• Moliere
    4.3k
    I think a perversion is a kind of privation, and a privation is an absence of that which is due. What is due depends on a thing's nature. So for example, a shark with a missing fin has a privation, but a man with a missing fin has only an absence. Without some notion of what should be, we cannot distinguish privation from absence, and "nature" supplies this notion.

    But that a perversion is a kind of privation does not tell us overly much. There is still something unique about the special variety of privation that is a perversion.
    Leontiskos

    Heh. I can get along with this, but I'm anxious about relying on the concept of nature. When speaking of perversion in general I can't think of a way without the concept, but I'd relativize it to a system of evaluation, an articulated ethic. A shark missing a fin is only a privation with respect to some way of conceiving the shark. Else, it's an absence. It depends upon how we judge sharks.

    Or perhaps the same thing: "Nature" supplies the notion, but we are the ones who fill out what "nature" consists of. "we" being the judgers.

    Yes, it is perverse to use a hammer as a weapon. But perhaps it would be even more perverse to strangle someone with a stethoscope, for then that which was fashioned to cause health is being used to cause death. I think perversion is something like that.Leontiskos

    That's perfect! Not only using something for which it's not intended, like the hammer, but using it in a way that's in conflict with its intent. Also I'm finding thinking in terms of tools a little easier than the general account. Rather than dealing with the concept "by nature" the tool can be seen as having an intent. Like in the stethoscope example rather than saving lives the person is taking a life, which strikes me as an almost perfect inversion of the intent. Interestingly this inversion is not of the form of negation, like "A v ~A", but the concepts of saving a life and killing a life are semantically opposed: you can't do both at the same time.

    I want to re-think Epicurean desire on this line, but I didn't have the time today. But I felt I owed you a post.
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    I always figured Hegel's commitment to the state had to do with the lack of any extra state powers during his era. He is still living in the shadow of Westphalia and the apocalyptic conflagration that killed a significantly larger share of the German population than both World Wars combined. The state was elevated out of fear of the return to religious wars.Count Timothy von Icarus

    Makes sense to me. And also makes sense of Marx's agreement with Hegel, the notion of the "civilizing" tendency of the nation-state, and of capitalism.

    Although I have to say I think part of the attraction of the state, from the professional philosopher's perspective, is that thought seems to rule. The philosopher teaches, the concepts spread, and the social form takes on the conceptual boundaries the philosopher taught. In a way it's a power fantasy.

    But if Hegel had seen the failures of the state system in the World Wars, and moreover on climate change, global inequality, ocean acidification, recalcitrant multinational mega corps, and mass migration, I think he'd come around on the idea of things like the UN, EU, AU, etc. There is a tension in his philosophy. He wants to allow particularism, but then doesn't wholeheartedly embrace federalism because he wants the state to be an organic unity. I think this is a dynamic that plays out on many levels, individual vs society, region vs whole state, state vs union of states. Most philosophers focus on the individual vs society, I think Hegel is correct to also put emphasis on this higher level, even if he fails to totally resolve the issues.

    I always took his point to be: "we are only fully free to explore our particularity in the organic, stable, harmonized whole," so in the end the two do support each other more than they contradict one another.
    Count Timothy von Icarus

    First I'd say that updates or rethinking of Hegel is always interesting and worthwhile. Perhaps he would have changed his stance. And regardless anyone whose a Hegelian now doesn't need to agree with him in every particular. Sublation gives a wide range of possible -- not just interpretations -- but extensions of his philosophy. That's why Marxists, Liberals, and Fascists can claim him! (The fascist I have in mind -- I'm assuming you're familiar with particular authors of the other two categories -- is the ghost writer for Mussolini's What is Fascism?)

    Perhaps, in rejection of what I've said, there could be an anarchist interpretation of Hegel. My instinct there is that anarchists tend to hate big system philosophers, so it'd be a rare person :D. but possible. After all, if everything has a time and a place, and if the telos just is anarchy -- sort of like Marx imagined communism -- then maybe you could make it work.

    The most natural reading of Hegel, for myself, is that he's a liberal, though. Just like Kant. In a way he provides the philosophy for the existence of organizations like the UN, in the same light as Kant's Perpetual Peace. It's the rational order over the entire human world that he desires. Perhaps the better perversion to suggest, sans-politics, would be irrationalism.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    Heh. I can get along with this, but I'm anxious about relying on the concept of nature.Moliere

    But why?

    When speaking of perversion in general I can't think of a way without the concept...Moliere

    Agreed: a perversion is a falling away from some standard or norm. If standards do not exist then perversions also do not exist.

    A shark missing a fin is only a privation with respect to some way of conceiving the shark. Else, it's an absence. It depends upon how we judge sharks.Moliere

    I think that to judge that sharks need not have fins is to judge falsely. Fins are part of what a shark is; they are part of its nature. I think that if someone says a finless shark is just as much a shark as a normal shark, then they have very poor judgment, haha.

    Or perhaps the same thing: "Nature" supplies the notion, but we are the ones who fill out what "nature" consists of. "we" being the judgers.Moliere

    I could get on board with this, just so long as the nature of a shark is not conceived merely as a matter of our own invention. It is discovery, not just invention, and it then follows that we can be wrong in our judgment about what constitutes a shark's nature.

    Interestingly this inversion is not of the form of negation, like "A v ~A", but the concepts of saving a life and killing a life are semantically opposed: you can't do both at the same time.Moliere

    Right, they are contraries but not contradictories. A stethoscope is meant to produce a certain kind of effect, and its perverted use produces the exact opposite kind of effect. This is a teleological notion, where the stethoscope is "ordered to" health, or "meant for" health, or "intended for" health, or that health is its "purpose."

    That's perfect! Not only using something for which it's not intended, like the hammer, but using it in a way that's in conflict with its intent. Also I'm finding thinking in terms of tools a little easier than the general account. Rather than dealing with the concept "by nature" the tool can be seen as having an intent. Like in the stethoscope example rather than saving lives the person is taking a life, which strikes me as an almost perfect inversion of the intent.

    [...]

    I want to re-think Epicurean desire on this line, but I didn't have the time today. But I felt I owed you a post.
    Moliere

    :up:
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    But why?Leontiskos

    That is a thread-worthy question.

    "Nature" is one of those concepts like "Freedom" -- it seems to explain a lot, but then it seems to explain a lot for a lot of people who disagree on what it is that it's explaining, and what it even means for us to explain something by reference to its nature. A lot of times we can get by with stipulation when it comes to the ambiguity of concepts, but "nature", like "freedom", does so much work in philosophy that even stipulation doesn't ward off confusion, miscommunication, and frustration.

    I think that to judge that sharks need not have fins is to judge falsely. Fins are part of what a shark is; they are part of its nature. I think that if someone says a finless shark is just as much a shark as a normal shark, then they have very poor judgment, haha.Leontiskos
    I could get on board with this, just so long as the nature of a shark is not conceived merely as a matter of our own invention. It is discovery, not just invention, and it then follows that we can be wrong in our judgment about what constitutes a shark's nature.Leontiskos

    I'd say that to judgethe judgment that a shark needs to have fins is true or false is relative to a system of judgment about what a shark ought to be.

    Nature, in the ancient world, is prior to the is-ought distinction or the naturalistic fallacy. It's interesting for this very reason, but it's also ambiguous. The appeal to nature is, I think, basically an ethical appeal -- or at least aesthetic. And further I'd say that there are no true ethical statements. "The shark ought to have fins" is false with respect to a judgment on its truth, though with respect to a system of beliefs about what ought to be we could judge it true -- but not in the same way that we judge "Sharks have fins" to be true.

    This gets more contentious when it comes to things like human nature. Epicurus' appeal is to human nature, but I'd say that the appeal to human nature is a kind of fib that allows the game of ethical justification to get started. It's important to us, it's just not truth-apt.

