTH “preconcepts (like ‘dog’ versus ‘cat’)" as well as "concepts (like "gods" and "justice").


    I propose that ΦAΝTAΣTΙΚΗΝ EΠΙΒΟΛΗΝ TΗΣ ΔΙAΝΟΙAΣ is used as a placeholder in KD24 for ΠPOΛEΠΣIΣ.

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Preconceptions and KD24” to “Preconceptions and PD24”.
  • Nate I am not sure that the term "placeholder" is clear to explain for the conclusion that you may be suggesting. Do you mean "equivalent"?


    Quote

    the following observation, provided by the Oxford Handbook of Epicurus and Epicurean Philosophy: “Preconceptions are direct apprehensions, true beliefs, concepts, and universal thoughts that are formed fromt he outside by the repeated impressions of simulacra emitted by objects, which ultimately are stored in our memory through an act of focalization of the mind [EΠΙΒΟΛΗΝ TΗΣ ΔΙAΝΟΙAΣ]” (310). The author explicitly describes prolepsis according to KD24.

    I am pretty sure that I disagree with the Oxford handbook line of reasoning and agree with what is cited in opposition as the older group which included Epicurus himself.


    When the Handbook says that preconceptions include "concepts" I think we have a clear contradiction which rules out their interpretation. In order to be canonical it seems to me that the thing must be PRE rational, and I think most everyone agrees that word "concepts" means ideas and that concepts are the result of rational thinking, not things that float around in the universe on their own --- except under the Platonic "forms" viewpoint.


    I would like to see this discussed as throughly and as long as anyone cares to pursue it because I think this issue is critical- and I agree with the implications of DeWitt that the adoption of this viewpoint by later Epicureans (and it seems certainly correct thst they did so) was a disastrous development for the philosophy.

  • I am going to see if I can find some pithy excerpts on this. Unfortunately the subject is so complex that it's basically covered throughout his entire chapter 8....


    Part of it is here but there is a longer discussion somewhere else that I will find:




    at the moment at least I am not finding the additional discussion that I think exists somewhere else in EAHP about the comment made by Diogenes Laertius at line 31 (in case that's not clear already, which Bailey translates as "the Epicureans add to these the intuitive apprehensions of the mind" ===

    Quote

    31] Logic they reject as misleading. For they say it is sufficient for physicists to be guided by what things say of themselves. Thus in The Canon Epicurus says that the tests of truth are the sensations and concepts and the feelings; the Epicureans add to these the intuitive apprehensions of the mind. And this he says himself too in the summary addressed to Herodotus and in the Principal Doctrines. For, he says, all sensation is irrational and does not admit of memory; for it is not set in motion by itself, nor when it is set in motion by something else, can it add to it or take from it.

  • Nate I think you're into something. Here's my take from a little while back on PD24:

    Don
  • Thanks to both of you guys for this post so far. This is an essay by Dewitt that I have tended to just glance over because of its technical nature, but you guys are wrestling with the same issue that he found so important, and in reviewing it I am seeing again why he spent so much time with the issue.


    I do want to make a request that I hope you will keep in mind: In order to give your work as wide and strong an impact as possible, I hope you will take special care to spell out the possible conclusions and implications of the various options. It's very easy for more casual readers to throw up their hands and think that the difficult translation issues are just left to the experts, and not necessary for them to understand. It's probably true that the "translation" aspect of it is beyond most of us, but if we bury the conclusions inside the technicalities then I think people fail to see why the issues are so important.


    In this case, it takes a lot of reading into the DeWitt article to discovery that there are at least a couple of major issues involved, such as "Would or did Epicurus himself wish to use the literary device of casting the mind or soul out into space? It seems to me that modern writers now universally seem to agree that he did so, which DeWitt points out would be contrary to one of the most fundamental physical premises of the philosophy -- that the mind/soul is absolutely connected and tied to the body and cannot be separated from it.


