• Moliere
    1.6k
    In my reading today:

    What, then, is philosophy, when practiced in the Epicurean way? How does it approach its recipients, and what sorts of arguments does it use? In answering these questions, Epicureans relied heavily on the medical analogy, which permeates the tradition as a metaphor, and more than a metaphor, for the philosophical endeavor. We have already seen Epicurus use it to insist that the only proper mission for philosophy is the curing of souls. This passage suggested that Epicurean philosophical practice will be circumscribed by the analogy in a way that Aristotle's is not: arguments aimed at other ends will be called empty. Again, we have seen the Letter to Menoeceus use the analogy to insist that philosophy is for all ages and persons: this, too, sets constraints on philosophy, of a kind Aristotle would not have thought appropriate — Nussbaum. The Therapy of Desire. Ch 4. III
    (very slowly working through that one ;) )
    The contrast to Aristotle is especially interesting, because many of the values which we ascribe to philosophy can be seen in Aristotle's work in the discipline, which set its own meta-philosophical concerns that have many parallels today.

    As Nussbaum reads Epicurus this is an intentional reply to Aristotle -- which strikes me as reasonable, especially considering Aristotle's treatment of Democritus, who fits into a similar mold to Epicurus.

    I'm hoping, though, to start a discussion on meta-philosophy. What are the aims of philosophy, or what should the aims of philosophy be?

    The medical analogy [and more than analogy] seems to embody a number of philosophers, as the academic [Lyceum] model does as well. My sympathies lie closer to the medical model, though that would only be natural as one who isn't in academia -- I'd imagine the reverse to be true for someone who is.

    But are there are justifications for philosophy? Other reasons why one pursues philosophy, or other ends philosophy should pursue?

    What makes philosophy, philosophy?

    And, then, what makes good philosophy good philosophy?

    [a categorical, and an evaluative question respectively]
  • Mongrel
    3k
    The medical analogy [and more than analogy] seems to embody a number of philosophers, as the academic [Lyceum] model does as well. My sympathies lie closer to the medical model, though that would only be natural as one who isn't in academia -- I'd imagine the reverse to be true for someone who is.Moliere

    There's folklore that Freud didn't really want to help people, but since he was Jewish, it was easier to become a doctor than a theorist.

    On the other hand, Mani (the founder of Manichaeism) was criticized for failing to spend more time healing people (which implies that sages were expected to be healers in his world).

    I became philosophically minded at a young age due to questions that plagued me. A question can be like a wound. I made up a story once that talks about consciousness in terms of a primal wound. But my story says the healing of the wound is oblivion. The last lines of my story are identical to the first lines (which I recently found out is the way one really old version of the Gilgamesh epic is presented...)
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    As I have the strange feeling I was saying somewhere else...(maybe it's just deja vu)...

    I feel I've come to philosophy relatively late in life to clarify matters, especially fundamentals, even if I only eventually ask different questions.

    Are there authorities? The Epicurean model is very much one of master-pupil, something akin to the idea of 'professional-layperson', and the medical model in general implies a healer and one seeking healing. Can one find the healer, the master, the authority in oneself? Or are they more likely to be another? Nussbaum, Wittgenstein (who of course had therapy in mind, though his patient was philosophy itself?

    In the Lyceum you can at least not feel obliged to adhere to one school or another, and move between different discourses. With Hippocrates or Epicurus, you have to kneel at their particular feet.

    Can one generalise about what makes philosophy philosophy? An enjoyable aspect of these forums has been that some people seem to recognise others as on some similar quest to their own, even if it would be hard to put your finger on how they resemble each other.

    I don't know what makes good philosophy good. I was chatting to someone yesterday about their interest in Kierkegaard - about subjectivity - and had a moment of 'Ah, yes!' in my mind. Those moments seem good.

    Sorry that my response may seem awfully vague. But I'm very interested in the questions.
  • Moliere
    1.6k
    This is true. Though, from Epicrus' perspective, that's because he adhered to the medical model so strictly. Imagine a doctor who asked your opinion before doing a surgery. Not just with respect to preferences, but as an equal. It would likely not go well. For Epicurus you slowly gained degrees of freedom. When pupils first entered the garden they were still sick from a sick society. So they would resist the cure. If Epicurus allowed them to remain sick it would have been callused of him, rather than loving.

