[Toby Sherman's Ancient Guide To Modern Well-being] That article I mentioned at the on line Wednesday 8/17 meeting

  • Lots of good stuff in that which will require several posts from me to begin to tackle. One thing I want to memorialize is this list from Bentham which may be useful in future discussions:

    Bentham’s famous calculus provides six criteria for judging the true value of a pleasure or pain, as considered by the one who feels it:

    • Intensity: how strongly the pleasure or pain is felt.

    • Duration: the length of time that the pleasure or pain extends for.

    • Certainty or uncertainty: the likelihood that the pleasure or pain will actually occur.

    • Propinquity or remoteness: the closeness or distance of the pleasure or pain to the subject.

    • Purity: how much a pleasure is tempered by accompanying pains, and vice versa.

    • Fecundity: how likely the pleasure or pain is to produce more pleasures and pains.51

  • But the thrust of the article is in sections like 5.6, which I think we will find leads us in a familiar and dangerous direction, a view that is easy to interpret as practical asceticism:

    "However, there is another way of thinking about pleasure, as simply the absence of

    pain. On this conception, to satisfy all one’s desires is to experience perfect pleasure. Adding to the sum total of satisfied desires cannot increase one’s pleasure further, whereas failing to satisfy any of them can diminish it. The only way is down. If we think of pleasure in this way, the maximising strategy is not merely risky in practice, for the reasons described above; it is theoretically incoherent. Multiplying desires cannot lift one above the point of perfect contentment; it can only create occasions for dissatisfaction. The only coherent strategy, if pleasure is limited, is a perfectionist one: we ought to limit our desires as far as possible, with a view to minimising dissatisfaction."

    But this is not the end of the article.....

    Or IS it his conclusion:

    "Epicurus conceived of pleasure in the way I have outlined, as the absence of pain;

    this conception underlies his ascetic philosophy of life. In the rest of this thesis I want to achieve two things. Firstly, I want to present Epicurean ethics in the strongest light possible, defending it against certain common objections. Secondly, I want to demonstrate that Epicurus was correct in his belief that there is a limit to pleasure, and therefore that perfectionism is the best method to attaining a good and pleasant life."

  • Ooooh I have to think that this statement on page 52 is going to produce very very very unwelcome results:

    "Within Epicureanism, pain is the fundamental element – pleasure consists of the removal or the absence of pain."

  • And there we have in 8.2 the standard way to focus on pain as the main issue of life:

    "8.2ii Kinetic and katastemic pleasure

    The difference between mental and physical pleasures is not the only distinction drawn by Epicurus. Another, perhaps more important, is between pleasures that are active, kinetic, and static, katastemic.87 Understanding the difference requires one to bear in mind that pleasures have value only with reference to pains and wants."

  • He is absolutely right here about "this" being the greatest obstacle to accepting the philosophy of Epicurus. If I thought "the final end is katastematic pleasure" I would reject Epicurus myself - but I don't think it is or that that there is any persuasive reason to believe this:

    "Pleasures beyond the absence of pain

    These, then, are the basic principles of the Epicurean theory of pleasure. The final end in life is katastemic pleasure, which is limited to the absence of pain in body and mind. This state of peace is dependent on having few or no unsatisfied desires. Immediately, a problem appears: it seems highly counter-intuitive to say that pleasure is limited at the absence of pain. This may be the greatest obstacle to accepting the philosophy of Epicurus."

  • oh my oh my oh my!!!

    "Habituation is perhaps the most important Epicurean technique: the whole philosophy focusses on limiting and changing one’s desires in order to avoid unnecessary pain. By realising we don’t need certain things and that they don’t have value, we can reduce and eventually eliminate our desire for them. This process can involve both introspection – i.e. thinking about the objects of desire and questioning why we want them – and practice, such as living in a simpler fashion and realising that we are satisfied with less. The priority targets of this technique should of course be the damaging unnatural desires and then the risky unnecessary ones, but it’s also worth a shot to reduce those that are necessary."

