Cassius Administrator
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Posts by Cassius

    btw, I really like this line of thinking of Kalosyni and the graphics that Nate has been working up!!

    I suppose by now at the advanced age I am it is getting a little easier to judge the seasons by position of the sun in the sky, but even now it's kind of hard. On the other hand the phase of the moon sure is a lot more immediate and easier to judge, so I can see why people thought it made good sense to use it as the basis for a calendar.

    My OJ Simpson crack seems relevant too. In criminal law there's the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of proof, which is cryptically unwound to mean "a doubt for which you can give a reason."

    On the other hand civil courts use the "preponderance of the evidence" or "more likely than not" standard.

    And there's a lot of theory behind why one standard is appropriate in one context versus another, with "the need for finality" coming into play as maybe the ultimate reasoning behind having any standard at all.

    So these are complicated issues but we deal with them every day and it makes sense to make it as clear as possible so that we can "affirm that which does not await confirmation" which maybe seems to be Epicurus' terminology.

    Obviously we should wait before affirming a thing to be true when the evidence is inconclusive, and that's the part we are all comfortable with today.

    But the rest of the story is that if we don't have good reason to wait before affirming an opinion to be true, then we shouldn't wait, seems to be the idea, especially when the issue is something important (supernatural gods, hell, heaven) which will have a direct impact on our enjoyment of life if we don't take a position.

    Connects directly and in fascinating ways we need to explore! If the glove doesn't fit you must acquit!

    We have to be able to identify when the evidence supports multiple causes, and when it supports only a single conclusion.

    That seems to be directly the issue in PD24, which by reason of its inclusions in the doctrines indicates how important this issue was to Epicurus:

    PD24. If you reject any single sensation, and fail to distinguish between the conclusion of opinion, as to the appearance awaiting confirmation, and that which is actually given by the sensation or feeling, or each intuitive apprehension of the mind, you will confound all other sensations, as well, with the same groundless opinion, so that you will reject every standard of judgment. And if among the mental images created by your opinion you affirm both that which awaits confirmation, and that which does not, you will not escape error, since you will have preserved the whole cause of doubt in every judgment between what is right and what is wrong.

    It's definitely not easy to articulate this since we've been acclimated to the skeptical position that nothing is knowable, but it does all fit together when you think about it. You have to firmly identify in your mind the method, realize that you're not omniscient and this is the only real standard you have, and then not get shaken by arguments like "You can't be sure because you haven't been there."

    I was thinking a few minutes ago, that's EXACTLY the implication in Cicero's jab at Velleius -- he's saying that since Velleius had NOT just come down from the Epicurean intermundia, he shouldn't be taking any firm positions on it.

    Unless we firmly identify the fallacy in thinking that "you haven't been there so you don't know" invalidates every claim of knowledge, we never get anywhere.

    I have never stuck my head in an oven and turned on the gas and lit a match but i am CERTAIN that that is not something that will benefit me from doing. And no amount of "you don't know because you haven't done it" will shake my confidence in that conclusion.

    This is a thread to work toward a summary of "General principles of deception detection." At this point the purpose of the thread would be to collect and comment on good sources which discuss techniques for detecting deception. The thread can go in many directions but largely in the spirit of this from Lucian's "Alexander the Oracle Monger," to collect advice and methods for evaluating credibility and detecting fraud:

    Quote from Lucian

    And at this point, my dear Celsus, we may, if we will be candid, make some allowance for these Paphlagonians and Pontics; the poor uneducated “fat-heads” might well be taken in when they handled the serpent—a privilege conceded to all who choose—and saw in that dim light its head with the mouth that opened and shut. It was an occasion for a Democritus, nay, for an Epicurus or a Metrodorus, perhaps, a man whose intelligence was steeled against such assaults by skepticism and insight, one who, if he could not detect the precise imposture, would at any rate have been perfectly certain that, though this escaped him, the whole thing was a lie and an impossibility.

    and this from Lucretius Book One:

    Quote from Lucretius

    You may, Yourself, some time or other, feel like turning Away from my instruction, terrified By priestly rant. How many fantasies They can invent to overturn your sense Of logic, muddle your estates by fear! And rightly so, for if we ever saw A limit to our troubles, we'd be strong, Resisters of religion, rant and cant, But as things are, we have no chance at all With all their everlasting punishments waiting us after death.

