Critical examination of chapter 5 of Julia Annas' book _Platonic Ethics Old and New._ I first argue that she does not establish that Plato's ethics are independent of his metaphysics. I then suggest several ways in the content of his ethcis does depend on his metaphysics, with special attention paid to the discussion of the impact of theology on ethics in the _Laws_.
Metaphysics Epsilon 2-3 and Nicomachean Ethics III 5 (1114b3-25) are often cited in favor of indeterminist interpretations of Aristotle. In Metaphysics Epsilon Aristotle denies that the coincidental has an aitia, and some (e.g., Sorabji) take this as a denial that coincidences have causes. In NE III 5 Aristotle says a person's actions and character must have their origin (archê) in the agent for him to be responsible for them. From this, some conclude that Aristotle thinks a person can be the (...) uncaused cause of his actions, (e.g., Hardie, Ross), or at least that there must be some sort of break in the causal nexus, so that the person's character cannot be traced back to an external origin (Furley). I argue that Metaphysics Epsilon does not show that Aristotle disbelieves in causal determinism, since he is dealing with issues of explanation in these passages, not causal necessitation. Metaphysics Epsilon 2-3 is not irrelevant to the controversy between compatibilist and incompatibilist interpretations of Aristotle, however. I will argue that a proper understanding of Metaphysics Epsilon's doctrine that the sumbebekos lacks an aitia sheds light on what Aristotle means in NE III 5 when he says that the voluntary must have an internal origin, and that it helps to show how one's action and character can have an 'internal origin' even if one's actions and character can be traced entirely to external causes. Finally, I will take this doctrine of the voluntary having an 'internal origin' and use it to illuminate Aristotle's discussion of the different types of excusing conditions in NE III 1. (shrink)
In Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Sextus Empiricus takes pains to differentiate the skeptical way of life from other positions with which it is often confused, and in the course of this discussion he briefly explains how skepticism differs from Cyrenaicism. Surprisingly, Sextus does not mention an important apparent difference between the two. The Cyrenaics have a positive epistemic commitment--that we can apprehend our own feelings. Although we cannot know whether the honey is really sweet, we can know infallibly that right now (...) we are being sweetened. By contrast, Sextus says explicitly that, as skeptics, Pyrrhonists apprehend nothing whatsoever. A case can (and has) been made that Sextus does not mention this difference because, on this matter, there really isn't an important difference between the two: the skeptic is perfectly able to report how things appear to him, e.g., that the honey seems sweet, and it is crucial for the skeptic that he not abolish the appearances. But, I argue, what the skeptics are doing when they report how things appear to do is importantly different from the sort of immediate, infallible apprehension of one's own feelings claimed by the Cyrenaics, as the latter involves theoretical commitments to the nature of one's feelings that the skeptic eschews. (shrink)
Introduction: The life of Epicurus and the history of epicureanism -- Part I: Metaphysics and physics -- Atoms and void -- Atomic motion -- Sensible qualities -- Cosmology -- Biology and language -- The mind -- Freedom and determinism -- Part II: Epistemology -- Skepticism -- The canon -- Part III: Ethics -- Pleasure, the highest good -- Varieties of pleasure, varieties of desire -- The virtues and philosophy -- Justice -- Friendship -- The gods -- Death.
