Pleasures of the soul, Values, Meaningful Life

  • I have failed to reference the first text that should always come to mind whenever asceticism is discussed: Vatican Saying 63:

    VS63. Frugality too has a limit, and the man who disregards it is like him who errs through excess.

  • One more contextual issue that I think is underappreciated but very important is the issue of time. All things being equal, if we had plenty of time, then it makes more sense to defer action when some amount of pain is required. In the big picture, however, life is very short, and for an eternity we are nothing after we die. In my mind that is a factor that compels us to be very serious about how we make this calculation, and to realize that some pain is required in virtually everything we do in life.

    As Horace said, seize the day. Or, make hay while the Sun shines.

  • B. After eliminating pain, all pleasures beyond this limit, are embellishments. Embellishment pleasures are great! Try to experience as most as you can (carefully calculating not to produce more pain for you down the line). Let these guide your life if you want even, but keep in mind the following point.

    C. The limit of pleasure has been met. All of these embellishments don't add up more pleasure to your life. You won't experience them after you're dead, and you certainly won't take any memories of them to an afterlife. The maximum natural quanitity of pleasure has been obtained when you eliminated all the pain, so if you want to stay at that, IT'S OK! If you want to go for more embellishments, IT'S OK! Just be weary of the slippery slope of wanting more of something that won't add more pleasure and may become a source of much pain.

    I find that there are basically two camps:

    Camp One - People who focus on the "absence of pain" passages and conclude that "avoid all pain to the extent possible" is the supreme guide of Epicurean philosophy, without regard to the pleasure that is thereby forgone.

    Camp Two:. People who focus on "pleasure" as that term is ordinarily understood, embracing all forms of mental and physical enjoyment, and who conclude that the correct statement of the primary guide is that pleasure is the focus and is to be pursued so long as we ourselves deem the resulting feeling of pleasure to be worth the cost in pain needed to obtain it.

    Everyone has different tolerances for pain, and different valuations of pleasure, so it's really impossible to make the generic statement of Camp Two more precise than that. There is no absolute set of pleasures always to pursue or pains always to avoid.

    I would like to propose that friendship is a pleasure which every Epicurean should cultivate.

    PD 27: Of all the things that wisdom provides for the complete happiness of one's entire life, by far the greatest is friendship.

    VS 52: Friendship dances around the world, announcing to each of us that we must awaken to happiness.

    In our modern world when we are all so short on time it might seem that friendship is an embellishment, but I would say that friendship is not an embellishment. One certainly could live as a hermit free from pain, but would be much lacking in the joy that comes with engaging and spending time with a good friend or friends. And it must be cultivated -- finding good friends, making time, and also behaving in an enjoyable way toward each other -- choosing enjoyable things to talk about, finding humor and fun and sharing fun activities. The feelings of friendship are far deeper and surpass the simple enjoyments of food, music, etc. of the simple physical sensations.

    PD5: It is not possible to live joyously without also living wisely and beautifully and rightly, nor to live wisely and beautifully and rightly without living joyously; and whoever lacks this cannot live joyously.

  • I would like to propose that friendship is a pleasure which every Epicurean should cultivate.

    Even at risk of forever disqualifying yourself from the world of Modern Stoicism????


    Or even worse (in terms of numbers of people) separating yourself from the Buddhist viewpoint (which implies not getting too attached to any one person)?

    Gosh, somebody willing to do that better be ready to tread the path less trod !

    But then Lucretius said (according to Humphries):

    Exploring ways where none have gone before,

    Across the Muses' realms I make my way,

    Happy to come to virgin springs, to drink

    Their freshness, to discover all the flowers

    No man has ever seen, and of them twine

    Myself a garland, which no poet yet

    Has had from any Muse. This I deserve

    Because I teach great things, because I strive

    To free the spirit, give the mind release

    From the constrictions of religious fear,

    Because I write clear verse about dark things,

    Enduing what I touch with grace and charm;

    And this makes sense, for, just as doctors do,

    When they give bitter wormwood to a child,

    But first take pains to smear the rim of the cup

    With the sweet golden honey, and to fool

    The unsuspecting patient, anyway

    As far as the lips, till he gulps down the dose

    Of bitter wormwood, fooled, but not betrayed,

    But rather given health and strength, so I,

    Harsh as my system may appear to those

    Who have not used it (and, in general,

    People shrink back, set lips and minds against it)

    Nevertheless, for your sake, Memmius,

    Have wanted to explain the way things are

    Turning the taste of honey into sound

    As musical, as golden, so that I

    May hold your mind with poetry, while you

    Are learning all about that form, that pattern,

    And see its usefulness.

