From The "Golden Mean" to tbe "Summum Bonum" - Useful or Deceptive Frames of Reference?

  • Wow That's a lot to work through. For now...

    We *don't* think that in regard to the movement of the atoms through the void, so why should at some other point there be a single goal?

    Atoms don't have free will. Humans do. Therefore, humans can decide to what goal they wish to direct themselves. Is there a goal other than pleasure that you would suggest?

    I want to ask more questions about your post, but I'll leave it at that to get/keep the ball rolling.

  • Is there a goal other than pleasure that you would suggest?

    Not ME! ;) But there are a lots of other philosophers who would beg to differ, and they insist on arguing on "logic" grounds for other goals.

  • Is there a goal other than pleasure that you would suggest?

    Not ME! ;) But there are a lots of other philosophers who would beg to differ, and they insist on arguing on "logic" grounds for other goals.

    Ah! But Epicurus based his answer on nature (babes and animals), not devious logic. So, my first inclination is to say "Who cares what the other philosophers argue?" I think that's what he meant about needlessly prattling on about the Good. His argument was "look to nature." That'll tell you what the Chief Good is.

  • Finally I have got the latest Lucretius Today posted and anyone who has braved the length of this thread so far will want to catch it at some point. It doesn't solve any of the issues raised here but might articulate them differently. I wonder how many ways I contradicted myself between there and here after questioning from Don! All he had to have done was appeared with us on the podcast and we'd have cleared all this up last weekend! ;)

  • I found a number of descriptive, albeit conflicting accounts of the "highest good". In Epicureanism (2009), author Tim O'Keefe titles his eleventh chapter "Pleasure, the highest good". He explains, "For almost all Greek philosophers of the time, the fundamental questions of ethics were (i) what is the highest good and (ii) how do you attain it, with the highest good being what is desirable for its own sake and not for the sake of anything else. Epicurus declares pleasure to be the highest good" (107). He goes on, "Epicurus' ethics operates within the framework articulated by Aristotle, a framework that systematizes the ethical thinking of Aristotle's predecessors and was accepted by almost all later Greek philosophers. The central question of ethics is: what is the highest good? The good of something is its telos, its goal or purpose. This teleological analysis of the good extends quite widely; we can ask what the good is, not only of human life, but also of actions, artefacts, crafts such as medicine and so on. And in each case, we discover the item's good by discovering its goal or purpose" (111).

    Sharples makes an interesting observation in Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics (1996) in proposing that "virtue will still, however, derive its value from pleasure, which is the sole good, rather than constituting an independent good" (93). Later, he observes, "The second of these views can be understood in terms of pleasure as the sole good [...] if the claim that friends come to be loved for their own sake rather than for advantage is interpreted simply as asserting that friendship ceases to be purely an instrumental good and becomes pleasant in itself" (119). So, here we have an author who supposes that pleasure is the only good, rather than being the greatest among many.

    The Cambridge Companion to Epicureanism (2009) makes that claim that it is indeed the "highest good". "The good is the end to which all other things are means, and never itself a means to an end (Fin. I.9). To discover what this end is, we ought to look at what creatures actually do pursue as the ultimate end of all of their actions, and this is to attain pleasure and avoid pain (Fin. I.30). [...] When Epicurus explain why pleasure is to be regarded as the highest good (Ep. Men. 129), he appeals to 'feeling' (pathos) as the yardstick for decision about what to choose. [...] Similarly, Epicurus calls pleasure the 'first and congenital' good (Ep. Men. 129)" (174).

    The Routledge Handbook of Hellenistic Philosophy (2020) notes that "any experience of freedom from pain coincides with the highest good: 'pleasure exists everywhere, and for the entire time it lasts, there is no suffering either of body or of mind or both'" (KD3). Citing De Fin. 1.3 he quotes, "As soon as each animal is born, it seeks pleasure and rejoices in it as the highest good, and reject pain as the greatest bad thing, driving it away from itself as effectively as it can; and it does this while it is still not corrupted, while the judgment of nature herself is unperverted and sound." Later, they write, "Epicureans had in mind in identifying aponia and ataraxia as the highest good" and "Like almost all ancient ethicists, Epicurus is a eudaimonist, holding that the highest good is eudaimonia, or happiness. He is also a hedonist, because he identifies the happy life with the pleasant life: only pleasure is intrinsically good, and only pain is intrinsically bad".

  • Nate thanks for that info! If anyone has not read the article by Nikolsky on the kinetic katastematic distinction, this would be a good time.

    The premise of that article, which I believe is persuasively argued, is that later writers were forcing Epicurus improperly into their own paradigms, and that seeing this error explains much confusion.

