Ataraxia And The Issue of Confident Expectation

06/21/17 - The following is excerpted from two posts on the Facebook Group:

I continue to believe that formulations of ataraxia that imply that passivity (all we have to do is suppress pain) is sufficient are overly broad and play into the hand of stoic thinkers, needlessly ceding ground to them that is not theirs to claim. In a total quantify of experience, suppressing pain does not magically equate to pleasure itself without further action, else death would be the equivalent of the best life. The presumption that cannot be left to the Stoics or anyone else to explain - because they WILL NOT - is that it is only through active living that *** our specific pleasurable mental and physical experiences*** will expand (by our thoughts and actions) to occupy that part of our experience which was formerly occupied by pain.


Suppression of pain does not magically result in pleasurable living which we can have confidence we can sustain. It is not enough to cross our legs and sniff incense and hum, thinking that by doing nothing else we will be filled with the vibrant emotional and physical joys of all kinds that we are capable of achieving. If we don't direct our minds and bodies and think and act to pursue pleasurable experiences then we won't achieve them - at least not for long. It should not be hard for us to remember that primitive tribes have plenty of lions, tigers, wars, and worries about gods of their own, and that those don't go away with passivity any more than our worries of the 21st century will go away.


Seeking a life of pleasure in passivity, withdrawal, and renunciation of normal and natural pleasurable experiences does not bring sustainable pleasure. Following that path will end today just as it always has ended - in premature death.

A lot of our problem here is that we aren't talking in a context with a definite meaning of "ataraxia." Some people use that term as if it describes the goal of living. Taken out of context and made to fit into that context, discussion of ataraxia is easily confused with stoic apathy or worse - comments like: "a state of mind where all kind of external stimuli are removed."


To me this is very much like discussion of "gods." Unless we define terms clearly in the beginning, and dismiss the nonsense notions that are associated with perfectly good terms that have been corrupted by those who aren't speaking in Epicurean terms, then the discussion is meaningless at best and confusing at worst.


So just like with "gods" and "divinity" I think it does almost as much harm as good to talks with stoics about these terms without at first stating clearly and up front that their use of these terms is nonsense and can't be the basis of a productive discussion.


In response to "Tell me about ataraxia. What is it? Is it attainable?" discussions often get off to a decent start until someone comes in with stoic-based definitions and gets the discussion off track with false implications about the meaning of the word. At that point the field needs to be cleared and those false tangents chopped off as fast as possible.


Ataraxia is "absence of disturbance." Relatedly, "aponia" is "absence of pain." Neither are a complete statement of the guide of life which is PLEASURE. Living pleasurably to the max would mean living without pain ("ataraxicly"), and without disturbance from the process of living pleasurably ("aponicly"). Ataraxia and aponia are adverbs/terms which describe the way in which the verb form "living pleasurably" is best experienced.


No reference to primitive tribes, supression or distance from "outside stimuli" or anything else stoic-like is necessary or appropriate to proceed to flesh out what ataraxia is, how it relates to aponia, and how it relates to (but is not itself) a complete statement of the best way of living.


And to carry this slightly further, in addition to the focus on pleasure which is a bedrock principle and necessary premise of all other ethical discussion, one of the key aspects that these stoics always miss is the "confident expectation of remaining so." There's no way a savage in the jungle, or a political tyrant, or criminal of any kind can achieve a state of pleasurable living that includes being "confident of remaining so."


Vatican Saying 33: "The cry of the flesh is not to be hungry, thirsty, or cold; for he who is free of these and is confident of remaining so might vie even with Zeus for happiness."


Other references relating to confidence:


“the surest guarantee of security” – PD 40. Those who possess the power to defend themselves against threats by their neighbors, being thus in possession of the surest guarantee of security, live the most pleasant life with one another; and their enjoyment of the fullest intimacy is such that if one of them dies prematurely, the others do not lament his death as though it called for pity.


Also “conviction which inspires confidence” – PD 28. The same conviction which inspires confidence that nothing we have to fear is eternal or even of long duration, also enables us to see that in the limited evils of this life nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.


Vatican Saying 34 – We do not so much need the assistance of our friends as we do the confidence of their assistance in need.


Vatican Saying 7. For an aggressor to be undetected is difficult; and for him to be confident that his concealment will continue is impossible.