Pacatus Level 03
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Posts by Pacatus

    We can do out best to construct "maps" and write down all sorts of definitions of "happiness" and "pleasure" and "joy" and eudaimonia and everything else, but in the end we have to be clear about the limits of words. Words are maps and they are highly useful, but elaborate definitions can only serve that "map" function -- they cannot be equated with or confused with the feelings themselves.

    I think this whole "the map is not the territory" is of bedrock importance. And the point is always to measure the map against the (real/experintial) territory -- and not the other way around (which, it seems to me, a whole lot of religionists do). Objectively, empirical investigation can reveal the general territory -- but, in terms of sensual and emotional experience, we are each our own navigator.

    Maps, as you say, are helpful -- but the map can only guide to the territory (like the Zen parable of fingers pointing to the moon); and that understanding in itself might separate Epicurus (and his writings) from his philosophical rivals. The Platonists and the Stoics (as I understand them) privilege their maps over the territory; maybe Aristotle, too.

    It is so easy (at least for me) to get lost in this or that map. And to thereby lose sight of the territory right here ...

    Templum Librarium

    I love the smell of old books, leather-bound

    or well-worn hardcover cloth, beckoning

    from dark-oak library stacks – passageways

    to the heirloom temple of humanitas.

    I take down a gaunt volume at random –

    title illegible; pale patina

    of dust I could imagine as ancient

    as peripatetic Aristotle;

    brittle pages I could pretend were cut

    from papyrus scrolls of Epicurus

    first scribed in his Athenian Garden,

    copied and preserved by Philodemus

    in his villa at Herculaneum

    till encrusted in Vesuvian ash –

    and discover archaic lettering

    in majuscule Greek that I cannot read.

    Still, the inscrutable inked glyphs beguile

    the imagination’s mesmering muse

    into a maze of bustling galleries

    through a spice-pungent agora bazaar

    under a Mediterranean sun.

    There, for a few alchemical moments,

    I rest in my own lavish reverie –

    before touching the book to my forehead

    and placing it back on its sacred shelf

    among the other siren oracles,

    preserved in this labyrinthine sanctum –

    to continue my wayward pilgrimage,

    absorbed in the luring balm of old books.


    “humanitas”: coined by Cicero; to the Romans it meant everything relating to civilized humanity – culture, refinement, humaneness, the humanities, humanism, etc.

    Note: The 3rd and fourth stanzas should be indented -- but that can't display here: just my poet's obsessiveness.

    Happiness is the usual English translation of ευδαιμονία eudaimonia.

    I had a friend of mine who did his PhD on the Nichomachean Ethics, and insisted that the best translation for eudaimonia is "flourishing." I would think this can fit with Epicurus, where the most flourishing life is one defined in terms of pleasure. For myself, I tend to use "happy well-being" (where I intend well-being to be the opposite of ill-being -- say, tarache and pone). And I take happiness as a feeling and a sense of pleasurable/pleasant well-being, not an (Aristotelian?) abstraction. [I sometimes get the impression that, for the Stoics, eudaimonia reduces to a kind of self-righteous pat on the back: "Look how virtuous I have been! What a happy feeling!"]

    I’m a bit frustrated because I think both you and Kalosyni have strong, valid points about outreach (evangelism) – and all I seem to do is pour cold water.

    And FB seems the logical choice.

    When I was on FB, my personal page was restricted to a relatively few friends (unfortunately, some of them, and their friends, became the problem – and not so much friends anymore; likely there is some solution that didn’t require me to permanently delete my account, but that’s what I did). The poetry promotional page was more wide open, and had a different title (I don’t even recall what it was) aimed at attracting folks to that specifically. There wasn’t really any crossover between the two – but I don’t know if that was just accidental.

    So my thought is that you could create a linked FB page to the one you have now (wish I remembered how to do that, but someone here likely does). And use that 2nd FB page as an advertising (marketing) site whose content is simple, honest, optimistic and attractive – and that links to this forum, where you can control access. Your original FB page would then operate mainly as a kind of message board for members here to see what’s going on, etc. (and to go check out the 2nd page from there).

