Episode 176 - "Epicurus And His Philosophy" Part 28 - Chapter 12 - The New Hedonism 05

  • Welcome to Episode 176 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 continue our discussion of Chapter 12, entitled "The New Hedonism."

    This week;

    The Root of All Good

    Pleasure Can Be Continuous

    Next Week:

    Continuous Pain Impossible

    The Relation of Pleasure To Virtue

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  • In our discussions we spend most of our time talking about Torquatus' positive presentation of Epicurean ethics in Book One of "On Ends," but there is a lot of material also in Book Two.

    In this episode of the podcast DeWitt reminds us of the criticism that Cicero raised that we should not be calling a state of absence of pain as a positive pleasure. Cicero knew that it is important to Epicurean theory that we be able to do just that, so to be sure we are on top of this issue here is some of the important material, this from the Reid translation of On Ends.

    I have highlighted at the end of this passage CIcero's attempt to ridicule the idea that the host who pours a libation for a thirsty guest can be thought of as experiencing just as much pleasure as the guest who drinks it.

    Cicero seeks to make that look ridiculous, but this is true if we think logically of all types of pleasure as pleasure (this is the "Unity of Pleasure" that DeWitt is talking about). In this example each person is experiencing the positive pleasure of being alive without pain, and even if they are experiencing different types of pleasure at the particular moment, if they are experiencing no pain then they are experiencing the height of pleasure open to them (as pleasure is filling their experience so they are in no pain.)

    (Note - the following quotes are from Reid)

    DeWitt sees this "unity of pleasure" perspective as the intent of the point to be taken from PD09:

    PD09. If every pleasure could be intensified so that it lasted, and influenced the whole organism or the most essential parts of our nature, pleasures would never differ from one another.

    And I think he is probably correct.

  • Thank you Don for tracking that down. I have never previously taken the time to track it down. Having now seen it I think it is worth us considering the full attack:

  • I think a lot of More's problem can be traced back, and thus met head on, by identifying that his argument rest on an absolutist viewpoint:


    Into such paradoxical combinations and antagonisms we are driven as soon as we try to shun the simple truth that good is good and evil is evil, each in its own right and judged by its immediate effect in the soul.

    And yet never in this argument does he identify what the good is, or what the evil is, other than hint that it exists somewhere and that Epicurus is a fool for not realizing it. Probably the rest of the book includes something that would tell us whether More is a skeptic, and maintains that good and evil really don't exist at all, or (more likely) that he places knowledge of them in religion or in "logic," but as I see it that's the basic issue. Epicurus is honest enough to go with allowing Nature to be the judge of this through the feelings of pleasure and pain. More has some other and allegedly higher point of reference, for the existence of which I personally (and I think Epicurus) see no good evidence for believing in.

  • I'm now out of time to read further in More, but boy he seems to exemplify all that goes wrong when you start out thinking that Epicurus is all about running from pain. The ethical ideal of the garden is summed up as "living unknown?" Really?


    Certainly, when we pass from consideration of the chief good to the philosophical theories which Epicurus developed to explain and justify his choice of that good, the idea of security becomes altogether predominant ; it is the keynote equally of his ethics, his science, and his attitude towards religion.

    The ethical ideal of the Garden is summed up in the famous maxim, "Live concealed" (lathe biosas), or, as Horace exquisitely phrases it, the fallentis semita vitae. In this way alone would the perfect ataraxy be attained.

  • Editing of this episode is not complete but is going pretty well. I do see that I need to apologize however that I was sick for this episode and my congestion comes through - so please remember when you start listening to it that both Don and Joshua were present for this podcast, as well as Martin and Kalosyni, and once you get past my initial introduction the rest of the podcasters pick up the slack very nicely.

  • I think the line from Torquatus referenced above deserves emphasis for a while, and I've added it to a rotation for the top of the front page. Here is the Latin of Torquatus' response to Cicero:

    "Non prorsus," inquit, "omnesque qui sine dolore sint in voluptate, et ea quidem summa, esse dico."

    Pretty clear and direct and without much effort to massage into good English:

    All who are without pain are in pleasure, and in that which [is] highest!

    Omnes qui sine dolore sint in voluptate, et ea quidem summa.

    I may never be able to remember the Greek version, but that Latin I think i can remember ;)

  • Closing in (hopefully) in completing editing of this episode, I am going to cut out a lengthy tangent in which we tried (pretty unsuccessfully) to decode Cicero's statement in Tusculun Disputations 5.9.24-25 (attributed to Theophrastus, I think?) to the effect that:

    "the happy life cannot mount the scaffold to the wheel"

    Rather than delete it entirely, however, I want to preserve it here, because DeWitt mentions it in this section and it would probably be a good idea to get a grip on the meaning.

