Cassius Administrator
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Posts by Cassius

    I agree Charles.


    Also, glancing back at my first post in the thread I want to add make clear that part of the reason for posting is to note that as people here get time to read Nichomachean ethics or works by Plato or others, it would be bring out and discuss any discussions that sounds like "natural and necessary" to which Epicurus could be responding / commenting.

    One of the topics that came up in our zoom discussion of 11/20/22 was how Emily Austin sets forth the "detective" question in chapter 3 of "Living for Pleasure." Part of the issue discussed there is whether the question of whether someone is happy should be answered "subjectively" or "objectively."


    In my mind I relate this to the "natural and necessary" question as to the desires. Is the question of "natural and necessary" to be answered "objectively" (everyone should shoot for the same things in life) or "subjectively" (the question of whether a think is natural or necessary for that person is largely subjective to be answered by that person alone and not by reference to a pre-existing list that applies to everyone.


    One thing that bears on this is how Epicurus qualifies the question in the letter to Menoeceus:


    Quote

    We must consider that of desires some are natural, others vain, and of the natural some are necessary and others merely natural; and of the necessary some are necessary for happiness, others for the repose of the body, and others for very life.


    So while it might be tempting to say that things like air, water, food, etc. are what he is referring to as the "natural and necessaries" it is not at all clear whether those are necessary and sufficient for happiness as well as life itself.


    Another thing that bears on this for me is how this is expressed in Torquatus:


    Quote

    Hence only the Wise Man, who prunes away all the rank growth of vanity and error, can possibly live untroubled by sorrow and by fear, content within the bounds that nature has set. Nothing could be more useful or more conducive to well-being than Epicurus's doctrine as to the different classes of the desires. One kind he classified as both natural and necessary, a second as natural without being necessary, and a third as neither natural nor necessary; the principle of classification being that the necessary desires are gratified with little trouble or expense; the natural desires also require but little, since nature's own riches, which suffice to content her, are both easily procured and limited in amount; but for the imaginary desires no bound or limit can be discovered.

    I used to focus on the "nothing could be more useful or conducive" as a meaning "this was a unique and innovative idea of Epicurus - to analyze things according to whether they are natural and necessary - that no one had suggested before.


    Now I am thinking that we ought to consider at the same time (1) the question Austin has raised about the subjective or objective measures of happiness, and (2) the observation that Aristotle (and presumably others) had apparently been talking about an objective lists of things (including money, etc) that are necessary for a happy life.


    And if we combine those two observations then maybe what Torquatus was referring to as innovative and important about Epicurus was not that he was the first or most important person to suggest that we needed to think about the categories of "natural and necessary," but that instead he innovation was that Epicurus was saying that the "natural and necessary question itself is largely subjective rather than objective." If so, that would help explain why we don't seem to have Epicurus (or other later Epicurean writers who are better preserved) dwelling on list of specific and objective "things" that are needed for happiness. Maybe the point we need to understand in the natural and necessary question is not that we need to prepare a specific checklist like Aristitotle and be sure we check the boxes, but rather we need to recognize that "the principle of the classification" is not looking to gods or to ideal forms for the list, but simply looking to whether the "desires [can be] gratified with little trouble or expense or ... are easily procured and limited in amount ... or whether they are such that .... no bound or limit can be discovered."


    Which would not be to say that we should only pursue the desires that are easiest to obtain, but which would be to say something like:


    When deciding what to pursue, don't look for an objective list that applies to everyone as such a list existed and was handed down by God or by Platonic forms. Look instead simply to your own circumstances, evaluate how hard it is going to be to obtain those desires, and measure your decision on whether to pursue them by asking whether the reward to you will be worth the cost to you.


    As it is, many of us seem trapped in the Aristotelian model and think that there must be a list that everyone has to check off in order to be happy. The way out of that trap is to realize that no such single list exists. And so we should reject the "objective" natural and necessary analysis that Aristotle and other pre-Epicurean Greeks had suggested, and instead substitute the Epicurean natural and necessary model, which is primarily subjective.