    The tag line for the evangelism page might be that of the Garden: “Dear Guest, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.”

    Just some rambling thoughts …


    Thanks for all that, Don. “Thinking out loud” on here is pretty much all I’ve got, with my weird, grab-bag history. 😊

    For me, though, this is the most helpful:

    “So, aponia is not so much ‘pain’ in the body (and I've been guilty of perpetuating that mistake!) as it is a lack of exertion, toil, distress, suffering. In light of that, I may begin to interpret aponia as a positive relaxation in the body, a body that's not stiff and tight and troubled and exhausted; the same way I'd interpret ataraxia as a positive calm, clear-headed, mindful attitude in the mind.”

    When I say “helpful,” I mean it will help me tonight and tomorrow in a true therapeutic sense. (It reminds me of the Taoist wu-wei – without having to imbibe the whole of that philosophy; if that makes sense.)

    Anyway, just: Thank you

    God, I’m going to hate myself for saying this! 😉

    Are we worrying this too much?

    It seems to me that (whatever the ancient Greeks might have thought) the mind/body distinction is at best relative. That does not make it unimportant, Yes, I can (hopefully) overcome – at least somewhat, if not perfectly – the tarache in my mind that stems from the pone in my aching tooth. (Most Buddhists would, I think, say something similar.)

    But – and this was my whole original thrust – from an Epicurean view, there is no disembodied (non-physical) substance called mind or soul – as a substance of some sort.^ So everything is, at bottom, physicalist. (My attempt was to get at this by thinking in terms of substance versus process – mental processes emergent from physical substance,)

    But, in everyday, therapeutic lingo, it makes sense to distinguish between physical pain and possibly attendant mental suffering.


    ^ The whole notion of a non-physicalist "substance" inescapably (to my mind) brings in the realm of the supernatural.

    I had two linked FB pages: one to share with a small circle of friends, the other to promote a book of poems. Finally, I shut it all down and permanently deleted my FB account. In the end, I could not control the crazies: access or content. But I am a rank techno-peasant (note the quiz snafu).

    You’re right: there is likely no bigger worldwide tool for reaching people. But –

    If you’re using it for outreach (my promotional page), you have to have some effective means to eliminate the racists, haters and other crazies; and if it’s just an extension of this site (my page of close friends), what does it offer that isn’t already here on the forum?

    So, really, it’s outreach. How, then, (I realize I’m being crassly repetitive) do you protect the Garden members from the crazies (not just the Stoics, etc.)?

    Sorry for the rambling thoughts. I’d be lying if I did not say that I’ve been tempted back to FB – but I will not go through what I did before (likely far less than you go through in a day as it is).

    I’m not sure how I came to this, but I get some notifications from

    Wallace Stevens' Epicurean Emperor - proof
    Wallace Stevens' Epicurean Emperor - proof

    Maybe it has some small side interest here.

    Stevens has never been a favorite of mine, though I have his Collected Poems. I’m not sure what his criticism of Lucretius was – but I suspect that Stevens just thought himself a better poet (even allowing for the centuries between them).

    poetic versions may sound good and be useful for emphasizing certain points, but can never substitute for a more literal word-by-word translation.

    The poet in me rises up. 😉

    First, poetry communicates differently than prose – or it would be prose. Translating poetry into prose in an attempt to achieve more clarity is to attempt something that the poet wasn’t doing to begin with (and this includes didactic – or didascalic – poetry). And Lucretius was, in a sense, translating Epicurean principles from received prose into poetry – as well as into Latin.

    Second, all translation is interpretive, even attempts at some literal word-for-word (which may not capture all the nuance of the original – I recall that Buber and Rosenzweig’s translation of the Torah into German was several times longer than the original, as they tried to capture all the meaning-nuance of polysemous classical Hebrew).

