Episode 168 - "Epicurus And His Philosophy" Part 21 - Chapter 10 - The New Freedom 01

  • Welcome to Episode 168 of Lucretius Today. This is a podcast dedicated to the poet Lucretius, who wrote "On The Nature of Things," the only complete presentation of Epicurean philosophy left to us from the ancient world. Each week we walk you through the Epicurean texts, and we discuss how Epicurean philosophy can apply to you today. If you find the Epicurean worldview attractive, we invite you to join us in the study of Epicurus at EpicureanFriends.com, where you will find a discussion thread for each of our podcast episodes and many other topics.

    We are now in the process of a series of podcasts intended to provide a general overview of Epicurean philosophy based on the organizational structure employed by Norman DeWitt in his book "Epicurus and His Philosophy."

    This week we begin our discussion of Chapter 10, entitled "The New Freedom."

    • Choosing And Avoiding
    • The Double Choice
    • Freedom And Necessity
    • Necessity And Fortune
  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Episode 168 - Not Yet Recorded” to “Episode 168 - "Epicurus And His Philosophy" Part 21 - Chapter 10 - The New Freedom 01 (Not Yet Recorded)”.
  • A famous text we will likely include tomorrow: Cassius to Brutus:

    Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world

    Like a Colossus, and we petty men

    Walk under his huge legs and peep about

    To find ourselves dishonorable graves.

    Men at some time are masters of their fates.

    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

    Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II [Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world] by William Shakespeare - Poems | poets.org

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  • Underlying this chapter is an issue that David Sedley covers extremely well in "Epicurus' Refutation of Determinism:

    It is in this article that Sedley says that the swerve of the atom was likely not deduced from its necessity in cosmos-building but from its use in combating determinism:

  • Hard to overstate how critical this paragraph is:

    As Sedley says, Epicurus rejects "reductionist atomism," in favor of the common sense perspective: "that there are truths at the microscopic level of elementary particles, and further very different truths at the phenomenal level; that the former must be capable of explaining the latter, but that neither level of description has a monopoly of truth.'

  • VS09. Necessity is an evil, but there is no necessity to live under the control of necessity.

    VS40. The man who says that all things come to pass by necessity cannot criticize one who denies that all things come to pass by necessity: for he admits that this too happens of necessity

  • During the episode, I expressed my misgivings/frustrations about the stock phrase "choice and avoidance." Avoiding, avoid, and avoidance have always struck me as milquetoast words. It reminds me of stepping around a mud puddle. "I avoided getting my foot wet."

    Epicurus specific words are in the title of the work that laid out his thoughts on these actions: Περὶ αἱρέσεων καὶ φυγῶν. (Peri haireseon kai phugon). First, let's get the LSJ definitions on the table:

    Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, αἵρεσις

    αἵρεσις (hairesis) does mean "choice" but the connotation for me is much more active than just "choosing": "purpose, course of action or thought" Interestingly enough, it can also refer to the "taking" of a town by an army. It connotes for me an active process, not just a casual "choosing" what one has for dinner. I can live with "choice, choosing" but want to keep that active connotation in mind.

    Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, φεύγω

    φεύγω is what I really dislike translated as "avoidance." The first LSJ definition is "flee, take flight." If αἵρεσις is the taking of a town, φεύγω is fleeing or retreating. LSJ states that it is the opposite of διώκω which it "pursue or chase." A form of that word shows up in VS46:

    We cast off common customs just as we would do to wicked men who have been causing great harm for a long time.

    τὰς φαύλας συνηθείας ὥσπερ ἄνδρας πονηροὺς πολὺν χρόνον μέγα βλάψαντες τελείως ἐκδιώκομεν.

    ἐκδιώκομεν in this context means "to chase away, banish." So, φεύγω would refer to those being chased or being banished.

    So, in keeping with my active sense of αἵρεσις, I see the same for φεύγω. It's not just a casual avoidance or avoiding, it is an active fleeing, taking flight (as in Gandalf's telling the Fellowship "Fly, you fools!" as he fell in Moria), or escaping from something. True, LSJ includes "avoid" but down the list and in the context of all those other active words.

    So, I much prefer, if I were to translate Epicurus's book Περὶ αἱρέσεων καὶ φυγῶν (and subsequent mentions of the practice) as "Concerning Choice and Flight" or "Choice and Escape" or "Pursuit and Escape" or something more active than "Choice and 'Avoidance'." You'll often see me use "choice or rejection" on the forum, but I would prefer to use one of those other translations.

