While the phrase lathē biōsas is mentioned specifically by Plutarch and Julian, the sentiment has echoes elsewhere in the philosophy. The link above is my translation and commentary on those "characteristics of the Epicurean sage" as outlined by Diogenes Laertius that, from my perspective, illustrate this concept of "keeping one's head down" or, at least, not seeking out fame or not being concerned with making a name for oneself.
Episode 216 of the Lucretius Today Podcast is now available. Today we address an important but frequently questioned doctrine of Epicurus - Why did he seem to say that length of time does not contribute to pleasure?
So, to all you smart, interesting people (all of you) I ask a question: since the classical authors referenced here lived 2000+ years ago, has anything changed? What, if anything, is new in the philosophy of life (contrasted to these classical perspectives)?
To me, that question is so open ended as to be pointless to attempt to answer. Would it perhaps be more useful to ask what are some commonalities between then and now? After all, a case could be made that most, if not all, of contemporary western philosophy is built on the foundations laid 2000+ years ago.
Maybe there's a more specific way to ask the previous question that would be more helpful for discussion.
To clarify, let me rephrase the original question:
"So, to all you smart, interesting neurobilogists I ask a question: since the classical authors referenced here lived 2000+ years ago, has anything changed? What, if anything, is new in the undestanding of the functioning of life (contrasted to these classical perspectives)?"
... since the classical authors referenced here lived 2000+ years ago, has anything changed? What, if anything, is new in the philosophy of life (contrasted to these classical perspectives)?
We leave it for each individual to clearly see that modern science has greatly developed beyond what was known in the time of Epicurus.
As for the existential issues, these still apply today...the fear of death, unnecessarily becoming anxious regarding mortality or entertaining ideas about an after-life, god, etc, etc...what Epicurus had to say still has relevance.
The goal for this EpicureanFriends forum is to study the extant texts and to apply the philosophy as presented by Epicurus. A student of Epicurus takes the aspects of the philosophy which resonate and tests it, and applies it to their own lives.
So this forum is a place for focusing solely on what Epicurus taught.
I wonder, perhaps you aren't feel the resonance . I'm not out to convert or convince anyone . Of course anyone is welcome to study other philosophies, and one can find elsewhere many other places on the internet for other philosophies.
The current limitation of this Epicurean forum right now is that there is a lot of information which is not presented in a very "linear" manner. The threads are not straightforward, and require a lot reading. Each person will need to dive in for themselves, and also need to study the extant texts in order to make sense of it all. We also recommend a book by Norman De Witt "Epicurus and His Philosophy".
I urge you and wish you well, to pursue what personally works best for you.
since the classical authors referenced here lived 2000+ years ago, has anything changed? What, if anything, is new in the philosophy of life (contrasted to these classical perspectives)?
In reply to this question from comment #2, these are the changes / apparently new ideas of which I am currently aware of:
Beliefs in an almighty, all-knowing god have become dominant and although now somewhat on a decline have left their marks, in particular by the false concept of sin, false promise of an afterlife in heaven and association of pleasure with sins.
The program of materialism has worked out extremely well with science now providing explanations with evidence regarding all macroscopic phenomena humans can naturally sense. Increasingly sophisticated instrumentation is needed to find what is still unknown. The advancement of science has enabled pushing back the overbearing religions.
Mathematics has grown from just arithmetic and geometry for accounting and engineering and a speculative toy of idealistic philosophers to a large set of branches which go far beyond numbers and geometry. Especially calculus has been revolutionary and instrumental to develop better scientific theories.
The ancient justifications of slavery are no more accepted. Instead, machinery has made it partially obsolete, and wage slavery has come up and is widely accepted.
The improvement in material conditions have made it more likely that the results of the hedonic calculus of an individual Epicurean goes much more beyond minimalism today than at Epicurus' times.
The term "hedonic treadmill" has been coined and is used in academic philosophy to dismiss all types of hedonism, ignoring that the hedonic calculus prevents a consistent Epicurean from getting trapped on a hedonic treadmill.
Whereas the non-sceptics of the ancient philosophers including Epicurus thought their respective teachings to be true, fitness of a model to its intended purpose has mostly replaced truth. The concern for truth has been reduced to the truthfulness of logical constructs and protocols of events. This in turn facilitates dismissal of religions and grasping pleasure as the goal.
We'll put, Martin .
I would add that what has changed in 2000+ years is culture. Human nature is pretty much the same.
