Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Epicurus, The Epicurus Reader; Selected Writings and Testemonia

Epicurus, The Epicurus Reader; Selected Writings and Testemonia, Ed. Brad Inwood, Intro. D. S. Hutchinson, Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, 1994.

Our souls are flimsy things which are dissipated when we die, and even if the stuff of which they were made were to survive intact, that would be nothing to us, because what matters to us is the continuity of our experience, which is severed by the parting of the body and soul. (Intro, ix)

It is a confusion to be worried by your mortality, and it is an ingratitude to resent the limitations of life, like some greedy dinner guest who expects an indefinite number of courses and refuses to leave the table. (Intro, ix)

“Don’t fear god.” The gods are happy and immortal, as the very concept of ‘god’ indicates. But in Epicurus’ view, most people were in a state of confusion about the gods, believing them to be intensely concerned about what human beings were up to and exerting tremendous effort to favour their worshippers and punish their mortal enemies. No; it is incompatible with the concept of divinity to suppose that the gods exert well as the most agreeable, conception of the gods is to think of them, as without needs, invulnerable to any harm, and generally living an enviable life. So conceived, they are role models for Epicureans, who emulate the happiness of the gods, within the limits imposed by human nature. “Epicurus said that he was prepared to compete with Zeus in happiness, as long as he had a barley cake and some water.” [Aelian, Miscellaneous Histories, 4.13] (Intro, ix)

…it is not worthwhile to exert yourself to become prominent in public affairs and have the anxiety of public office. Much more satisfying and valuable is to develop individual relationships… friends are our most important defence against insecurity… (Intro, xi)

There were signet rings and hand mirrors, for example, engraved with the words ‘death is nothing’, so the faithful could be reminded while going about their daily business. (Intro, xii)

Arcesilaus, Epicurus’ rival, is typically dismissive: “You can turn a man into a eunuch, but you can’t turn a eunuch into a man.” [Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Sayings of Famous Philosophers iv. 43. Arcesilaus was the Head of the Platonic Academy in Epicurus’ day.] Even in modern times, the critics of Epicureanism continue to misrepresent it as a lazy-minded, shallow, pleasure-loving, immoral, or godless travesty of real philosophy. In our day the word ‘epicureanism’ has come to mean its opposite—a pretentious enthusiasm for rare and expensive food and drink. Please have the courage to ignore two thousand years of negative prejudice, and assess this philosophy on its own considerable merits. This books gives you the evidence you need. (Intro, xv)

Diocles says in book three of his summary that they lived very simply and frugally. “At any rate,” he says, “they were content with a half-pint serving of weak wine and generally their drink was water.” And that Epicurus did not think it right to put one’s possessions into a common fun, as did Pythagoras who said “friends’ possessions are common”; for that sort of thing is a mark of mistrust; and if there is mistrust there is no friendship. In his letters he himself says that he is content with just water and simple bread. And he says, “Send me a little pot of cheese so that I can indulge in extravagance when I wish.” (The Life of Epicuus: Diogenes Laertius 10.11)

Meteorological phenomena…occur without any [god]… for anger and gratitude are not consistent with blessedness, but these things involve weakness and fear and dependence on one’s neighbours. (Diogenes Laertius, Letter to Herodotus, 10.76-77)

Get used to believing that death is nothing to us. For all good and bad consists in sense-experience, and death is the privations of sense-experience. (Diogenes Laertius, Letter to Menoeceus, 10.124)

The wise man… just as he does not unconditionally choose the largest amount of food but the most pleasant food, so he savours not the longest time the most pleasant. (Diogenes Laertius, Letter to Menoeceus, 10.126)

The unwavering contemplation of these enables one to refer every choice and avoidance to the health of the body and the freedom of the soul from disturbance, since this is the goal of a blessed life. For we do everything for the sake of being neither in pain nor in terror. … when we are not in pain, then we no longer need pleasure. (Diogenes Laertius, Letter to Menoeceus, 10.128)

…we believe many pains to be better than pleasures when a greater pleasure follows for a long while if we endure the pains. So every pleasure is a good thing, since it has a nature congenial [to us], but not every one is to be chosen. Just as every pain too is a bad thing, but not every one is such as to be always avoided. (Diogenes Laertius, Letter to Menoeceus, 10.129)