    There's also perhaps the ultimate issue of whether this terminology, whatever is meant by it, constitutes a "fourth leg of the canon." On that point it seems even more clear that Epicurus himself did not consider it to be so, and it ought to be an immediate red flag whenever later and lesser minds attempt to "improve upon" fundamental aspects of the philosophy of the original "genius."


    Related to that is the complex relationship between the "true" and the "real" which I think we see over and over to be important in Epicurean philosophy. If we can't handle with intelligence a basic issue like whether Epicurus held "all sensations are true" then I doubt such a person can ever make anything else understandable about of Epicurean epistemology.


    So I hope you guys can develop the discussion in ways that make the real-world conclusions clear. And it's worth encouraging many more of us to read the DeWitt essay in full, especially to dig out its conclusions, rather than just give up when we're hit with a barrage of untranslated words and phrases.

  • "Would or did Epicurus himself wish to use the literary device of casting the mind or soul out into space? It seems to me that modern writers now universally seem to agree that he did so, which DeWitt points out would be contrary to one of the most fundamental physical premises of the philosophy -- that the mind/soul is absolutely connected and tied to the body and cannot be separated from it.

    Oh, I have no problem with the "literary device," and there's no need to postulate some kind of "out of body" experience. For me, this simply means imagination or thought-experiments or thinking deeply about the cosmos, atoms, void, etc. out there. That's just what astrophysicists and theoretical physicists do now. Even Einstein was famous for his thought experiments. If you're saying there are commentators that put forward some kind of soul travel outside the body... Yeah, that makes no sense.

  • If you're saying there are commentators that put forward some kind of soul travel outside the body... Yeah, that makes no sense.

    I think what's on my mind is that I pick up things on reading posts and articles from a variety of sources, so I should not overgeneralize. However I know from several discussions that the point being discussed here has been of interest in some of the discussions over in Greece. If considered strictly as a literary device, agreed - no harm done. But what I pick up is that those who contend that there should be considered to be a "fourth" leg of the canon consider this reference to be key in supporting the "fourth leg" theory. And of course this goes way back - long enough for Diogenes Laertius to refer to it.


    So I THINK the point is that the issue to be avoided is seeing this as a "bridge" to platonism, or a "bridge" to making any kind of fully-formed concepts to be part of the canon itself. I believe the first and major point that probably gets lost is that the "canon of truth" is not itself a list of ideas, but instead a set of measuring devices which produce data from which ideas are formed. Even at that basic level I think there's a lot of confusion and the Stoic-sympathizers see this discussion as a path to finding "innate ideas" in Epicurean philosophy.


    It's very innocent and fine to think in terms of flying through the universe mentally and seeing things from outer space. That should not lead to problems because no real Epicurean would think it possible for the soul or mind to literally leave the body. But if the wording turns into a device by which the mind has some kind of preprogrammed power to attach particular words to particular events (and that's an argument I have seen in private) then I think we're a long way down a road that wouldn't be started down in the first place if we were rigorous about the canonical faculties being automatic and pre-rational.


    No doubt it's tricky, because the texts seem clear that Epicurus thinks that the mind can receive "images" directly. But even there I think the emphasis should be that these images are received in much the same way that the eyes receive light -- they may receive these things, but they don't make judgments about them or perceive them automatically as fully formed ideas.


    I hope I don't sound tedious on this point but I've seen it come up over and over and every conversation needs to probably go back to these basics to be sure the table is set.

  • I hope I don't sound tedious on this point

    Hey, as they say, "the Devil's in the details." All good points.

    I agree there's a big difference between innate faculties and innate concepts. We are not born with innate concepts of house, human, horse, justice or οίκος, άνθρωπος, 'ιππος, δίκαιος and then map reality to those innate concepts. Research doesn't support that. Epicurus doesn't seem to me to support that.

    I will say language acquisition in children is miraculous to behold! I can see how some may have come up with a theory that we "re-discover" language because it is so magical to behold. It may be interesting to note that research has discovered that babies naturally produce every phoneme that human language uses and those that are not phonemically significant for their parents first language will be weeded out. We gradually learn to see that animal as a horse and not a 'ιππος or Pferd depending if our parents are English or American or Greek or German.