    Any appeal to nature will bring up these sorts of thoughts for me. There's a sense in which the appeal to nature is just to beg the question with respect to a tradition and disagreement over it is just disagreement over what beliefs we like others to have and enact. But in the ancient world this wasn't as explicit and so you get interesting uses that are not easy to untangle. So, if I can help it, I like to avoid using concepts like that which both lend themselves to confusion, and lend themselves to simply begging the question with a different phrase. (another reason to insist that the Epicurean is dogmatic on the ends of human beings being to live in a state of ataraxia)

    But in that light, and with respect to Epicurean desire ...

    ****

    The perversion of desire is this "building up" of desire. I'm not sure how else to say it, but the desire for food differs from the desire to eat a particular kind of food in a particular kind of way and to feel disappointment for not being able to eat that kind of food even though you have access to food, it's just boring. There's nothing wrong with variety, the wrong is in allowing your desires -- which "naturally" lead to an ataraxic life -- to lead you to an anxious life. Desires push and pull the organism towards its natural ends but the human desires are such that they can become greater than what an organism wants, and become what a human imagination wants and thereby become unsatisfiable.

    Another highlight on the appeal to nature: I hope this shows how much Epicurus is responding to the Aristotelian conception of human nature, especially with respect to the ethical. Rather than biological creatures which can only become ethical at the height of the social ladder where every possible human capacity can be experienced and pursued and perfected you have every human creature which can live a tranquil life regardless of the place they find themselves within the city-state. Rather than greatness within a social role such that ethics isn't really what the many can pursue you have tranquility, a state of mind, which anyone can pursue. If the appeal to nature is alethic then which of these is true? For Aristotle you had slavish souls and master souls, but for Epicurus you had the master who performed the cure such that you became equal in his eyes.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    That is a thread-worthy question.

    "Nature" is one of those concepts like "Freedom" -- it seems to explain a lot, but then it seems to explain a lot for a lot of people who disagree on what it is that it's explaining, and what it even means for us to explain something by reference to its nature. A lot of times we can get by with stipulation when it comes to the ambiguity of concepts, but "nature", like "freedom", does so much work in philosophy that even stipulation doesn't ward off confusion, miscommunication, and frustration.
    Moliere

    Okay, I sort of see what you are saying, but I have never experienced this problem. Granted, there are so-called "philosophers" who try very hard to misunderstand things, and such a person would probably claim that they do not know the nature of a shark. Mostly, I think they do, I think they are being contentious, and I don't argue with them. If someone can differentiate a shark from a whale then they have some understanding of the nature of sharkness. At bottom it's really that simple. The understood nature of sharkness is that thing you use to differentiate sharks from whales.

    I'd say that to judgethe judgment that a shark needs to have fins is true or false is relative to a system of judgment about what a shark ought to be.

    Nature, in the ancient world, is prior to the is-ought distinction or the naturalistic fallacy. It's interesting for this very reason, but it's also ambiguous. The appeal to nature is, I think, basically an ethical appeal -- or at least aesthetic. And further I'd say that there are no true ethical statements. "The shark ought to have fins" is false with respect to a judgment on its truth, though with respect to a system of beliefs about what ought to be we could judge it true -- but not in the same way that we judge "Sharks have fins" to be true.
    Moliere

    I don't think this is right. "Sharks have fins" is not an ethical 'ought'-statement. It is a scientific statement, a matter of understanding the characteristics of a certain species. Now if a shark is born without fins then it will be a bad (and perhaps perverse) shark. It won't be able to do the things that sharks need to do (swim, hunt, feed, mate, etc.). But I don't see anything moral going on here. Even if we said, "That shark ought to have fins," we would not be making a moral statement. Neither is perfect exactitude required for the concept of nature to function.

    This gets more contentious when it comes to things like human nature. Epicurus' appeal is to human nature, but I'd say that the appeal to human nature is a kind of fib that allows the game of ethical justification to get started. It's important to us, it's just not truth-apt.Moliere

    Okay, I definitely agree that it gets more complicated when claims about human nature meet the moral sphere. Maybe I haven't been properly contextualizing the "nature" idea within the context of your thread on perversions. But I do think we have both agreed that perversions presuppose natures, and Epicurus is very much situated within that ancient nature-paradigm.

    Any appeal to nature will bring up these sorts of thoughts for me. There's a sense in which the appeal to nature is just to beg the question with respect to a tradition and disagreement over it is just disagreement over what beliefs we like others to have and enact. But in the ancient world this wasn't as explicit and so you get interesting uses that are not easy to untangle. So, if I can help it, I like to avoid using concepts like that which both lend themselves to confusion, and lend themselves to simply begging the question with a different phrase. (another reason to insist that the Epicurean is dogmatic on the ends of human beings being to live in a state of ataraxia)Moliere

    Fair enough. But to be precise, I don't think there is anything strange or controversial about the idea that a shark has a nature (a determinate form). The controversy only arises when it comes to human nature and moral claims. I don't think we should throw out the idea that sharks have a determinate form because of that controversy.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    The perversion of desire is this "building up" of desire. I'm not sure how else to say it, but the desire for food differs from the desire to eat a particular kind of food in a particular kind of way and to feel disappointment for not being able to eat that kind of food even though you have access to food, it's just boring. There's nothing wrong with variety, the wrong is in allowing your desires -- which "naturally" lead to an ataraxic life -- to lead you to an anxious life. Desires push and pull the organism towards its natural ends but the human desires are such that they can become greater than what an organism wants, and become what a human imagination wants and thereby become unsatisfiable.Moliere

    I think that's a good description of the problem. :up:

    Another highlight on the appeal to nature: I hope this shows how much Epicurus is responding to the Aristotelian conception of human nature, especially with respect to the ethical. Rather than biological creatures which can only become ethical at the height of the social ladder where every possible human capacity can be experienced and pursued and perfected you have every human creature which can live a tranquil life regardless of the place they find themselves within the city-state. Rather than greatness within a social role such that ethics isn't really what the many can pursue you have tranquility, a state of mind, which anyone can pursue. If the appeal to nature is alethic then which of these is true? For Aristotle you had slavish souls and master souls, but for Epicurus you had the master who performed the cure such that you became equal in his eyes.Moliere

    Right, there is a disagreement about human nature occurring here. Granted, Aristotle does not think that flourishing is impossible for a slave, but rather that they flourish in a different and inferior way. For Epicurus the goal of life is (more or less) equally accessible to all. In our modern day we would prefer Epicurus to Aristotle on the basis of egalitarianism, yet Epicurus' own account is presumably not based on a desire for egalitarianism. Presumably egalitarianism is just a happy accident of the theory which he sees to be true on independent grounds.

    This is a very interesting and multi-faceted thread. I haven't been able to give it the attention it deserves, and I probably won't have time to do that, but hopefully I can circle back to it at some point.
  • unenlightened
    8.9k
    You keep saying interesting incomprehensible things: Explain yourself!

    As a meta-theory [anti-realism] forces the ethicist to evaluate ethics on something other than the usual.Moliere

    What is the usual, and what is the other? I can guess on behalf of the realist that their usual basis for judging an ethical theory is whether or not it is true, absolutely or approximately.


    Suppose I define a desire as "identification with a personal judgement of an imagined future", I think this suggests that a perverse desire is one that is either incompatible with the desires of others, or that is incompatible with reality(they amount to the same thing, because others are always part of reality). The former case demands a meta judgement of 'our' desires that is the province of ethics, and that means that perversity can be personal or social.