    EDIT - I am going to leave some of it in. I think Joshua comes up with the right interpretation, that the issue is that of mounting the steps to one's execution, to which we can attach the first part -- that Theophrastus may be alleging that the "happy man" cannot continue to be happy when he is undergoing execution. Perhaps.

  • "the happy life cannot mount the scaffold to the wheel"

    I've given that some extra thought. Joshua also helped me understand this during the recording. I'll admit it's still a little obscure. Here's my summary so far:

    - It is in response to the idea that the "The wise one will have a sense of fulfillment (eudaimonia) even on the rack."

    - The "mount" is not "attach" but rather "climb a set of steps" as in to mount a horse.

    - One mounts the steps to the scaffold to be hung.

    - The torture wheel is not up a set of stairs so you don't climb stairs to the wheel.

    - Joshua also brought up that maybe you have to willingly walk up steps but can be dragged to the wheel and strapped to it.

    Like I said, still obscure, but like Cassius I wanted to preserve our thoughts.

    PS. LOL... Or maybe it does mean you can't attach two torture devices together and still be happy. I really don't know! ^^

  • Thanks Don. As i said i left some of the discussion in the podcast, and it will be interesting to hear what other people think.

    At the moment I am thinking that since the theme of the section revolves around the possibility of continuous pleasure / happiness, and that Epicurus' opponents would have wanted to argue that happiness is not possible while being tortured, and that the imagery is intended to stress that point - that continuous happiness is NOT possible in life due to events such as torture (and no doubt other much lesser pains). Thus to the effect that 'happiness" cannot accompany the victim as he walks up the scaffold to the torture/execution. That somewhere along the way happiness leaves the victim while he is still alive, and thus they seek to prove their argument that happiness/pleasure cannot be continuously present in life.

    That interpretation would seem consistent with the importance that these guys attached to Epicurus contention (and to their intense desire to refute it) that continuous pleasure is possible.

    But i will be very interested to hear what others think.

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  • Some thoughts on the neutral state:

    What are the limits of the neutral state?

    To me, insisting on a neutral state is a means of jackhammering all of the subtlety out of Epicurean ethics (something which the "insufferable" Cicero loves to do). First, it removes the usefulness of pleasure and pain as guides unless you can determine the limits of pleasure, pain and the neutral state. Practically speaking, when I was new to this philosophy and began to examine the supposed neutral state, I discovered that it is more properly described as the "oblivious state". The more that I looked, the more pleasure and pain I discovered in what I previously would have considered to be without feeling, and the more information I realized was available for exploring the guidance of the feelings. A classic method of negating any idea that one opposes is to reduce it to a slogan, and in fact this is what the neutral state is if you look closely.

    The affective circumplex illustrates this well. An opponent of Epicurus might say that the point 0,0 is the neutral state and that the goal is to hit and remain at that target. This bothered me when I first encountered the circumplex. But if you attempt to pinpoint any point on the circumplex you soon see that you really can't: each point represents a fleeting moment in time. As you try to zero in on any particular point in the circumplex you realize that your attention to the subtlety of the feelings must increase the closer you get to the point that you are trying to pin down. 0,0 is simply the limit of either side of the axes.

  • And as Lisa Feldman Barrett has said, there is never a moment when you're not feeling some kind of affect. In other words, you're never not feeling a feeling... Unless you're dead.

    There literally is no neutral state.

  • I am seeing a clear parallel between this sparring over three states or two with the similar definition issue of the nature of the Gods.

    I share Epicurus' view of the true nature of both, but I also accept the fact of life that Cicero is right that the vast majority of normal people do not speak that way, either as to pleasure or as to gods.

    And I have to admit that in Book 2 Cicero states a powerful case that it is Epicurus who is doing violence to normal terminology.

    So as an advocate for Epicurus I am continuing to look for a way to address this terminology issue in a way that seems persuasive. I am convinced he and we are right, but being right on who had the green light still can leave you quite dead and on the losing end of a personal injury lawsuit :)

    So I don't see this primarily as a question of fact either as to gods or as to two states, but as a question of how to deal, when we are in a small minority, that it is we who are saying that the "standard definition" is wrong.

    Dewitt addresses this when he says that the human race would be better off for adopting Epicurus' definitions, but I am not sure we yet have articulated a path from where we are to where we want to be.

