Joshua Moderator
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Posts by Joshua

    There's something that very often doesn't get said about customer service work generally, Elayne, and that's that almost all of the people one deals with actually are very pleasant! People of any sort can be and often are happy. I was merely intending to show that they can be happy or unhappy in unexpected ways. It isn't always easy to draw a straight line between excellence and happiness, or between mediocrity and misery...or vice versa.

    Un an unrelated note, there's a strong tradition of quilting in my large German-Catholic extended family. I won't vouch for the stitchwork, but the intergenerational bonding is something very special to see! There are probably over 40 of us descended from my grandparents, and we all have quilts, to the fourth generation.

    For myself, I have been a low-wage restaurant cook, a metalcaster at a foundry, a package sorter, a retail clerk, and now a trucker. In spite of a general lack of excellence in my life, I somehow manage to remain tranquil and equanimous throughout the day. And yet in the course of 14 years in customer service one way or another, I was always meeting with attorneys, physicians, engineers, bankers, and business people who were chronically grumpy and generally unsatisfied.

    Who knows. Maybe when they actually make it out to that lakehouse, or boat, or golf course, or posh vacation, they really are happy. But I always thought---if I can be happy riding my bike to work making $10 an hour, why can't you be happy heading to the firm in your Range Rover, even in spite of the traffic?

    I think this relates to the larger issue of whether it's good for people to be specialists or generalists. I read a "Romantic vs Classical" distinction into the argument. Take the view of the Generalist, here expressed by Robert Heinlein;


    A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

    The problem with this view is that it appears to the Classical thinker as being overly Romantic; it sounds like it should sound good, but in reality it yields poor results. The Jack-of-all-trades is the master of none.

    The Specialist ideal finds its expression in a character like Doyle's Sherlock Holmes;


    I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.

    This strikes the Romantic thinker as something inhuman; the machination of man.

    It's clear that the market selects for Specialists. A person with a mediocre ability in 10 different areas will very often be shoehorned into employment using one of those skills at a low level. The Specialist attaining excellence in one area will, if they have chosen a good field, find high-status employment that is satisfying and rewarding. But here's the thing; the Generalist will almost always be better at handling adversity. First of all, because they are accustomed to mediocrity anyway; second, because when confronted by it, they have a wide range of other hobbies and activities to plug into it.

    So when it comes to the Epicurean project of maximizing pleasure and happiness over a whole human life, it won't necessarily be the case that striving for excellence yields the best result.

    Good to know, Cassius! I've been clicking "New" under the same drop-down menu, which seems to yield similar results. I'll start using dashboard. I did at first find the sheer number of sub-forums to be quite daunting, but the system works well once one knows how to use it.

    6:30 AM. Lansing, MI

    Lost; North Face hoodie. Color brown, size medium. If found, please return to... who? I know the article well, and can remember the day it was purchased. In Denver, at a Sports Authority store (now closed forever) on a trip I took to meet up with the family and visit my brother. The last of its kind on the clearance rack and a size smaller than I wear normally, this garment was sartorial perfection. Nothing ever fit me so well (I an ectomorph; 6'2", 145 lbs, gangly in the superlative). I hadn't known until then that clothes could fit, and should; I had never been comfortable in my own clothes.

    Gone now, though. Left behind. Not yet "reduced to it's primitive elements", which was Thoreau's consignment program--it was instead hove off of this human shore, and floats free on the listless currents of humanity--or else cast into the rubbish, and Virginia has its bones. Who can say?

    Nevertheless, I find that I actually can reduce it to elements. I can, in my mind's eye, dissolve it into atoms and void. A feeling of unweaving starstuff. I can let it go, and can convince myself to want it to go! Can actually begin to see it for what it is; not to miss it, but to doff my cap and wave heartily as it sails toward some New World. Every garment is a kind of tapestry in this sense, knitting itself toward doom and dissolution. Try it; there's nothing to it--even the emperor, as it were, could find that he really has no clothes.

    Perhaps it was time. While the jacket has held together in a more or less uniform way, I've spent the intervening years reknitting myself. I've learned and applied new skills, and forgotten old ones. I've given up other things, too; my apartment. My furniture. My small library. I've gained money and time. A little less work, and a little more freedom. I trust I've even changed my mind once or twice.

    A great sloughing off of the old, and growing into the new, that's what I want. A surpassing even of the Toga Virilis, into a still higher privilige and maturity.

    The realization of an ideal.


    On the second trip three years ago there was a lot of construction going on around it, which I presume is now complete. It no doubt looks best without those chain link fences around it.