    For example, the United States Ninth Circuit has this list of instructions given to jurors in evaluating the credibility of witnesses in criminal cases:


    In deciding the facts in this case, you may have to decide which testimony to believe and which testimony not to believe. You may believe everything a witness says, or part of it, or none of it.

    In considering the testimony of any witness, you may take into account:

    (1) the opportunity and ability of the witness to see or hear or know the things testified to;

    (2) the witness’s memory;

    (3) the witness’s manner while testifying;

    (4) the witness’s interest in the outcome of the case, if any;

    (5) the witness’s bias or prejudice, if any;

    (6) whether other evidence contradicted the witness’s testimony;

    (7) the reasonableness of the witness’s testimony in light of all the evidence; and

    (8) any other factors that bear on believability.

    Sometimes a witness may say something that is not consistent with something else he or she said. Sometimes different witnesses will give different versions of what happened. People often forget things or make mistakes in what they remember. Also, two people may see the same event but remember it differently. You may consider these differences, but do not decide that testimony is untrue just because it differs from other testimony.

    However, if you decide that a witness has deliberately testified untruthfully about something important, you may choose not to believe anything that witness said. On the other hand, if you think the witness testified untruthfully about some things but told the truth about others, you may accept the part you think is true and ignore the rest.

    The weight of the evidence as to a fact does not necessarily depend on the number of witnesses who testify. What is important is how believable the witnesses were, and how much weight you think their testimony deserves.

    I suppose you could state that out of the gate then give reasons for it.

    Yes I think that's generally the best way. Try to make a clear statement, and then explain it, rather than go from question to question to question as Socrates does in the Platonic dialogues.

    I think partly I am analyzing this as a lawyer, where the rules of court generally are that the judge will sometimes tell the witness (when the question is appropriate) to "Answer yes or no, and then you can explain your answer...."

    And partly I am trying to analyze this from an "ordinary person" standard, which is where we generally want to be proficient in talking (as opposed to talking within professional philosophy settings). We can't help normal people if they can't understand what we are talking about.

    It's not a question of being more or less accurate, because it's possible to state the issue in understandable terms, as Lucretius does in Book 4. Or as Diogenes of Oinoanda does when he says that we admit that there is a flux, but it is no so fast that we are not able to comprehend it. Maybe the issue is one of "rhetoric" but that's another example of a word which has connotations that have overcome the word's usefulness.

    It's certainly possible to debate the question of knowledge into oblivion, but I think Epicurus has his finger on a very practical problem. The "priests" succeed in their manipulations in many cases precisely because they have convinced normal people that the questions and answers are too complicated for them to understand. The only way out of that box is to begin to unwind the issues involved in what "understanding" is in the first place so that people can "resist the threats of the priests."

    Quote from Diogenes of Oinoanda

    Fr. 5

    [Others do not] explicitly [stigmatise] natural science as unnecessary, being ashamed to acknowledge [this], but use another means of discarding it. For, when they assert that things are inapprehensible, what else are they saying than that there is no need for us to pursue natural science? After all, who will choose to seek what he can never find?

    Now Aristotle and those who hold the same Peripatetic views as Aristotle say that nothing is scientifically knowable, because things are continually in flux and, on account of the rapidity of the flux, evade our apprehension. We on the other hand acknowledge their flux, but not its being so rapid that the nature of each thing [is] at no time apprehensible by sense-perception. And indeed [in no way would the upholders of] the view under discussion have been able to say (and this is just what they do [maintain] that [at one time] this is [white] and this black, while [at another time] neither this is [white nor] that black, [if] they had not had [previous] knowledge of the nature of both white and black.

    I've always liked this phrase in particular: "After all, who will choose to seek what he can never find?"