    So I think that direction - finding new was to explain both the facts and the terminology very clearly and persuasively with wit and wisdom - is the way forward.

  • This is powerful stuff, and it demands a clear answer:

    Quote from Cicero To Torquatus, in Book 2 of On Ends

    But Epicurus, as I imagine, is both willing, if it is in his power, to speak intelligibly, and is also speaking, not of an obscure subject like the natural philosophers, nor of one depending on precise rules, as the mathematicians are, but he is discussing a plain and simple matter, which is a subject of common conversation among the common people. Although you do not deny that we understand the usual meaning of the word voluptas, but only what he means by it: from which it follows, not that we do not understand what is the meaning of that word, but that he follows his own fashion, and neglects our usual one; for if he means the same thing that Hieronymus does, who thinks that the chief good is to live without any annoyance, why does he prefer using the term “pleasure” rather than freedom from pain, as Hieronymus does, who is quite aware of the force of the words which he employs? But, if he thinks that he ought to add, that pleasure which consists in [pg 132] motion, (for this is the distinction he draws, that this agreeable pleasure is pleasure in motion, but the pleasure of him who is free from pain is a state of pleasure,) then why does he appear to aim at what is impossible, namely, to make any one who knows himself—that is to say, who has any proper comprehension of his own nature and sensations—think freedom from pain, and pleasure, the same thing?

    This, O Torquatus, is doing violence to one's senses; it is wresting out of our minds the understanding of words with which we are imbued; for who can avoid seeing that these three states exist in the nature of things: first, the state of being in pleasure; secondly, that of being in pain; thirdly, that of being in such a condition as we are at this moment, and you too, I imagine, that is to say, neither in pleasure nor in pain; in such pleasure, I mean, as a man who is at a banquet, or in such pain as a man who is being tortured. What! do you not see a vast multitude of men who are neither rejoicing nor suffering, but in an intermediate state between these two conditions? No, indeed, said he; I say that all men who are free from pain are in pleasure, and in the greatest pleasure too. Do you, then, say that the man who, not being thirsty himself, mingles some wine for another, and the thirsty man who drinks it when mixed, are both enjoying the same pleasure?

    But when I go through the letter the Menoeceus, and the positive sections of Torquatus in Book One and Two of On Ends, the statements I am listing below are the only "explanations" that i find. These are not really explanations at all, but a series of "assertions" that are united only by the connection that we have defined there to be only two feelings, pleasure and pain, with no middle ground. So what is the total effect when we string these together: (my comments after number 14):

