reneliza Level 03
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Posts by reneliza

    So... I somewhat doubt that Epicurus meant this exactly as it reads to me - I'm still in the process of reading DeWitt and consolidating a lot of different aspects of the philosophy. And full disclosure, I really don't know what "if its limits are measured out through reasoning" means - I can see it having about a half dozen different and highly varied meanings.


    But yes it did have me thinking about the pink circles too. The pink circles are just another version of the vessel analogy but in a way that I could see a) pleasure b) pain and c) variation, while also noting the lack of a neutral state (because there is no neutral - only pleasure and pain).


    The limit of pinkness is when the circle is fully pink (pleasure) - no black (pain) or white (because there is no neutral), but pale pink, dark pink, or a swirl of both doesn't make any difference. That's as pink as the circle can get. 100% pink

    This is why I don't think that variation is good (I also don't think it's bad - I think it's a neutral preference which can have positive or negative effects depending on the circumstances). If variation was preferable, then the swirly pink circle would be "more pink" than the solid pink circles, which doesn't make any sense. Pleasure isn't increased, only varied. But again! Variation isn't bad just because there's the word "only" in there. And variation doesn't decrease pleasure. It just also doesn't increase it. I need to stop here before I try to bring in the desires discussion again.....


    Anyway, PD19 also reads as a matter of percentages to me (not that I think it was meant that literally, but again my math brain wants to math things up). 100 years of life that is spent almost entirely in excruciating pain, deep depression, and all-around poor spirits, compared to 30 years of nonstop contentment and bliss is an interesting but kind of straightforward comparison for an Epicurean, but what about 100 years of consistent 80% pleasure compared to 30 years of 80% pleasure? It seems like rather than look at that as 80 years of pleasure vs. 24 years of pleasure, we look at it as 80% compared to 80% - ie, they're the same.


    But - this is where I would very much defer to people with greater grasp of the philosophy - it seems like you don't necessarily need to average over an entire lifespan either, and that's where the points Don was making way back in posts #3 and #5 come into play. Once you've "filled every nook and cranny of your mind with peace and pleasure" and are going about your days in a state of constant pleasure (varied to whatever degree), then what difference does it make how many years you lived before that state? If you compare the 100 year old person living a good life of 80% pleasure, day to day with a 30 year old who lived in near constant mental anguish for 29 years and 11 months, but then found a way to peace and pleasure and who recognizes his hard years, but doesn't suffer for the past, and is now living a life of 100% pleasure - then who has experienced greater joy? The person living with 20% pain or the person who has rid themselves of fear and pain and who experiences constant pleasure (again, varied to any degree) in the here and now, despite earlier years of agony?


    Sorry I didn't actually answer the question, but just asked more questions.



    Final point: I appreciate being lumped in with the youngish/20-30 crowd and will make no further comment about that lol

    Is not boredom a pretty general human problem?

    I'll have to push back on that statement. Boredom comes from dissatisfaction not lack of variety. Sometimes people looking for variety are running from something - possibly even an emotional trauma. They try to fill a void with novelty. I have a real problem if we start using boredom as a reason for varying pleasures.


    Two points to start with one to poke at Don, Wouldn't the Jefferson Bible count as an epicurean "job".

    And to Cassius:

    "The only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness." Oscar Wilde

    Boredom is therefore a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.” ― Bertrand Russell

    Otherwise I agree with the conclusions reached pertaining to PD's.

    As a long time sufferer of ennui, I can assure you that variety doesn't solve it! (in other words - agreeing with Don's comment that boredom comes from dissatisfaction)


    I do agree with Cassius's assertion that boredom is a general problem for humans, just not the conclusion that therefore variation is preferable/necessary. My best friend would eat nothing but chicken fingers and fries for the rest of her life (with a protein shake to round out her nutrition) and that would be peak pleasure for her. She'd always know exactly what was coming, no surprises, no meal planning or researching recipes.


