SimonC Level 01
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Posts by SimonC

    If large, invisible particles exist, according to Epicurean physics, then they should still form compounds which can be seen. They could have reasoned that there are no compounds that, when broken, simply poof into an invisible realm of large particles. For example, there is not a mineral that can get split in half, and then both halves suddenly disappear. Everything we observe seems to dissolve, eventually, into something that is at least finer than dust.

    That's a good point. Is it possible that this is what Epicurus meant? By atoms so large they fall within our ken, he might not have meant seeing the atoms themselves floating around like balls but more like things being more granular than we normally see.

    Or being experienced by touch as stated above.

    A thought on the inconceivability of visible atoms: according to Epicurus, things are visible because they constantly emit thin films of atoms. But a single atom can't emit a film smaller than itself and is therefore not visible in the ordinary sense.

    BUT, this raises the question of how we could even tell whether huge atoms exist. Since we can't see them anyway, how can we rule out the existence of basketball sized atoms? Is there a contradiction here?

    I'm partway through the episode, but regarding Zeno's motivation: I've understood that he was trying to come up with a rational argument for the teachings of Parmenides, who claimed that all things are one and therefore the perception of change or movement must be an illusion.

    But Parmenides claimed to have come by this knowledge through mystical revelation. This would put Zeno in the same category as Anselm of Canterbury, trying to come up with post hoc justification of an essentially religious belief. No wonder that it is not very convincing.

    The status of mathematics is interesting to think about. I wonder if it is possible to figure out that, for example, the sum of an infinite series can be finite purely a priori. When Zeno's contemporaries knew that he was wrong, I suspect they knew this from their sensory experience, not from spotting an error in his mathematics.

    As many others have stated, this is a current draft and subject to further change.

    This is also a document written with a personal view, though I choose to make it public.

    I do not at the moment go into the proofs or arguments behind these statements, but they exist, more or less.


    - All knowledge is derived from the senses. Even mathematics is dependent on prior sensations since our language and reasoning skills are formed in contact with the outside world.

    - The existence of an underlying “thing-in-itself” that is not possible to be sensed directly can be safely dismissed, as well as that of higher-level “forms”. What evidence can possibly be said to support their existence, given that all knowledge is derived from the senses?

    - It is true that it is not possible to see a house from the front and the back simultaneously. So what, walk around it. If a square tower looks round from a distance, you can move closer to check. This is just a feature of sensation, not a counterargument to sensation being the source of knowledge.


    - There are two types of things: matter and void. We learn that there is matter because things exist. We learn that there is void because the matter can move around.

    - If there was a third type of thing (such as “spirit”) it will either interact or not interact with matter. If it interacts with matter, it will be matter. If it does not interact with matter, it can safely be ignored.


    - Matter is finitely divisible. What we today call “atoms” do turn out to be divisible, but there is a level of elementary particles that permit no further division.

    - All effects and events we observe in the world are caused by interactions of these elementary particles.

    - There is no “supernatural”. Nothing can be caused by something other than interactions between elementary particles, because this would require there to be a third class of thing, see Metaphysics.

    - Any apparent design on Earth is the effect of Darwinian evolution. Any apparent design in the solar system or universe at large is explained by the anthropic bias: if conditions were not such that life could evolve, we would not be there to observe them.

    - Thought and consciousness are thus also effects of the interactions between elementary particles. We happen to be conscious because it allows it to communicate better with each other, giving us a Darwinian advantage. Some animals are not conscious. Some humans are not. A rock is never conscious.


    - There are no supernatural gods. Because there is nothing supernatural. Somewhere in the universe there might live an enlightened race of beings, eternally blissful. These might rightfully be called gods by some, but I believe this terminology to be unnecessarily confusing. I prefer to state that there are no gods, full stop.

    - When we die, there is no more life and no more sensation. There is no afterlife. There is no judgement. There is no reincarnation.