    It is easy to argue that that is what is going on here - that Cicero and later writers through today are insisting on viewing Epicurus through the paradigms of hostile and incompatible philosophic frameworks, and that this leads to major errors.

    Remember too that in addition to Nikolsky that probably the longest and most detailed work on the topic, The Greeks on Pleasure by Gosling and Taylor, reaches much the same conclusion and was the foundation for Nikoloskys conclusions.

  • Where do we fit the following phrase from Ep. Men. into this discussion?


    Epicurus then compares ΦPONHΣIΣ against the "other virtues", therein linking the concepts of AΓAΘON with APETAI.

  • Where do we fit the following phrase from Ep. Men. into this discussion?


    Epicurus then compares ΦPONHΣIΣ against the "other virtues", therein linking the concepts of AΓAΘON with APETAI.

    Good question. How do you parse his calling "practical wisdom" as the "greatest good" in light of this thread so far?

  • Don I need to come clean on a bias I've got: I tend to contrast Epicurus with Cicero. I'm coming to value Cicero much more based on the podcast discussions, but I still don't trust the crafty old lawyer. Knowing that, I see that I'm writing my comments about the good in order to contrast what I see to be Epicurus' point of view with what I see as Cicero sending us down a rabbit hole filled with logic games.

    Your project of translating Epicurus is extremely helpful in this regard and is helping all of us hone in on what exactly Epicurus was saying, at least given the fragmentary nature of what we have to work with. For me, Epicurus' system and particularly his Canon is really the important thing for living his philosophy. In this regard, the place of pleasure within his system is the important thing; trying to figure out if one thing or another is "The Greatest Good" is extraneous to that.

    Sex is not the same as filing your fingernails.

    This quote probably belongs at the top of our home page! Or perhaps in a collection of The Tao of Cassius :D

  • In regard to "the same thing"....

    When i was editing the podcast this afternoon I became pretty dissatisfied with some of my formulations on "the same thing." I know that we can talk in categories and hierarchies as well, and that pleasure could be in the category of good or virtue, or virtue in the category of pleasure or good, or whatever, so I don't mean to obsess over whether pleasure and virtue and good are entirely the same thing in every respect.

    But if they are not the same thing in every respect, but they share something, then we need to be clear about what it is they share, and what that thing is, and describe that thing in a way that makes clear that it isn't either a "Platonic ideal" or an "essence" in Arisotelian terms.

    So to get back to sex and filing fingernails, they certainly are not the same thing in every respect, and what they share in common is probably describable only as "a feeling of pleasure." However does that answer whether there are two pleasures, or is it more proper to say two activities that "bring a feeling of pleasure." Is the "feeling" part of those two things really exactly the same though? We might call both feelings pleasure, but I have a hard time believing that both things are identical in every respect. They seem to me to differ at least in intensity, and maybe even in time or other qualities.

    This is that vexing "one and many" issue, or "universals" issue. I am not ever sure that we are clear on what Epicurus' position was on whether "universals" exist, or whether he held that there are only discrete experiences which we choose to call by the same names.

    I tend to think that Epicurus did not believe in "universals" as having any kind of independent existence apart of the atoms and void involved, so when we start talking about something as High-level (or so it appears to me) as "good" then we really need to understand what it is that unifies "things that are good."

    Plato and Aristotle clearly had views of what makes something "good" that differ dramatically from Epicurus, and on their framework it made perfect senses that there are ideals or essences that unify all "Goods" into the category of "good."

    But does it make sense to say that Epicurus held anything to be good at all unless it is directly associated with bringing pleasure or avoiding pain? Is frances wright correct that we (speaking as Epicureans to Epicureans) can boil all this down to very simple statements that there is nothing good but pleasure, and nothing bad (or evil) except pain?

    I'm probably not advancing the ball in this post but I wanted to note that I realize that there are different perspectives in looking at things, and just because two things like virtue and pleasure cannot be dissasociated from each other, which seems to be the point of PD5, does not mean that they are themselves identical. (Or at least I don't think at this moment that it does!)

  • How do you parse his calling "practical wisdom" as the "greatest good"

    I could definitely see this observation as part of the whole list of examples we are assembling that indicate that Epicurus was challenging conventional non-Epicurean notions of the greatest good.

    It seems possible that he was not just in contrasting Pleasure vs Virtue vs Piety as concepts, but emphasizing that what's important (practical wisdom) is much more a moment to moment process than some kind of state that falls under normal "greatest good" terms.

  • Contemplating sex and filing fingernails: my latest take on PD09 is that Epicurus is saying that all pleasures are the same, they only differ in intensity, duration and location.