    In fact, there's been a lot of research recently about decision fatigue and how making many little decisions throughout the day like what to eat, what to wear, etc... can impact your ability to make good (read: leading to greatest overall pleasure) decisions by the end of the day. Greater variety is directly correlated to more decisions. Unless you just roll a d20 to pick which shirt to wear, but that's still more mental effort than just grabbing one of the 10 identical black turtlenecks from your closet.


    Of course, this doesn't mean that the ideal is to reduce your choices to zero, but just that you get the best overall outcomes by putting the majority of that effort toward things with the greatest payoff. For some people, that really is having a varied diet or wardrobe because those things bring you immense pleasure.

    Do we agree that variation of the contents is desirable, if not absolutely necessary?

    There's a lot more to get here, but I want to clip this just as an easy answer: no.

    Variety is a preference, like anything else. Some people have an absolute need for consistency and do not desire variety at all. Variation is not generally preferable, it comes down to the individual. And the individual may desire consistency in some things and variety in others as well. Neither is a universal good.


    Just one other thing right now, which I don't see as much happen on this forum as in discussions of Epicurean philosophy elsewhere is the logical mistake of reading "There is no greater pleasure than X" and interpreting that as "X is a greater pleasure than all else" (I know this is about finite/infinite time which is a slightly different thing) which breaks my mathematical heart. The former only implies that X is greater than or equal to any other pleasures. It does not imply that other pleasures are all less than X or that we're making an ordered list of all pleasures in the universe. Again, that's not meant to correct anyone here, but may be helpful for communicating outside this forum - at least if someone has a less scary-math way of talking about it haha

    I don't think that you can draw a limit, I think the limit has to be inherent in some way. You're pursuing wealth - to what end? Your end will always (eventually) be pleasure (if not, then that's a bad sign), but do you have good reason to believe that the specific pursuit of wealth will end in net pleasure? Has it worked in the past? When will it pay off? What will happen next?

    I like where you're going in this paragraph! What are the ends you're working toward? That has to be answered by someone "pursuing wealth." Wealth for wealth's sake is empty. Wealth for a specific pleasure or pleasurable goal could be something different. Although it could also be problematic if it's working for wealth only to be enjoyed decades from now and not finding any pleasure now. If I've misconstrued your intentions with those lines, just let me know.

    That’s definitely where I was going with that, although it may be worth clarifying what I meant by “eventually” which was less temporal (of course sometimes payoffs are not immediate, but I agree that it can be dangerous if there’s no payoff immediately, especially if the long term payoff is particularly far off or otherwise uncertain) and more just a chain of reasoning. Like a kid asking “but why?” until you get frustrated and just admit “because it feels good!” Haha


    For example:

    Why are you accumulating wealth? To go on a vacation. Why do you want to go on a vacation? Because I’ve never seen the sunset over the ocean. Why do you want to see the sunset over the ocean? Because I expect it will be beautiful. Why do you want to see something beautiful? Just for the pleasure of it!!


    If the goal is defined then it has its own limits, more or less, as to how much wealth you need to accumulate and how much effort should be put forth toward this goal based on the pleasure you’ll get from it. Maybe you realize that “seeing a pretty sunset” can be accomplished with much less time, expense, and effort than the original trip to the nearest west coast assumed (but maybe not, and this is where it’s always personal).


    Sorry the conversation has drifted into goal setting which is a major discussion topic of mine so let me know if I get distracted by my own ideas and go too far afield from what’s actually supported in Epicurean doctrine. This conversation is actually very helpful for me in my work (and life)! I think it’s useful to consider pleasure, desire, and goals, and how they all relate

    I think this is the most practical/applied difference between Stoicism and Epicureanism, at least in the modern world.

    I am trying for some time now to construct a real life example where a Stoic and an Epicurean will act fundamentally differently based on the Epicureans focus on pleasure instead of the Stoics focus on virtue in and of itself. In all examples I can think of they act the same.


    Cassius, reneliza can you construct such a real world example?

    Before I answer this, I need to know if the stoics offered an answer to when the virtues contradicted each other. I didn’t study stoicism very long before realizing the only time I agreed with Seneca with my whole self was when he was quoting Epicurus.