    If I want of you, that which is incompatible with your desires, then a social judgement can be made as to which of our desires is perverse. But the case of global warming is the paradigm of collective social desires incompatible with reality:— to have an energy rich and wasteful economy, and a stable and productive environment. The personal equivalent would be things like wanting to be a concert pianist, but not wanting to practice for several hours every day, or wanting to give up an addiction but not wanting to go through any withdrawal process.

    The perversity of pornography is the perversity of advertising, that it deliberately sets out to stimulate desires that it cannot fulfil. The sexual desires of the innocent adolescent (as was), are incoherent urges towards an unclear and unimaginable intimacy. Porn provides cartoon images of a fabricated unreal intimacy that is never mutual, because it is only an image; but the unreal image attaches to the primitive urge and thus develops a perverse desire that can never be fulfilled in reality, but becomes an unsatisfying addiction. Fast food and beauty products work in a similar way. This is the building up of desire, as unreachable because unrealistic images. Compare this with the job of the architect, planner, or engineer which is to make images of realisable ideas, that might be desired.

    Not to value and employ men of superior ability is the way to keep the people from rivalry among themselves; not to prize articles which are difficult to procure is the way to keep them from becoming thieves; not to show them what is likely to excite their desires is the way to keep their minds from disorder.

    Therefore the sage, in the exercise of his government, empties their minds, fills their bellies, weakens their wills, and strengthens their bones.

    He constantly (tries to) keep them without knowledge and without desire, and where there are those who have knowledge, to keep them from presuming to act (on it). When there is this abstinence from action, good order is universal.
    — Lao Tzu
    (Legge translation)
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    You keep saying interesting incomprehensible things: Explain yourself!unenlightened

    Sorry about that. There's a thought I want to put down and it's raw enough that I'm not aware of all the holes in my thinking, or where I'm making an assumption or where I'm simply wrong. I appreciate your goading. And in truth I was wrong to use "...the usual way", because upon thinking through I'm not so certain that there's anything usual -- but the short summary of what I have in mind is the underlying assumption that we know what we're talking about when it comes to what is good.

    As a meta-theory [anti-realism] forces the ethicist to evaluate ethics on something other than the usual.
    — Moliere

    What is the usual, and what is the other? I can guess on behalf of the realist that their usual basis for judging an ethical theory is whether or not it is true, absolutely or approximately.

    When we know what we're talking about and we disagree we explain our beliefs and use cases to demonstrate why we believe what we believe is true. So in that manner I wish to use a case to demonstrate that we don't know what we're talking about when it comes to what is good.

    Kant's moral theory and the axe murderer is a good case for what I mean: we have the Categorical Imperative, but we demonstrate that the CI is false because it forces one to tell the truth to the axe murderer. In response others have tried to modify the theory to a point that Kant had to come out and say you tell the truth to the axe murderer. So here's two interpretations of the exact same moral philosophy that derived from Kant's CI which allowed for lying in some circumstances and Kant's interpretation of the CI which doesn't. In this light people will say the act of lying/truth-telling to an axe murderer is the counter-example which demonstrates that one or the other theory is true or false and so you choose a normative theory on this basis, or they'll agree with Kant. (also worth noting that the form of the argument is the same when debating deontology vs. consequentialism, or other comparisons of normative theories on the basis of their truth)

    The argument seems to consist in whether or not a moral theory can tell what action is the right one for all possible circumstances, much like we treat hypothetical scientific statements. For it to get off the ground we presume that we already know what is true with respect to the good; it's the theory which we judge to be true or false based on whether it accords with some examples which we judge by that basis of knowledge, which is whatever our intuitions are on what's right and wrong. The normative theory is supposed to make what is implicitly already known to everyone explicitly stated in philosophical terms. Then the process is one of generating examples that provide plausible reductios of the explicit to what is already known to be wrong. (side note: and note how easy this example could be dismissed by pointing out that Benjamin Constant was simply wrong, and Kant was right, so here we have an example of mundane human frailty to understand the moral Truth) 

    For the anti-realist I think we have to find any other thing which is valuable about a system of ethical thought, but most importantly, an anti-realist will want to know what all normative theories would have one do in spite of them telling one to do different things. But the reason for this knowledge is not to demonstrate how one's version of right and wrong is true and the other's is false for this or that reason: having deontic inclinations doesn't mean reading Hume like some kind of scout from an enemy camp looking for points of entry because there's no hill, Truth, to die upon. Rather than there being a truth which justifies the explicit, the explicit is valued for itself as revealing a way people make these decisions in spite of the lack of a truth. What is it that Kant's CI values, other than truth? Individual choice, for one -- but also individual choice, writ large. How is it that a society is supposed to arise out of a large group of individuals who are each following their own maxims? Only if the individual maxims are harmonizable over the whole social sphere could that be possible, and so it is the foundation of his ethic -- individuals may choose between harmonizable maxims, and over time they'll come to choose the same harmonizable maxims (without the aid of his philosophy -- he's pretty explicit that he believes that the common man already knows what's good, and this is just a philosopher's toy). And that is the Kingdom of Ends, at least as I understand the theory. But for purposes of my demonstration I want to say I view these as attractive features of his moral philosophy, but not really true. Similarly the consequentialist has attractive features, such as its appeal to the sentiments and its caring about what our ethical beliefs result in. But on the whole I find it difficult to explain how the seemingly brightest minds of a society disagree on something so basic unless there was no truth to be found in the first place; then it makes perfect sense why such brilliant people would disagree on the matter. And given their habit to frame things in terms of truth the appeal to moral truth is understandable as just another habit of philosophers who like to frame things like this.

    And if that's the case then it seems quite reasonable to believe that we know nothing when it comes to ethical matters. Does that mean we ought to throw out these claims to truth, then? Well, no and we do not know -- that'd be an ought, right? So maybe we should, maybe we shouldn't -- but either way, we are at least acting from ignorance, and "the usual way" seems to assume that we're not.  
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    Okay, I definitely agree that it gets more complicated when claims about human nature meet the moral sphere. Maybe I haven't been properly contextualizing the "nature" idea within the context of your thread on perversions. But I do think we have both agreed that perversions presuppose natures, and Epicurus is very much situated within that ancient nature-paradigm.Leontiskos

    We've agreed that perversion in general presupposes nature -- or at least that I can't think of another way of talking about perversion in general. And, yes, I still include the appeal to nature because that's what Epicurus does, and it's from this ancient nature-paradigm. But I wanted to explain why I prefer to avoid explanations from a things nature (not that it's forbidden, only preferable to avoid to the extent possible)

    Fair enough. But to be precise, I don't think there is anything strange or controversial about the idea that a shark has a nature (a determinate form).Leontiskos

    I'd say that this is precisely what is controversial about interpreting Darwin in philosphical terms: creatures don't have an innate, fixed nature that makes them what they are, and in fact they are always morphing and changing and responding to the environment they find themselves within. The reduction of life to mechanism rather than teleology is a very strange and controversial, but rariefied, thought in the background for me.

    Still, I'd say that it's a different sort of controversy from:

    The controversy only arises when it comes to human nature and moral claims. I don't think we should throw out the idea that sharks have a determinate form because of that controversy.

    So while I've gone some way to explain why hesitancy with respect to the justification by appeal to a things nature, I think we agree that these are two different controversies -- one deals with how to describe sharks and the other deals with how we should judge ourselves and others.