…becoming accustomed to simple, not extravagant, ways of life makes one completely healthy, makes man unhesitant in the face of life’s necessary duties, puts us in a better condition for the times of extravagance which occasionally come along, and makes us fearless in the face of chance. So when we say that pleasure is the goal we do not mean the pleasures of the profligate or the pleasures of consumption, as some believe, either from ignorance and disagreement or from deliberate misinterpretation, but rather the lack of pain in the body and disturbance in the soul. (Diogenes Laertius, Letter to Menoeceus, 10.131)

For who do you believe is better than a man who has pious opinions about the gods, is always fearless about death, has reasoned out the natural goal of life and understands that the limit of good things is easy to achieve completely and easy to provide, and that the limit of bad things either has a short durations or causes little trouble. (Diogenes Laertius, Letter to Menoeceus, 10.133)

What is blessed and indestructible has no troubles itself, nor does it give trouble to anyone else, so that it is not affected by feelings of anger or gratitude. For all such things are a sign of weakness. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, I)

Death is nothing to us. For what has been dissolved has no sense-experience, and what has no sense-experience is nothing to us. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, II)

The removal of all feeling of pain is the limit of the magnitude of pleasures. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, III)

The feeling of pain does not linger continuously in the flesh; rather the sharpeset is present for the shortest time, while what merely exceeds the feeling of pleasure in the flesh lasts only a few days. And diseases which last a long time involve feelings of pleasures which exceed feelings of pain. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, IV)

It is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently, honourably, and justly… (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, V)

No pleasure is a bad thing in itself. But the things which produce certain pleasures bring troubles many times greater than the pleasures. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, VIII)

The purest security is that which comes from a quiet life and withdrawal from the many, although a certain degree of security from other men does come by means of the power to repel [attacks] and by means of prosperity. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, XIV)

Chance has a small impact on the wise man, while reasoning has arranged for, is arranged for, and will arrange for the greatest and most important matters throughout the whole of his life. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, XVI)

The just life is most free from disturbance, but the unjust life is full of the greatest disturbance. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, XVII)

As soon as the feeling of pain produced by want is removed, pleasure in the flesh will not increase but is only varied. But the limit of mental pleasures is produced by a reasoning out of these very pleasures [of the flesh] and of the things related to these, which used to cause the greatest fears in the intellect. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, XVIII) [a world without heroin? Pleasure defined by the absence of pain, privation)

The desires which do not bring a feeling of pain when not fulfilled are not necessary; but the desire for them is easy to dispel when they seem to be hard to achieve or to produce harm. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, XXVI)

There was no justice or injustice with respect to all those animals which were unable to make pacts about neither harming one another nor being harmed. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, XXXII)

Justice was not a thing in its own right, but [exists] in mutual dealings… (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, XXXIII)

Injustice is not a bad thing in its own right, but [only] because of the fear produced by the suspicion that one will not escape the notice of those assigned to punish such actions. (Diogenes Laertius, The Principal Doctrines, XXXIV)

The cry of the flesh: not to be hungry, not to be thirsty, not to be cold. For if someone has these things and is confident of having them in the future, he might contend even with Zeus for happiness. (The Vatican Collection of Epicurean Sayings, 33; Some of the maxims in this collection are identical to some Principal Doctrines; some are attributed to Epicurus’ followers rather than to the master himself)

Misfortunes must be cured by a sense of gratitude for what has been and the knowledge that what is past cannot be undone. (The Vatican Collection of Epicurean Sayings, 55) [Proust or psychotherapy]

The wise man feels no more pain when he is tortured than when his friend is tortured, and will die on his behalf; for if he betrays his friend, his entire life will be confounded and utterly upset because of a lack of confidence. (The Vatican Collection of Epicurean Sayings, ) [Epicureanism is predicated on an innate sense of solidarity between men, and doesn’t account for sociopathology, either in terms of the way the sociopath would usurp the position of happiest man (being defined by lack of anxiety, guilt, and by the satisfaction of physical necessity) from the temperate wise man, or in terms of the way the sociopath’s exemption from the restrictions that come from human solidarity would destabilize the contingency of cooperation upon which the philosophy is built]


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