  • Even at risk of forever disqualifying yourself from the world of Modern Stoicism????

    Yes ^^

    The Stoics would say that Epicureans are only friends for purposes of utility, but that isn't true.

    VS 23: Every friendship is an excellence in itself, even though it begins in mutual advantage.

    Clearly in friendship there is also a risk of pain, in if your friend moves away or dies you will feel the pain of the loss of that friendship. But I see the "Epicurean Garden" is a place of many friends. So then that would be a consolation, as one is surrounded by more than just one friend.

    PD5: It is not possible to live joyously without also living wisely and beautifully and rightly, nor to live wisely and beautifully and rightly without living joyously; and whoever lacks this cannot live joyously.

  • Clearly in friendship there is also a risk of pain, in if your friend moves away or dies you will feel the pain of the loss of that friendship

    Another excellent example why the "Avoid Pain At Any Cost" Approach is TERRIBLY unEpicurean!

    Frances Wright agreed in her Chapter 10 of A Few Days In Athens:


    But there is yet a pain, which the wisest and the best of men cannot escape; that all of us, my sons, have felt, or have to feel. Do not your hearts whisper it? Do you not tell me, that in death there is yet a sting? That ere he aim at us, he may level the beloved of our soul? The father, whose tender care hath reared our infant minds — the brother, whom the same breast hath nourished, and the same roof sheltered, with whom, side by side, we have grown like two plants by a river, sucking life from the same fountain and strength from the same sun — the child whose gay prattle delights our ears, or whose opening understanding fixes our hopes — the friend of our choice, with whom we have exchanged hearts, and shared all our pains and pleasures, whose eye hath reflected the tear of sympathy, whose hand hath smoothed the couch of sickness. Ah! my sons, here indeed is a pain — a pain that cuts into the soul. There are masters that will tell you otherwise; who will tell you that it is unworthy of a man to mourn even here. But such, my sons, speak not the truth of experience or philosophy, but the subtleties of sophistry and pride. He who feels not the loss, hath never felt the possession. He who knows not the grief, hath never known the joy. See the price of a friend in the duties we render him, and the sacrifices we make to him, and which, in making, we count not sacrifices, but pleasures. We sorrow for his sorrow; we supply his wants, or, if we cannot, we share them. We follow him to exile. We close ourselves in his prison; we soothe him in sickness; we strengthen him in death: nay, if it be possible, we throw down our life for his. Oh! What a treasure is that for which we do so much! And is it forbidden to us to mourn its loss? If it be, the power is not with us to obey.

    Should we, then, to avoid the evil, forego the good? Shall we shut love from our hearts, that we may not feel the pain of his departure? No; happiness forbids it. Experience forbids it. Let him who hath laid on the pyre the dearest of his soul, who hath washed the urn with the bitterest tears of grief — let him say if his heart hath ever formed the wish that it had never shrined within it him whom he now deplores. Let him say if the pleasures of the sweet communion of his former days doth not still live in his remembrance. If he love not to recall the image of the departed, the tones of his voice, the words of his discourse, the deeds of his kindness, the amiable virtues of his life. If, while he weeps the loss of his friend, he smiles not to think that he once possessed him. He who knows not friendship, knows not the purest pleasure of earth. Yet if fate deprive us of it, though we grieve, we do not sink; Philosophy is still at hand, and she upholds us with fortitude. And think, my sons, perhaps in the very evil we dread, there is a good; perhaps the very uncertainty of the tenure gives it value in our eyes; perhaps all our pleasures take their zest from the known possibility of their interruption. What were the glories of the sun, if we knew not the gloom of darkness? What the refreshing breezes of morning and evening, if we felt not the fervors of noon? Should we value the lovely-flower, if it bloomed eternally; or the luscious fruit, if it hung always on the bough? Are not the smiles of the heavens more beautiful in contrast with their frowns, and the delights of the seasons more grateful from their vicissitudes? Let us then be slow to blame nature, for perhaps in her apparent errors there is hidden a wisdom. Let us not quarrel with fate, for perhaps in our evils lie the seeds of our good. Were our body never subject to sickness, we might be insensible to the joy of health. Were our life eternal, our tranquillity might sink into inaction. Were our friendship not threatened with interruption, it might want much of its tenderness.

