Atlantic article about enjoyment vs. pleasure

  • I haven't even read the letter to Menoeceus yet because I was waiting to have a little bit better foundations..

    If you want to jump in on the deep end, feel free to check out my translation and notes on the Letter:

    Don
  • So I have a degree in neuroscience (which does contribute to my understanding that the mind/soul are of nature)

    You might be interested in some of my posts and others on the brain research of Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett

    Search Results - Epicureanfriends.com
    www.epicureanfriends.com

    as well as Dr. Anna Lembke.

    I found both of their books to be fascinating and, for me, to have some real intersections with Epicurean philosophy. Barrett and Feldman aren't Epicurueans, but I found their work to be helpful in bringing Epicuruean insights into a modern framework.

  • My husband brings up that I have described to him the experience of feeling as though I am a brain living inside a meat mecha and that this is very likely influencing my experience of pleasure here and a) I deeply agree b) this is something I'll definitely ponder more

  • So I have a degree in neuroscience (which does contribute to my understanding that the mind/soul are of nature)

    You might be interested in some of my posts and others on the brain research of Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett

    https://www.epicureanfriends.c…ight=Lisa+Feldman+Barrett

    as well as Dr. Anna Lembke.

    I found both of their books to be fascinating and, for me, to have some real intersections with Epicurean philosophy. Barrett and Feldman aren't Epicurueans, but I found their work to be helpful in bringing Epicuruean insights into a modern framework.

    I'll definitely look into that!

  • reneliza regarding your post #20 above: in EP the feelings of pleasure and pain are our guides to living a pleasant life. In order to use them properly, we need to be aware of these feelings. If you’re eating ice cream while doomscrolling, then not only are you not aware of the pleasure that comes from eating the ice cream but you are also unaware of the pain that comes when you’ve over indulged. So you’re definitely on the right path in trying to be more conscious of your pleasures. For me, trying to be aware of my various feelings of pleasure and pain is a key Epicurean "exercise".

  • That was a lot of words to say the same thing in a lot of different ways in the hopes that one of them adequately conveys what I'm trying to say :D I think I'm coming upon something more, but I'll wait until I've read more and have a deeper understanding of Epicurus's original teachings

    Somehow I missed reading this post at the time it was posted - maybe we crossposted.


    So it looks like I better address another fundamental point about this "what is pleasure?" discussion:


    ReneLisa I see your perspective as intersecting with Kalosyni's recent post about REBT / CBT and therapy, and i think my comments in that thread apply here too. Is Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy Compatible with Epicureanism?


    In my view, Epicurean views need to be thought of first as a "philosophy" of life - a world view. Yes Epicurean philosophy is practical, and yes it will lead in many practical directions, but Epicurean philosophy is not first and foremost a "therapy" as modern Stoicism has become.


    My point here is that Epicurus' discussions about "pleasure" are - in my view - primarily tuned to addressing some basic philosophic questions. Epicurus is starting by asking "What is the nature of human life?" and "What is the goal of human life?" -- big picture items like those. In that field, the big alternatives argued by others are (1) Being pious (following god/religion like the priests tell you), or (2) Being "rational" (following "reason" or "logic" like Plato or Aristotle or Mr Spock might tell you), or (3) Being "virtuous" or being "a good person" (like the Stoics or fundamental "Humanists" might tell you). I am sure there are other major categories too.


    I think that's the first way you have to understand Epicurus. When he says things to the effect that "pleasure is the goal of life" he's contrasting that conclusion to (1), (2), or (3) above. He's not prescribing a medication or giving precise clinical advice for particular person to follow at a particular moment.


    AFTER you reject (1), (2), and (3) and realize why they are wrong (for reasons such as there is no "supernatural god" and no "fate" and no "afterlife" and the other things that go with the Epicurean worldview), then you're in a position to understand your basic place in the universe and the general direction you should be heading. And at that point you're equipped to identify and call in all the appropriate "therapeutic techniques" that might help someone in your personal situation to work through your current problems and move in the direction you want to go.


    I just see the need to caution people that when they compare CBT or any "therapy" to Epicurean philosophy there's a hazard of making the mistake of comparing apples to oranges - they are very different things. To me, it would never make any sense to engage in any "therapy" without first having an idea of the meaning of "health" and where you need to be. That's what Epicurean philosophy provides -- an understanding of "health." Once you have that only then are you in a position to judge what particular medicine a particular person needs at a particular moment.