    That's funny; that was my EXACT experience at the Parthenon in Athens! Scaffolding, fencing, etc. for restoration work. Ongoing for decades.

    I'll get to Nashville eventually. I drove through every so often, but getting out of the truck to see the sights is easier in some cities than others!

    It would've been the summer after my sophomore year in college. My first major was History, and the department organized a trip. I later went to the United Kingdom with the English Literature department, which was my second major.

    I do recall having some fear that the Parthenon Marbles would be repatriated to Greece from the British Museum before I'd made it to London but after I'd already been to Greece. I was deep into British poetry by then and Keats remains my favorite poet. All rather selfish of me, of course; but in any case I did get to see them. If I can ever get a little Latin or AG under my belt, I will certainly try to go back.

    I've had the pleasure of visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum, and of hiking Vesuvius. Pompeii is unforgettable, at least as an outline in my head; the image most striking to me will forever be the plaster casts made from cavities in the ash, where the organic remains have long since rotted and gassified. Thus do we find a human figure sitting with its legs drawn up and its hands to its face, choking on volcanic ash and mortality.

    My two lingering regrets from that trip were these--first, that I did not at that age enjoy or appreciate wine. I had imbibed a stoic sense of pleasure as being base, and avoided alcohol until I was 23. (Sadly, one never does get a second chance to mis-spend one's youth. To think that I wasted all those perfectly good years on books!) And second, that I had no special interest in the school of Epicurus.

    One day I should like to atone for that, both at the Getty Villa and again in the Bay of Naples.

    I'd be curious to know more as well, Cassius. I used to work in the restaurant industry alongside a lot of teenagers, and there was one group of three or four friends that stands out in my mind. They were all rather sporty (football mostly), but one of them, with a particularly winning smile, also played cello, got good grades, and conversed easily with boys and girls, young people and old. There was a bit of 'golden boy' teasing there; and I can imagine if one of your buddies was hand-picked by the emperor of Rome, it might earn him a nickname.

    It's very strange; when I get to the victory of Octavian at the Battle of Actium, it's as if a switch gets flipped in my brain. Rome stops being "Rome", even though all of the notable surviving architecture dates to the Imperial period. I most recently felt this when listening to S.P.Q.R. by Mary Beard. I finished it, but it was a bit of a slog.

    The best clues will be on his coinage, as the inscription in the Piazza Colonna is not original.…inage-of-marcus-aurelius/

    It seems he was given the name upon his adoption by Antoninus Pius, well before he became emperor. Perhaps with the meaning of something like Hadrian's "Golden Boy"?

    My interest in Roman history is mostly confined to the period of the Late Republic; I don't think I've ever read a biography of him.

    That's all to the good, Cassius :)

    To clarify one further point, what I wrote about democracy, franchise, etc. doesn't derive from "absolute truth (TM)" or any such thing. I meant to draw a clear line between what Epicurus said about justice, which is the premise, and the things that necessarily follow from that premise. To speak of a system of justice where the strong make decisions and the weak suffer what they must is a contradiction in terms, if we're using his definition of justice. His conception of pleasure as the good is built into that definition, and a rational (though not a moral) political theory can, I think, be derived from it.

    I certainly recognize what you're saying about the emotive nature of slavery as a concept, and the tendency to get mushy in our thinking about it.

    I agree with you that just using the word 'moral' is a problem, and that there is no "outside moral standard"--what in philosophy is often called a Transcendental Moral 'Ought'. This relates to David Hume's famous formulation, afterward called "Hume's Guillotine"; There is no possible account of how things are that can tell us how things ought to be. There are no Transcendental Moral Oughts, but there are what we call "Rational Oughts"; this is usually an "if-then" statement. If you want a society that recognizes private property, then you ought to criminalize theft. That's not a moral argument, but a rational one.

    So perhaps I would reformulate that sentence. An Epicurean can make a rational case against slavery by citing the non-willingness of the slave as an impediment to justice, by definition.

    Could the thief make the same defense as the slave? "That may be your convention, but I didn't agree to it. My convention says I can take what I want." I don't believe so; the thief is pleading himself out of the pact, and therefore forfeits its protection. The slave is trying to plead himself into the pact, and is therefore worthy of it.

    Another way to put it; if a man takes as his mantra that line from Achilles--that there are no pacts between lions (himself) and men (society)--then he can't very well complain when society treats him like they would a man-eating lion, can he? This is again a rational rather than a moral conclusion.

    Good points! It always helps to clarify one's thinking.

    Some part of my brain is snagging on that orientation line.