    Where do you draw the line on courageousness? At what point does courage stop being a virtue? If there is no limit to courage, then it must be temperance that is limited instead, because it apparently doesn’t apply to the other virtues. Is there a hierarchy or some way to know which of the virtues should prevail in a given situation?


    Edit: FWIW, I’m completely with you on applied philosophy. I’m only interested insofar as it helps me to live my life. In my study of Stoicism I also kind of shrugged off and ignored that virtue was the goal instead of happiness, and treated them as though they were the other way around. When I had a very basic understanding of that philosophy (based on a 20 year old memory of philosophy 101 and conversations with people who’d studied Stoicism a little) I started creating my own life’s philosophy which I called stoic hedonism (noting fully how much of a contradiction that sounded to most people.) But then I discovered Epicureanism and didn’t have to continue building a whole philosophy from the ground up anymore 😆

    It doesn't feel like a problem to me. I think it probably is difficult to communicate to non-Epicureans (or the Epicurious...which now that I think of it is already a thing...) but my view is that the necessary should always be pursued and the vain should never be pursued (I mean, I hate the word "should" but in my understanding, not having the N/N is always net painful, and pursuit of the void is always net painful, so that's as close to a "should" as I'm willing to get), and - as someone has already said elsewhere on this forum - the natural/unnecessary is the only place anything gets interesting.


    Whether you should pursue a N/U desire is where the hedonic calculus comes in. Will this cause some pain but provide more pleasure? Will it cause some pain, but prevent a bigger pain? Will it cause some pleasure, but prevent a bigger pleasure? (this is actually where most of the interesting bits come in for me - learning when to say no to things I love because they get in the way of things I love even more)

    But I also don't think of the three categories as being three lists, like food is in one, sex is in two, wealth is in three. I think that which category a desire goes into depends on how it's approached in the moment by the individual.


    I don't think that you can draw a limit, I think the limit has to be inherent in some way. You're pursuing wealth - to what end? Your end will always (eventually) be pleasure (if not, then that's a bad sign), but do you have good reason to believe that the specific pursuit of wealth will end in net pleasure? Has it worked in the past? When will it pay off? What will happen next?


    I would disagree, at least for my own self, with the wisdom in pursuit of an ambiguous goal that may never pay off when there are so many strong pleasures (mostly) easily available to me. That doesn't mean I don't believe in hard work or that I never choose pain for a greater pleasure - I'm a mom and a creator - but I don't personally believe in striving for the mere possibility of a big payoff.

    One way to think about "absence of pain" and "living in a cave" is that it’s actually rather unnatural to live that way. Unless you're thinking in terms of how early humans lived, which I don't think is what Epicurus had in mind as his philosophy is intricately tied to the society in which he lived.


    The feelings of pleasure and pain are an entirely natural faculty. Our goal is to live the most pleasant life, which we do by listening to our feelings and using them as a guide to action. A person who is striving for maximum frugality is at some point going to experience mental and/or physical pain. If they ignore that pain then they're doing the same thing that in other situations clearly leads to unnatural desires, in this case the unnatural desire for frugality. If a person thrives on frugality, and either experiences no pain or examines their pain and determines that bearing that pain will lead to greater pleasure for themselves, then for them the desire for frugality could be considered natural and unnecessary.

    Between this and Don’s note that the word Epicurus uses (in Menoeceus at least) is not “unnatural” but “void” this thread quickly became one of other people making the exact points I wanted to make before I even caught up.



    The only thing that has been kind of inferred in this conversation, but I haven’t seen explicitly stated: it’s my thought that the void/fruitless/vain desires are those that are infinite and therefore unquenchable. These are desires that are by definition impossible to satisfy, because of the lack of any limit.


    This is exactly where the limit of pleasure conversation comes in. Pleasure can’t be the goal itself because it is unlimited. Until Epicurus asserted that there IS a limit to pleasure, and it’s the point where you have no pain in the mind or body.