In this book, Tim O'Keefe reconstructs the theory of freedom of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-271/0 BCE). Epicurus' theory has attracted much interest, but our attempts to understand it have been hampered by reading it anachronistically as the discovery of the modern problem of free will and determinism. O'Keefe argues that the sort of freedom which Epicurus wanted to preserve is significantly different from the 'free will' which philosophers debate today, and that in its emphasis on rational action it (...) has much closer affinities with Aristotle's thought than with current preoccupations. His original and provocative book will be of interest to a wide range of readers in Hellenistic philosophy. (shrink)
<span class='Hi'>Titus</span> Lucretius Carus was an ardent disciple of Epicurus and the author of the De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), one of the greatest poems in Latin. Other than his approximate dates of birth and death, we have next to no reliable information about him. (St. Jerome's report, in the 4th Century AD, that Lucretius was driven insane by a love potion and composed the De Rerum Natura in the lucid intervals between bouts of madness has been (...) widely repeated but is almost certainly scurrilous.) Because of his family name and his apparent familiarity with Roman upper-class mores, it is thought that Lucretius was probably a member of the aristocratic clan of the Lucretii, but this is not certain. And so any insight we wish to gain into the thought and personality of Lucretius must come from the De Rerum Natura itself. (shrink)
In De Rerum Natura III 963-971, Lucretius argues that death should not be feared because it is a necessary part of the natural cycle of life and death. This argument has received little philosophical attention, except by Martha Nussbaum, who asserts it is quite strong. However, Nussbaum's view is unsustainable, and I offer my own reading. I agree with Nussbaum that, as she construes it, the cycle of life argument is quite distinct from the better-known Epicurean arguments: not only does (...) it start from different premises, but it is a completely different type of argument. However, thus construed, it is deeply problematic. It relies on premises that are much more at home in Stoic than in Epicurean ethics, and Lucretius' appeal to nature in this argument contradicts what he says elsewhere in De Rerum Natura. I consider why Lucretius offers what appears to be such a flawed argument, and I propose a reading on which the cycle of life argument could be offered consistently by an Epicurean. The cycle of life argument, unlike the better-known arguments, does not attempt directly to show that death is not a bad thing. Instead, it targets certain destructive attitudes towards one's life that result in one fearing death. By helping relieve the interlocutor of these attitudes, the argument aims at reducing his fear of death. (shrink)
Epicurus’ debt to Democritus’ metaphysics is obvious. Even where Epicurus feels the need to modify Democritus’ metaphysics because of its skeptical or fatalist implications, he is working within Democritus’ general framework. The situation is quite different in ethics. Ancient critics of Epicurus claim that the Cyrenaics’ hedonism is the inspiration for his ethics, and in modern times, Epicurus’ ethics is usually viewed in the context of Aristotle’s eudaimonism.
David Furley's work on the cosmologies of classical antiquity is structured around what he calls "two pictures of the world." The first picture, defended by both Plato and Aristotle, portrays the universe, or all that there is (to pan), as identical with our particular ordered world-system. Thus, the adherents of this view claim that the universe is finite and unique. The second system, defended by Leucippus and Democritus, portrays an infinite universe within which our particular kosmos is only one of (...) countless kosmoi. Aristotle's argument in De caelo I.9 that the world is necessarily unique is an important contribution to this debate. This argument holds interest because it shows Aristotle wrestling with an apparent inconsistency in his own philosophy, as deeply-held convictions within his cosmology collide with an equally deeply-held conviction within his metaphysics. The following three principles, each of which Aristotle appears committed to, are inconsistent: -/- The cosmic uniqueness principle. The world is necessarily unique. The cosmic form principle. The world is an ordered, structured unity. As such, the world has a form. The possibility of multiple instantiation principle. For all F, if F is a form, it is possible that there exist multiple Fs. In De caelo I.9, Aristotle argues that we can establish the uniqueness of the universe, reject the multiple instantiation principle, yet still retain the distinction between 'this world' and 'world in general,' if the following is true (as it is): the world takes up all the matter that exists. Aristotle illustrates this argument with one of the stranger analogies in his corpus: imagine an aquiline nose that takes up all the flesh in the universe. If this were so, then there could not exist any other aquiline objects whatsoever. (For this reason, we dub the De caelo I.9 argument the 'Cosmic Nose argument.') This paper is an interpretation of how this argument is supposed to proceed and an assessment of its success. The first section states the problem Aristotle is confronted with, sorts through Aristotle's various statements of the Cosmic Nose argument, which exhibit some sloppiness, and reconstructs charitably a single argument. We also spend some time examining the significance of Aristotle's example of a gigantic aquiline nose. We argue that, even charitably reconstructed, the argument appears to commit a serious modal fallacy. The remainder of the paper explores whether this modal fallacy can be overcome. We conclude that, although not a cogent argument for the uniqueness of the world (as this would require a significant revision of our current astronomy), the Cosmic Nose argument does succeed on its own terms. However, it should not be regarded as a free-standing argument for the uniqueness of the world. Instead, it depends crucially on the earlier argument in De caelo I.8 for the universe's uniqueness; De caelo I.9 should be viewed as an attempt to extend the conclusion of De caelo I.8 and to show how this conclusion can be made consistent with Aristotle's metaphysical principles about the nature of form. (shrink)
