This introduction to Epicureanism offers students and general readers a clear exposition of the central tenets of Epicurean philosophy, one of the dominant schools of the Hellenistic period. Founded by Epicurus of Samos (c. 341–270 BCE), it held that for a human being the greatest good was to attain tranquility, free from fear and bodily pain, by seeking to understand the workings of the world and the limits of our desires. Tim O’Keefe provides an extended exegesis of the arguments that (...) support Epicurean philosophical positions, analyzing both their strengths and their weaknesses while showing how the different areas of Epicurean inquiry come together to make a whole. (shrink)
Anaxarchus accompanied Pyrrho on Alexander the Great’s expedition to India and was known as “the Happy Man” because of his impassivity and contentment. Our sources on his philosophy are limited and largely consist of anecdotes about his interactions with Pyrrho and Alexander, but they allow us to reconstruct a distinctive ethical position. It overlaps with several disparate ethical traditions but is not merely a hodge-podge; it hangs together as a unified whole. Like Pyrrho, he asserts that things are indifferent in (...) value and that realizing this indifference leads to contentment. But this doctrine of indifference is rooted in Democritean atomism. And in his pursuit of pleasure and dismissiveness of conventional standards of what is just, noble, and pious, Anaxarchus is closer to fifth century thinkers such as Aristippus, Antiphon, and Critias. (shrink)
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)
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 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)
Appeals to nature are ubiquitous in Epicurean ethics and politics. The foundation of Epicurean ethics is its claim that pleasure is the sole intrinsic good and pain the sole intrinsic evil, and this is supposedly shown by the behavior of infants who have not yet been corrupted, "when nature's judgement is pure and whole." Central to their recommendations about how to attain pleasure is their division between types of desires: the natural and necessary ones, the natural but non-necessary ones, and (...) the vain and empty ones. Elsewhere, the Epicureans talk about the "natural goods" of political power and fame, and they contrast "natural wealth" with wealth as "defined by empty opinion." Finally, in their politics, Epicurus claims that the "the justice of nature is a pledge of reciprocal usefulness, [i.e.,] neither to harm one another nor to be harmed." This paper explores two questions regarding these various appeals to nature. The first is: what is it for these things to be natural, i.e., what notion of "natural" or "nature" is at play here? (Furthermore, is there a single notion being used across these appeals, and if not, how are they related?) The second is: what normative work does a thing's being natural do? That is, what reason, if any, does a desire's being natural give me for pursuing the object of that desire and trying to fulfill that desire, as opposed to not doing so and trying to eliminate it, and similarly for the other appeals to nature? (shrink)
Overview of the Stoic position. Looks at the roots of their determinism in their theology, their response to the 'lazy argument' that believing that all things are fated makes action pointless, their analysis of human action and how it allows actions to be 'up to us,' their rejection of the Principle of Alternate Possibilities, their rejection of anger and other negative reactive attitudes, and their contention that submission to god's will brings true freedom.
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.
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)
This paper focuses on two questions: (I) why do the Cyrenaics deny that we can gain knowledge concerning "external things," and (II) how wide-ranging is this denial? On the first question, I argue that the Cyrenaics are skeptical because of their contrast between the indubitable grasp we have of own affections, versus the inaccessibility of external things that cause these affections. Furthermore, this inaccessibility is due to our cognitive and perceptual limitations--it is an epistemological doctrine rooted in their psychology--and not (...) (pace Zilioli) due to any metaphysical theses regarding the external world. On the second question, I argue (pace Tsouna and Warren) that the scope of the Cyrenaics' skepticism is quite wide. Our reports on the Cyrenaics are inconsistent, but the most charitable and plausible reading results in attributing to the Cyrenaics skepticism not merely about the properties of external things (e.g., that the fire that warms me is really hot) of also of their nature and identity (e.g., that the object that warms me is a fire). However, it does not extend to skepticism regarding the existence of an external world. (shrink)
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 few people familiar with the pseudo-Platonic dialogue Axiochus generally have a low opinion of it. It's easy to see why: the dialogue is a mish-mash of Platonic, Epicurean and Cynic arguments against the fear of death, seemingly tossed together with no regard whatsoever for their consistency. As Furley notes, the Axiochus appears to be horribly confused. Whereas in the Apology Socrates argues that death is either annihilation or a relocation of the soul, and is a blessing either way, "the (...) Socrates of the Axiochus wants to have it both ways": death is both annihilation and a release of the soul from the body into a better realm. This may be used to construct a valid argument for the conclusion that death is not evil, but at the expense of having a contradiction as one of its premises. But D. S. Hutchinson has recently proposed that these inconsistencies shouldn't surprise us if we view the Axiochus as "an unconventional version of a very conventional genre--the consolation letter." In this paper I expand on Hutchinson's brief suggestion and argue that the Axiochus can be rehabilitated by paying attention to its genre. Although the Axiochus does display many similarities to the consolation letter, the shift from letter to dialogue does--pace Hutchinson--significantly affect what's going on. Within the dialogue, Socrates behaves toward Axiochus in a way similar to the way the author of a consolation letter behaves towards the letter's reader: he is willing to use inconsistent arguments, borrowed from any source, in order to soothe the patient. However, in depicting this type of consolatory relationship between Socrates and Axiochus, the dialogue itself is not aiming at consoling its readers. Instead, it should be seen as displaying for the reader's consideration a certain type of consolatory argumentative practice. -/- Socrates notes that Axiochus is "very much in need of consolation" (365a), and he uses any means necessary to accomplish this task. Socrates exhibits many ways in which he is willing to sacrifice argumentative hygiene for the sake of therapeutic effectiveness. These include: -/- * Use of arguments with inconsistent premises, presented in propria persona. * Appeals to emotion * Tailoring arguments to the audience. * Presenting invalid arguments so as to induce unjustified but comforting beliefs. * Evasion. In these respects, I think that Socrates' argumentative practice is best compared to PH III 280-1, where Sextus Empiricus says that the skeptic will deliberately use logically weak arguments as long as they work. Dorothy Tarrant claims that what links the Socrates of the Axiochus to Socrates as he appears elsewhere in the Platonic corpus is his evident care for the welfare of his interlocutor's psyche. But this concern takes a quite different form in the Axiochus than it usually does. As with Sextus, psychic therapy in the Axiochus involves relief from pain. The primary difference between them is that Socrates, unlike Sextus, is not aiming at producing epochê in his patient. (shrink)