    What is the limit of fame? Or wealth? Power? Frugality? (Given that couponers sometimes leave the store having been paid to shop, even zero is apparently not a limit)


    This means that void desires absolutely can look a lot like someone else’s natural and unnecessary desires. (Or potentially even like someone else’s N&N desire: the difference between the desire for a place to live where you feel safe, comfortable, and protected from the elements, and a 30,000 sf mansion which will eventually not be good enough and will need replacing or upgrading)


    Someone may truly have a limit to their desire for wealth, fame, frugality - although generally I suspect these people actually view wealth or whatever other potentially limitless desire as a means to meeting some other natural desires. And in the end I wonder if that’s the sort of wrong-thinking that the void desires stem from: treating the thing as an end in itself instead of only using it as a means to obtain maximum overall pleasure.

    You will not in fact know what is virtuous from what is the reverse of each of those virtues unless you judge them from the perspective: "Do they lead to plesasure?"

    Just quoting this for emphasis because it is the whole thing. I think this is the most practical/applied difference between Stoicism and Epicureanism, at least in the modern world.

    I think there's a difference between a list of things you'd like to do if you can get around to it (which would be prioritized in some way) and a list of things a human must do before they die to live a full/complete life (either a personalized, individual list, or a generic list for all people - I don't think either would work)


    Copying all of PD20 here as Don linked above

    "Bailey: 20. The flesh perceives the limits of pleasure as unlimited, and unlimited time is required to supply it. But the mind, having attained a reasoned understanding of the ultimate good of the flesh and its limits, and having dissipated the fears concerning the time to come, supplies us with the complete life, and we have no further need of infinite time; but neither does the mind shun pleasure, nor, when circumstances begin to bring about the departure from life, does it approach its end as though it fell short, in any way, of the best life."


    The complete life is supplied by the mind, which means it's available to anyone, anytime, and there's no need for more time to search for completeness or to check off more boxes.


    I find this one really interesting to think about especially because of this part: "But neither does the mind shun pleasure"


    I didn't read the entirety of the OP articles yet, but based on the excerpts Don posted, it seems like the author skirted around a really important idea here. Yes, a tranquil mind is great, yes tranquility is all you need for the foundation of a complete life, but there's a risk of guarding your tranquility so carefully that you not only miss out on many pleasures around you, but you actually lose your tranquil mental state to the fear that you will lose your tranquil mental state. Or losing the understanding that pleasure is the ultimate good on which that state depends. In other words, to have the complete life offered by a tranquil mind, you can't be afraid of losing your tranquility so much that you never accept any other forms of pleasure.


    To me, that is the most compelling reason not to shun pleasure or accept a life of asceticism - because fear of corruption, desire, or dependence is still a vain fear that will interrupt my inner tranquility.

    But an Epicurean could live a minimal life out of necessity and nothing would be lost or fall short. It would still be a complete life without detraction as long as they still had their reasoned understanding of the good (pleasure) and no fear of death.


    (feel free to sub "tranquility" here for ataraxia - or "an untroubled mind")

    There are some translations that interpret αἱ δὲ πρὸς τὴν τοῦ σώματος ἀοχλησίαν to mean only things like clothing and shelter - those things that provide "freedom from disturbance" for the body, that is for one's physical existence. That isn't literally what is written so that is simply one interpretation. Those kinds of things - clothing and shelter - would seem to fall under the final category of those necessary for life. So, this category should catch those between eudaimonia and those necessary for life. This is an interesting category.


    I would contend that those "necessary for life itself" are those essentials at the base of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: food, water, shelter, sleep, air, etc. Again, clothing and shelter would seem to fall into this category.


    PS: the "on the one hand... On the other hand" are meant to literally translate the Greek μεν... δε... It is clunky and awkward in English but I wanted to get across that they were there in the original. They do not have to be, nor should they be, translated this literally in all cases.

    I do like thinking of it in terms of Maslow, but it seems to me that “necessary for life itself” roughly corresponds to the base of the pyramid, the physiological needs, and then the “freedom from disturbance” would be the next level, the safety/security needs (these two levels combine to form the “basic needs”)


    In Maslow’s hierarchy, the next level is social/belonging. I wonder how well these correspond to the “necessary for eudaimonia” category. The categories needed for life itself and for freedom from disturbance at least seem to be more universal than most things within Epicureanism. Is this also true for the desires that need to be satisfied for eudaimonia? Is this category just the desire for aponia and ataraxia, or is it more specific and personal than that?