    I think that's a good description of the problem. :up:Leontiskos

    Cool. :)

    Right, there is a disagreement about human nature occurring here. Granted, Aristotle does not think that flourishing is impossible for a slave, but rather that they flourish in a different and inferior way. For Epicurus the goal of life is (more or less) equally accessible to all. In our modern day we would prefer Epicurus to Aristotle on the basis of egalitarianism, yet Epicurus' own account is presumably not based on a desire for egalitarianism. Presumably egalitarianism is just a happy accident of the theory which he sees to be true on independent grounds.Leontiskos

    Oh, certainly -- I don't want to contend that egalitarianism is the goal of Epicurus' philosophy at all (for one, note how his allowance of masters already offends our egalitarian notions that we're all special in our own way). Here my comparison is to ideas, and so there's historical work I'd need to do to further up this point, but at least with respect to the ideas: notice how the art of philosophy is not for the slave in Aristotle. It's for the master who will take care of the slave so that the slavish souls flourish within the social order. But for Epicurus even the philosopher is only a doctor, rather than at the height of the social ladder influencing the leaders of tomorrow such that society is good. Epicurus takes on the slavish souls and turns them into master souls, thereby directly countering Aristotle's theory that there are slavish souls by nature.

    So, yes, Epicurus is more attractive to me due to various aesthetic attachments on my part. But in saying that Epicurus is responding to Aristotle I hope that there is something more substantive to that assertion than the mere things I find pretty. It's in the ideas that I mean (though there'd be more historical work that needs to be done if I were to make a factual demonstration between the person's Aristotle and Epicurus, or the institutions that competed for students)
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    Suppose I define a desire as "identification with a personal judgement of an imagined future", I think this suggests that a perverse desire is one that is either incompatible with the desires of others, or that is incompatible with reality(they amount to the same thing, because others are always part of reality). The former case demands a meta judgement of 'our' desires that is the province of ethics, and that means that perversity can be personal or social.

    If I want of you, that which is incompatible with your desires, then a social judgement can be made as to which of our desires is perverse. But the case of global warming is the paradigm of collective social desires incompatible with reality:— to have an energy rich and wasteful economy, and a stable and productive environment. The personal equivalent would be things like wanting to be a concert pianist, but not wanting to practice for several hours every day, or wanting to give up an addiction but not wanting to go through any withdrawal process.

    The perversity of pornography is the perversity of advertising, that it deliberately sets out to stimulate desires that it cannot fulfil. The sexual desires of the innocent adolescent (as was), are incoherent urges towards an unclear and unimaginable intimacy. Porn provides cartoon images of a fabricated unreal intimacy that is never mutual, because it is only an image; but the unreal image attaches to the primitive urge and thus develops a perverse desire that can never be fulfilled in reality, but becomes an unsatisfying addiction. Fast food and beauty products work in a similar way. This is the building up of desire, as unreachable because unrealistic images. Compare this with the job of the architect, planner, or engineer which is to make images of realisable ideas, that might be desired.
    unenlightened

    No objections here. The stimulation of desires that cannot be satisfied such that you keep coming back for more -- a deeper, more intense, more exciting whatever that leaves you wanting an even deeper, even more intense, even more exciting whatever is a great way to make money off of the innocent. You're giving a good list of examples and I believe I can get along with your definition of desire and its perversion.

    I can say two places where I think controversy will arise though: "Identification-with", in a description, and the judgment of compatibility with reality, which actually gets at something similar to the appeal to nature (since appeals to our own nature are themselves appeals to what we are in reality). But even so I think this makes sense -- I'm not seeing any obvious contradictions here between this and what I've said so far.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    We've agreed that perversion in general presupposes nature -- or at least that I can't think of another way of talking about perversion in general. And, yes, I still include the appeal to nature because that's what Epicurus does, and it's from this ancient nature-paradigm. But I wanted to explain why I prefer to avoid explanations from a things nature (not that it's forbidden, only preferable to avoid to the extent possible)Moliere

    Okay. :up:

    I'd say that this is precisely what is controversial about interpreting Darwin in philosphical terms: creatures don't have an innate, fixed nature that makes them what they are, and in fact they are always morphing and changing and responding to the environment they find themselves within. The reduction of life to mechanism rather than teleology is a very strange and controversial, but rariefied, thought in the background for me.Moliere

    Okay, you are right that this is a second issue. I think it will be best to avoid it within this thread.

    So while I've gone some way to explain why hesitancy with respect to the justification by appeal to a things nature, I think we agree that these are two different controversies -- one deals with how to describe sharks and the other deals with how we should judge ourselves and others.Moliere

    Yes, agreed.

    Here my comparison is to ideas, and so there's historical work I'd need to do to further up this point, but at least with respect to the ideas: notice how the art of philosophy is not for the slave in Aristotle. It's for the master who will take care of the slave so that the slavish souls flourish within the social order. But for Epicurus even the philosopher is only a doctor, rather than at the height of the social ladder influencing the leaders of tomorrow such that society is good. Epicurus takes on the slavish souls and turns them into master souls, thereby directly countering Aristotle's theory that there are slavish souls by nature.Moliere

    Would it be right to call Epicurus a psychologist?

    It's in the ideas that I mean (though there'd be more historical work that needs to be done if I were to make a factual demonstration between the person's Aristotle and Epicurus, or the institutions that competed for students)Moliere

    I would be interested to know if Epicurus was responding to particular philosophers or schools or ideas. That seems like a fruitful avenue for investigation.
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    Would it be right to call Epicurus a psychologist?Leontiskos

    I think so. Though there's more to the philosophy as well, he certainly has a psychology. In some ways he's obviously a psychologist as we'd think of the term, but then in others he's less so because he's more of a religious leader than just a working professional, and he has an entire world of thought outside of the psychology that, at the same time, gets along with the psychology. So he's something of a mixture between a psychologist, a religious leader, a scientist, and a philosopher. The psychology fits within an entire worldview, though yes the practice of Epicurean philosophy relies upon a psychology.

    I would be interested to know if Epicurus was responding to particular philosophers or schools or ideas. That seems like a fruitful avenue for investigation.Leontiskos

    Textually the easier school to contrast them to is the Stoics, because Cicero's On the Ends is that topic in dialogue form, albeit far after when these were first written. It contains the sorts of back-and-forth you'd expect to see between competing schools of thought.

    Still, I can't help but see how much the Epicurean theory of the soul contrasts with the Aristotelian one. And he was very much a person of "the next generation" but still was alive at the time of Aristotle (just looking up dates on the 'net, the garden founded in 306, some odd 16 years after Aristotle's death), and one of the most common ways philosophers engage with one another is to disagree and disprove prior philosophers. Furthermore Aristotle was critical of Democritus' atomic theory, and Epicurus goes on to develop that theory further so we have another point within his philosophy that marks a definite contrast.

    But I admit that while these are plausible reasons for the reading I'd have to go to a library and begin digging through literature to dis/confirm the thought, or find the contours of history where that's a better or worse way to read with respect to the history -- still, I hope the ideas serve as enough of a contrast here.
  • Fooloso4
    5.8k
    I'm anxious about relying on the concept of nature.Moliere

    As well you should be. Concepts of nature can be a reflection of perverse desire that things be a certain way in accord with one's opinion of how they should be. We can see this clearly when nature is appealed to as authoritative in moral disputes. For example, the claim that homosexuality is unnatural. Of course when we look at what occurs in the natural world what we find is that the facts do not support the claim.

    What distinguished what is natural from what is unnatural? As the example above shows, it cannot be an appeal to what we find in the non-human world.
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    I hadn't thought of going that route, but actually this could prove quite fruitful. You reminded me of a paper I read forever ago -- Michael Levin's Why Homosexuality is Abnormal.

    One of the reasons I think the appeal to nature within Epicurus or within Aristotle is at least interesting, rather than question begging is I think that the rest of the philosophy gives the concept boundaries to judgment -- there's the normative element, and the norm fits within a whole philosophy. With that come boundaries for proper judgment so you can at least get a feel for it as a concept rather than it just being an assertion or a negation of a particular belief, such as Levin's paper claiming that homosexuality is abnormal and leads to unhappiness.