    The goal of the priests is to discourage people from even questioning them, and they succeed when they convince people that no answers and no knowledge is even possible. If you can never know anything, never be sure of anything, never be certain of anything - then why bother questioning authority in the first place?

    It's interesting to think about what terms to talk in. When Don says:

    Are we talking about an actual place of fire and brimstone inhabited by condemned souls existing after death in the Christian mythology?

    I'd have to say that I have no reason to believe such a "place" exists in the universe other than in the context of Christian mythology. My experience of the universe demonstrates to me - to high degree of confidence - that there is no supernatural overlord - either benevolent or malicious - dealing out punishment. My experience also demonstrates to me that I am no more than my physical parts working in unison and out of that comes my consciousness. When I die, and my physical parts dissolve back into atoms and void, there's not going to be any thing - there will be no thing - which would or could be sent to a place like this Christian figment of the imagination.

    .... most reasonable people (98%?) are going to interpret that as as clear answer, and they are going to say to themselves and to each other (when talking about Don).... "Don is certain hell does not exist / Don takes the position that he knows that hell does not exist."

    We as people sensitive to philosophical niceties shy away from terms like "know" and "are certain" because we don't like the philosophical sparring that goes along with those terms in philosophical contexts, But I would wager that most of the world does not think like that. And borrowing the terminology from Seneca they are looking to us for answers that they can understand, not riddles where we seem like we are evading giving a direct answer for reasons they cannot understand.

    I think that's where Epicurus was willing to go considerably further than people in modern philosophical discussions are willing to go. He was standing up to Pyrrho and Socrates and he was willing to directly assert that it is possible to have confidence in knowledge and to say that indeed there are things that you "know" to be true -- even though you haven't been there or seen it for yourself. (When we think Epicurean confidence in atoms - which the Epicureans never saw or touched - it's kind of funny to be even having this discussion about taking firm positions on things we can't sense directly. Of course Epicureans were confident about things they had never experienced - and could never experience - except through indirect evidence!)

    We're talking here in this thread in the abstract, and not about particular conversations with particular people. The context is going to determine the best wording. But the point of this thread, and the real point of the epicurean manner of argument it seems to me, is that it is possible to have confidence in the core conclusions of Epicurus and for Epicureans to say that they "know" that pleasure and pain are the ultimate guides, that there is no life after death, etc. etc. And in the proper context, even to say to ourselves or to other people that we are "certain" of them.

    And the youth might ask in reply: "And so, kind sir, are you telling me that all this adds up to your telling me that you are certain, and that you know, that there is no hell? Or are you trying to drown me in a sea of words and answer questions with questions and leave me unsatisfied like that gadfly Socrates?" :)

    You say "You've never been there." Again, I would ask "Where would I go to visit this place?" My senses and experience and reason tell me that there is no immortal soul that exists after I am dead. You say this "Hell" is a place of punishment potentially for me and for those who do evil in the world. But if I do not exist after I die - and I see no evidence that I do - how can this Hell-place affect me? Even if it does exist, who dwells in it? Spirits without bodies? And if they have bodies, where do they stand? If they are Spirit, they can have no effect on me now, while I am alive. And once I'm dead, I no longer exist for them to have an affect on me. If you say I've never there, you would be correct, because, to my understanding of the universe, there is no "there" to go to.

    Probably the Latin for this jab from Cicero in "On The Nature of the Gods" is also going to be relevant:

    Hereupon Velleius began, in the confident manner (I need not say) that is customary with Epicureans, afraid of nothing so much as lest he should appear to have doubts about anything. One would have supposed he had just come down from the assembly of the gods in the intermundane spaces of Epicurus!

    I will see if i can find the Latin.....

    Here it is:…3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D18

    18] Tum Velleius fidenter sane, ut solent isti, nihil tam verens quam ne dubitare aliqua de re videretur, tamquam modo ex deorum concilio et ex Epicuri intermundiis descendisset, “Audite” inquit “non futtilis commenticiasque sententias, non opificem aedificatoremque mundi Platonis de Timaeo deum, nec anum fatidicam Stoicorum Pronoeam, quam Latine licet Providentiam dicere, neque vero mundum ipsum animo et sensibus praeditum rutundum ardentem volubilem deum, portenta et miracula non disserentium philosophorum sed somniantium.