    I know that I often think of things as being “necessary for happiness” which just….absolutely are not (things like romantic love, especially a specific relationship) as shown by me having happiness without having those things, so it seems like this category can get REALLY blurry if it’s left open-ended.

    Also - there seems to be a difference between reaching a goal, feeling pleasure from that, and then asking “What’s next?” And reaching a goal and blowing right past it because “It’s not enough”

    I wonder if the “unnatural” desires are meant to be things that don’t bring you pleasure even when they are satisfied, or those that can never be met, but instead expand further and further as you get closer (like desire for wealth or fame that only grows as you reach the previous goals you’d set)


    That does seem to fit with the vain or void terminology - which I vastly prefer to talking about “unnatural desires” (my understanding is that, at least in the letter to Menoeceus he didn’t use the term that would be an inversion - or direct opposite of “natural” and that “unnatural” is more of a translation choice because it seemed like they were meant to be opposites in that way - Don’s post seems to affirm this as well, but please correct if I’m wrong)

    There's a lot of talk about Epicurus "dividing" pleasure into two categories, but from the discussion here so far, it looks like the wrong math term is being used. It seems more accurate to say that he ADDED to the earlier understanding of pleasure. So perhaps it is not that he wanted to separate pleasure into two parts, but that he wanted to take a limited definition of "pleasure" and expand it to include more, or unite the things he found pleasurable

    reneliza to me that sounds exactly right!

    "Epicurus thought pleasure to be a unified phenomenon. He claimed that it takes on two aspects (i.e. katastematic and kinetic) nonetheless, he thought both these aspects species of the same genus."


    I just got this from this paper and like... YES this is what I mean!


    ETA: related to that paper, I've recently become interested in the ancient Druids, who left no written record so almost all information about them comes through the lens of biased Roman accounts. I'm starting to wonder why this engineer ever even started bothering with trying to learn history lol

    Is frugality defined in terms of desire though, or only in terms of fulfillment of desire? I would say the latter (using modern, regular-people language and understanding of these terms). I can have unlimited desire, and be painfully restrictive to the point of still being overly frugal. But this would lead to a very unhappy life.


    Or I could have only the bare minimum (necessary) desires, but be open to pleasure whenever it's available even outside and beyond my desire and not be frugal at all.


    Is VS63 speaking against limiting desire, or is it speaking against avoiding the pleasure needed to satisfy your natural desires?




    I am really fascinated by this discussion and am interested to see where it goes. I'm especially interested to go look deeper into the natural and unnecessary desires because how I think of it, a desire always causes at least some amount of pain if it's unfulfilled (though sometimes even more when it is fulfilled) What are some examples of natural and unnecessary desires in my life? Also, as a queer person I always get a bit itchy when people start using the word "unnatural" so this is another time when I have great appreciation for the level of individuality when it comes to what things are good to pursue in Epicureanism

    Yes Reneliza what is the use of philosophy unless it bring happiness? Some guidelines can be reached that apply in many situations, but it is the exceptions that prove the rule and there is no absolute rule that applies to everyone. I think that's the ultimate power of Epicurean philosophy and it is what "scares" some people away from it. We have conducted a very useful discussion here of this topic because I think we all share that same framework, but step far outside of the confines of this friendly garden and the condemnation will be quick and the punishment severe.


    That's why we need to be sure to keep our eyes on the ultimate ball - that while we clarify deeper issues for ourselves we don't lose sight of the challenges that confront most all of us long before we get to the discussion of "types" of pleasure.


    We each have to play the cards we are given.

    Yeah I agree that it's worth questioning how much usefulness there is in talking about different kinds of pleasure to non-Epicureans. There's a lot of talk about Epicurus "dividing" pleasure into two categories, but from the discussion here so far, it looks like the wrong math term is being used. It seems more accurate to say that he ADDED to the earlier understanding of pleasure. So perhaps it is not that he wanted to separate pleasure into two parts, but that he wanted to take a limited definition of "pleasure" and expand it to include more, or unite the things he found pleasurable (IIRC you said early on in the discussion that you believed Epicurus just found life itself to be pleasurable and I think that's exactly it).