    1. For it is to obtain this end that we always act, namely, to avoid pain and fear. (Menoeceus)
    2. For it is then that we have need of pleasure, when we feel pain owing to the absence of pleasure; (but when we do not feel pain), we no longer need pleasure. (Menoeceus)
    3. "When, therefore, we maintain that pleasure is the end, we do not mean the pleasures of profligates and those that consist in sensuality, as is supposed by some who are either ignorant or disagree with us or do not understand, but freedom from pain in the body and from trouble in the mind." (Menoeceus)
    4. For the pleasure which we pursue is not that alone which excites the natural constitution itself by a kind of sweetness, and of which the sensual enjoyment is attended by a kind of agreeableness, but we look upon the greatest pleasure as that which is enjoyed when all pain is removed. (Menoeceus)
    5. Now inasmuch as whenever we are released from pain, we rejoice in the mere emancipation and freedom from all annoyance, and everything whereat we rejoice is equivalent to pleasure, just as everything whereat we are troubled is equivalent to pain, therefore the complete release from pain is rightly termed pleasure. For just as the mere removal of annoyance brings with it the realization of pleasure, whenever hunger and thirst have been banished by food and drink, so pain is removed. For just as the mere removal of annoyance brings with it the realization of pleasure, whenever hunger and thirst have been banished by food and drink, so in every case the banishment of pain ensures its replacement by pleasure. (Torquatus Book One)
    6. [38] Therefore Epicurus refused to allow that there is any middle term between pain and pleasure; what was thought by some to be a middle term, the absence of all pain, was not only itself pleasure, but the highest pleasure possible. Surely any one who is conscious of his own condition must needs be either in a state of pleasure or in a state of pain. Epicurus thinks that the highest degree of pleasure is defined by the removal of all pain, so that pleasure may afterwards exhibit diversities and differences but is incapable of increase or extension. (Torquatus Book One)
    7. [39] But actually at Athens, as my father used to tell me, when he wittily and humorously ridiculed the Stoics, there is in the Ceramicus a statue of Chrysippus, sitting with his hand extended, which hand indicates that he was fond of the following little argument: Does your hand, being in its present condition, feel the lack of anything at all? Certainly of nothing. But if pleasure were the supreme good, it would feel a lack. I agree. Pleasure then is not the supreme good. My father used to say that even a statue would not talk in that way, if it had power of speech. The inference is shrewd enough as against the Cyrenaics, but does not touch Epicurus. For if the only pleasure were that which, as it were, tickles the senses, if I may say so, and attended by sweetness overows them and insinuates itself into them, neither the hand nor any other member would be able to rest satised with the absence of pain apart from a joyous activity of pleasure. But if it is the highest pleasure, as Epicurus believes, to be in no pain, then the rst admission, that the hand in its then existing condition felt no lack, was properly made to you, Chrysippus, but the second improperly, I mean that it would have felt a lack had pleasure been the supreme good. It would certainly feel no lack, and on this ground, that anything which is cut off from the state of pain is in the state of pleasure. (Torquatus Book One)
    8. Well, then, said I, you are aware of what Hieronymus25 of Rhodes says is the chief good, to which he thinks that everything ought to be referred? I know, said he, that he thinks that the great end is freedom from pain. Well, what are his sentiments respecting pleasure? He affirms, he replied, that it is not to be sought for its own sake; for he thinks that rejoicing is one thing, and being free from pain another. And indeed, continued he, he is in this point greatly mistaken, for, as I proved a little while ago, the end of increasing pleasure is the removal of all pain. (Torquatus responding to Cicero in On Ends Book Two)
    9. We will examine, said I, presently, what the meaning of the expression, freedom from pain, is; but unless you are very obstinate, you must admit that pleasure is a perfectly distinct thing from mere freedom from pain. You will, however, said he, find that I am obstinate in this; for nothing can be more real than the identity between the two. (Torquatus responding to Cicero in On Ends Book Two)
    10. Is it, asked I, the same pleasure that he feels after his thirst is extinguished? It is, replied he, another kind of pleasure; for the state of extinguished thirst has in it a certain stability of pleasure, but the pleasure of extinguishing it is pleasure in motion. (Torquatus responding to Cicero in On Ends Book Two)
    11. Why, then, said I, do you call things so unlike one another by the same name? Do not [pg 129] you recollect, he rejoined, what I said just now,—that when all pain is banished, pleasure is varied, not extinguished? (Torquatus responding to Cicero in On Ends Book Two)
    12. Now, if that is the variety you mean, I should understand you, as, in fact, I do understand you, without your saying so: but still, I do not see clearly what that variety is, because you say, that when we are free from pain we are then in the enjoyment of the greatest pleasure; but when we are eating those things which cause a pleasing motion to the senses, then there is a pleasure in the emotion which causes a variety in the pleasure; but still, that that pleasure which arises from the freedom from pain is not increased;—and why you call that pleasure I do not know. (Cicero restating Torquatus in On Ends Book Two)
    13. IV. Is it possible, said he, for anything to be more delightful than freedom from pain? Well, said I, but grant that nothing is preferable to that, (for that is not the point which I am inquiring about at present,) does it follow on that account, that pleasure is identical with what I may call painlessness? Undoubtedly it is identical with it, said he; and that painlessness is the greatest of pleasures which no other can possibly exceed. (Torquatus responding to Cicero in On Ends Book Two)
    14. They are also two distinct things, that you may not think that the difference consists only in words and names. One is to be without pain, the other to be with pleasure. But your school not only attempt to make one name for these two things which are so exceedingly unlike, (for I would not mind that so much,) but you endeavour also to make one thing out of the two, which is utterly impossible. But Epicurus, who admits both things, ought to use both expressions, and in fact he does divide them in reality, but still he does not distinguish between them in words. For though he in many places praises that very pleasure which we all call by the same name, he ventures to say that he does not even suspect that there is any good whatever unconnected with that kind of pleasure which Aristippus means; and he makes this statement in the very place where his whole discourse is about the chief good. But in another book, in which he utters opinions of the greatest weight in a concise form of words, and in which he is said to have delivered oracles of wisdom, he writes in those words which you are well acquainted with, O Torquatus. For who is there of you who has not learnt the κύριαι δόξαι of Epicurus, that is to say, his fundamental maxims? because they are sentiments of the greatest gravity intended to guide men to a happy life, and enunciated with suitable brevity. Consider, therefore, whether I am not translating this maxim of his correctly. “If those things which are the efficient causes of pleasures to luxurious men were to release them from all fear of the gods, and of death, and of pain, and to show them what are the proper limits to their desires, we should have nothing to find fault with; as men would then be filled with pleasures from all quarters, and have on no side anything painful or melancholy, for all such things are evil.” (Cicero, summarizing his complaint to Torquatus in Book 2)

    To me, this is in fact, as Cicero is labeling it, a war of a non-standard definition of pleasure against the "standard" definition of pleasure, just like goes on in regard to Gods. In fact I think Cicero could make the exact same argument as to Epicurean gods as to Epicurean pleasure -- Why does Epicurus insist on labeling as "gods" beings who appear to exist without all the attributes that every other Greek and Roman think that they have?