    Recently I retired the "Epicureanworldview.com" fediverse website, and I have now replaced it with a Fediverse account at https://social.vivaldi.net/@cassiusamicus


    This is a Mastodon-based instance maintained by people behind the Vivaldi internet web browser, which I also use daily and think to be among the best web browsers.


    I will update the links and add this location as another place for backup communication which hopefully will not be needed.


    See the full list here: https://cassiusamicus.github.io/linktree/


    PS - the Epicureanworldview.com web site is not going away, and will eventually be replaced with a new open source web initiative - as soon as I decide which one makes sense.

    Welcome Michal Handzel


    Note: In order to minimize spam registrations, all new registrants must respond in this thread to this welcome message within 72 hours of its posting, or their account is subject to deletion. All that is required is a "Hello!" but of course we hope you will introduce yourself and let us know if you have had previous studies or background in philosophy, what prompted your interest in Epicureanism, and if you have any questions. And feel free to join in on one or more of our conversation threads under various topics found throughout the forum.


    This forum is the place for students of Epicurus to coordinate their studies and work together to promote the philosophy of Epicurus. Please remember that all posting here is subject to our Community Standards / Rules of the Forum our Not Neo-Epicurean, But Epicurean and our Posting Policy statements and associated posts.


    Please understand that the leaders of this forum are well aware that many fans of Epicurus may have sincerely-held views of what Epicurus taught that are incompatible with the purposes and standards of this forum. This forum is dedicated exclusively to the study and support of people who are committed to classical Epicurean views. As a result, this forum is not for people who seek to mix and match some Epicurean views with positions that are inherently inconsistent with the core teachings of Epicurus.


    All of us who are here have arrived at our respect for Epicurus after long journeys through other philosophies, and we do not demand of others what we were not able to do ourselves. Epicurean philosophy is very different from other viewpoints, and it takes time to understand how deep those differences really are. That's why we have membership levels here at the forum which allow for new participants to discuss and develop their own learning, but it's also why we have standards that will lead in some cases to arguments being limited, and even participants being removed, when the purposes of the community require it. Epicurean philosophy is not inherently democratic, or committed to unlimited free speech, or devoted to any other form of organization other than the pursuit by our community of happy living through the principles of Epicurean philosophy.


    One way you can be most assured of your time here being productive is to tell us a little about yourself and personal your background in reading Epicurean texts. It would also be helpful if you could tell us how you found this forum, and any particular areas of interest that you have which would help us make sure that your questions and thoughts are addressed.


    In that regard we have found over the years that there are a number of key texts and references which most all serious students of Epicurus will want to read and evaluate for themselves. Those include the following.


    1. "Epicurus and His Philosophy" by Norman DeWitt
    2. The Biography of Epicurus by Diogenes Laertius. This includes the surviving letters of Epicurus, including those to Herodotus, Pythocles, and Menoeceus.
    3. "On The Nature of Things" - by Lucretius (a poetic abridgement of Epicurus' "On Nature"
    4. "Epicurus on Pleasure" - By Boris Nikolsky
    5. The chapters on Epicurus in Gosling and Taylor's "The Greeks On Pleasure."
    6. Cicero's "On Ends" - Torquatus Section
    7. Cicero's "On The Nature of the Gods" - Velleius Section
    8. The Inscription of Diogenes of Oinoanda - Martin Ferguson Smith translation
    9. A Few Days In Athens" - Frances Wright
    10. Lucian Core Texts on Epicurus: (1) Alexander the Oracle-Monger, (2) Hermotimus
    11. Philodemus "On Methods of Inference" (De Lacy version, including his appendix on relationship of Epicurean canon to Aristotle and other Greeks)
    12. "The Greeks on Pleasure" -Gosling & Taylor Sections on Epicurus, especially the section on katastematic and kinetic pleasure which explains why ultimately this distinction was not of great significance to Epicurus.

    It is by no means essential or required that you have read these texts before participating in the forum, but your understanding of Epicurus will be much enhanced the more of these you have read.


    And time has also indicated to us that if you can find the time to read one book which will best explain classical Epicurean philosophy, as opposed to most modern "eclectic" interpretations of Epicurus, that book is Norman DeWitt's Epicurus And His Philosophy.