    What I'm thinking now is homosexuality would be a good case to explore a fallacious use of the appeal to nature, and now coming back to Levin's paper: it is full of the fallacious. His argument begins:

    To bring into relief the point of the idea that homosexuality involves a misuse of bodily parts,
    I will begin with an uncontroversial case of misuse, a case in which the clarity of our intuitions
    is not obscured by the conviction that they are untrustworthy. Mr Jones pulls all his
    teeth and strings them around his neck because he thinks his teeth look nice as a necklace. He
    takes pureed liquids supplemented by intravenous solutions for nourishment. It is surely natural
    to say that Jones is misusing his teeth, that he is not using them for what they are for, that
    indeed the way he is using them is incompatible with what they are for. Pedants might argue that
    Jones's teeth are no longer part of him and hence that he is not misusing any bodily parts.

    To them I offer Mr Smith, who likes to play "Old MacDonald" on his teeth. So devoted is
    he to this amusement, in fact, that he never uses his teeth for chewing - like Jones, he takes
    nourishment intravenously. Now, not only do we find it perfectly plain that Smith and Jones
    are misusing their teeth, we predict a dim future for them on purely physiological grounds; we
    expect the muscles of Jones's jaw that are used for - that are for - chewing to lose their tone,
    and we expect this to affect Jones's gums. Those parts of Jones's digestive tract that are for processing
    solids will also suffer from disuse. The net result will be deteriorating health and perhaps
    a shortened life. Nor is this all. Human beings enjoy chewing. Not only has natural
    selection selected in muscles for chewing and favored creatures with such muscles, it has
    selected in a tendency to find the use of those muscles reinforcing. Creatures who do not
    enjoy using such parts of their bodies as deteriorate with disuse will tend to be selected out.

    Jones, product of natural selection that he is, descended from creatures who at least tended to
    enjoy the use of such parts. Competitors who didn't simply had fewer descendants. So we
    expect Jones sooner or later to experience vague yearnings to chew something, just as we
    find people who take no exercise to experience a general listlessness. Even waiving for now my
    apparent reification of the evolutionary process, let me emphasize how little anyone is tempted
    to say "each to his own" about Jones or to regard Jones's disposition of his teeth as simply
    a deviation from a statistical norm.
    ****

    The application of this general picture to homosexuality
    should be obvious. There can be no reasonable doubt that one of the functions of the
    penis is to introduce semen into the vagina. It does this, and it has been selected in because it
    does this .... Nature has consequently made this use of the penis rewarding. It is clear enough
    that any proto-human males who found unrewarding the insertion of penis into vagina have
    left no descendants. In particular, proto-human males who enjoyed inserting their penises into
    each other's anuses have left no descendants. This is why homosexuality is abnormal, and
    why its abnormality counts prudentially against it. Homosexuality is likely to cause unhappiness
    because it leaves unfulfilled an innate and innately rewarding desire.
    — Levin


    Fulfilling sexuality has nothing to do with the "natural use" of a penis; people don't get horny or feel sexual satisfaction due to the proper-functioning of their bodies, just as they don't get hungry or full because their teeth have a theoretical proper-function. If what Levin says is true then people wouldn't masturbate their penis (or, at least, it would make them unhappy to do so), and the desire for oral sex would similarly lead one to an unhappy and unfulfilled life. This view on sexuality is so out of date that the Kinsey reports, published some 30 years prior to Levin's paper, refute it, which is why he's forced to generate imaginative counter-examples to demonstrate what he means by proper function.

    But sexual research isn't his claimed theory -- he tries to draw conclusions from the theory of natural selection. They are not warranted, and the obvious point you've already pointed out @Fooloso4: animals besides humans engage in homosexual behavior, and so we ought to recognize that natural selection simply doesn't select for homo/hetero-sexual behavior in the manner described -- whatever the relationship between sexuality (however defined) and natural selection it is not one where it's excluded by natural selection -- at least if we look at the facts of animal behavior.

    But we can go further than noting facts. His notion that natural selection would select for sexual behavior and desire, even if it were tied to genes, wouldn't lead to the conclusions he draws. Homosexuality could be a recessive trait, in the same way red hair is, and so even if -- though it is false -- sexuality were inherited due to natural selection, we already have the theoretical knowledge of traits being passed down which allows for deviations of expression -- if you have four kids, one of them genetically homosexual, then the other three who are heterosexual will still carry the homosexual genes. This knowledge predates even Darwin.

    Given how incredibly false this paper is I'd suggest there's another reason for it. I think the real point of the paper is revealed in its suggestions:

    I regard these matters as prolegomena to such policy issues as the rights of homosexuals, the
    rights of those desiring not to associate with homosexuals, and legislation concerning homosexuality,
    issues which I shall not discuss systematically here.
    — Levin

    In particular "the rights of those desiring not to associate with homosexuals" -- the point of the paper is to give credence to the idea that persons who wish to use their freedom of association to not include homosexuals, and claim this is a rational position to hold. The claim to nature has, for its own end, the legal form as its sight, or at the very least the social power of exclusion for those judged abnormal and probably unhappy.

    The paper was published in April of 1984. Given all the obviously erroneous inferences -- from sources which predate the publication -- my guess is Levin is responding to the AIDS crisis. I'm tempted to call this a perversion of philosophy because it's using the tools of philosophy to fashion a justification to exclude gay people in the midst of a health crisis that actually effects everyone, but was erroneously associated with -- and even desired for, among those who thought homosexuality its own perversion -- gay people.

    But then there's another side to philosophy which isn't the demonstration of knowledge, but the demonstration of ignorance -- as I'm using the paper here.

    ****

    Further steps on this path would be to follow up with the philosophy of John Corvino, and to go over -- one by one -- the various fallacious inferences people make about homosexuality in an effort to find some general pattern in the thinking rather than pointing out the obvious bigotry. But I thought this enough to at least put a post up. Thanks for the suggestion.
  • Fooloso4
    5.8k
    The Greeks used the term phusis ('nature') to distinguish it from what is by convention or law or custom (nomos). When applied to ethics, what is by nature is universal, true for all human beings by virtue of human nature.

    In Judaism, however, no appeal was made to nature but to God. Rather than a nature man has "ways". Some ways are straight, others crooked. Some God approves, others he does not. Some men are on the path, others stray.

    Christianity inherits both opposing views. On the one hand God's Law, and on the other, through Paul, man is born in sin and powerlessness against it. Augustine goes further with the belief in original sin. What is most natural becomes the source of sin.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    - Actually if you read the OP you will see that Epicurus had a strong notion of unnatural human desires. So did Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Christians, to name a few.
  • Fooloso4
    5.8k
    Actually if you read the OP you will see that Epicurus had a strong notion of unnatural human desires.Leontiskos

    Actually I have read the OP and more. Why would you think I haven't? What did I say that runs contrary to this?
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    The Greeks used the term phusis ('nature') to distinguish it from what is by convention or law or custom (nomos). When applied to ethics, what is by nature is universal, true for all human beings by virtue of human nature.

    In Judaism, however, no appeal was made to nature but to God. Rather than a nature man has "ways". Some ways are straight, others crooked. Some God approves, others he does not. Some men are on the path, others stray.

    Christianity inherits both opposing views. On the one hand God's Law, and on the other, through Paul, man is born in sin and powerlessness against it. Augustine goes further with the belief in original sin. What is most natural becomes the source of sin.
    Fooloso4

    That's how we get to a conceptual place where sex can be viewed as sinful, wrong, to be cast away. As Paul said:

    Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

    8 Now to the unmarried[a] and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.

    Marriage is put towards the end of warding off sin so that you aren't tempted, but celibacy is given clear spiritual priority as the better path.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    Textually the easier school to contrast them to is the Stoics, because Cicero's On the Ends is that topic in dialogue form, albeit far after when these were first written. It contains the sorts of back-and-forth you'd expect to see between competing schools of thought.Moliere

    Yes, that sounds like it would be an interesting comparison.

