waterholic Level 03
  • Member since Sep 18th 2022
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Posts by waterholic

    I am still having second thoughts here though. Consider two ways of addressing the anxiety: external and internal.

    External: you avoid anxiety by doing or not doing certain things (e.g. avoid politics, since power and fame are unnatural and unnecesarry, while the likelihood of being stabbed in the back is very real).

    Internal: if you are for whatever reason in politics (e.g. to help a friend), don't panic: uou cannot lose anything worth living for (basic pleasures of life, friends & family).

    I think that the main difference is that stoicism disregards the first (external) approach: if it is virtuouse to do something, you do it and you won't feel anxiety because you are doing the right thing.

    When it comes to Epicurus, accepting pain and anxiety may be acceptable for pleasure in the future, so long as that pleasure is correctly defined (fame & fortune don't count). There can be an overlap between the schools in terms of situations in which acting is better than not acting.

    But to get back to my first post: a stoic take on it would be that there should be no anxiety, since by remaining true to virtue, one has nothing to fear irrespective of the environment (loss of job, shelter etc. - so all is good in the community). However, when it comes to Epicurus, a community can fail to take care of its members and these members may justly feel anxiety: lack of food and shelter can be real!

    Don, I believe the difficulty with "remaining calm under fire" that I have (possibly the others too) is the proximity of this position to stoicism and it is important that I "come clean" about it. As Cassius mentioned ones, just because something is supported by the "other side", doesn't mean it has to be wrong. We tend to emphasize a lot the differences between the schools, but there are also similarities (plenty to be found in Cicero and Seneca texts).

    In the end, certain knowledge/understanding helps train our minds and vanquish the anxiety. Whether it is the knowledge that "your virtue is not compromised, so there is nothing to fear" or that "everything natural and necessary is easy to attain and death is nothing to us" depends on the belief structure of the person. The second set (including most importantly physics in Epicurean sense) does wonders for me and my friends whom I try to help ;)

    My point in this short post is that this should not be seen as a limitation of Epicurean philosophy as it is part of its flexibility -- the goal is PLEASURE - of which tranquility is hopefully a large part, but which we may have to dispense with for long periods if our circumstances require change.

    Any model has a limitation and I am sure Epicurean philosophy as a model of life has too. But I don't think this specific subject is a limitation of the philosophy - I agree with you, Cassius. And indeed, sometimes periods of anxiety are unavoidable and even desireable for the likelihood of future pleasure.

    it sounds like perhaps you see tranquility as an important goal within Epicureanism?

    Thank you Kalosyni , I would place myself firmly in the "camp" of pleasure as the goal. But my logic in this post is based on my understanding of pleasure (always open for being corrected):

    1. Fulfilling natural and necessary desires is the basic way to get pleasure from life.

    2. In most societies (e.g. Athens, when Epicurus arrived there), social structures are in place to make sure that satisfying those natural and necessary desires is easy. Friendship (or community) is a way/tool to achieve the sense of security that no matter what, those basic desires will be met.

    3. If we remove friendship from the equation AND insist that work is a necessary precondition for access to food/shelter, the chances of pleasure in life diminish.

    Anxiety/tranquility dimension could be secondary here.

    I believe that one needs to "keep the faith" so to speak -- keep the faith in friendships, and that friendship is possible.

    Absolutely! My post might have come across as very pessimistic, but that was not the intention. My high school maths teacher used to say:"If you want to see how a function performs, check the performance in extreme cases, plug in 0 or infinity." That's my way of assuming the extreme to illustrate the inherent problem. The problem is not with Epicurean philosophy though, but with the way the community today is put together, or rather, the way it's progressing.

    I envision Epicurean philosophy becoming a helpful tool for building community and friendship. We still have lots to do to prepare the teaching materials before we can create a program in which to introduce people to the philosophy.

    A colleague of mine - a fellow economist, remarked once how economics lacks the goal, or thr objective function (it is somehow assumed that economic growth is the goal, but absolutely no effort to explain why). Funnily enough, the whole theory collapses once the goal is unclear. I believe, philosophy (and of course, in my view - Epicurean philosophy, should fill that gap. So I completely agree, a lot of teaching is required.