    I'm curious (first of all, if you agree with that assessment in the first place, and secondly) how you do like to approach the topic of those kinds of less obvious pleasures with newbies. I'm not afraid to use the word "pleasure" but the connotation is definitely not one that would include ataraxia or aponia as pleasure in and of itself, and I think most people don't think of pleasure in just being okay.

    I've noticed- definitively as of this morning- that in-person social engagements give me migraines 100% of the time these days. Spending time with friends is obviously something almost anyone would consider a "clean" pleasure, yet it disrupts my mental tranquility (by interrupting aponia) so what does that mean? Should I ignore my own physical pain and essentially gaslight myself because other people told me that friendship is a moral good? Should I partake in social engagements only occasionally in order to avoid unnecessary pain? Or should I use this knowledge going forward and bring my medicine, headphones, and sunglasses with me so that I can indulge in this apparently dirty (for me, because it causes pain) pleasure, while minimizing the pain, making adjustments as I get more information, in order to maximize my overall pleasure?


    What the heck is philosophy for if not practical solutions to real life?

    To answer the original question, ABSOLUTELY, pigs feel the guiding relief of stable pleasure that is the enjoyment of having had one's natural needs satisfied. That statement goes for other animals as well, and not just the "intelligent" ones. Pleasure and pain seems to me to be a language of life. Katastematic pleasure is not limited to the intellect of philosophers. Pure pleasure is accessible to all lifeforms that operate according to the barometer of pleasure and pain.


    I have a feeling that this question (depending on who's reading it) might beg a Platonic or Stoic answer, one that might say, "Katastematic pleasure (i.e. supreme mental tranquility) is the only pleasure that matters, it is unrelated to physical sensations, it is so superior to the body's sensations that physical pleasure can be ignored completely, and that only philosophically-minded human beings are capable of interfacing with this otherworldly pleasure."


    Contrary to Plato, the goal is neither otherworldly, nor limited to the privileged few. Contrary to the Stoics, achieving the goal does not yield an unaffected state of indifference, but rather, a positive feeling of pleasure.

    I agree with all this, but it seems to me that the same people who elevate "katastematic" pleasure DO usually elevate certain "simple pleasures" which are themselves only physical sensations (ie, stop and smell the roses), but there's a certain judgment about clean sensory pleasures and dirty sensory pleasures.


    Smelling a flower, feeling the sun on your face or a breeze in your hair, eating certain "healthy" foods are clean, natural, simple pleasures that you can and should appreciate and will add to your mental tranquility, while the dirty pleasures are things like sex, rich foods, television or modern music and they will detract from your tranquility.


    Note, that's not my own judgment, but the kinds of things I hear from other people. I think there IS something to the basic idea (that some things that are enjoyable in the moment cause net pain overall), but that the strength of Epicureanism is that you get to define your own clean and dirty pleasures, and how much of each one is worth pursuing.

    Another thought: I think it’s freaking WILD that valence is so clearly thought of as the only axis by which we measure emotion. That emotion can only be judged by how strongly negative and positive it is, plotting horror and sorrow on the same point, while joy and contentedness are half the spectrum apart just because content is calm and joy is not.


    I know there are some researchers trying to find better models for emotion, but I think the absolute simplest would need at least separate axes for valence and activation. Example: anxiety and joy are positive activation, depression is negative activation, and contentedness is neutral activation (but positive VALENCE because those are two obviously separate things)


    Pleasure/pain refers to the valence axis, and as stubbing your toe is closer to the origin than childbirth, so too are there variations in the intensity of pleasure of any given experience. It’s important to note though that I don’t think the katastematic pleasures are close to the origin than kinetic pleasures. Some kinetic pleasures are less intense valence in valence and some katastematic pleasures are overwhelmingly pleasurable. Think eating a grape vs unraveling a puzzle/problem you’ve been mulling over for weeks. Both pleasure, but the sensory/kinetic pleasure is not inherently more intense just for being a sensory experience.