The Cyrenaics assert that (1) particular pleasure is the highest good, and happiness is valued not for its own sake, but only for the sake of the particular pleasures that compose it; (2) we should not forego present pleasures for the sake of obtaining greater pleasure in the future. Their anti-eudaimonism and lack of future-concern do not follow from their hedonism. So why do they assert (1) and (2)? After reviewing and criticizing the proposals put forward by Annas, Irwin and (...) Tsouna, I offer two possible reconstructions. In the first reconstruction, I explain claim (1) as follows: happiness has no value above and beyond the value of the particular pleasures that compose it. Also, there is no "structure" to happiness. The Cyrenaics are targeting the thesis that happiness involves having the activities of one's life forming an organized whole, the value of which cannot be reduced to the value of the experiences within that life. I explain claim (2) as follows: a maximally pleasant life is valuable, but the best way to achieve it is to concentrate heedlessly on the present. In the second reconstruction, the good is radically relativized to one's present preferences. The Cyrenaics assert that we desire some particular pleasure, e.g., the pleasure that results from having this drink now. Thus, our telos -- which is based upon our desires -- is this particular pleasure, not (generic) 'pleasure' or the maximization of pleasure over our lifetime. As our desires change, so does our telos. I conclude that the scanty texts we have do not allow us to decide conclusively between these reconstructions, but I give some reasons to support the second over the first. (shrink)
Epicurus' "On Nature" 25 is the key text for anti-reductionist interpretations of Epicurus' philosophy of mind. In it, Epicurus is trying to argue against those, like Democritus, who say that everything occurs 'of necessity,' and in the course of this argument, he says many things that appear to conflict with an Identity Theory of Mind and with causal determinism. In this paper, I engage in a close reading of this text in order to show that it does not contain any (...) clear statement of either a doctrine of radically emergent properties and "downwards causation" (contra David Sedley) or of the non-reducibility of the mental to the atomic (contra Julia Annas). I argue that Epicurus' main thesis is that we cannot consistently argue against our conception of ourselves as rational agents, and that it is our reason that allows us to reform our characters, control our actions, and blame and praise one another appropriately. The way that Epicurus describes the development and causal efficacy of reason in "On Nature" book 25 is consistent both with reductionism and (more surprisingly) with causal determinism. (shrink)
Epicurus is strongly committed to psychological and ethical egoism and hedonism. However, these commitments do not square easily with many of the claims made by Epicureans about friendship: for instance, that the wise man will sometimes die for his friend, that the wise man will love his friend as much as himself, feel exactly the same toward his friend as toward himself, and exert himself as much for his friend's pleasure as for his own, and that every friendship is worth (...) choosing for its own sake. These claims have led some scholars to assert that Epicurus inconsistently affirms that friendship has an altruistic element. I argue that the Epicurean claims about friendship can be reconciled with egoism and hedonism in psychology and ethics. Friendship is valuable because having friends provides one with security more effectively than any other means, and having confidence that one will be secure in the future either is identical to ataraxia, or the grounds on which one has it. (shrink)
I begin by considering an argument for why there would not be justice in a community of wise Epicureans: justice only exists where there is an agreement "neither to harm nor be harmed," and such an agreement would be superfluous in a community of wise Epicureans, since they would have no vain desires which would lead them to wish to harm one another. I argue that, if the 'justice contract' prohibits only direct harm of one person by another, then it (...) would be superfluous among Epicureans. However, Lucretius and Hermarchus make it clear that people enter into communities in order to protect themselves from harm from animals and from starvation, and that regulations needed in order for the community to protect the members from these dangers also fall under the purview of justice. Given this more expansive reading of the content of the 'justice contract,' such agreements would be needed in any community, even ones which had only wise Epicureans as members. (shrink)
One striking oddity about Democritus and Epicurus is that, even though Epicurus' theory of perception is largely the same as that of Democritus, Democritus and his followers draw skeptical conclusions from this theory of perception, whereas Epicurus declares that all perceptions are true or real. I believe that the dispute between Democritus and Epicurus stems from a question over what sort of ontological status should be assigned to sensible qualities. In this paper, I address three questions: 1) Why were Democritus (...) and his followers skeptical? 2) How did Epicurus modify Democritus' metaphysics in order to avoid these skeptical conclusions? and 3) How successful was he? -/- 1) I argue that Democritus allows only the intrinsic properties of atoms into his ontology, and then runs into skeptical difficulties because of the relativity of perception. 2) I propose that Epicurus modifies Democritus' ontology by allowing dispositional and relational properties as real properties of bodies. Sensible qualities are conceptualized as dispositional properties of bodies to cause certain experiences in percipients. 3) I argue that Epicurus does not run into the same problems as Democritus. Finally, I consider how my interpretation of Epicurus' ontology helps to make sense of his claim that all perceptions are alethes--'true' or 'real.'. (shrink)
The 'swerve' is not supposed to provide a temporal 'starting point' (archê) of collisions, since Epicurus thinks that there is no temporal starting-point of collisions. Instead, the swerve is supposed to provide an explanatory archê of collisions. In positing the swerve, Epicurus is responding to Aristotle's criticisms of Democritus' theory of motion.