All the way back to Gilgamesh and Enkidu, 4000+ years ago, the stories talk about the fear of death, the search for immortality, the grief of losing loved ones, desire for sex, and so on. The Babylonians, the Egyptians, the ancient Indians and Persians, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Medieval philosophers, were all addressing how we, as finite mortal beings, make sense of and interact with an infinite cosmos. How do we come to grips with the fact that we die? How do we skillfully understand our desires? The culture in which we humans all live has changed, but the fundamental questions they were addressing with their religions and philosophies remain.
Here's my attempt at a somewhat nuanced answer;
The most interesting changes have been in the Physics. The Greek atomists turned out to be substantially correct in a lot of big ways, and charmingly wrong, as everyone was then, in a lot of small ways. They correctly surmised; 1.) that the center of the Earth was not the center of the cosmos, and that in fact the cosmos had no center. 2.) that the laws that govern celestial phenomena are the same as those we experience "down" here. The heavenly orbs actually are bodies, and not gods. They actually are made of common matter, and not a fifth aethereal essence. 3.) matter can neither be created nor destroyed.
Their most glaring omission, common to all of the ancients, was their lack of any understanding of gravity as a force. Without gravity, it is difficult to make a convincing account of the cosmos. Some modern day flat-earthers have hit upon a novel solution to this problem--they propose that the disc and its dome move upwards at a constant rate of acceleration, but even this could not have served in an infinite Epicurean cosmos. Most of the explanations of atmospheric and celestial phenomena found in Lucretius have, of course, been superseded by a better and more accurate understanding of their causes. As for the natural gods of Epicurus living in the intermundia, I find simple atheism an apt substitute. The worst possible thing you can do to a god is render it unnecessary--a god with no explanatory power is in itself one assumption too far. Just my opinion.
In canonics or epistemology, a huge and complex revision is worth mentioning. In 5th and 4th century Greece, philosophers were prone to using mathematical principles to 'prove' moral truths. A successor to Pythagoras argued that ten was the number of the celestial spheres, and his logic in this was that 10 is the sum of a point, a line, a surface, and a volume--1+2+3+4. Owing to the perfection of this number, it must be reflected in the heavens...but of course not. The Platonists made the study of geometry a prerequisite to the study of philosophy, and as geometry is a process of rediscovering invisible mathematical facts, so a philosophy of pure reason is a process of 'recollecting' innate knowledge of absolute moral truths--the truths we forgot when we were interred in our bodily prisons. Geometry leads us out of one cave, and philosophy another. In the film Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis quotes Euclid on the transitive property as evidence for regarding slavery as unnatural and immoral. It makes for excellent cinema, but poor moral philosophy. The point in contention was precisely whether a and c really were both equal to b. Those who argued against the proposition had no trouble finding their justification in what they were assured was a higher law than geometry.
Nowadays engineers use mathematics to build not only bridges, an art the Romans had mastered, but also skyscrapers and jet airplanes, and the last people on Earth to endorse the numerology of the Pythagoreans would be working mathematicians. No longer a hindrance to understanding nature, math has become more helpful than nearly anything else available to us.
This is the first of two cases where it could be plausibly argued that Epicurus threw the baby out with the bathwater. The problem was never geometry itself, but the false analogy made by his contemporaries between geometry and moral epistemology.
The second example is part of his ethics. False belief about the gods was a source of great frustration to Epicurus, and one of the many causes of false belief was epic poetry, which he thought was full of lies. It was full of lies, or as we would say 'fictions', and the Epicurean satirist Lucian of Samosata was merciless in his mockery of the form in A True Story. But the solution when it arrived (very late) was more literacy and not less; we consume fiction in books, film, and television by the truckload, but only the genuinely pathological believe everything they read. We are very fortunate that Lucretius did not share his purported distaste for poetry.
I'll think about the question some more! I do think it's helpful to push past the obvious and often trivial scientific errors and into some of the deeper questions. Prof. David Glidden made a comment in passing during our podcast interview that the resurgence of atomism in the renaissance and the enlightenment probably had a role in postponing research into microbiology. I'm ashamed to say I haven't followed up on that, but that is exactly the kind of critique that would hold my interest.
One more important innovation in philosophy to add to my list in comment #6 is Utilitarianism, which attempts to move the goal to pleasure of the many and to make pleasure of the many measurable. It arises out of Bentham, Mill, more recently Stinger, and their followers not understanding how Epicurus' way of claiming pleasure as the goal does not lead to egoism and that Epicurus' philosophy trusts feelings and is not just a logical system within which positions or actions to take can be readily to inferred from a few axioms like a mathematical theory as other philosophers have attempted to present their respective philosophies.