    We also don't have some kind of innate Platonic Horse Form against which we compare our sensory input. It's simply the baby's constant reinforcement of "That's a horsie." Points. "Orsy!" "No, that's a cat." "Orsy!" "No, that is a dog." "Horsy!" "Right, that's a horsy! Oh, pretty horsy." I find it hard to think that Epicurus endorsed an innate horse-template to "measure" our sensory input against. But, you're right, I think I've read that sort of thing as some saying that's what prolepseis are.

    I need to go back and read Laertius description of the Canon and Sedley's paper on On Nature Book 28 on language.

    As for the "fourth leg," my jury is still out that there's any 4th leg at all. I'm still not entirely convinced that Laertius's "Epicureans" weren't qualifying the prolepseis or expanding the explanation of prolepseis. I also need to dig back into DeWitt's paper.

    The translation is:

    "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 presentations44 to be also standards."


    Note 44 in Perseus read: Such mental pictures are caused by atoms too fine to affect sense : cf.§ 64infra; Lucr. ii. 740 sqq., iv. 722 sqq. ; Cic. N.D. i. 54. On the whole subject consult Usener's Epicurea, Fr. 242-265, and, more especially, Sext. Emp. Adv. math. vii. 203-216.


    Usener Fragments 242-265 are available on Attalus's site: http://www.attalus.org/translate/epicurus2.html#us2

    Especially pertinent here seems to be 255-259.


    This isn't a simple topic by any means, but it is an important one. I'm enjoying the digging in!

  • "During the 100ms, the human brain pieces together information from memories, past personal experiences, and intrinsic values to generate calculated judgements. [...] The researchers also found that the first impressions were heavily influenced by the evaluation of how much value the fictional person presented would add to the test subject’s life.This again presents first impressions as a way to befriend solely for personal gain, but also aligns with theories of evolution that state that humans developed first impressions to avoid interactions with dangerous organisms." (https://frontiersmag.wustl.edu…nce-of-first-impressions/)

  • Thanks, Nate . That's a fascinating article.

    How would you line up that with prolepseis or concepts? Epicurus certainly wouldn't have had instruments or observations at the 100ms scale, but I do think he got some things intuitively correct. Just curious about your take on the article.

    I also think this intersects with Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett's research. The idea of the brain needing to predict our actions is intriguing, makes sense when explained, and provides interesting parallels to Epicurus's philosophy.

  • There seems to be particular importance in my mind on the "pro-" part of "prolepsis". The particular prefix that is added to the root word indicates a temporal relation, in this case, "before". This third criterion of knowledge (whatever it is) is occurring "before" something else, indicating that Epicurus was critically evaluating the thing that comes "later" in relation to the more reliable thing "before". In this case, it seems to be some form of mental activity.


    The typical kinds of mental activity we observe and to which we can readily relate are things like "thinking", "imagining", "reflecting", "contemplating", calculating", "reasoning", "rationalizing", "problem solving", all of which take time.


    He's talking about something that happens incredibly fast (or has already happened as far as we're concerned).


    So, as far as this article goes, I think it is giving a good, mechanical description of some of those intellectual activities that happen so fast, they not only precede, but they help shape later activities like "conceptualizing".

  • There seems to be particular importance in my mind on the "pro-" part of "prolepsis". The particular prefix that is added to the root word indicates a temporal relation, in this case, "before".

    I very much agree!