    No doubt there was and is an answer to this, and Cicero strategically decided to omit it from On Ends, even though it almost certainly would have been explained at length in other Epicurean writing.

    So it seems to me that just as with "the gods," Epicurus has reached a conclusion based on his observations of nature (1-that there are no supernatural realms or beings, and 2- that there is no guidance on how to live other than pleasure and pain) and he is taking those as givens and rewriting his vocabulary accordingly. Neither he nor Torquatus make any effort whatsoever to describe what specific positive actions the gods are taking, or what specific pleasures or pains we are experiencing - they are both reducing the question to one of math-like logic, from which they will derive all their specifics as if from a theorem. They aren't saying much of anything specific about gods except that they exist confidently in perfect bliss, and they aren't saying much of anything about what a person is or should do at a particular moment other than that we should seek pleasure and avoid pain, with the logical extreme being that we should seek 100% pleasure and 0% pain, with the result that the primary only logical point is that the absence of pain is pleasure, and the total absence of pain is total (the limit) of pleasure.

    Epicurus didn't need modern science to confirm his opinions about atoms or gods or pleasure -- he was reasoning absolutely logically based on observation of things around him, and he was denying the truth of supernatural worlds or supernatural ideas or ideal forms or essences or anything which cannot logically be validated by the senses.

    I am not sure exactly what these observations I am making leads to, but I would say that part of the conclusion is that adding modern scientific observations to the mix adds to our level of satisfaction with the conclusion, but whether we have one researcher or 100 researchers on indivisibility or gods or pleasure, Epicurus would not say that the strength of his argument is really improved. That's because the argument really rests on commitment to having confidence in what we can learn through the senses when we apply our minds in a rigorously reasonable manner.

    I also think it means that it is an error to look at "pleasure is the absence of pain" as if we were doctors cataloging types of pleasures or types of pains or trying to doctor around with them or diagnose some as "better" or "worse." The point is that just as with the gods, where correct definitions lead to deeper understanding of how divinity is not to be feared but to be admired, with "pleasure," when considering its role in human life, a correct definition of pleasure as all of the many experiences of life which we experience as not involving pain leads us to realize that life itself (especially in comparison to the nothingness of death) is pleasurable and to be savored.

  • Cassius I think you're leading right up to the answer to your question. The best way to discuss pleasure, pain and neutral is by leading with the sensations and feelings, not by leading with logic. As it's playoff season in many sports right now, think of it as making use of the home court advantage. Cicero and his ilk have claimed the home court and are refusing to play an away game.

    Rather than play Cicero’s game, we could design an exercise to lead through a Canonic process. Ask if the person is in a neutral state at the moment. If not, what are they experiencing and how would they describe it in terms of pleasure or pain? If they say that they are in a neutral state, ask them where they typically feel pain or stress in their body. Then ask them how that spot feels now. Is it neutral? Whether yes or no, have them try relaxing the spot and describe how that feels. The idea is to get them to experience the subtleties of the feelings, and then to understand that they are guides. It all begins there, and that's where the argument should begin. We need to get back on our home court.

  • Martin:

    Can you help me figure out if there is a more "symbolic" way (algebra or whatever, with symbols) to express the following:

    Let the universe be A and B and nothing else.

    Let A be defined as the opposite of / negation of B with no ability to combine the two.

    (1) Therefore absence of A = B

    (2) Therefore absence of B = A

    For any universe composed of only A and B and nothing else:

    (1)The maximum A is the absence of B.

    (2) The maximum B is the absence of A.

    (3) In the absence of A and B there is nothing.

    Obviously I would eventually substitute pleasure and pain for A and B, but it seems to me that the "dogmatism" of Torquatus in taking the firm positions that he does is best expressed by identifying that he is treating the issue as a logical construct such as this, which derives itself from the basic conclusion that pain and pleasure are the only feelings, as stated (if I recall) in the letter to Herodotus and amplified in PD3.