    Most of our attention in this forum is directed towards the past, the texts from antiquity. This poses a challenge: do the social constructs present back in Epicurean times still exist? The recipes provided by philosophy have to be useful in daily life. But if the necessary social constructs are not there any more, the body of knowledge existing back then needs to be augmented to work in today's or tomorrow's environment.

    Case in point is friendship, which plays a central role in the Epicurean philosophy as one of the main ways of achieving tranquility through safety. Cooperation has been credited as the key success factor for our species (see for example https://www.sciencedirect.com/…cle/pii/S0960982219303343 or "Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari ) if success is measured by numbers and dominance, of course.

    But friendship (a form of cooperation) has evolved since the 4th century BC Greece. Cities dominated back then and the states combined only a few cities. Cooperation was on a smaller scale and friendship was essential for survival - there was no formalized social net. In fact, the formalized social net began to emerge only in the twentieth century, when the modern state emerged with its social programs for health, unemployment, retirement and education. These are all welcome developments of course, and they provide for more efficient "institutionalised" friendship.

    Today in most advanced societies this "institutionalised" friendship becomes the dominant form of friendship, as along with fundamental things such as health care, unemployment etc., we begin to source "cooperation" for less fundamental aspects of our lives from technology platforms. In the pre-internet era you still had health and unemployment insurance, so there was no need for friends in this regard. But if you had a problem with plumbing, or you needed good tickets for a concert, or you had to find a decent dentist, you needed "a guy" - a personal reference, usually from friends or family. These days, all of this is replaced by technology platforms, which crowdsource reviews, opinions, arrange food delivery if you are sick, give medical advice and even psychological care "completely anonymously", as if that's a benefit.

    We are now in the post-friendship era, when one is simultaneously friends with everyone and no one. The regular form of friendship is relegated to the meaningless and shallow chitchat (not meaning to generalize, but just to observe a trend) without expectation of life-long affection and support. After all, relying on "institutionalised" and monetised friendship is far more efficient and reliable. Except it isn't.

    The next stage in our technological development is that of excessive productivity. As an economist I have observed this trend in the past 20 years. Most of the products and services we need can now be produced in greater volumes with fewer people (the reason why productivity growth numbers are low in the US has to do wih the way we measure it, and it's a separate discussion). But since as a society we bestow resources and our "friendship" in exchange for work, it becomes more and more difficult to sustain that friendship. What happens when that work is no longer needed?

    This brings me to Chat GPT - a tool that scared many because it's imperfect. But it scares me because it is perfect enough. No it cannot replace a senior partner in a law or consulting firm or a headmaster in a school. But it can definitely replace ALL the juniors and teachers with frightening efficiency (it has already done so in some companies I know). Under normal circumstances, these people would find their work elsewhere. But the onslaught of technological change now is across the board: restaurants, supermarkets, elderly care, pizza delivery, teaching, health care - you name it, it is being "disrupted".

    And here our "institutionalised friendship" will likely prove woefully inadequate. It has no empathy and feelings. We will (and are currently) have a large number of people in need of friends who have grown unaccustomed to the notion of friendship. They don't know how and why to do it and each generation is worse at it. This may be just an observation, but everyone I know with yound adult children appear to agree.

    In this sense I feel quite conflicted. On the one hand, the Epicurean philosophy provides the building blocks of pleasurable life that do not fit the society that has moved on and is now facing a serious challenge. On the other hand, the same philosophy can provide the recipe for solving the major challenge we face: our rising productivity ensures that there are more goods and services than we (all of us) could possibly need to satisfy our natural and necessary desires. That means with a minimum amount of work per person, we could dedicate our lives to friendship in Epicurean sense and knowledge.

    I will end with this passage from Bertrand Russel (In Praise of Idleness): "Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins as before. But the world does not need twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacture of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?"