    Still, I can't help but see how much the Epicurean theory of the soul contrasts with the Aristotelian one. And he was very much a person of "the next generation" but still was alive at the time of Aristotle (just looking up dates on the 'net, the garden founded in 306, some odd 16 years after Aristotle's death), and one of the most common ways philosophers engage with one another is to disagree and disprove prior philosophers. Furthermore Aristotle was critical of Democritus' atomic theory, and Epicurus goes on to develop that theory further so we have another point within his philosophy that marks a definite contrast.Moliere

    The difference on Democritus is interesting. On the other hand, it is hard to say how Aristotle and Epicurus relate ethically. I want to say that Aristotle would accept Epicurus' positions but Epicurus would not accept Aristotle's, because Aristotle's ethics contains quite a bit more than Epicurus'. In particular it seems like Aristotle would say that exercising our highest faculties brings fulfillment and pleasure, and therefore one must strive to exercise them.

    Regarding Epicurus and nature, here is an interesting excerpt:

    It was Heraclitus, to the best of our knowledge, who pioneered the thesis that human beings cannot live well if they simply retreat into a private world. In explaining the nature of things, as he laid claim to doing, Heraclitus saw himself as waking his audience up to facts that pertain to everyone commonly—facts about living and dying, and the relation between identity and change. Like Lucretius, Heraclitus often juxtaposes a macroscopic view of things—the way things appear from a non-anthropomorphic perspective—with ordinary human viewpoints. Heraclitus’ purpose in doing so was not, I think, to cast doubt on the propriety of all conventional attitudes to life, but rather to show how they can be informed and clarified and improved when we also adopt a decentred and objective outlook on our position in the world. We can only live with full authenticity, he suggests, by coming to terms with nature and by integrating knowledge of nature’s procedures with our subjective identity.¹³

    The mainstream tradition of Greek philosophy, mutatis mutandis, endorsed this position. It is presumed by Parmenides and Empedocles, and accepted by Plato and Aristotle. Socrates was a dissenter, according to the doxographical tradition on him;¹⁴ so too were the Cyrenaics (DL 2.92) and, for obvious reasons, the sceptics. But the testimony for Pyrrho actually supports my point. For according to Timon’s account of Pyrrho, the first question someone who wants to be happy should ask is: ‘How are things by nature?’ The next question, the first having been settled, is: ‘What attitude should we adopt to things?’, and the third: ‘What will be the outcome for those who have this attitude?’¹⁵ Pyrrho’s programme of questions was probably known to Epicurus (cf. DL 9.64) who, in any case, would have agreed with the pertinence of the questions as distinct from Pyrrho’s answers to them. Most philosophers, unlike Pyrrho, thought that they could give definite and demonstrable answers to the question of how things are by nature, and that accommodating oneself to nature, as so disclosed, was the proper policy for anyone interested in a rational foundation for happiness.

    The Stoics, of course, are the school of philosophers who articulated this position most explicitly by making ‘agreement with nature’ their formulation of life’s goal (telos). Because Stoic ‘nature’ (physis) makes reference to a divine mind immanent in everything, the implications of their telos may seem to be radically at odds with Epicureanism. That is certainly true with reference to the rational, providential, and teleological properties of the Stoics’ cosmic physis. These properties persuade the Stoic, unlike the Epicurean, that natural events should be accepted as being for the best and divinely mandated. But, as we have already seen, the Stoics’ cosmic physis also signifies natural causation. A Stoic lives in agreement with cosmic nature by virtue of understanding and assenting to the way things happen in the world, by ‘living in accordance with experience of natural events’ in Chrysippus’ formulation (DL 7.87).

    It would be difficult to find a better expression than this to describe the ‘rationale of life’ (vitae ratio) that Lucretius praises Epicurus for discovering. As a good Epicurean, Lucretius will not go along with the Stoics in supposing that natural events are for the best; his message is that we need to understand and live in agreement with nature not because nature does things well, but simply because nature’s way of doing things is the way things are and thus constitutes the essential facts and truth. The grasp of nature’s causality underpins our happiness because it teaches us the possibilities and limitations of living in the world as it really is, understanding what can be and cannot be, what it is reasonable and in our power to do and plan for, and what, on the other hand, is irrational and out of step with the way things are.

    In the proem of book 5, as he prepares to discourse on cosmology, biology, and anthropology, Lucretius couples eulogy of natura with eulogy of Epicurus: ‘Who is able with mighty mind to build a song worthy of the majesty of these things and these findings? . . . For if we should speak, in the way that the discovered majesty of these things actually requires, he was a god, noble Memmius.’ In these lines Lucretius twice refers to rerum maiestas. Bailey (1947) translates this expression by ‘the majesty of truth’, Smith in the Loeb edition (1975) by ‘the majesty of nature’. In his commentary Bailey comes closer to Smith’s rendering, because he explains the expression as ‘the great- ness of the world’, but ‘greatness’ is much too flat for rendering the marked noun maiestas, with its divine and regal connotations. Lucretius often uses res as a plain alternative to natura, and I think Smith is right to render rerum here by ‘nature’. Epicurus’ discoveries have revealed that nature, and no god of superstition or philosophers’ demiurge, is in charge of the world.
    — A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus : Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    It's when natural and unnecessary desires are "built up" into groundless desires (that which cannot be satisfied) that we have perverted desire, at least according to the theory I'm offering here.Moliere

    I think the theory of perverted desire holds, and I want to suggest that desire is the reason why injustice prevails. In fact this could be the beginnings of working out how to make this a falsifiable theory rather than a philosophy of desire -- if perverted desire, in the technical sense, is the cause of injustice, then curing perverted desire ought to result in more just relations.Moliere

    This is how Epicurus relates pleasure to justice:

    we cannot live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably, and justly; nor live wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly — Letter to Menoeceus

    So pleasure requires justice and justice requires pleasure, but there are other factors at play as well, such as wise and honorable living. I myself am not really convinced that perverted desire is the cause of injustice, although it is surely one cause of injustice. For example, scarce resources can lead to injustice even apart from perverted desires. Have you thought any more about this question of justice?

    If we simply don't want to change then, in a sense, we're already a step ahead because we are in unity with our desires. That's surely less anxiety-inducing than having desires which conflict, and so I think it'd follow that from an Epicurean perspective it's better to be in unity with luxurious desires which are satisfied than to be in conflict between luxurious and simple desires.Moliere

    I found it sort of interesting that you would say this, as it rings of the idea that the akolastos is better than the akratēs (in <Aristotle's terms>). In some ways this is the crucial difference between ancient and modern ethics, and it might be called the question of the normativity of individual action. The modern idea is that the akolastos and the sophon are equally undivided, and therefore equally good.* I think Nietzsche plays a role in this modern conception. A basic counterargument here is that if the akolastos is to become a sophron then he must pass through the stage of akrasia, and therefore the akratēs is better than the akolastos. The analogy to Epicurus from Aristotle doesn't work perfectly, but it works to a point.

    But the second question is whether this really tracks Epicurus. Specifically, you seem to be positing that, for Epicurus, desire which is natural but unnecessary is only disreputable because it is more difficult to satisfy, and that if one were able to satisfy it reliably then there would not be anything problematic about it. If this is right, then it seems to throw a wrench into the Epicurean system, implying that some of the core claims are based on accidental factors. It would be something like, "Live simply, unless you have the means to live luxuriously."