    Not to get too sidetracked, but there are some hilarious videos online of dogs getting their nails cut... I won't post them here though ;)

  • As I wake up this morning it strikes me as potentially obvious at least from our modern biological point of view that all pleasures are the same in at least (1) the way we define them as pleasure and (2) in the biological way that the sensation registers within our brains. What I mean there is, and I am not up on modern terminology, is that whatever the electro-chemical process is by which or minds recognize pleasure, that electro-chemical process likely functions in the same way for all pleasures. So in that sense the way in which we perceive pleasures internally likely IS pretty much the same for all pleasures. Is *that* what Epicurus was talking about?

  • Yes.

    Well if it is, that is what we need to work to explain, and we haven't even cracked the book on beginning to describe a tentative elaboration on that, or on what its implications are, or on how something very real and concrete relates to something abstract and conceptual like a "greatest good."

  • After reflection, I'm inclined to see "the Good" as an evaluative statement that expresses a measurement of the magnitude of pleasure. On a scale of 0% to 100%, we might describe "the highest good" as those actions which most reliably facilitate the cultivation of maximum pleasure. Therein, "the Good" is not necessarily pleasure, itself (since pleasure is elsewhere defined as the goal of life), but rather, an evaluation of the means by which that goal is achieved.

    Contrasting Epicurus "good" with Plato's might be helpful. Plato's Form of the Good reads to me like a contemporary description of God the Father (I am reminded that C. S. Lewis ends his Chronicles of Narnia with a character, having been resurrected, exclaiming "It's all in Plato, all in Plato.") The Form of the Good is supreme, existing beyond space and time, the origin of knowledge against which all forms can be compared to define their identity and agency.

    This sort of a priori, transcendental knowledge provides a juxtaposition against Epicurus' preconceptions. Whereas the preconceptions are mental impressions that come from nature, the Form of the Good is the foundation of reality from which nature gains its (lessened) identity. The Form of the Good is the only thing that can be said to truly exist; the identities of the daily forms we experience are defined according to their relationship with the Form of the Good.

    Contrary to the descriptions from the scholars I cited earlier, pleasure cannot be the only good, because Epicurus directly identifies prudence as the "highest good", as well as comparing "goods" to "virtues", so that leads me to believe that Epicurus recognized a host of goods, each of which can be measured against the others according to which one most reliably and successfully provides the means by which the goal of life (which is definitely pleasure) is achieved.

    ... but he does also identify pleasure as another good, and pleasure is definitely not a virtue.

    It may behoove us to distinguish between "good" things, like dogs, sunshine, and pleasure versus "the Good(s)", a category of natural virtues which include prudence and wisdom. The adjectival employment of "good" is used by Epicurus as a functional descriptor to express approval; it is also used as a noun in reference to (as I read it) an evaluation of the efficacy of an action to produce the goal of pleasure.

  • Thanks for that, Nate . That's some good food for thought.

    Along similar lines, I'm thinking that pleasure is the good that stands alone, it is the guide/telos/ταγαθον. Other "good things" are *instrumental* goods in helping us get to that goal of pleasure, in greater and lesser degrees ( Cassius 's toenail clipping vs sex). I'm still working on these thoughts, but that's where I'm heading.

  • Regarding the telos, etc. So certain philosophers wanted to have things so neat and tidy...did Epicurus want things neat and tidy too? (or was this just a tactic of the opposing schools to say Epicurus' ideas were "not right").

    Or because he was basing his thinking on the material world did he then see a messy quality to the world?

    My questions here could be due to a "post-philosophical" way of thinking...going beyond "cooking with a set recipe" to "using the ingredients on hand" so basically that would mean that sometimes wisdom is a primary tool for making choices and other times pleasure works best as the primary tool for making choices... and sometimes both wisdom and pleasure at the same time. And as for defining the abstractions of good, highest good, pleasure, etc.... If we are forced to set aside "black and white" thinking...then we use "shades of gray...meaning that we must always base things in observable specific situations. There won't be one rule or correct way that can be referred that means that sometimes we don't choose the immediate pleasure at hand, but instead wait for a future pleasure which will be much more fullfilling. But we must see that we are all "cooking without a recipe and using what we have on hand" as we navigate through life.

    whatever the electro-chemical process is by which or minds recognize pleasure, that electro-chemical process likely functions in the same way for all pleasures. So in that sense the way in which we perceive pleasures internally likely IS pretty much the same for all pleasures

    I'm not sure we perceive all pleasures in the same way...because of the mix of seretonin, dopamine, endorphines, oxytocin, and they each act differently within the brain. So for peak happiness it would be good to pursue activities that trigger each of these chemicals. So just like there are "four food groups" that we should eat from for good health. Then there are these "four brain health groups" that give optimum happiness.

    This is a good article:

    The Importance of Happiness Chemicals | nib
    Serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin are happiness chemicals that have a huge impact on how we feel each day. Dr Michela Sorensen takes us through the…