Twentieth of June - 2020 - Online Gathering Information

  • Yes, I am wanting to do a short presentation on the triptych painting "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch (painted between 1490 and 1510). This is a very famous painting, which is always presented in art history courses, and has influenced our current culture. Now that I use the lens of the philosophy of Epicurus in my ethical and hedonic reasoning, my own viewing of this painting takes on a new understanding. Further, I think this would make for good discussion as we examine the complexity of this painting, as well as the "civilized"/"Christian" distrust of pleasure -- the idea that pleasure is always a "slippery slope" that leads to excess (and thus hell -- or pain). And as Epicureans, what keeps us from going down the "slippery slope" ourselves?

    I will present some slides of the painting and we can discuss the above questions at that time.

  • Here's the Yonge translation of Laertius. I highly recommend the Aristippus section and to see how the Cyrenaic's evolved throughout its hundred or so years. I always take note of the similarities between Anniceris & Epicurus.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • I enjoyed last night's discussion, amongst our total of four attendees. Interesting to note that on the Bosch painting central panel there is no killing or harming going on (nor any imbibing of alcohol). Viewing this painting through Epicurean reasoning, we know there is no divine mandate for what is right and wrong, and also no hell after death (which is depicted in the panel on the right). As far as the question of a "slippery-slope" to excess, an Epicurean would remember PD8, and that no pleasure is bad in itself, but some bring disturbances many times greater. So being responsible for one's own pleasure and pain is requisite. And I think another important aspect for an Epicurean would be surrounding oneself with wise (and Epicurean) friends.

    Here are some links to various interpretations of the painting. Bosch did not leave any notes or writings as to the meaning, and you can find a great many interpretations online.

    Wikipedia article

    Guardian article

    Religious interpretation

    Other discussion points came up around natural, necessary, unnecessary pleasures and moving/static pleasures. A very important point being that each person decides these only for themselves, as the attempt to categorize or label pleasures into a certain absolute category will lead to a system of virtues rather than to pleasure as the highest goal. (Did I get that right Cassius?)

  • the Yonge translation of Laertius.

    That is a really well done HTML version of Laertius and that makes it one of the most accessible versions of the core Epicurus material on the internet. I'm always looking for new formats that make things easy to find.

    The Perseus edition has all of its unique strengths, but might not be the best for just reading on a telephone.

    This Gutenberg version looks like it would be very easy to read in most any screen size.

  • A very important point being that each person decides these only for themselves, as the attempt to categorize or label pleasures into a certain absolute category will lead to a system of virtues rather than to pleasure as the highest goal. (Did I get that right Cassius?)

    I think that's the important point yes.

    Of course it is also true that pleasure and pain are "faculties" that while perhaps tunable also generally work in generally the same ways for most people, so it is possible to "generalize" on what we can expect people to find pleasing or painful. "Everyone likes vanilla ice cream" would be no less wrong that "No one likes vanilla lice cream." Both are overbroad and the "truth" can only be found by observing how a set of actual people react to vanilla ice cream.

    It's like a river or some other analogy that involves limits and bounds. There are "rails" or "shores" that generally keep things flowing in the same direction, but the river can be very wide and involve currents and edies and all sorts of variations within it.

    So I think the ultimate point is that because we are humans (and you can go further into divisions as well, I think, in such things as age, or gender, etc) we can generalize about what "most" "normal" people in a category are going to find pleasing or painful. But within each category is lots of variation, and that's where the individual is going to have his or her own preferences and sensitivities that will influence how he or she will end up making that "ranking" of what is more or less pleasing or painful to them as individuals.

    The attempt to extrapolate from a single individal to "everyone" so as to form an "absolute rule" is generally bound to fail since there is no force that enforces absolute uniformity among everyone. Can you get very very broad - very abstract - and come up with a useful rule? Yes, you can say that "pleasure" is desirable and "pain" is undesirable! And that's the level at which I think Epicurus is generally talking: we can describe pleasure as a feeling that is concrete and not open to mistake, but the word "pleasure" is an abstraction that has meaning because the word is agreed upon by English speaking people of the last several hundred years.

    We can say that Nature has given the feeling of pleasure and pain to living things as the go and stop indicators to tell us what to choose and what to avoid, but as soon as we start coming up with a specific list of "pleasures" and "pains" then we are talking concrete experiences and we have a virtually unlimited number of contextual considerations that are impossible to capture for everyone everywhere all the time. You can generalize and use words like "most" and "normal" and all sorts of ways to hedge, but you have to keep in mind that if you get sloppy and you obscure the difference between what is true about EVERYONE (everyone feels pleasure to be desirable) and what is true only about certain people ("everyone" likes to ride in an airplane) then you've violated the rules we are talking about now in Pythocles. You're confusing a question that can be answered in many ways with a question that can be answered in only one way. Said another way, you are taking your OWN preferred feelings and ignoring that other people are feeling different preferences.


    [87] For we must not conduct scientific investigation by means of empty assumptions and arbitrary principles, but follow the lead of phenomena: for our life has not now any place for irrational belief and groundless imaginings, but we must live free from trouble. Now all goes on without disturbance as far as regards each of those things which may be explained in several ways so as to harmonize with what we perceive, when one admits, as we are bound to do, probable theories about them. But when one accepts one theory and rejects another which harmonizes as well with the phenomenon, it is obvious that he altogether leaves the path of scientific inquiry and has recourse to myth. Now we can obtain indications of what happens above from some of the phenomena on earth: for we can observe how they come to pass, though we cannot observe the phenomena in the sky: for they may be produced in several ways. [88] Yet we must never desert the appearance of each of these phenomena, and further, as regards what is associated with it, must distinguish those things whose production in several ways is not contradicted by phenomena on earth.

    PD 24 and 25:

    PD24. If you reject any single sensation, and fail to distinguish between the conclusion of opinion, as to the appearance awaiting confirmation, and that which is actually given by the sensation or feeling, or each intuitive apprehension of the mind, you will confound all other sensations, as well, with the same groundless opinion, so that you will reject every standard of judgment. And if among the mental images created by your opinion you affirm both that which awaits confirmation, and that which does not, you will not escape error, since you will have preserved the whole cause of doubt in every judgment between what is right and what is wrong.

    PD25. If on each occasion, instead of referring your actions to the end of nature, you turn to some other, nearer, standard, when you are making a choice or an avoidance, your actions will not be consistent with your principles.