Wow, you all really jumped into this! Fabulous, and thank you. With your permission I have copied all of the answers since the question of #13 so that I may study the extensive and interesting answers from you. There is plenty of food for thought in all of those.
First, I need to acknowledge due respects to you Kalosyni.
The goal for this EpicureanFriends forum is to study the extant texts and to apply the philosophy as presented by Epicurus
It is certainly not my intention to divert you or this group from your intended goal. So, if questions such as the one in my entry, #13, are uncomfortable then I will not inquire similarly again.
Yet, I'm delighted to see the answers that have derived. You all have a wealth of knowledge about the classical philosophers. Kudos to you all!
What interests me is this overview: In regard to humans "being" is 'then' different from 'now'? I am interested in this question because of another question: "Has the human brain changed in the last couple of thousand years?" So, all of you, so steeped in the history and works of the classical philosophers, provide a fascinating reflection on those questions.
In my view, I don't live then. I live now. And, my philosophy reflects my current "now". Indeed, it is built from a history of perspectives that go back to some very, very insightful people of "then" - the great philosophers that you all recognize so well (and can quote with authority!). And, I think we are all impressed by what those greats knew then (else Epicureanfriends would not exist). Further, I think we are all aware that in many respects the insights of "then" still apply to "now". Thus we reference Godfrey:
"So, to all you smart, interesting neurobilogists I ask a question: since the classical authors referenced here lived 2000+ years ago, has anything changed? What, if anything, is new in the understanding of the functioning of life (contrasted to these classical perspectives)?"
And, to answer IMO, the human brain has changed little in the ensuing 2000+ years. And that is an issue. The world has changed greatly in certain ways (obvious to all). Yet, human beings, and being human, have not changed greatly. Thus, we sit at this fascinating time. It is not just a time when we may consider philosophy of how to live. It is the time when AI will bring a new "player" to the arena and to those discussions. We will, and do, struggle with questions about how the interactions with our new player will go.
So, ultimately, I ask questions such as in entry #13 to see what perspectives we bring to this era. If the admonitions/instructions/advocacies of 2000 year ago apply without change to this era then that will lead to one set of conclusions about this era. If there are changes, then what changes? I think you all have added greatly to those considerations. Thanks again.
"Has the human brain changed in the last couple of thousand years?"...And, to answer IMO, the human brain has changed little in the ensuing 2000+ years.
I would completely agree. In fact, I would argue the human brain hasn't changed much since we evolved to evade predators, organize hunts, gather beneficial plants, and begin to tell stories around the fire. Human brains seem to have taken their modern shape about 300,000 years ago. The rest is culture.
Don, though I appreciate the insightfulness of your perspective (brain hasn't changed since species began) I hope you are wrong.
Just for perspective, I would point out that the image you have is misleading, as I'm sure your know, since it represents the idea of a great change in volume, which is not correct. And, at least what I read puts our species at about 200,000 years old. Further, as we know, elephant brains are much larger than ours. So, size is only one issue of brain function.
But, the real problem for human brains in this era is intellectual sophistication. In the last approximately 5000 thousand years we have created science. And, science has taken our species far, far beyond personalized beliefs. Yet, there are still large portions of the human population that are quite willing to discount and discredit science when it runs counter to their personal preferences or "hidden" agendas. In the U.S. we have seen this recurrently in the recent era.
So, it is my personal perspective that we are running up against the limits of the human brain. We evolved for a very different life circumstance and we are failing to intellectually keep up with the perspectives applicable to today. Rejection of science, diversion into "alternative facts", and unfounded intellectual belief systems, based on preference rather than any objective data, are getting us into trouble. In this era of planetary perspective we need to be objective, but many reject that simply out of preference.
AI will push the issue. If we allow it to go forward then it will demonstrate what science would advocate. Then humans will either destroy it (go to war with it, which is our penchant), or many humans will be made obsolete by it (creating huge social upheaval).
The only graceful way forward is to hope the human brain will be capable of adapting to now. That, unfortunately, remains a pertinent question.
Don, though I appreciate the insightfulness of your perspective (brain hasn't changed since species began) I hope you are wrong
The brain has changed dramatically in volume and structure since our early hominin ancestors. I believe that photo comparison from the Smithsonian is comparing early hominin brain size to "modern" humans 200,000 years ago. The general timeframe for homo sapiens (that "sapiens" had always struck me as being a little to full of ourselves!) appearing seems to be at least 300,000 per this article:An Evolutionary Timeline of Homo SapiensScientists share the findings that helped them pinpoint key moments in the rise of our specieswww.smithsonianmag.com
"In the case of H. sapiens, known remains only date back some 300,000 years"
It sounds like you're headed toward the ideas expressed by the "extended mind" thesis.