    I believe the author means it to correlate with the line above. As in, "The Stoics believe that the source of moral authority is Natural Law, and the orientation of moral authority is that it applies universally to everyone." And, "The Epicureans believe that the source of moral authority is human agreement, and the orientation of moral authority is that its application is relative to varying human agreements."

    It is not Universalist in the sense that some Christian sects are Universalist (that is, in their eschatology--"all souls end up in heaven").

    As for moral relativism, which will no doubt be a charge leveled against Epicurus, the false assumption here is that the victims of a given covenant of justice have necessarily given it their assent. An Epicurean may well argue that slavery was immoral even in ancient Greece, in spite of their social conventions, specifically because the slave was never a party to the 'social contract' in the first place. The first lesson for the Epicurean to draw from this is the necessity of securing protection from other men, by means of self-sufficiency and friendship. The second lesson is this; that when the argument qualifying the idea of justice-by-convention is taken to it's natural conclusion, it is in the end an argument for democracy; for general franchise; for limited government; and for free expression.

    The "Natural Law", by contrast will always be a cudgel in the hands of dictators and theocrats, for whom moral certitude forms the thin veneer of respectability concealing their depredations.

    Or so I think. ? -josh


    I read an anti-polis / anti-state, somewhat anarchic message into this, that must have repercussions in a philosophy education.

    Hiram offers an interesting and subtle bit of textual criticism here, and I think it's worth exploring.

    It's a famously difficult maxim for several reasons. It is removed from its context; it doesn't adequately define or explore either of the two options presented; and, most curiously, it doesn't even make it obvious which of the two is preferable! This last challenge invites the reader to infer from it almost anything they like. I could, for example, infer and defend any of the following if I considered only this text in isolation:

    1.) The student will know the difference between studying philosophy for herself and studying philosophy for all of Greece, and will choose to study for herself.

    Or, 2.) The student will know the difference between studying philosophy for herself and studying philosophy for all of Greece, and will choose to study for all of Greece.

    Or, 3.) The student will know the difference between studying philosophy for herself and studying philosophy for all of Greece, but won't decide between them. Perhaps employing a bit of game theory, she'll choose to study philosophy for herself for all of Greece!

    When I first encountered it, it didn't even occur to me that there were multiple possible interpretations. "Well," I thought, "of course the Epicurean will study philosophy for herself. The point of philosophy is to cure the dis-ease of the soul." And despite the obvious example of Epicurus himself (who in a sense did study philosophy for Greece--see Lucretius' paean in Book 1), I still favor this reading; itself an indirect indictment of the nauseating proto-totalitarianism of the Platonic philosopher-king.

    And another point I've thought of; acquiring many and nice clothes is an entirely different prospect for us today than it was even a century or two ago. The average teenager in our time wears more different shirts in a week than were worn in a year by the lower classes before the machination of laundry, weaving, knitting, and stitching. You can present yourself well without anything like what it would have cost before. And especially if you live in a modern city, you may dress stylishly and still not be ostentatious by comparison.

    This will, of course, depend on culture. But there's an interesting corollary question regarding the ostentation of simplicity. This is wonderfully expressed by a story I once read, doubtless apocryphal, about Diogenes the Cynic. In any case I can't find it just now, but I recall it going like this; He went about Athens in the humblest of garb, browbeating citizens for their finery. Why should a man care what he wears? When he was at the public baths one day, his ratty cloak was stolen and replaced by fine robes. He refused these, and demanded from the young men standing by that they return his cloak.

    "Ah," one of them responded, "but you have said that a wise man should take no care of what he wears. But we see now that you do care; here is YOUR pride and ostentation!"

    And what do I think of this story? The cynic, fearing that he should be misunderstood by men, cannot take fine clothes. It would be the end of him as a cynic, for to be a cynic is nothing more than to be a reactionary to culture. The Epicurean, who follows a path of principles and not merely one of apposition, will not refuse the clothes because he will not fear to be misunderstood. Being misunderstood is, for him, de rigeur. And so he dons the finery, thanks his new friends for their gift, and perhaps invites them to dine that evening. :)

    I'll poke into that when I've got time. My senior thesis was on the subject of the transcendentalists. Some remarkable characters, but none that I would point to immediately as being Epicurean in any deep sense.

    Excellent reading, folks! It's no wonder Walt Whitman was a shock to such people: he was the supreme poet of the celebration of the body in that dull age when men most wanted to deny it.

    I found an interesting article on Whitman's relationship to the subject;


    Although perhaps that needs it's own thread.


    Edit; I've just learned that Whitman's father was a devoted student of Frances Wright, attending her lectures and subscribing to her publication. There may be a more-than-cursory connection here after all.