  • For your consideration...

    How a Flawed Experiment “Proved” That Free Will Doesn’t Exist
    It did no such thing—but the result has become conventional wisdom nevertheless

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  • There is a great deal of good information, which leads to explanation of why Epicurus disagreed with Democritus on a number of key things, in this article:

    Democritus (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

    The article points out that there is a lot of controversy about what Democrtus was really saying, but to the extent that he was interpreted to be saying that things which we perceive at the macroscopic level are "unreal," it is easy to see why Epicurus would object to that. Sedley's summary that Epicurus was holding that that there are two levels - microscopic and macroscopic for shorthand - and that neither level has a monopoly on truth seems to me to be pretty good phrasing of Epicurus's position.

    Quotes from the article:

    He famously denies that perceptible qualities other than shape and size (and, perhaps, weight) really exist in the atoms themselves: one direct quotation surviving from Democritus claims that ‘by convention sweet and by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color; but in reality atoms and void’ (DK 68B9, trans. Taylor 1999a).

    While several reports of Democritus’ view, apparently direct quotations, mention exclusively sensible qualities as being unreal, a report of Plutarch includes in the list of things that exist only by convention the notion of ‘combination’ or sunkrisis. If this report is genuinely Democritean, it would broaden the scope of the claim considerably: the idea that any combination—by which he presumably means any cluster of atoms—is ‘unreal’ or merely ‘conventional’ suggests that Democritus is drawing a more radical distinction than that between sensible and nonsensible qualities. The implication would be that anything perceived, because it is a perception of combinations of atoms and not atoms themselves, would be suspect, not merely the qualia experienced by means of individual sense organs. One report indeed attributes to Democritus a denial that two things could become one, or vice versa (DK 68A42), thus suggesting that combinations are regarded as conventional.

    However, Furley concedes that Plutarch at least understands the earliest atomists to be committed to the view that all combinations of atoms, as much as sensible qualities, should be understood as conventional rather than real (Furley 1993 pp. 76–7n7). This would suggest that everything at the macroscopic level—or, strictly, everything available to perception—is regarded as unreal.

  • While editing this episode I want to highlight Don's comment to the effect that the words "choosing and avoiding" probably do not adequately convey the "action" quality of what is being discussed. In English, both words (and maybe particularly "avoiding") carry a subtle implication of a sort of detached or hesitant quality. Don used the example that avoiding sounds mundane, as in avoiding a mud puddle. Another example that comes to my mind is that it sounds like someone walking slowly past a buffet of food daintily picking an olive here or avoiding a cheese there.

    Don makes the point that these words probably carry in the Greek a more intense quality - like "fleeing' or even "rejecting" and that he prefers "choose and reject" to 'choose and avoid."

    I am not sure I really picked up this point in the times that Don has brought it up in the past but hearing the point spoken was more effective in causing me to appreciate it, and it definitely sounds right to me. There's an intensity to Epicurus that can be easy to miss given the associations of the word "pleasure" and I think Don is clearly right.

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Episode 168 - "Epicurus And His Philosophy" Part 21 - Chapter 10 - The New Freedom 01 (Not Yet Recorded)” to “Episode 168 - "Epicurus And His Philosophy" Part 21 - Chapter 10 - The New Freedom 01”.
  • Episode 168 Is Now Available! Don joins us again as we begin our discussion of Chapter 10

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  • Well done discussing emergent properties: I kept wanting to raise my hand and say "what about emergent properties!?" That seems to be the bridge between atomic scale and everyday living scale, and I think that it goes beyond the leaf v stone example and applies more on the level of consciousness. Which might make the smaller, lighter atoms involved in the swerve the key bridge for Epicurus.

    This idea also, in my mind, breaks any connection between determinism at the atomic level in that I see emergent properties as potentially unpredictable.

    The book Atomic Habits, by James Clear, is a book on habits and not philosophy. But to some degree it addresses determinism by discussing that our habits are determined by our environment. However, a key idea of the book is that we can take control of our habits by modifying our environment.

    Great podcast and I look forward to part 2!

  • Godfrey I am going to reread that Sedley article before next week. Have you read that and the new text that he quotes from Epicurus?