    For Epicurus, I assume dying for anything would make sense if the alternative is living with constant pain and no pleasure to compensate. Beyond this, the context of time and place matters. Being exiled in those days meant a likely death. Today one ends up in Paris or Mexico. Friends can be a message away and getting back, if all settles, is easy and safe.

    Once you remove the unnatural desires and the concept of virtue, there is precious little worth dying for other than your freinds and family.

    Epicurus might be happy to die rather than recant his science before the world.

    Curious thought occurred to me: Epicurus might have been politically correct too (this one is a huge "might"). I recalled a poem (the Sisyphus fragment) attributed to Critias (a relation of Plato):

    "...Then, when the laws forbade them to commit open crimes of violence, and they began to do them in secret, a wise and clever man invented fear (of the gods) for mortals, that there might be some means of frightening the wicked, even if they do anything or say or think it in secret. Hence, he introduced the Divine, saying that there is a God flourishing with immortal life, hearing and seeing with his mind, and thinking of everything and caring about these things..."

    Now assuming someone (not necessarily Epicurus ;)) is keen on undoing the harm of the fear of the Divine, but does not particularly want to put up with the unnecessary discussions whether divine exists or not, he/she might simply state that the Divine exists, but it does not meddle in any way with our lives. This is a form of a logical jujitsu, rendering the religious arguments moot.
    But of course, this is just an unprovable theory (though I find if extremely hard to reconcile atomism and Epicurean epistemology with deism - possibly with agnosticism, but it's an entirely different topic).

    One aspect of that which I think is important Waterholic is that Epicurean philosophy isn't magic, and you can't just repeat an incantation and automatically be healed or changed in the blink of an eye.

    This is exactly my qualm with the paragraph from Emily Austin: the expectation that knowing the philosophy and science will inevitably solve all the problems is not realistic. So to be clear, I disagree with the statement that "Epicurus might oversell science's power to diminish anxiety"

    "In the end, though, Epicurus might oversell science’s power to diminish anxiety, at least for individuals who find themselves enmeshed in a powerfully anti-science environment" (from "Living for Pleasure: An Epicurean Guide to Life (Guides to the Good Life)" by Emily A. Austin)

    I am happy to find a (somewhat) critical argument about Epicurus. He was far from infallible. Some of the ideas about the shape of atoms were simply laughable. But I have a hard time to accept this particular remark.

    I assume this is a statement that is hard to generalise, argue or disprove. I can only share my personal experience. It is not that I read something new about the nature of the universe in DRN. It is the structure of argumentation, ethics logically assembled on it and the fact that this knowledge was there for human kind for millenia that did make a difference personally for me. It does help to put permanently to rest the notion that you as an individual are somehow the centre of the universe.

    I suppose Epicurus did not claim that science (or rather physics in his understanding) can help everyone diminish anxiety, including people who are not open to critical thinking. A minimum requiement should be to study and contemplate. So I am not entirely sure where the overselling comes from.

    I don't agree at all that "we should feel psychological unrest if we run into obstacles to pleasure that we can do something about." Yes, we can identify obstacles that we can do something about, but we need not feel "psychological unrest." I would much rather meet obstacles clear-eyed with a calm mind and assess the evidence before me that way than to feel "unrest."

    Don raised a major question in my untrained mind. The understanding of ataraxia in Epicurean sense in my view is different in nuance to stoics and other schools. Facing a major challenge or a headwind causes us to have a natural reaction: adrenaline, fight/flight instinct etc. In extreme, we do feel perturbed, sad, unsettled or concerned. A stoic take on this would be: "use your jedi mind trick to calm down, none of this matters, because your virtue is not under threat".

    The Epicurean approach (and here I have to stress that I am basing this on the spirit of the philosophy us I understand, rather than any particular passage) here is to accept that we are human and prone to natural reactions; a god-like posture cannot be achieved. Instead, ataraxia is to be achieved by trying not to put yourself in situations that could cause mental pain for the sake of unnatural and unnecessary desires: e.g. politics, power, exceasive wealth.