  • How many oh mys should I string together for this one???

    "Even if we work to habituate ourselves to be satisfied with less, there will always be

    some desires that remain, and continue to distress us to at least a small extent. We will always desire some food and warmth. However, this is not a problem, as we have seen, since food and warmth are both biological needs. Sex is a different matter. Since lack of it does not cause physical harm, it would be better not to want it at all. All sex does is sooth a pang that needn’t be there in the first place. Ideally, we would have a naturally low sex drive, or habituate ourselves to not want sex. As that may not be possible, the desire should be managed sensibly, like hunger, so it doesn't become a burden or a pain."

  • "It doesn’t matter what the Epicurean is currently doing: as long as they are doing it while possessing ataraxia and aponia, it is the most pleasurable activity there is."

    I can't imagine a straighter path leading to the cave and it's bread and water than this attitude taken literally.

  • "One

    e thing about Epicurus’ view of pleasure that may be hard to stomach is that it is

    entirely negative. Although it is true that every desire brings with it an increased chance of dissatisfaction and distress, not much attention is paid to the benefits of desires which are successfully satisfied."

    I would say this statement applies to the writer 's view, not to Epicurus' view....

  • "

    According to the Epicurean account of desire, achieving one’s heart’s desire is no better than not having one."

    This guy can really turn a phrase. He does a great job highlighting the issues!

  • Another brilliant statement of the issue - but I would say totally misguided. This is not the way Epicurus himself or any documented Epicurean ever lived or could live, obsessing over the elimination of sensual desire:

    "Although this philosophy is not at all ascetic, it is disconcertingly hostile to desire. We are more accustomed to the notion that the bigger our hopes and dreams the better. If we fail to satisfy our grand desires then we will suffer, it’s true, but at least we will have tried. Those people who lack desire, we think, may be content, but they have no chance of attaining anything great. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Indeed, there seems to be something timid about limiting desires to avoid dissatisfaction. Making sense of Epicurus’ counter-intuitive claims about desire is very similar to

    confronting the difficulties around the limits of pleasure. What must be demonstrated is that additional, unnecessary desires (even when satisfied) don’t add anything. This is not as difficult as first appears, as long as we remember that pleasure cannot be extended beyond the point of contentment: perfect contentment is so complete that it cannot be bettered. Referring to this state as one of having no desires is misleading, and it is no wonder that this sounds unattractive. More accurately, this state is one of having every desire fulfilled, which means having everything we want now, and being completely confident of getting everything we want in the future. By definition, the fully-satisfied person can’t gain any more satisfaction. Additional desires create pain, and satisfying those desires removes that pain. Therefore, it is true that continually satisfying more desires does provide more pleasure, but only by creating more discontent to dispel, and the level of pleasure and satisfaction, even with constant success, never rises above that of the person who is content with little. This should mean, if our understanding of Epicurus is correct, that in the last

    scenario, that of having both money and food, Jack loses any advantage. Jill is perfectly content, as all of her desires are satisfied. Can we really say that Jack is any better off, in any meaningful way, given that both have everything they want? If we remember that the state of all-desires-satisfied is one of perfection, rather than mere contentment, it seems clear that additional desires have no power to better that situation."

  • Ok in Section 12 at the end he attempts to use Gosling and Taylor to take a nonstandard view of katastematic pleasure - redefining it to include "active" pleasures - which is not the way these terms are normally used. To go down that path would put an entirely different spin on everything he wrote beforehand.

    He's right IMO to cite Gosling and Taylor that pleasure isn't pleasure unless it is experienced, but I would say he fails go make a convincing case that all this supports his ultimate view that the best way to pursue the best life is to limit every desire you possibly can.

    This is a very intelligent article which I really glad Steve posted. It does an excellent job of framing a question on which it is important for Everyone to know where they stand.

    Is pain the focus of life, and is the best approach to life that of reducing all your desires to an absolute minimum?

    My interpretation of Epicurus leads me to conclude: No!