  • Here's a little more on the "choice and avoidance" commentary from above:

    Περῐ́ (+ genitive) = "about, concerning, because of"

    αιρέσεων = genitive plural form of αἵρεσῐς

    φῠγών = genitive plural form of φῠγή

    Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, φυ^γή

    I find it interesting that αιρέσεων can refer to the taking of a town in battle, and φῠγών flight in battle. There's a metaphorical war going on when you make "choices and 'avoidances'" which is why I'm encouraging a more active English word.

    Look at other uses of φῠγή other than Epicurus in LSJ definition 2. "flight or escape from a thing, avoidance of it":

    - Aeschylus, Suppliant Women 395: Chorus: I am determined *to flee to escape* this marriage that offends my soul,...

    - Sophocles, Antigone 364: Chorus: From Death alone he shall procure no escape, but from baffling diseases he has devised *flights.*

    - Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 280: Oedipus: But rather consider that they look on the god-fearing man [280] and on the godless, and that never yet has an impious man found *escape.*

    -Euripides, Helen 799: Helen: Here, as a suppliant, I am asking for an *escape* from his bed.

    - also cites Philodemus in P.Herc.1251.11 (peri haireseon kai phygon, i.e., his book of the same title as Epicurus's); opp. δίωξις, Epicur.Sent.25. (see above for comment on δίωξις)

    Here's P.Herc.1251. Column 11 with line numbers:

    [⁦ -ca.?- ⁩]ντελο[⁦ -ca.?- ⁩]

    [⁦ -ca.?- ⁩]ναιτου[⁦ -ca.?- ⁩]

    πα[ ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣]α καὶ διὰ τοῦτο δ[ῆ-]

    λον [ἔτ]ι τῶν κ̣[α]κοπραγι[ῶν ἐ-]

    5 [κ]είνω[ν] ἔξω κ[ακ]ίστ[ους] εἶν[αι· ὃ]

    [διὰ] τὰ π[ε]ρὶ τῶ[ν] τεττάρω[ν εἰ-]

    [ρ]η̣μέν̣α λέγεται, το[ῦ] τὴ[ν περί-]

    λη̣ψιν τὴν περὶ τῶν κυρι[ωτ]ά̣-

    [τ]ων καὶ τὴν μνήνην π̣[ολ-]

    10 λὰ συμβάλλεσθαι πρ̣ὸς τὰς

    οὔσας αἱρέσεις καὶ φυγὰς οὐ-

    κ̣ ἴσους τιθεμένου, καθάπερ

    ἐξεδέξαντό τινες ἀγροί-

    κως, τῶι τινας ἀναφέρε̣σ-

    15 θαι τῶν αἱρέσεων καὶ φυ̣γῶν

    ἐπὶ τὰς περὶ τούτων ἀτα-

    ραξίας, ἀλλὰ τῶι κ[α]τ̣ορθοῦσ-

    θαι μὲν αὐτὰς τοῖς τέλεσι

    τοῖς τῆς φύσεως παραμ̣ε-

    20 τ[ρ]ούντων, πολλὰ δὲ [τ]ῶν

    [ ̣ ̣]τ̣α̣[ ̣ ̣]α̣τ̣α̣ς̣[ ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣]τ̣[ ̣]εν

    PS. The Epicur.Sent.25 refers to PD25...

    PD25. If at all critical times you do not connect each of your actions to the natural goal of life, but instead turn too soon to some other kind of goal in thinking whether to **avoid or pursue** something, then your thoughts and your actions will not be in harmony.

    εἰ μὴ παρὰ πάντα καιρὸν ἐπανοίσεις ἕκαστον τῶν πραττομένων ἐπὶ τὸ τέλος τῆς φύσεως, ἀλλὰ προκαταστρέψεις εἴτε **φυγὴν εἴτε δίωξιν** ποιούμενος εἰς ἄλλο τι, οὐκ ἔσονταί σοι τοῖς λόγοις αἱ πράξεις ἀκόλουθοι.

    Seems to me a better translation there would be "flee or pursue" or "escape or pursue" not milquetoast "avoid" since δίωξιν is the opposite of φυγὴν.

  • I hope we can do it this coming weekend when Don joins us again, but to repeat I really want to bring out Sedleys point about the logical inconsistencies (I think I recall) being involved in those who argue that knowledge is impossible and those who argue that all things are necessary.

    It seems to me that Sedley goes a long way toward making these clear and if we can do the same then bringing this argument to the forefront would be a big accomplishment toward nailing things down on these issues.

    Along with the point about how emergent bodies can themselves affect the atoms (and therefore illustrate how "free will" can operate) making these points a regular point of discussion would help a lot on many issues.