Rejection of science, diversion into "alternative facts", and unfounded intellectual belief systems, based on preference rather than any objective data, are getting us into trouble. In this era of planetary perspective we need to be objective, but many reject that simply out of preference.
Just a word of caution (not that I disagree!!), but don't start heading too fast or too far into contemporary political ramifications or discussions of those ideas. Just a heads up.
Thanks Don. Oh yes, if we are considering the whole line of hominid evolution then certainly brain size has markedly increased. I thought we were just talking about our species. And, 300K is outside of what I have generally seen advocated for our species in specific. However, maybe there is still discussion of this.
And, yes, it is right to be cautious about politics. Yet, they are, directly or indirectly, commentaries on human cognition, and its limits. But, advice accepted.
Oh yes, if we are considering the whole line of hominid evolution then certainly brain size has markedly increased. I thought we were just talking about our species.
Yes, sorry for talking past each other. My only point for all that was to illustrate that over the course of evolution our "human" brains have changed considerably. However, since H. sapiens came on the scene 10s if not hundreds of millenia ago, we've basically had the same brain structures.
This tells me that those living in caves and hunting mammoth were as clever, curious, and seeking of understanding of their world as Epicurus was as Lucretius was as I am. We don't inhabit some lofty perch from which we can "look down" on our forebears. We have more information, but I wouldn't say we necessarily have more wisdom.
So, it is my personal perspective that we are running up against the limits of the human brain. We evolved for a very different life circumstance and we are failing to intellectually keep up with the perspectives applicable to today.
This is an interesting perspective that I don't think that I've heard before in this context. I tend to think of the attitudes that you mention (studiously ignoring the politics!) as a matter of degree, not kind. By which I mean that we've had similar external issues repeatedly in the past: the inventions of movable type, photography, motion pictures, radio, television, Industrial Revolution, toasters, automobiles &c... In each step of progress there are people who may refuse to address the advancement, as well as people who will make use of it without having a clue as to how the particular thing works. For instance, I could never reproduce the computer that I'm typing on, but I'm happy to use it. Then there are others who refuse to even use a computer, or a cell phone, or what have you.
So is the issue that technology has advanced beyond our biological capability to incorporate it into our understanding of the world? Or is it lack of tolerance by institutions that are threatened by it? Consider the widespread history of the church torturing and killing innovative thinkers, or thousands of years of various instances of and manifestations of political corruption.
The latter two are problems that the Epicureans have addressed in various ways from their beginning. Perhaps examining this can bring some hope that we may have tools to address the current state of affairs.
As Don mentioned in another thread, could theories of extended cognition be useful in this regard as well?
We have more information, but I wouldn't say we necessarily have more wisdom.
Don Yes. Yet, we do now have science. We do now believe there is some way to understand the world other than by preferred belief systems. We do now recognize the relationships of the species. We do now understand far more about the universe in which we live. We do now know that consciousness is inside the brain rather than floating around as a mist, or a spirit outside of it. We do now even know how to create intelligence. So, there are reasons for optimism.
Certainly not every human has adopted these wisdoms. Yet, that is just simply the statement of evolution. Just as we are more insightful than Homo erectus or Australopithecus, the next iteration of the human lineage will be more insightful than we are (presuming we allow such evolution to occur).
I choose to remain optimistic.
In #12 I said: "So, it is my personal perspective that we are running up against the limits of the human brain."
This is an interesting perspective that I don't think that I've heard before in this context.
could theories of extended cognition be useful in this regard as well
Godfrey In response to the issue of "running up against the limits of the human brain" I offer two perspectives, for the moment, that speak to the issue:
1) While we have invented science, and it has brought us endless technical advancements, look how many people willingly throw its data out when it is not convenient (recent examples: global warming, use of immunizations, and various political issues [not otherwise mentioned]).
2) The evolution of our technology has, broadly, proceeded from hunter-gatherer (simple tools), to agrarian revolution (largely use of hands with progressively more sophisticated tools), to industrial revolution (still use of hands with more tools), to electronic age (shifting to more use of brain and tools), to a service society (even more use of brain), and now to the coming era of AI. And, in this era of AI our brains are going to be surpassed for many functions. However, we don't have another, higher level, function to offer.
There are other evolutionary perspective supporting the notion of "running up against the limits of the human brain" but hopefully the above two will suffice.