    Welcome to the forum!




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    As to whether it's a "coping mechanism" I really think it's more a "thinking mechanism." In my view that the best way to understand the entire necessary and natural discussion is to put it in the context that Torquatus presents it, as a subtext of the discussion of wisdom. To me the key is to focus on what he says is "the principal of the classification" and see the discussion as a way not to cope but to think toward the future result rather than just blindly engage in every momentary pleasure:


    Quote

    The great disturbing factor in a man's life is ignorance of good and evil; mistaken ideas about these frequently rob us of our greatest pleasures, and torment us with the most cruel pain of mind. Hence we need the aid of Wisdom, to rid us of our fears and appetites, to root out all our errors and prejudices, and to serve as our infallible guide to the attainment of pleasure. Wisdom alone can banish sorrow from our hearts and protect its front alarm and apprehension; put yourself to school with her, and you may live in peace, and quench the glowing flames of desire. For the desires are incapable of satisfaction; they ruin not individuals only but whole families, nay often shake the very foundations of the state. It is they that are the source of hatred, quarreling, and strife, of sedition and of war.

    Nor do they only flaunt themselves abroad, or turn their blind onslaughts solely against others; even when prisoned within the heart they quarrel and fall out among themselves; and this cannot but render the whole of life embittered. Hence only the Wise Man, who prunes away all the rank growth of vanity and error, can possibly live untroubled by sorrow and by fear, content within the bounds that nature has set. Nothing could be more useful or more conducive to well-being than Epicurus's doctrine as to the different classes of the desires. One kind he classified as both natural and necessary, a second as natural without being necessary, and a third as neither natural nor necessary; the principle of classification being that the necessary desires are gratified with little trouble or expense; the natural desires also require but little, since nature's own riches, which suffice to content her, are both easily procured and limited in amount; but for the imaginary desires no bound or limit can be discovered.


    In any situation where choices are involved, being wise means you're going to have to decide which desires to pursue based on the expected return in terms of pleasure and pain. Things that are "necessary" are gratified with little trouble or expense; things that are "natural" are also generally easily procured and limited in amount; but for the "imaginary" desires no bound or limit can be discovered.


    To me the whole exercise is mainly a way to visualize and predict the expected the cost-benefit analysis. I don't see it as retrospective coping as much as I see it as a means of prospective anticipating the results so you can make wise decisions all the way through toward the goal of maximizing pleasure.


    Labels shape how we think, and so I don't like the word extravagant one bit:

    Yes I agree.


    Seems to me this is a prime example of perspective.


    From the point of view of "Thank goodness she's doing better than most academics and not making Epicurus a total ascetic" the phrase extravagant desires can adorn the tranquil life if you do them right seems a great relief and improvement.


    From the point of view of "Do we really want to convey to new readers that Epicurus thought all romantic love is an 'extravagance'?" I think the answer is clearly "No!"


    So my view is to both appreciate that her wording is an improvement, while at the same time resolving that there is a lot further that she / we / all Epicurean writers needs to go to improve this wording.


    The real problem here is that the Academics have Epicurean discussions in a total box and that box needs to be demolished, not just lifting the lid up around the edges.


    And by the way, the ultimate aim and description of the goal is not "the tranquil life." The proper wording is "the PLEASANT life."


    And she knows that. The title of the book is not "Living For Tranquility."

    As to the Metrodorus comment I would go further and even question the accuracy of the quote.


    As usual with such fragments, we don't have the full context, and to say "sex never profits" we have to ask what is the original wording and what is really meant by "profit."


    So far as we know the Epicureans were not in the habit of talking capitalist theory, but they were in the habit of finding pleasures to be pleasing. That sex is generally pleasing goes without saying, and we aren't in the habit of condemning pleasures unless more pain than pleasure results. It would not be accurate or consistent with Epicurus to say that "sex always produces more pain than pleasure" so far as I can tell from the overall surviving texts.


    So I would not take this quotation as sufficient cause to question that sex was being carved out as an exception and was intended to be labeled as a pleasure that always produces excessive pain. It's much more likely that there is missing context, or translation issues, or even intentional slanting of the way the text has been transmitted.