    Interlinear translation:…descendisset%2C+%E2%80%9C

    "You don't know there's no hell - and there's no way you can be certain - because you've never been there!"

    Is that really a trump-card argument that should stymie an Epicurean into saying, "Well gee I guess you're right!" ;)

    No I don't think so.

    Nor is it sufficient as a general rule to say "We can never be sure of anything. Life is only a matter of probabilities." [Yes that's sufficient for those who are committed to be professional skeptics. I have to wonder how large a percentage of the world's population that is. I doubt it's 10% and it's probably a lot less.]

    And if those aren't sufficient answers, and if Epicurean philosophy is open to and can be grasped by everyone who is of normal intelligence (as I think we all agree, which applies to everyone expect possibly very small children and those with true mental issues) then we have to be able to articulate an understandable theory of what it means to know something -- just as it appears the ancient Epicureans were doing in rebelling against Socrates/Plato and Pyrrho.

    I think I understand and I do respect where you are coming from on "certainty" Pacatus. I think the question of wording has to depend on the audience we are addressing at a particular time, much as Don referenced in his recent post in this thread.

    Due to the corruption of language there doesn't seem to be a way to get around the need to explain our terms pretty much no matter what term we use.

    In this section of Lucretius there are no doubt various words that could be used to convey the intended meaning......

    But the anxiety that the skeptics will have with these formulations will always be present too, and I am afraid that is a problem that can be improved with explanations, but can't be addressed by using the same words with all audiences. And if the skeptics cling to a P=1.0 requirement for holding that there is no hell -- and no doubt some will! - then I am afraid they are providing exactly the type of example of a self-limitation on happiness that Epicurus is warning against.

    I think he is pointing to brown translation here:

    Lastly, if anyone thinks that he knows nothing, he cannot be sure that he knows this, when he confesses that he knows nothing at all. I shall avoid disputing with such a trifler, who perverts all things, and like a tumbler with his head prone to the earth, can go no otherwise than backwards. And yet allow that he knows this, I would ask (since he had nothing before to lead him into such a knowledge) whence he had the notion what it was to know, or not to know; what it was that gave him an idea of Truth or Falsehood, and what taught him to distinguish between doubt and certainty?

    that would be around line 469

    This is Bailey:

    [469] Again, if any one thinks that nothing is known, he knows not whether that can be known either, since he admits that he knows nothing. Against him then I will refrain from joining issue, who plants himself with his head in the place of his feet. And yet were I to grant that he knows this too, yet I would ask this one question; since he has never before seen any truth in things, whence does he know what is knowing, and not knowing each in turn, what thing has begotten the concept of the true and the false, what thing has proved that the doubtful differs from the certain?

    Pacatus you are approaching this exactly the way I appreciate detailed scientist to do, and that analysis will help inform whatever conclusions need to be reached. I think you're saying this yourself and therefore you won't take offense to note that this kind of approach is just totally beyond the reach of the "average man" who has need of guidance for living today - in the moment - and who will never be able to appreciate half of where you are coming from.

    There is a segment of people who are into such calculations as you are discussing who will take the position: "Well the masses will never understand what I am talking about so they just need to listen to ME!: ;) That's an attitude that I think well describes most "priestly classes."

    But I think the reason you and most of us are interested in Epicurus is because we recognize that real people need a real and effective approach by which to guide their lives, and implying to them that nothing can be reduced to a P=1.0 certainty is not relevant to their lives or thought processes. Many of them when faced with such a discussion will simply conclude that what is being asserted is that nothing is knowable and that they should just give up trying to make sense of anything -- which is to play into the hands of the aforesaid priestly class, whether they are priests of Yahweh or priests of "science."