  • In my view, Epicurean views need to be thought of first as a "philosophy" of life - a world view. Yes Epicurean philosophy is practical, and yes it will lead in many practical directions, but Epicurean philosophy is not first and foremost a "therapy" as modern Stoicism has become.

    I think a kind of "therapy" can come out of a worldview -- which for Epicureanism is enjoyment of life and friendships which support the enjoyment of life.


    And this is something that I want to blog and post about in the future - as I feel there are many therapuetic aspects within Epicureanism.


    Especially this link is good, lots of good points of "therapeutic" value:

  • I think a kind of "therapy" can come out of a worldview -- which for Epicureanism is enjoyment of life and friendships which support the enjoyment of life.

    Since we are trying to drill down and be as precise as possible, and I have spent years seeing people be obtuse about this and confuse the end and the means, let me reword that syntax to be absolutely clear which is the worldview and which is the therapy:



    Quote

    I think out of the Epicurean worldview - which is a view of the nature of the universe that is entirely devoid of supernatural aspects, a view of the nature of knowledge that conveys what can be expected of it and how it is acquired, and a view of the nature of a proper ethics that is not absolute but based on pleasure as the guide of life -- can come a kind of "therapy" -- which includes the pursuit of compatible friends, living prudently, studying nature, communicating with frankness, weighing pleasures and pains arising from each choice and avoidance, and maintaining proper attitudes toward "divinity" - among many other things!

  • It would be nice to collect some pithy sayings that illustrate this point -- to the effect that


    "If you're not sure where you're going, you can't get there simply by walking faster!"


    There must be millions of sayings that illustrate how doubling down on current activities - or just "fine-tuning" them or "getting therapy" for them is a dead end.


    Something about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? ;)

  • I think that's the first way you have to understand Epicurus. When he says things to the effect that "pleasure is the goal of life" he's contrasting that conclusion to (1), (2), or (3) above. He's not prescribing a medication or giving precise clinical advice for particular person to follow at a particular moment.

    I would take for granted that those three should be rejected (although it’s clear that others don’t think the same.) I hold reason in high regard, but I can’t imagine how it could be an end instead of a tool.


    If I’d been asked a week ago “What is the goal of human life?” I would’ve said something like “to live as much of your life as you can in support of your values” but my “values” which I talk about a lot are unrelated to the Stoic virtues (for one, they’re individual - like playing with my family and creating - and probably would be more closely related to Epicurean desires) Drilling down to why living according to my values was the goal, I would’ve probably ended on “because those are the things that make me happy”

  • I’ve realized through this discussion that between Epicureanism and neuroscience there’s a whole lot of interesting questions about the function of the senses.

    And there's this constant crossover between the observation of "how they function" as opposed to drawing conclusions from those observations.


    That's of course a deep philosophical discussion in itself, but I think it's worth noting that no matter how much progress we make in unwinding the "how" in terms of the biological or electrical or whatever processes we dig into, there's always another level of "how" that goes deeper than our current understanding.


    I say that to emphasize that a lot of people seem to think that just by peeling back another layer of the "how" we'll be making a lot of progress when we observe a deeper level (there is some really good material in Frances Wright on this issue). And in a sense new observation does generally help us, but no matter how far we dig into the "how" we're always going to have to make some higher-level conclusions about our "world-view" with less information than we would like to have. We would "live" to be omniscient and know everything about everything, but we never will.


    We therefore have to be intelligent about what we can expect to know, and what attitude to take toward the uncertainties, and that is where Epicurus takes a very different approach from most others. And I think it's there at that level that Epicurus plants his flag as "Pleasure" - which is very necessary and helpful as a flag and a high-level view, but which shouldn't be confused with a clinical description or prescription for a "pill" to take at a particular moment. Because Epicurus might well listen to a person's story and their particular set of problems and prescribe something that leads first to "Pain" before only later leading to "Pleasure."


    I think I'm beating the proverbial dead horse now but I've seen this issue arise over and over and over and I think it helps to nail it down early in the study of Epicurus.


    Those who come to Epicurus looking for immediate Pleasure will be disappointed if they find out (as many of them will) that they will be required to undergo the Pain that will come from putting aside deeply-held errors about the way the world works.

  • Oh I completely agree - I don’t mean the simple electrochemical and mechanical function, but more how that impacts our understanding of what is sensation and where the line is drawn between sensation and cognition (with regard to the understanding that the senses are truly reported but may be misinterpreted) and how they both interact to bring pleasure or pain.