    I didn't really finish my thought did I?


    So when she says Epicurus thinks sexual pleasure and committed romantic relationships are natural, but unnecessary, desires (or so I argue). In the terms of this book, they are extravagant desires, and all extravagant desires can adorn the tranquil life if you do them right.


    ...that's a departure and an improvement from the standard academic implication that Epicurus was an ascetic and advised against sexual pleasure and romantic relationships completely.


    But she still leaves open and in fact embraces the conclusion that they "can adorn the tranquil life if you do them right" which is less than a full-on endorsement of considering the possibility that for some/many people they may be not only natural but "necessary for happiness."


    That's where the terminology is an improvement from the standard awful academic implications, but still leaves further to demolish the ascetic implications of the academic perspective entirely, which aren't justified in what we have from Epicurus himself in Menoeceus.


    "can adorn the tranquil life" needs to proceed further to open the door to "depending on the person, necessary for happiness."

    Yes her analysis is far better than we generally get. Might she have gone even further? Echoing Kalosyni's concerns about extravagance, I recall this from Menoeceus:


    "We must consider that of desires some are natural, others vain, and of the natural some are necessary and others merely natural; and of the necessary some are necessary for happiness, others for the repose of the body, and others for very life."


    Focusing on that language, does "extravagance" advance the ball as far it is should go? When you look at the variations of "necessary" from "necessary for very life" vs "necessary for happiness" that is a huge degree of separation.


    Sure romantic love might not be "necessary for life" but for a lot of people it might well be "necessary for happiness."


    So if "extravagant" is elevated to a title in itself, where does romantic love fall? If it is necessary for happiness for a lot of people then it's not "extravagant."


    So to repeat her analysis is a lot better than we generally see, but there's room for making these issues more clear. We can't blame Epicurus himself for this ambiguity -- he makes it clear in Menoeceus that "necessary" itself has a context, and he doesn't (in a letter of general advice) start giving us a long detailed list of where things should fit.


    Just as Austin says that Epicurus didn't write something as condensed as the tetraphmarkon, but that his follows wanted it, I think we have to be very careful with natural and necessary talk not to condense Epicurus too far and thereby muck things up.

    Good to hear Dons comments so far.


    Quickly: I've tended to use the Kennedy and McCain names more because they are easy for me to remember rather than because she dwells on them. The general point is to me as Charles is stating it - it's important to keep saying that many assessments in life are personal,

    and different people will evaluate their pleasure and pain reactions differently. The more complicated the issue the more opinions will vary.


    In a better world we would have 50 or 100 books like this which give their own personal takes and wording on how they apply Epicurus. As it is, we have this one and maybe a small handful of others, with this probably the most successful by a good distance. For that reason I am happy to dwell on the positive aspects and mainly use any "negative" comments to hopefully contribute to what she or others may write later. We've needed something like this for a long time time and I am very happy it exists. What she has done will allow us to do better in the future and keep improving the quality of our presentations.

    the label of "extravagant desires" doesn't seem quite right to me.

    That's an interesting reaction - I wonder if you would have had it if you had read straight through. I am tempted to say you might not have.


    I am still absorbing and thinking about the book, and considering that we who are pretty well-read in the subject might get a different impression from people who are probably her target subject and less well read. It's as if there is a multiple layer discussion going on here. When she says "in the terms of this book" I am thinking that those of us who have talked a lot about the necessary and natural categories will immediately think of the different ways we have seen this issue expressed, and we haven't generally seen "extravagant" used - although that sort of reminds me of the "fancy pleasure" term that Elayne used in her past article her on the forum.


    I still see issues with clarity in the whole subject. Is necessary being referred to as necessary for life (water, air, etc) or "necessary for happiness" which seems to be a very broad and ambiguous approach in the first place ("what does happiness mean?")


    I could imagine the possibility of her commenting about this subject in a similar manner to what she said about the tetrapharmakon - that it's a useful memory device but easily confusing without significant context and grounding in the details.