  • beasain, Mathitis Kipouros, and Cassius -- I am now re-reading these threads a bit more closely and am seeing that it might be good to construct some kind of a table or graphic which might show that actually there is evidence in Epicurean teachings for both a "just enough pleasure" and a "full cup of pleasure". All of this has come up before and it really would be good to have it all layed out clearly. Seeing it in a table or graphic form could also make it easier for when future questions arise. Also, a table might have several different columns to compare and contrast, and give evidence for or against.

    PD5: It is not possible to live joyously without also living wisely and beautifully and rightly, nor to live wisely and beautifully and rightly without living joyously; and whoever lacks this cannot live joyously.

  • I realize I’m late to the game here, but…

    The idea that Epicurus was an ascetic and ordered an ascetic lifestyle for his students seems to stem from two primary sources: the idea of the “necessary and natural” desires, and the mention of “bread and water” in the Letter to Menoikeus.

    As for the latter, I’ve stated in other places (including my translation of the letter), I am convinced that Epicurus was using “maza and water” because that was the everyday meal of the regular ancient Greeks. Epicurus is referencing the meal you have every day and don’t even pay attention to and contrasting that with the extravagant table laden with fish and other delicacies. He’s urging us to pay attention to the meal that’s in front of us. We don’t have to shun luxuries should they come up every once in a while, but we have all we need right here in front of us if we pay attention to it.

    The natural and necessary desires are never singled out as the ONLY desires to pursue or fulfill, although he says that’s all we *need* should that befall us. We aren’t commanded to only pursue those… and there is some question in my mind what those “necessary and natural’ ones are since he’s a little circumspect in the letter to Menoikeus 127-128 (see below). Most of these, to me, encourage us to pay attention to our needs and desires; not necessarily what to choose. Everyone has to make those decisions for themselves.

    VS63 is a good one to bring up. Bailey’s commentary on that one is LXIII is interesting as showing that Epicurus did not wish to push his idea of the simple life to excess: the ascetic will suffer bodily distress like the glutton and so fail to attain aponia.

    Menoikeus 127-128:

    Furthermore, on the one hand, there are the natural desires; on the other, the 'empty, fruitless, or vain ones.' And of the natural ones, on the one hand, are the necessary ones; on the other, the ones which are only natural; then, of the necessary ones: on the one hand, those necessary for eudaimonia; then, those necessary for the freedom from disturbance for the body; then those necessary for life itself. [128] The steady contemplation of these things equips one to know how to decide all choice and rejection for the health of the body and for the tranquility of the mind, that is for our physical and our mental existence, since this is the goal of a blessed life.

    PD29 Among desires, some are natural and necessary, some are natural and unnecessary, and some are unnatural and unnecessary (arising instead from groundless opinion). (Scholion on PD29: Epicurus regards as natural and necessary desires which bring relief from pain, as e.g. drink when we are thirsty ; while by natural and not necessary he means those which merely diversify the pleasure without removing the pain, as e.g. costly viands ; by the neither natural nor necessary he means desires for crowns and the erection of statues in one's honour.)

    Seneca, Letter 9.20 (quoting Epicurus): “Si cui," inquit, "sua non videntur amplissima, licet totius mundi dominus sit, tamen miser est." "He says: "Whoever does not regard what he has as most ample wealth, is unhappy, though he be master of the whole world."

    Seneca, Letter 14: Now you are stretching forth your hand for the daily gift. Golden indeed will be the gift with which I shall load you; and, inasmuch as we have mentioned gold, let me tell you how its use and enjoyment may bring you greater pleasure. “He who needs riches least, enjoys riches most.” “Author’s name, please!” you say. Now, to show you how generous I am, it is my intent to praise the dicta of other schools. The phrase belongs to Epicurus, or Metrodorus, or some one of that particular thinking-shop.

  • Thank you Don - I noticed you were scarce yesterday so I am glad you came back around for this one.

    The target is the life of pleasure, and yes, it makes a lot of sense that staying "within one's means" is generally a very good idea, and it's something of course I try to do myself too. But in doing so it's essential to remember the goal at all times, and to never get carried away with this or any other "technique" as is the technique in itself is the goal.

    That lesson never gets old and seems to need constant repeating in virtually every aspect of life.