    Yes, I think that you strike at the heart of what really makes Epicurean [and therapeutic, generally] philosophy feel strange to us -- because we are so used to philosophy on the model of the Lyceum, and it just feels wrong to build philosophy, of all things, on the model of master-pupil.

    However, the downfalls there are that philosophy is then only open to those who are born into the correct circumstances. They have to have the right parents, resources, and so forth to make healthy individuals who then have the luxury of learning to use their untutored judgment. [which can only be tutored by having them judge, rather than telling them the answer]. Aristotle admits as much in his ethics -- considering his school was set up to train the future leaders, the children of Aristocrats, this all makes sense. But not everyone needs to learn how to judge like this [and, in fact, ala Aristotle, the majority cannot, therefore, be truly eudaimon]

    But not everyone has that background. And not every society is healthy. That's something which the Nussbaum book is beginning to really draw out for me in terms of the differences between ethical stances in the ancient world. Epicurus' philosophy assumes that society is sick, and so everyone is sick -- and they need to be transformed in order to be happy, or they will be attached to what is actually unnecessary and harmful to happiness. As proof the garden did take in slaves, prostitutes, and those of the higher classes. It wasn't a school to train leaders for an already healthy society, but a school to transform the sick into the healthy -- a kind of psychic surgery. [whose endgoal, in part, is autarky]


    I agree that those "Aha!" moments are wonderful. And I am certainly uncertain about what makes good philosophy. Hence my asking the questions. :)
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    But are there are justifications for philosophy? Other reasons why one pursues philosophy, or other ends philosophy should pursue?Moliere
    @MoliereWell I agree wholeheartedly with Epicurus - philosophy is a therapy for the soul. I mean yes, there are others, who are by nature healthy, without realising it, and are not too concerned by the question of how to live a good life. They do not comprehend what makes them live a good life - they do so accidentally. But nevertheless, they live a good life, and hence are not interested in philosophy as a therapy. However, they may be interested in philosophy as some sort of mental gymnastic, a way to play with ideas and concepts, to discover new thoughts, etc. Up to them, but I don't think that that's what the purpose of philosophy should be. Sure, it can be used that way too, but it's main purpose should be to cure people of their ills. Why? Because this latter purpose provides actual help, and can make our communal life much better, and hence must have priority.

    Other people are not even aware that they don't live a good life. The question never even comes into their mind what makes for a good life. They are just so completely engulfed by their passions that they never step back from themselves to see the world as it really is. Many of them won't even know what philosophy does.

    As for why we don't like the medical model in today's society? Well, it's because we have developed an obsession with equality. We all want to be equals. It is, as Nietzsche would put it, a slave morality, wherein the weak, who are the majority, seek to make everyone like them, and respond with anger and hatred whenever someone appears their superior. In today's world it can't be tolerated to hear someone say "I know, you must listen to me to achieve freedom". No, we want all to be equal. The blind to lead the blind. No authorities... we can't stand authorities anymore. We can't stand being lectured anymore. We can't stand having to respect superior knowledge. We barely stand respecting positions of authority like policemen... just imagine... your friend having superior knowledge to you... how outrageous that would be.

    We have started mass producing everything... even intelligence. All the Universities of the world, throwing out thousands upon thousands of graduates every year. So many people with degrees... but a hundread people with degrees today probably aren't worth as much (don't have as much knowledge as) one person with a degree 200 years ago. Intelligence cannot be mass produced; it takes time to develop, and in this society, we want to produce workers as fast as possible, people who can get things done, not people who truly know. Everything studied in University is so superficial. I mean do you really think you can study a subject with a history of thousands of years in detail in 4 years, while also having time for long vacations, partying, etc.? Of course not!