    I really started to think of Epicureanism as a “faith”

    I think once you start thinking about "i've never seen an atom but I am 100% confident that atoms or something like them exist" and then start parsing out whether the words "believe" or even "faith" are interchangeable with being 100% confident in something you have never seen for yourself, it becomes possible to see these words as less threatening, and then move the focus of concern to other aspects where it probably deserves to be. Seems to me the issue is more in the claim of divine revelation of claiming to know things without evidence or similar expressions, and it is better to dive into those details than to get too obsessed about particular words.


    I say that even though I agree that phrases like "people of faith" are huge red flags and cause for very legit concern and distancing.

    I think she left out an important aspect, namely justice and moral relativity and how specific Epicurus' advice can be applied to his own time period versus their application to today's world.

    Yes I agree that she is definitely light on that aspect, and that probably also explains her willingness to be very free with her commentary on contemporary issues that are at least partly or even wholly political (as I have mentioned in regard to the John F. Kennedy and John McCain issues). I am reading into this that because she didn't highlight and bring out the "moral relativity" (or maybe calling it context-dependency would be accurate too) she is too free in implying that her own view of such issues is necessarily what every Epicurean would conclude. So yes I think that you're commenting on something I agree with.


    Personally I have a pretty low expectation for this kind of thing, since I see it done so frequently. Seems like half the articles that get written about Epicurus are more psychology or political opinion that just brings in Epicurus as a justification for decisions the writer has already reached. That's the way I see the modern Stoics - they are really just CBT/pyschotherapists but they want to wrap their conclusions around some ancient writers for prestige purposes.


    But I think in this case we're mostly coming up here with observations that might help serve as a preliminary comment to someone setting out to read it. Once you understand the point it's pretty easy to dismiss personal judgments as personal without undermining the credibility of the rest.


    At this point in my thinking my attitude is still that we're going to come up with some preliminary comments that would be good for new readers to bear in mind as they read the book, but that the issue is not as serious as it often occurs, and its something that makes for a good discussion while reading the book.

    Charles I agree with the points you are making but - maybe I am distracted as I read this - do you think Austin disagrees with you?


    Maybe you are saying that she should have talked further about these issues and you're not so much saying you disagree with what she wrote as that you think she did not deal with this aspect?


    I am gathering that is your point but I am not sure whether you are saying that she gives the wrong impression on what she does say, or just that she left out an important aspect?

    "As to Joshua's Hitchens video, that reminds me that there is also a George Carlin video that takes on a similar project that despite its much spicier language is probably significantly more consistent even than Hitchens' video with a mature Epicurean approach."


    This comment reminds me that I wanted to say that some of us have observed some concern at a mention of Epicurus likened to a "court jester" of the ancient world. Those words convey implications that I don't think are accurate or flattering.


    But as for George Carlin --- I would not be quite so concerned if someone decided to smile and draw some comparisons between Epicurus and George Carlin. ;) I am no expert on Carlin but he's always struck me as someone who is an expert at using humor in a deadly serious way.

    Does this seem like a ping pong game? It's a terrible idea to try to "translate" the ten commandments but at the same time it's a great exercise!


    I do think both perspectives are true and this highlights how central "context" is to the Epicurean worldview. You've picked a particular context and within that context we can work toward something that's helpful, but at the same time we have to realize that out of its context it could actually be harmful.


    I really do think this is why the PDs read as they do. They are sort of "principles" that don't necessarily lead TO a particular direction for a particular life, but they lead AWAY from major pitfalls that are pitfalls for everyone.


    I didn't finish listening to the Hitchens talk but I think from past observation that he is subject to a major danger that people have to take an approach that is something like "I too believe that there are absolute rules for being a good person - but those guys got the rules wrong and I can give you the correct list."


    The Epicurus approach is more like "You've got to understand that there is NO single list of rules that apply to everyone at all times and all places to tell them affirmatively what to do in every circumstance. But I can tell you how the universe works (the physics) and how to use your head (the canonics) and then I can also tell you the major pitfalls that everyone confronts and how to avoid them. Then after that you're as equipped as anyone can be to use your life in your context to pursue the general goal that everything else points to."