    So, even working with the original Epicurean corpus, I suspect that clarity and detail will always be subject to multiple perspectives and options, although the major points might be settled. (We see that on here.)


    I tend to think of the mind/consciousness as being emergent phenomena/processes/expressions of the brain, which is part of the body. People do respond to stimuli differently, both physiologically and psychologically.

    I tend to think that all feelings (pathe) originate from physical stimulus at some time (to be redundant: “originally”) – but can subsequently be re-membered, re-examined, re-imagined by mental processes (conscious or subconscious). And then such brain/mind activities can neurologically produce stimuli in the rest of the body (think imagining a sexual experience, or recalling a past experience of terror in a nightmare).

    However, none of that answers the so-called “hard questions” of consciousness – such as intentionality, decision and choice. Again, I just tend to think of them as emergent phenomena/processes/expressions of the underlying physical/neural substratum. And I accept them (as opposed to some strict determinism). [Which is not really an answer, if one can be had.]

    ~ ~ ~

    I have no education or expertise in any of this: it’s just how I work it out for myself – and subject to change.

    Comments by Kalosyni on the physiological need for tranquility, especially for some (I would count myself there) and Don’s comments on ataraxia generally, reminded me of this that I came across:

    “For ataraxia, ultimately and simply, is a physical undisturbedness.” [That is, not simply a mental state.]…mail_work_card=view-paper (p. 458)

    I think that some sharp distinction between the mental and the physical is likely wrong: fear, for example, is manifest in the body as well as mind (say, as a tingling numbness) – as is any disturbance (tarache). Absence of such disturbances I would see as pleasure – and not necessarily strictly “katastemic”: think of the feeling of release/relief when a strong emotional disturbance (say, fear or rage) is assuaged.

    [I hasten to add that I’m not implying mind and body are separate – as if the mind were some kind of “ghost in the machine”.]

    I am reminded of a quote that I came across years ago: “When it comes to shaping one’s personal behavior, all the rules of morality, as precise as they may be, remain abstract in the face of the infinite complexity of the concrete.”

    [Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philosophy of Gregory of Nyssa” (from the Foreword).]

    If one takes PD 31, say, as a starting point for engagement on social (justice) issues, concrete applications – vis-à-vis the complexities of specific context – still are likely to be subject to disagreement even among people who are of like mind on the underlying principle(s); especially, perhaps, with regard to means. And I can see the value of creating a safe place for that kind of discussion (with mutual support and affirmation, even among differences) from a foundation grounded in Epicurus.


    I want to apologize if anything I’ve said has offended anyone – especially Kalosyni. Mea culpa, entirely.


    Kalosyni, I think I understand.

    My focus here has been to learn from others in a safe environment how to apply Epicurus to my daily life – not to become as fluent in Epicurean philosophy as others on here.

    I have tried to keep my social views to myself, even as I once asked for help on here in how to deal with them – and the stress I often feel. I cannot escape from the social issues and conditions by running away to the Garden (here, elsewhere or in my mind – and no one here suggested that I should).

    But there is no way to engage in more social engagement without being open about where one is coming from. And I see where that could require a place (format) different and separate from this one. I don’t know how Epicureanism fosters that kind of engagement/activism – or limits it (I just don’t know).

    So, I will be open: I am somewhat left of center economically (which is my academic background long ago, and parlayed into work for years, before our big life-simplification experiment – driven, in part, by political repercussions that became untenable); I am way left of center on social issues; and I see the radical right-wing (MAGA) movement in this country as viciously evil and dangerous (and a real, not a philosophical, danger). I am not as active as I once was (no more protests/picket lines or across-the-table confrontations), but I still make small contributions, mostly quasi-anonymously. [What I find in my poetry (I have never been very good at political/social-engagement poetry, except once maybe) is respite from the tempestuous world.]

    So, now I will take a break for awhile. I don’t know if I’ve violated anything here. But, in the meantime, be well all.