The next topic, "extended cognition", probably requires some discussion on its own, depending upon what we think this actually means. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy says, "Extended cognition takes the idea that your mind is ‘on’ your smartphone literally. It says that human cognitive states and processes sometimes spill outside our heads and into objects in our environment." So, is this the foundation you are considering? That is, do you think "the mind" exists, in part, outside of the skull?
- Yet, we do now have science.
- We do now believe there is some way to understand the world other than by preferred belief systems.
- We do now recognize the relationships of the species.
- We do now understand far more about the universe in which we live.
- We do now know that consciousness is inside the brain rather than floating around as a mist, or a spirit outside of it.
- We do now even know how to create intelligence.
- So, there are reasons for optimism.
I wanted to break those out in to individual assertions to address each in turn and to try and turn this thread back into an exploration of Epicurus and his philosophy. We've gone far afield in this particular thread .
- Science is just a systematic way of investigating the world, unless you have a specific definition of science. I would argue Epicurus and the ancient Epicureans advocated a form of proto-science in their insistence of holding off on rigid opinions of the causes of phenomena until sufficient evidence was acquired. We've simply gotten better at our observations, measurements, and information gathering.
- So did Epicurus. And I'd be curious what you mean by "preferred belief systems," because there are plenty of people who will stick with their "preferred belief system" regardless of evidence.
- So did Lucretius! To the best of my memory, Lucretius firmly places humans with the other animals, and Epicurus looked at both animals and baby humans to arrive at the idea of pleasure being the supreme good/telos/summum bonum.
- Again, we're just better at gathering information with more sophisticated instruments. Epicurus, with only his imagination and what could be called thought experiments, posited the existence of multiple cosmoi (i.e., more than one world-system) in an infinite universe, the infinitesimally small particles making up all of the universe's matter, and other things about the universe that wouldn't be rivaled or exceeded for centuries.
- Epicurus certainly didn't think that the mind was 'floating around as a mist, or a spirit outside of it." He saw the mind as inextricably linked to the physical body and composed of fine atoms. As far as we can determine, he posited that the feelings or mind or psyche was both spread across the body (think nervous system maybe?) but also centered in one aspect in the chest or abdomen. I think this is still a defensible position for him to have held at his time because we even today use words like "heart-sick, broken-hearted" and other physical phrases to evoke emotional and psychological states. It would make sense to think the mind was centered in your abdomen if you get sick to your stomach with fear or feel your "blood rising" when you're angry.
- LOL! That remains to be seen! I have certain issues calling cleverly-constructed algorithms "intelligence." They give the verisimilitude of "intelligence" while merely recombining vast inputs and making correlations programmed into the algorithm.
- As far as optimism... I like to think I'm optimistic. Or at least a realistic optimist. Human beings have always and will always be capable of expressing great compassion and altruism as well as of dealing great and horrendous harm and misery. Epicurus's idea of justice as being a social contract to neither intentionally harm no be intentionally harmed isn't a bad place to start.
"So, it is my personal perspective that we are running up against the limits of the human brain. We evolved for a very different life circumstance and we are failing to intellectually keep up with the perspectives applicable to today."
This is an interesting perspective that I don't think that I've heard before in this context.
I found this perspective expressed similarly e.g. in an opinion piece of physics professor Michael Dueren in the 2023 August/September issue of the German language "Physik Journal" at https://pro-physik.de/zeitschriften/download/21453
"Our brains are not trained for apocalyptic climate change."
(Google translation of "Unser Gehirn ist auf den apokalyptischen Klimawandel nicht trainiert.")
"The human brain dates back to prehistoric times - instinctive processes in our neural networks in the brain displace deliberative logical thought processes in many situations. In critical situations, they ensure our survival through archaic, instinctive decision-making patterns. Unfortunately, our instinctive gut feeling doesn't work when it comes to apocalyptic climate change because, as a singular event, it wasn't part of human evolution and couldn't be mentally trained."
(Google translation of "Das menschliche Gehirn stammt aus prähistorischer Zeit – instinktive Prozesse unserer neuronalen Netze im Gehirn verdrängen in vielen Situationen abwägende logische Denkprozesse. In kritischen Situationen sichern sie unser Überleben durch archaische, instinktive Entscheidungsmuster. Leider funktioniert unser instinktives Bauchgefühl nicht beim apokalyptischen Klimawandel, da es als singuläres Ereignis nicht Teil der menschlichen Evolution war, sich also auch nicht mental trainieren ließ.")
I guess this perspective is quite common among scientists now.