    So that leads back to the question of how to understand and appreciate Epicurus' perspective on this, which was apprently understood by the people of his time to be a combination of skeptical questioning of all claims of authority combined with a common sense attitude that certain decisions do have to be made with confidence, and that we do the best we can to make the best decisions we can without holding ourselves up to unrealistic expectations. What I perceive, and what I think Epicurus was also perceiving and saying, is that the pendulum can swing too far in the direction of skepticism leading to nihilism, and that it is necessary to articulate a common sense and usable approach to knowledge formation which allows for happy living.

    So that seems to me to be the direction that these discussions need to proceed. By all means we take the input from all of the complicated abstractions to which we can gain access and on which we can draw upon, but that in the end we articulate an understandable technique for trusting the senses and making the everyday decisions with confidence that allow us to live happily -- rather than take the position of a Socrates and play games with the idea that we know nothing except that we know nothing.

    Here's another way of saying it:

    If we run into people who say "I am washing in the blood of the lamb and therefore I am certain that I will spend an eternity in heaven...." it is not the concept of "certainty" that we should question, but the sanity of the person making such a statement! ;)

    So I don't think we let the existence of people who misuse a legitimate concept such as "certainty" or "confidence" (both of which we need to be clear in defining) drive us away from using legitimate concepts. That's much the same way that Epicurus did not let supernatural religion drive him away from referring to "gods."

    If we allow those things to happen we really do end up throwing the babies out with the bathwater.

    And I don't mean to be demeaning even to the people who talk about being washed in the blood of the lamb. Many good people are confused or have been deceived through no real fault on their own, and the process of communicating with such people and hopefully improving such situations revolves around being able to explain when and when it is not appropriate to have confidence in things. "I don't know" is sometimes all we have, but it's not ALWAYS all we have.

    I don't think you have overshot the question and I appreciate your engaging on it because I do think it needs to be discussed at length as part of Epicurean discussions. I don't think we ultimately disagree but I am pushing the envelope for purposes of clarifying the "skepticism vs dogmatism" issue and so we can work toward clarifying Epicurus' position in way that normal people can understand. And that will mean as future discussions proceed to try to foreswear use of terms such as "ontological certainty" or other "big words" that these discussions often involved, but that ordinary people can't understand.

    I see the issue as revolving more around the issue of thinking that there is in fact a standard of "infallibility" that is derived from a theological viewpoint. I don't think that it is a contradiction to take both the position "I am certain sugar is sweet" and "there might be some context hitherto unknown to me in which sugar is not sweet." The issue comes down to "must I experience everything in the universe to be "certain" of anything? And the answer to that in all practical terms is "no."

    Now maybe the issue comes down as it often does to the meaning of words, and someone wants to say "Only god can truly be certain of anything because only HE is omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent." If that is the definition of the word "certain" that is required to be used then the word is useless because such a being does not exist.

    But in our real world we often use the word "certain" and "confident" to mean things that sound like "human certainty" without requiring omniscience and omnipotence and omnipresence. That too seems to me to be a legitimate use of vocabulary and something that Epicurus was in fact saying is a valid concept for humans to maintain about many things in life.

    Are there in fact some people for whom it creates anxiety to think that they are not certain of everything in the godlike sense? Certainly there are, but those people are operating with an invalid standard of what it can possibly mean to be certain as a human being, and as such they need to be disabused of their false notion of certainty - not disabused of the idea that there are in fact many things in life that they can be confident to the point of "certainty" about.

    And, for me personally, once I let go of a perceived need for certainty, a lot of prior anxiety fell away too.

    I skimmed some of this but I don't think my comment here is a disagreement. Before *letting go of certainty" the question should be asked "what do we mean by certainty?" And is that the same as confidence. Much of the problem with "certainty" I think resolves when we dig into what is meant by that term and what reasonable to seek. There is a lot of distance between being confident in major issues vs being totally uncertain of everything, and it is hard to even talk intelligently about the subject without defining some parameters of what is confidence vs what is foolhardiness.

    This also gets very close to the issue on which Licretius / Epicurus take a firm position as to the possibility of knowledge in book 4 (they of course say that knowledge IS possible).