  • Intuitively, I entertain the idea that Preconception fits into the moment when you realize "I've been lying to myself this whole time", or "I think some part of me always knew." I recognize this feeling as being equivalent to dreams that compel me to ask "I wonder what that meant?", regardless of any developed perspective I have regarding my intellectual judgment of the activity. It's also the part of me that drops LSD, eats mushrooms, or takes Nitrous (I recently had a vasectomy and had way too much nitrous which lead to a fascinating experience) and experiences an un-intellectually-filtered world without the context of having access to the parts of my brain that formulate analytical thought, construct sentences, recognizes relations, and links words. However, I remember that in that state, I feel overwhelmed with a sense of meaning; I'm just cut off from the easy ability to express that meaning with any sort of symbolic knowledge, such as spoken or written language, or even sign language. I've done it enough to learn to recognize non-linguistic impressions that do not dematerialize once the link between the language centers of the brain get "disconnected" from the processing of sensory experience, so, when I "come out of it", I tend to bring some kind of meaning with me, but it's also after interpretation, and never before. Like waking up from a dream. You are only mechanically capable of remembering the parts of the dream that you were able to link with a symbolic, conscious words, concepts, or thoughts at the very final moments of the dream, just prior to waking up (I've been keeping a dream journal for 12 years and have a wealth of evidence to support the regularity of the experience I'm describing).


    All in all, I feel like dreams and psychedelic experiences give me a direct link to interface with Preconception prior to having those intuitive impressions dissected by the intellect like a medical student performing an autopsy. At most, in that medical metaphor, you can only learn about inanimate organs, without seeing how they work together. Likewise, there's a danger in language to mistake "the map for the territory" and getting lost in the "map" without actual going on a journey. The Preconception would never make the mistake of mis-recognizing the map. In fact, I don't think Preconception is aware that some other part of the Intellect is a map-maker that is trying to write an encyclopedia for later reference. The human brain (as I continue to speculate) shifted to a "map-making-centric" intellectual schema somewhere between 10,000-50,000 years ago versus the previous mental schema, which was able to pursue pleasure, learn about nature, and predict natural patterns without the benefit of complex, recursive language.

    I think language is the thing that disrupts the clarity of Preconception. Or, at least, I propose that.

  • I'm just reading his book, and Haris Dimitriadis seems to make the same observation when he writes that "Thoughts, musings, and plans are not true, if they are not based on direct, real and obvious evidence, such as those that carry our physical characteristics, namely the senses, emotions, and anticipations. This clearly describes a Principal Doctrine '... and such evidence must come from the five senses, the feelings of pain and joy, and the impressions of the mind that arise from anticipation...' (Epicurus and the Pleasant Life: A Philosophy of Nature, 35)

  • Nate what do you interpret that to mean? I have a lot of respect for Haris, and don't think he gets the credit he probably deserves for his books.


    But I am not sure about the use of the word "true" in that sentence you quote. If what is meant is that a concept of a thing (concept taken to be the equivalent of thoughts, musings, plans) does not correspond with the reality of a thing unless the concept is closely connected with our senses, emotions, and anticipations of that thing, then I think I agree.


    But I am concerned that some of our thoughts on the subject of abstractions may not be worded as well as could be hoped. If the point is that a concept needs to correspond to reality to be true, then again, yes. But must all concepts be "true" in order for them to have significance to us? If a concept generates great pain or pleasure, it still may have significance to us, just like (maybe) the images seen in a dream.


    I have probably just lost the flow of the conversation but if our subject is the meaning of anticipations, what does the observation you quote tell us? Would you take it to mean that all anticipations must be "true" to be anticipations? That is ruled out, correct, by the observation that Epicurus makes that the views of the gods are anticipations but also are false (?) I think I am concerned that we are not being clear about the nature of anticipations and when and how to consider them to be "true" -- because we don't see the data received from the feelings or the 5 senses to be "true to all the facts all the time" and I don't think we should go in that direction as to anticipations either, correct?


    In other words, I think there is a strong temptation to see anticipations as "true by nature" in the sense of interpreting anticipations as ideas that we hold to be true because nature gives it to us. I think that would open up all sorts of problems if we were to interpret Epicurus as saying that, so I don't think that is what he means. Is Haris saying that in this quote?


    This is such a complex subject i am mainly trying to make sure we're all clear about what we are discussing.