    The difference is that some pain is unavoidable: an Epicurean would suffer greatly at a loss of a child or a friend and ataraxia is not a goal in this case. A stoic would have to control the suffering by reminding self that virtue is all tgat matters.

    Matteng after I posted this question, and helped by kind contributions from Cassius, Joshua and Pacatus I arrived at the following thought process, which might be helpful:

    1. There is nothing outside the material world (Epicurean atomism), so there is no way for us to observe or experience virtue. One cannot accept as a goal in life something that cannot be tested, observed or defined.

    2. We can observe that humans (even newly born) are attracted to pleasure (e.g. bread for a hungry person) and try to avoid pain. Like most things in Epicurean philosophy, this is based on observation and is perfectly testable.

    3. The broader interpretation of pleasure by Epicurus and followers (pleasure of friendship, knowledge, tranquility etc.) explain how this goal does not result in a society breaking down into selfish individuals.

    4. Finally, when we observe and understand evolution by natural selection, it becomes clear that pleasure and pain are random chemical mechanisms that have developed by chance but have proven to be an effective set of guiding principles for complex animals like us. What we call virtue, on the other hand, is just a behavioural pattern condoned by a group, which may or may not have been based on a real benefit to the group at some time in the past or in present.

    That situaltion is very interesting (and I would wonder perhaps people were not very close friends). And doesn't sound very fun.

    I may have described it in slightly exaggerated colours, but in essence that setup is not very different from a religious community. Friendship is still based on common, albeit secular, beliefs and shared interests. But there is of course no shared understanding of unnatural/extravagant desires, quite the opposite. A shared purpose is advancement of "our people" in all senses, which can cause misery.

    Looking at a Buddhist community, I can assume there is a similar issue: the shared purpose (whatever it is). When does a common purpose overshadow an individual's preference for a pleasant, simple and unnoticed life?

    Cassius thank you, I thought it was just my feeling.

    So I do agree with your comment as written, but at the same time I will quickly add that I think "Living for Pleasure" is probably one of the least apologetic books on Epicurus I have read in a long time, which is why I like it so much.

    To be clear, I very much enjoy the book. It's well structured and draws from the "correct" sources. Certainly better than many other recent/modern books. I guess I wish it could be more.

    I haven't thought about the "apologetic" nature of the texts before, so I can't compare, but the DeWitt reference is interesting, I will revisit.

    The points you raise point out the problem - what do we (or Epicurus) really mean by "friendship"?

    I really struggle with this. Even if we find the accurate description of what social dynamic Epicurus implied in his definition of friendship to conclude that it is an essential element of a pleasant life, chances are, that social dynamic is no longer replicable in modern times. There is still academic benefit in researching the meaning of friendship in antiquity. But for us the likelihood of missing out on an essential part of the philosophy today is disheartening.

    I am reading Living for Pleasure by Emily Austin. A lot of thought has gone into structuring Epicurean ideas into a more comprehensible format. So far a very rewarding experience.

    Two somewhat disturbing observations though:

    1. On friendship: the kind of tranquility or safety in friendship may actually no longer exist at least in the Western society. I had the fortune to live in a more traditional society with under-developed institutions. Fridendship there was necessary, all-consuming and omnipotent. You want to find a good dentist, parking spot, decent job, a cemetery plot, resolution to a business conflict, even a legal dispute - you simply need friends. And your friends know this. This means your daily routine is to collect and dish out favours.

    I have also lived in (North) Western Europe for several decades. Institutions have by now replaced the need for friends: from insurance to therapy, from life coaching to moving houses - everything is regimented, itemised and priced to perfection. "Friends" are reserved for idle chitchat on inofensive topics with a very clear understanding that anything else is outside "the scope".

    The question is, is it even possible to have a living experience of friendship in the Epicurean sense these days?

    2. On virtue: the only other discontent I have about the book is the distinct impression that it is written as a "justification of Epicurus" for stoics. The detailed analysis why living an Epicurean lifestyle is not selfish and can be virtuous at times misses the point, sounding nearly apologetic.