    - There are no eternal or divine rules. No actions earn us points towards getting into heaven. Kant’s “Categorical imperatives” are just divine rules in disguise.

    - The only remaining ground for preferring action A over action B is that it will lead to something desirable.

    - The only thing that is desirable in itself is our own pleasure. The only thing that is undesirable in itself is our own pain.

    - The me of tomorrow is the same me as the me of today. A pleasure at a point in the future is worth the same as that pleasure today, multiplied by the probability that I am alive at that point.

    - Thus we should choose actions that lead to the greatest balance of pleasure over pain over the course of our expected lifetimes. I’ll call this position “hedonism”.

    Hedonism in practice

    - There is a tremendous cultural pressure to believe in some set of eternal rules. There is a tremendous commercial pressure to desire things that we would otherwise not desire. Because of this we need to be very critical of our impulses and feelings. Many things that seem desirable at first glance do not in fact increase our total pleasure over our lifetime.

    - Whenever you want something, ask yourself “what will happen if my wish is fulfilled? What will happen if it is not?”

    - Counterpoint: there is no value in abstaining for the sake of abstaining.

    - Seek like-minded friends. You are not obliged to like people that are not compatible with you.

    - Be frank and open in communication. Be direct. Be shameless.

    - You probably need less money than you think. You probably need less things than you think. Again, no value in abstaining for the sake of it – but there are other things you could be doing with your only life.

    Hedonism Q&A

    - “But what if I like murdering people (or some other heinous crime)?”

    We luckily do not live in the Hobbesian state of nature, but are bound by a social contract. The wise person will keep to the social contract for the protection it gives them. While murderers might not be breaking any divine law (because there is none), they surely risk breaking the social contract, leading to a less pleasurable life for themselves overall.

    - “But I am terminally ill with a month to live, and I really really want to murder someone.”

    I think this is a strawman. BUT, if you truly have considered the pros and cons, I don’t think I can judge you for this, morally. But I don’t have to like you.

    - “If you keep chasing pleasure, you are losing out on meaning.”

    A word-game. Pleasure is not simply champagne and cigars, but all things that give a pleasurable feeling, including those things that are commonly thought to give “meaning” such as companionship and community.

    Also is there a strong need to "approach christianity" at all, if you feel such uneasiness?

    I'm telling my children that we there is nothing supernatural and no life after death. I am also telling them about Christian, Buddhist, Hindu beliefs, but in third person. "There are some people who believe X, y, z".

    I got the impression that she is intended as a representation of the practical or even intuitive application of the philosophy, as opposed to the theorising of Leontium et al.

    We just read a number of theoretical arguments and I think Hedeia is meant to remind the reader that at some point one needs to stop talking and start doing. If we eternally stay in the garden debating the nature of summum bonum, we are no better than Platonists.

    In Lucian's "A True Story" there is a description of a battle with troops coming from various stars as well as the sun and moon. So it was possible for Lucian at least to think of stars as habitable places and not just "holes in a sphere".

    (The list of troops from the sun and moon also implies that they are large, and not the size of a basketball)

    That is very well put. A similar idea as disproving the Eleatics by walking across a room.

    As to the original question I think it boils down to the belief that the universe is fundamentally observable. I think this is essentially a dogma, but it is also unclear what someone who argues the opposite would be basing their assertions on if not the same senses.

    Hi! Perhaps we should be clear what we are talking about.

    As was mentioned upthread, this forum can be considered a form of social media. It seems to be ok.

    It is possible to imagine many other forms of social media that would be empowering people and helping them to make meaningful connections.

    But I think what we are talking about here is the current state of major social networks, in particular facebook but also twitter and others. The catastrophic (CATASTROPHIC) effects these have are in the end due to business incentives. The networks want to have maximum engagement from their users and the best way to do this is to create bubbled-off echo chambers that distorts peoples view of reality, while keeping them anxious and outraged at cartoon caricatures of "the other side". This is a problem in the social networks themselves! There is a huge power imbalance between the networks and their users. For this reason I think it is wrong to solely blame the bad content on facebook on its users.