    * Kevin Flannery writes specifically on this question in his, "Anscombe and Aristotle on Corrupt Minds."
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    This is how Epicurus relates pleasure to justice:

    "we cannot live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably, and justly; nor live wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly" -- Letter to Menoeceus"

    So pleasure requires justice and justice requires pleasure, but there are other factors at play as well, such as wise and honorable living. I myself am not really convinced that perverted desire is the cause of injustice, although it is surely one cause of injustice. For example, scarce resources can lead to injustice even apart from perverted desires. Have you thought any more about this question of justice?
    Leontiskos

    I've thought about it, but my thoughts aren't any deeper than what's been presented so far. The best interpretation of Epicurean justice I can muster is that it comes about because people are living happy and tranquil lives -- but that's a lot like an eschatology to my mind which amounts to the thought: if everyone just followed the same ethical creed then everyone would live in harmony and then justice would prevail! But it seems like a weak theory of justice to me because it sort of begs the question in its own way -- it's not exactly a surprising conclusion that if everyone agreed to what is ethical and lived ethically then they'd agree and continue to live a just life. That's pretty unsatisfactory.

    Then there's the fact that while I think Epicurean desire is an interesting theory of desire I'm uncommitted to it as a universal theory of desire -- basically I'd say I'm still stuck on the structure of desire and describing desire, and anytime I try to think the relationship between desire and justice I find myself thinking about desire again.

    But the second question is whether this really tracks Epicurus. Specifically, you seem to be positing that, for Epicurus, desire which is natural but unnecessary is only disreputable because it is more difficult to satisfy, and that if one were able to satisfy it reliably then there would not be anything problematic about it. If this is right, then it seems to throw a wrench into the Epicurean system, implying that some of the core claims are based on accidental factors. It would be something like, "Live simply, unless you have the means to live luxuriously."Leontiskos

    On whether it really does or not I'm happy to concede there are multiple ways to emphasize the text, especially with regards to Epicureanism. And truth be told in rethinking the example I'm finding myself going back on what I said before, but I think it's a better working of the example of the depraved soul:

    The Epicurean would hold that it is better to have an ataraxic rather than depraved soul because the depraved soul, while able to satisfy perverted desires, they are still in an anxiety loop of a kind -- it's an exciting life where they are able to continually pursue and fulfill excitement rather than a tranquil life where one knows that their desires will be satisfied tomorrow.

    I think the uncertainty of the world we inhabit also gives justification to pursue the ataraxic soul over the depraved soul with the means to satisfy them: only the ataraxic soul can say and mean "What is good in life is easy to obtain", where the depraved soul must strive to continue to satisfy their many desires. As you noted above about scarcity: if we lived in a world of infinite resources then perhaps the ataraxic soul would best be seen as a kind of quaint attachment to an ascetic existence, but given the vagaries of a world composed of nothing but atoms and void moving in accord to the swerve it makes sense to want the kind of soul which is happy with anything.

    I found it sort of interesting that you would say this, as it rings of the idea that the akolastos is better than the akratēs (in <Aristotle's terms>). In some ways this is the crucial difference between ancient and modern ethics, and it might be called the question of the normativity of individual action. The modern idea is that the akolastos and the sophon are equally undivided, and therefore equally good.* I think Nietzsche plays a role in this modern conception. A basic counterargument here is that if the akolastos is to become a sophron then he must pass through the stage of akrasia, and therefore the akratēs is better than the akolastos. The analogy to Epicurus from Aristotle doesn't work perfectly, but it works to a point.Leontiskos

    I'd think that for the working Epicurean administering the cure they'd say that the incontinent man is on a path to the cure, but is still not tranquil and so needing the cure. But this brings out another point of contrast here between Aristotle and Epicurus: it's not willpower which brings about the continent man, but a master who prunes your desires such that you desire to and are able to live tranquilly.
  • Leontiskos
    2k
    I've thought about it, but my thoughts aren't any deeper than what's been presented so far. The best interpretation of Epicurean justice I can muster is that it comes about because people are living happy and tranquil lives -- but that's a lot like an eschatology to my mind which amounts to the thought: if everyone just followed the same ethical creed then everyone would live in harmony and then justice would prevail! But it seems like a weak theory of justice to me because it sort of begs the question in its own way -- it's not exactly a surprising conclusion that if everyone agreed to what is ethical and lived ethically then they'd agree and continue to live a just life. That's pretty unsatisfactory.Moliere

    It seems to me that the deeper idea here is not that ethical homogeneity produces harmony, but rather that injustice is a consequence of unhappiness, and that if people were happy then the problem of injustice would solve itself. This is not such an uncommon idea, nor is it so implausible. Epicureanism always faintly reminds me of Indian religion, and I sometimes hear this idea from that subcontinent.

    Then there's the fact that while I think Epicurean desire is an interesting theory of desire I'm uncommitted to it as a universal theory of desire -- basically I'd say I'm still stuck on the structure of desire and describing desire, and anytime I try to think the relationship between desire and justice I find myself thinking about desire again.Moliere

    That makes sense to me. It does represent an important facet of desire, but I'm not sure it captures the whole picture. This is more or less why I said above that Aristotle would accept and incorporate Epicurean premises into his thought as a subset, but Epicurus would probably reject many of the Aristotelian add-ons.

    The Epicurean would hold that it is better to have an ataraxic rather than depraved soul...Moliere

    Okay.

    I think the uncertainty of the world we inhabit also gives justification to pursue the ataraxic soul over the depraved soul with the means to satisfy them: only the ataraxic soul can say and mean "What is good in life is easy to obtain", where the depraved soul must strive to continue to satisfy their many desires. As you noted above about scarcity: if we lived in a world of infinite resources then perhaps the ataraxic soul would best be seen as a kind of quaint attachment to an ascetic existence, but given the vagaries of a world composed of nothing but atoms and void moving in accord to the swerve it makes sense to want the kind of soul which is happy with anything.Moliere

    Okay, good points.

    I'd think that for the working Epicurean administering the cure they'd say that the incontinent man is on a path to the cure, but is still not tranquil and so needing the cure. But this brings out another point of contrast here between Aristotle and Epicurus: it's not willpower which brings about the continent man, but a master who prunes your desires such that you desire to and are able to live tranquilly.Moliere

    Well, for Aristotle the incontinent man is "weak-willed" and the continent man could be considered "strong-willed," but the goal is to be temperate, and the temperate man is well-ordered, not strong-willed. A strong will is only necessary to overcome a disordered soul and disordered passions.

    But the centrality of a master might be a difference. Mostly, I'm not sure if anyone—ancient or modern—really understands how to make people virtuous. It seems to always be a haphazard and uncertain endeavor. Aristotle even highlights the problem of the inadequacy of ethical treatises towards the end of the Nicomachean Ethics.

    There are lots of things you've said that could be a topic of conversation. Fishing out one of them:

    Now if there is truly no human nature then the philosophy is a bit of a fib. If one believes that the Christian way of life will transform people to be better than they are born to be -- or any variation on that theme, which is common enough (It's the warped wood theory of human nature combined with a notion of a cure for the soul) -- then the Epicurean philosophy is anathema as well. In fact I think this could go some way to explaining how it became so unpopular. Stoicism, with its emphasis on the life of the mind, could be married to Christianity, but Epicureanism -- with its emphasis on the human life here and now -- brings about more conceptual tensions.Moliere

    I think there are two distinctions at play, here. The first distinguishes between a focus on earthly life and a focus on the eschaton. The second distinguishes between a conception of human nature and a conception of fallen human nature. I think the second distinction is going to be a bit harsher for Epicureanism, although the first is also significant.