A fairly long (~15,000 word) overview of ancient theories of freedom and determinism. It covers the supposed threat of causal determinism to "free will," i.e., the sort of control we need to have in order to be rightly held responsible for our actions. But it also discusses fatalistic arguments that proceed from the Principle of Bivalence, what responsibility we have for our own characters, and god and fate. Philosophers discussed include Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, Carneades, Alexander of Aphrodisias, and Plotinus. (...) Plato is mentioned in passing a few times in connection with other philosophers. (shrink)
What is distinctive about Lucretius’s version of Epicureanism? The answer might appear to be “nothing,” for two reasons. First, Epicureanism in general is doctrinally conservative, with followers of Epicurus claiming to follow his authority. Second, Lucretius claims to be merely transmitting the arguments of his beloved master Epicurus in a pleasing manner. I argue that these considerations do not prevent De Rerum Natura from presenting a distinct version of Epicureanism. Its arguments in physics are almost certainly drawn from Epicurus himself. (...) But in the examples Lucretius uses to illustrate these arguments, as well as in his descriptions of things like the fear of death and the formation of society, Lucretius delivers unexpected insights into human psychology, ones not clearly present in the other sources we have on Epicureanism. Furthermore, the way in which Lucretius presents his arguments can rightly be considered original philosophically and not just poetically. (shrink)
Epicurus thought that the conventional values of Greek society—in particular, its celebration of luxury and wealth—often led people astray. It is by rejecting these values, reducing our desires, and leading a moderately ascetic life that we can attain happiness. But Epicurus’ message is also pertinent for those of us in modern Western culture, with an economy based on constant consumption and an advertising industry that molds us to serve that economy by enlarging our desires. This paper begins with an outline (...) of some of the basic tenets of Epicurean ethics, followed by an explanation of how these tenets lead to an Epicurean diagnosis of what ails modern consumers and of the cure they would propose. The paper closes with a consideration of recent psychological research in well-being and how it supports the Epicurean position. (shrink)
The Epicureans advocate a moderately ascetic lifestyle on instrumental grounds, as the most effective means to securing tranquility. The virtuous person will reduce his desires to what is natural and necessary in order to avoid the trouble and anxiety caused by excessive desire. So much is clear from Epicurus' general ethics. But the later Epicurean Philodemus fills in far more detail about the attitude a wise Epicurean will take toward wealth in his treatise On Property Management. This paper explores some (...) of Philodemus' distinctive doctrines and argues that Philodemus' position on crafts is an improvement on the Socratic and Aristotelian positions that he is reacting against. Philodemus rejects both constraints on what counts as a genuine craft proposed by Socrates in the Gorgias: that a craft aims at a genuine good, and that it is based on a grasp of the nature of its subject. Philodemus also rejects the attempts of Xenophon and Theophrastus to preserve an important place for the craft of property management, conceived of as aiming at maximizing your wealth, within the Socratic and Aristotelian ethical tradition that puts virtue and virtuous activity at the center of the happy life. According to Philodemus, cultivating and exercising the traditional technê of property management is actually incompatible with being a virtuous person and obtaining happiness. (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)
The first part of this paper looks into the question of Lucretius’ philosophical sources and whether he draws almost exclusively from Epicurus himself or also from later Epicurean texts. I argue that such debates are inconclusive and likely will remain so, even if additional Epicurean texts are discovered, and that even if we were able to ascertain Lucretius’ philosophical sources, doing so would add little to our understanding of the De Rerum Natura. The second part of the paper turns to (...) a consideration of what Lucretius does with his philosophical sources. The arguments within the De Rerum Natura are not original. Nonetheless, the way Lucretius presents these arguments establishes him as a distinctive philosopher. Lucretius deploys non-argumentative methods of persuasion such as appealing to emotions, redeploying powerful cultural tropes, and ridicule. These methods of persuasion do not undercut or displace reasoned argumentation. Instead, they complement it. Lucretius’ use of these methods is rooted in his understanding of human psychology, that we have been culturally conditioned to have empty desires, false beliefs, and destructive emotions, ones that are often subconscious. Effective persuasion must take into account the biases, stereotypes, and other psychological factors that hinder people from accepting Epicurus’ healing gospel. (shrink)
Focuses on the theories of the Epicureans and Cyrenaics in light of Plato's and Aristotle's criticisms of hedonism. Closes with a brief discussion of how the Pyrrhonian skeptical conception of the telos compares to the Epicureans'.
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)
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 ethics does depend on his metaphysics, with special attention paid to the discussion of the impact of theology on ethics in the _Laws_.
Titus Lucretius Carus was an ardent disciple of Epicurus and the author of the De Rerum Natura, 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. 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)
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.
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)
Overview of the Epicurean views on why humans are rightly held responsible for their actions. Includes a discussion of the role the atomic 'swerve' plays in preserving our freedom, bivalence, our responsibility for how our character develops, and human reason and freedom.