    I mean there's the obvious clichés like the experience box but I think there are a lot of deeper questions to ask given that we don't observe the world /directly/ (tbh I can't even conceive of what that would mean) but through the filter of our senses (in the sense that there are frequencies we can't hear or see and individual variation in sensitivity, but also that the horse we see is "reported" to our brain as a stream of neurochemicals meant to represent the shapes and colors that make up a horse)


    None of this to imply that we SHOULDN'T trust our senses, because we obviously should. Without that we have absolutely no basis in how to choose our actions. I think there are answers to these questions that relate directly not only to what we know and what is real, but also to how to accomplish the goal of reducing pain and enhancing pleasure.


    Further on the topic of uncertainties: I always said that the reason I chose to major in neuroscience was that so often when questions were asked in class, the answer was hands spread wide, "we don't know." I have work to do with learning to deal with uncertainty in daily living but I have no problems with it in my general understanding.

  • I forgot a couple of very basic points that I should have included in what I posted earlier in this thread:


    Maybe the most important aspect of the value of Epicurean philosophy is that it addresses the question of whether living happily is even *possible*!


    If you believe that an arbitrary and capricious god is lurking behind every corner to punish you, then it is not going to be possible for you to live as happily as you could otherwise.


    If you believe that you're going to burn in hell, or miss out on heaven, depending on whether you follow an arbitrary set of rules that you can't really live up to, then then it is not going to be possible for you to live as happily as you could otherwise.


    If you think there are absolute standards written in the stars to which you have to conform, but don't want to conform to, then then it is not going to be possible for you to live as happily as you could otherwise.


    If you think that there is a "Fate" the guarantees that you're going to be unhappy, then then it is not going to be possible for you to live as happily as you could otherwise.


    If you think that your mind is a billiard ball and that every thought and action you take have been predetermined from the beginning of time, and that nothing you choose to do yourself can have any impact on your future to change it for the better, then then it is not going to be possible for you to live as happily as you could otherwise.


    If you think that the atomic flux moves so fast that there's no way you can ever grasp with confidence anything going on around you, then then it is not going to be possible for you to live as happily as you could otherwise.


    If you think that your senses are hopelessly inadequate to the task of determining anything with confidence, then then it is not going to be possible for you to live as happily as you could otherwise.


    If you think that no knowledge of any kind is possible on any subject, no matter how close to you or important to you, then then it is not going to be possible for you to live as happily as you could otherwise.


    If you think that pain is such a huge part of normal life that it overwhelms you, and that the best you can do is grasp scraps of happiness that last for only moments amid long expanses of agony, then then it is not going to be possible for you to live as happily as you could otherwise.


    I bet I have missed some big ones in that list, but that's why we start at the principles of the "Epicurean Worldview" and then move to applications of these principles to our individual circumstances.


    To close out this post we need to remember too that "possible" does not mean "guaranteed." It's also possible in life that you get struck by lightning, or a meteor, or a drunk driver, or cancer -- there are many things that are in fact beyond your control, so it is not in the power of any philosophy - even Epicurus - to *guarantee* a long and happy life.


    But better by far than any other worldview or system, I like the odds of success that come from following Epicurus' views on how to tackle the issue of happiness and go after it.

  • When someone says certain pleasures are better than others I have to ask WHY? The only answer is that this certain pleasure feels better to that individual.


    My point is there is no objective better or worse pleasure it's all subjective to the individual. This idea of separating pleasures into higher or low, or separating pleasure from happiness is just wrong. Pleasure is the guide to happiness and happiness is feeling pleasurable.


    People like to say wouldn't you prefer to read a good book rather than have an orgasm or eating a good chocolate bar as if there is some objective standard. Quite frankly I answer it depends on what I'm in the mood for. Maybe I'm being too simplistic I just don't think epicurus would have objective lists of which pleasures are better.


    Enjoyment vs pleasure...how can I know if I enjoy something if it doesn't feel pleasurable. Can I use a syllogism to figure out if I enjoy something or can I just feel it?

  • Eoghan Gardiner , yep!

    The only caveat for readers of this forum that I'd add is that all pleasure is (a) good (feeling), *but* not all pleasure (good feeling) is choiceworthy. Context and consequences are also fundamental parts of Epicurus's philosophy. "If it feels good, do it" is Cyrenaic.