    It strikes me that Epicureanism coincides to a large extent with the ascetic traditions of Christianity, particularly the tradition of the desert fathers and the monasticism that grew up out of that. In those traditions exists a Platonism that is agreeable to Epicureanism, whereas the later more Aristotelian strand of Christianity is in many ways more urban and cosmopolitan, and less agreeable to Epicureanism. The irony here is that Epicurean asceticism in certain ways coincides with the more extreme forms of Christian practice, despite lacking some of the motivations.
  • Joshs
    5.5k
    It seems to me that the deeper idea here is not that ethical homogeneity produces harmony, but rather that injustice is a consequence of unhappiness, and that if people were happy then the problem of injustice would solve itself.Leontiskos

    I always thought that injustice was just the way we talk about competing values from within our own partisan bubble.
  • Wayfarer
    21.5k
    A human being in a dream turning into the Eiffel Tower is absurd, but not perverted.Moliere

    Erika Eiffel (née LaBrie) married the Eiffel Tower (hence the surname) in a commitment ceremony in 2007:

    She first encountered the Eiffel Tower in 2004, and said that she felt an immediate attraction. She told ABC News that she and others "[...] feel an innate connection to objects. It comes perfectly normal to us to connect on various levels, emotional, spiritual and also physical for some." In April 2009, on the second anniversary of her marriage to the Eiffel Tower, she appeared on Good Morning America and explained how her object love empowered her. Her 20 year relationship with the Berlin Wall inspired the musical theater production Erika's Wall.Wikipedia

    Eiffel is also founder of OS Internationale, an organization for those who develop significant relationships with inanimate objects. There's also a wikipedia entry on 'Objectum Sexuality'.

    I don't know if that is perverted, but it certainly is exceedingly strange.
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    It seems to me that the deeper idea here is not that ethical homogeneity produces harmony, but rather that injustice is a consequence of unhappiness, and that if people were happy then the problem of injustice would solve itself. This is not such an uncommon idea, nor is it so implausible. Epicureanism always faintly reminds me of Indian religion, and I sometimes hear this idea from that subcontinent.Leontiskos

    That's a good rendition -- better than I've provided.

    I feel doubt at the proposition that injustice would solve itself. Or maybe I just feel doubt in the Epicurean cure as a cure, rather than as a philosophy. As you say:

    Mostly, I'm not sure if anyone—ancient or modern—really understands how to make people virtuous. It seems to always be a haphazard and uncertain endeavor.Leontiskos

    That makes sense to me. It does represent an important facet of desire, but I'm not sure it captures the whole picture. This is more or less why I said above that Aristotle would accept and incorporate Epicurean premises into his thought as a subset, but Epicurus would probably reject many of the Aristotelian add-ons.Leontiskos

    I think this would depend upon how we'd read the history, honestly. Which facts are we going to emphasize in telling the story of ancient philosophy? In thinking through desire I have reasons to want to find differences -- I'm not really settled on a theory of desire so the differences stand out as important to me as a basis for judgement.

    I mean, this is why I emphasize that there's more than one way to read these texts -- my rendition of Epicurus and my rendition of Aristotle definitely disagree :D . Though that does make sense of some things like that they had different schools, rather than Epicurus attending the Lyceum. I had to look up dates on the Lyceum because I wasn't sure, so I thank you for the prodding. Another thing I completely missed is that Cicero's On the Ends features a peripatetic as distinct from both Epicureanism and Stoicism!

    So there are some reasons aside from my emphasis to at least think they must be different in some ways.

    Well, for Aristotle the incontinent man is "weak-willed" and the continent man could be considered "strong-willed," but the goal is to be temperate, and the temperate man is well-ordered, not strong-willed. A strong will is only necessary to overcome a disordered soul and disordered passions.Leontiskos

    Cool. So a point of agreement would be that the temperate man does not need a strong will.

    But a strong will is not necessary to overcome a disordered soul in the Epicurean philosophy.

    I think there are two distinctions at play, here. The first distinguishes between a focus on earthly life and a focus on the eschaton. The second distinguishes between a conception of human nature and a conception of fallen human nature. I think the second distinction is going to be a bit harsher for Epicureanism, although the first is also significant.Leontiskos

    That fits.

    It strikes me that Epicureanism coincides to a large extent with the ascetic traditions of Christianity, particularly the tradition of the desert fathers and the monasticism that grew up out of that. In those traditions exists a Platonism that is agreeable to Epicureanism, whereas the later more Aristotelian strand of Christianity is in many ways more urban and cosmopolitan, and less agreeable to Epicureanism. The irony here is that Epicurean asceticism in certain ways coincides with the more extreme forms of Christian practice, despite lacking some of the motivations.

    In part this is probably due to my emphasizing the concepts and how they fit together from the perspective of Epicurus himself; almost always the way ethical concepts fit together and the practices they inspire are not the same. I know there are more cosmopolitan Epicureans who lived after: Diogenes of Oenoanda was rich enough to have land and build an inscription which details the Epicurean philosophy because, so it claims, it lays the path to salvation. So the concepts would lead one to practice a certain way -- a way in which Epicurus did -- but later practitioners found benefit in the philosophy in spite of not following the ascetic way of life that the ideas clearly outline too. My thought on this is that there was a distinction between The Doctors -- like what Epicurus was -- and the people who learn and live the Epicurean philosophy, in a similar way that many religious communities have at least two social layers with different social rules depending upon how much influence you wield within the social organism.

    EDIT: Although I should say -- yes! There are definitely resonances between this and other philosophies which aim at being a way of life, or in some sense are religious.
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    I always thought that injustice was just the way we talk about competing values from within our own partisan bubble.Joshs

    If so -- does this way of talking reduce to desire, or are the competing values from within our partisan bubble distinct from desire?
  • Moliere
    4.3k

    In an attempt to classify the example within Epicurean desire you've driven me to the Vatican Sayings, which I haven't really braved before.

    If sight, association, and intercourse are removed, the passion of love is ended. — Vatican Sayings 18

    Let's presume she associates with the building, and that this is our maxim of love. Then the passion of love has not ended. The question would then turn to: how do you classify the passion of love? Is love a natural or groundless desire, and if it is natural is it necessary or unnecessary?

    That the passion of love can include association seems to allow for a concept of love that would be natural, and so insofar that her passion is one of love then a case could be made that, though we find this a strange desire, it isn't a bad desire.

    Now could the case be made that love is a good desire? That'd probably be where I'd mark a difference between Christianity and Epicureanism. I think the above quote is meant to point out that love consists of material relationships. So love is a good desire (insofar that it does not become groundless), but love is also "sight, association, and intercourse" -- which, given Paul, love is clearly at least not intercourse.
  • Joshs
    5.5k
    I always thought that injustice was just the way we talk about competing values from within our own partisan bubble.
    — Joshs

    If so -- does this way of talking reduce to desire, or are the competing values from within our partisan bubble distinct from desire?
    Moliere

    You mean desire in the sense of what our values lead us to desire?
  • Moliere
    4.3k
    Well, that's kind of the question :D

    If values are distinct from -- not identical to -- desire then it would still be possible to articulate a relationship between desire and at least injustice under the presumption that injustice is the way we talk about competing values within our partisan bubble. So for example if desire is a lack, and injustice is an articulation of competing values, then I think I'd say that the two are distinct such that a relationship could be articulated since at least the articulation of competing values is not obviously desire-as-lack.

    But if desire just is the basis of competing values then the question of desire would "settle" the question of justice, which is as I understand the Epicurean account to be committed to.
  • Joshs
    5.5k


    If values are distinct from -- not identical to -- desire then it would still be possible to articulate a relationship between desire and at least injustice under the presumption that injustice is the way we talk about competing values within our partisan bubble. So for example if desire is a lack, and injustice is an articulation of competing values, then I think I'd say that the two are distinct such that a relationship could be articulated since at least the articulation of competing values is not obviously desire-as-lack.

    But if desire just is the basis of competing values then the question of desire would "settle" the question of justice, which is as I understand the Epicurean account to be committed to.
    Moliere

    I’ll go with the latter since I follow Nietzsche and Deleuze in not formulating desire as lack but as the power of affecting and being affected.
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