    I don't understand the hesitancy to accept the word "good."

    I agree with Don. There's nothing bad about the word good. It may not be the best, but its better than most.

    I think a danger is that it brings to mind the Platonic uppercase Good. If we are talking about good we must take care to remember that it is not a transcendental form or abstract idea, but just a word describing pleasant things.

    Wasn't Aristotle's position something like courage is absolutely definitely a virtue and therefore good in itself, but to strike the balance between cowardice and recklessness you need phronesis.

    Meanwhile Epicurus would say that courage is definitely good but not absolutely, only instrumentally, and the measure of its goodness is the pleasure it brings to your life.

    Interesting. I believe in general inducing some stress every now and then is a good thing, so I can see that acute sleep deprivation occasionally might not be harmful.

    I've slept around 6 hours per night the last decade with no bad effects as far as I can tell.

    One thing to note about the article is that the author's correlation between depression and sleep is based on bipolar patients - people with unipolar depression normally sleep less when they are depressed.

    Thinking about the drawback of pity, I remember reading about some of the failures in Mother Theresa's hospice.


    Fox conceded that the regimen he observed included "cleanliness, the tending of wounds and sores, and loving kindness", but critiqued the sisters' "spiritual approach" to managing pain: "I was disturbed to learn that the formulary includes no strong analgesics. Along with the neglect of diagnosis, the lack of good analgesia marks Mother Theresa's approach as clearly separate from the hospice movement. I know which I prefer."

    I think there are some times when pity can even encourage passivity.

    Compassion deals with suffering. It calls for suffering. Pretty much requires it. That seems obvious to me in hindsight. That's what really differentiates it from benevolence and love and help and such.

    You put your finger exactly on something that felt fishy about this subject. Compassion seems to be self-defeating as a virtue since it requires that others are in and remain in pain, which is not a state of affairs I prefer.

    Perhaps love or benevolence is a better word to capture the proselytising spirit in the above quoted?

    It seems more Epicurean in spirit to state the goal positively: there are many reasons to prefer people even outside my circle of friends to live according to nature and be free of unnecessary suffering. Therefore adopting an attitude that helps bring this about is appropriate. This attitude is love (or benevolence).

    An interesting article about various cultures view of death and the self, with surprising results: Death and the self. Nichols et al.


    Compared with other groups, monastic Tibetans gave particularly strong denials of the continuity of self, across several measures. We predicted that the denial of self would be associated with a lower fear of death and greater generosity toward others. To our surprise, we found the opposite. Monastic Tibetan Buddhists showed significantly greater fear of death than any other group. The monastics were also less generous than any other group about the prospect of giving up a slightly longer life in order to extend the life of another.

    "The wise man will take care of his property, and provide for the future." (Epicurus, Wise Man Saying 21)

    Does this not mean your own future? Ie save some beans for when the famine comes.

    I probably went wrong in thinking about this relationship in terms of duty.

    To what extent should we take responsibility for things that happen after we die? Epicurus himself made arrangements for the school and his parents memory in the event of his death so the answer is not "not at all". I think the Epicurean perspective suggest that we should only do so as far as is required to live up to commitments made during our life. We can also take actions that will benefit people we like, such as our friends and children. But do we owe unborn great-grandchildren anything?

    The clearest example is perhaps climate change, which I understand will keep having worse effects as time goes on. I have children and will likely get grandchildren during my lifetime. This makes me want to support at least some green initiatives. But where does the responsibility end?

    There is at least one sense in which Epicureanism is "evil" - that, in for example Nietzsche's view, the term "evil" was created to describe precisely any ethical system different from christianity, or from ascetic ideals in general.

    It might be better to frame the discussion in terms of "good" vs "bad", or "healthy" vs "unhealthy".