  • Kalosyni raised the point in a post yesterday that the "cave and bread and water" analogy may be overly dramatic and not describe the real world issue of people who in fact focus on fleeing pain for a variety of well justified reasons - and she is right. There are many people in may circumstances who have no real choice but to deal with pressing real-world pains.

    This article, on the other hand, is the issue I am referring to in the analogy. This article is an example of a well researched and argued paper by a highly intelligent person who is in fact arguing (though I suspect not actually living himself) the viewpoint that according to Epicurus the very best life is the one with the fewest desires. That's the meaning and purpose of the "cave and bread and water" analogy - to dramatize that exactly that goal is being held up by some people as the ultimate Epicurean lifestyle.

    Were we to adopt such a viewpoint every normal pleasure in life which we choose to pursue - especially those by which Epicurus said he would not know the good without -make us more and more "bad Epicureans."

    No more chocolate, no more hugs, no more sex, no more joy, no more delight - according to thid viewpoint only by setting the elimination of those from our lives could we achieve ataraxia and aponia and the goal of life.

  • That's a lot of commentary on Cassius 's part and I haven't read all of his or the full paper. So, I'll have to dive into the paper and Cassius 's response later. In a cursory glance at both works (paper and posts), I'm not sure I *fully* agree with either but they do provide good food for thought and discussion.

    Thanks for posting kochiekoch !

  • I'm not sure I *fully* agree with either but they do provide good food for thought and discussion.

    Thanks for posting kochiekoch !

    Yes absolutely.

    VS74. In a philosophical discussion he who is defeated gains more, since he learns more.

  • According to the Epicurean account of desire, achieving one’s heart’s desire is no better than not having one."

    This guy can really turn a phrase. He does a great job highlighting the issues!

    These interesting excerpts you've posted Cassius (I haven't read the article yet).

    What came to my mind after reading this particular one, was a concept from Hinduism - "Divine Lila (Leela)" - which translates as "Divine Play" and in a very simplified sense could be thought of just as in Shakepeare's quote:

    "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players"

    Ultimately there could be a kernal of truth in "achieving one's heart's desire is no better than not having one" -- yet thinking this way about desire makes life not worth living, and misses the point of making meaning out of life and the human condition ---- The show must go on! We must play the play and engage in life fully. And Epicurus says to make choices wisely -- and my own interpretation is to make choices which lead to a "sweet life" filled with joys of the heart.

    This article just proves the importance of needing to explain that the Epicurean aim is to live joyfully. And also the need to define what is a joyful life and how to create one.

  • Yes Kalosyni I started to make more comments that his train of thought sounds like pure Buddhism or something similar to me, but I decided not to inflame the issues any further til people do some reading and we get the discussion going.

    It is a very well written article that is excellent for revealing these issues.

    And to say something positive, I think he is exactly where most of us are on the issue of "virtue" as being purely instrumental and not something in itself.

    Again, from a practical point of view I doubt he personally loves any differently than any of us do. What we are grappling with here is that question of how to express the ultimate goals / conclusions of the philosophy in the most sound way - a way that closes all doors to dramatically wrong interpretations about attitude toward life.

    It's almost like the issue is whether the glass is half full or half empty - is the real focus of Epicurean philosophy Pleasure - or Pain?

    I don't think it is satisfactory even to say both.

  • It's almost like the issue is whether the glass is half full or half empty - is the real focus of Epicurean philosophy Pleasure - or Pain?

    I don't think it is satisfactory even to say both.

    I think it is both pleasure and pain, because "choices and avoidances" are very important.

  • Epicurus never wrote that The Greatest Good is the Removal of Pain. He always identifies The Greatest Good as Pleasure. I think the concept of Removal of Pain is really only relevant with regards to the "limit" of Pleasure, and how to measure it. But anti-Pain is not the goal, just a measuring stick. Pleasure is the goal, and sometimes pain is necessary for a greater pleasure. Focusing on the Removal of Pain as a person's goal might lead them to miss out on rewarding challenges.