    Imagine telling your wife "studying Nature is important, as it teaches us how to live a better life... you should study with me too... let's go watch the swans by the river" - it won't take long until she rolls over her eyes, and is like "Yeah yeah yeah... Another time". If not to you, then at least to her friends. Why? Not because she doesn't like it. She doesn't know if she will like it or not. If she would be forced to do it, it's very likely she'd end up liking it. But never being forced to, she'll never agree to it. She just can't see that it would have value to her. Also, she'll hate the fact that you're implying her life isn't good - hell, to live a BETTER life? I mean is something really wrong with life now? :s What are you really implying there? And who the hell are you to decide what a good life is for her anyway? You think you have some superior knowledge??

    People have such weak, sensitive egos nowadays, that Nietzsche wasn't too far off in diagnosing our modern society. Personally, if I see someone with superior knowledge in something I want to learn, I go to them, and beg them to teach me. And if they refuse, I'm not upset or angry. I know I am their inferior, and it is only their grace if they want to teach me anything - they don't have to.
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    I'm not sure why one should take a metaphor and use that as a standard for what demarcates appropriate philosophical inquiry. It is a metaphor afterall. And not one that everyone will be inspired by. I think philosophy is whatever philosophers do, as distinguished from other areas like science, math or art. There is no school, nor has there even been one, that has, or should have primacy. It's simply whatever sort of philosophical inquiry humans are interested in, whether it "cures the soul" or not. Maybe I find metaphysical questions profound and interesting, and you find them mundane and not worth pursuing. Okay, so what? If you want to cure your soul, then engage in that sort of philosophy.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    So nothing - just that one helps people, while the other one is just interesting for you (and maybe others too). If we had to prioritise one, we'd prioritise the one that provides help. That is the rational thing to do. But of course both of them can exist, and people can choose what they want to get engaged in! :)
  • Marchesk
    2.5k
    By prioritize, you mean funding? Or do you mean preaching that it's a moral obligation to pursue one philosophical school of thought over others?
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    Moral obligation? Morality has nothing to do with philosophy, and everything to do with religion... Ethics is merely Reason's demands. But they don't have to be followed. Virtue is its own reward. There is no obligation in ethics.
  • S
    10.2k
    So nothing - just that one helps people, while the other one is just interesting for you (and maybe others too). If we had to prioritise one, we'd prioritise the one that provides help. That is the rational thing to do.Agustino

    I strongly disagree. If by "we", you mean the bleeding heart masses, then yes, you're right. But "rational"? That prioritisation has more to do with the heart then the head. Reason is the slave of the passions - to quote Hume.

    Morality has nothing to do with philosophy, and everything to do with religion... Ethics is merely Reason's demands.Agustino

    Wow. Seriously?
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    I strongly disagree. If by "we", you mean the bleeding heart masses, then yes, you're right. But "rational"? That prioritisation has more to do with the heart then the head. Reason is the slave of the passions - to quote HumeSapientia

    Well I believe Hume was wrong. What makes you think Hume was right?

    Wow. Seriously?Sapientia

    Hmmm yes, quite serious :p ... Philosophy should do ethics, not morality.
  • S
    10.2k
    Well I believe Hume was wrong. What makes you think Hume was right?Agustino

    Because, based on experience, and upon reflection, it's clear to me that passions are what primarily influence what we prioritise in these sort of situations. Hence, if I'm especially empathetic, charitable, generous, altruistic, then I'll likely prioritise helping others, whereas if I'm significantly less so, and am more self-interested, then I'll likely prioritise my own interests above those of others.

    Plus, Hume makes some good points.
  • Postmodern Beatnik
    69
    I want to complicate Nussbaum's reading of Epicurus (or perhaps your reading of Nussbaum's reading of Epicurus). It is frequently missed that there were in fact two paths through the garden. One was for people who just wanted the cure. The other was for those who wanted to be able to administer the cure. The first set was given the arguments. The second set was trained in the arguments. This leaves us with a community comprised of both "lay Epicureans" (ordinary citizens who bought into the Epicurean doctrines) and "professional Epicureans" (i.e., Epicurean philosophers who spread the doctrines and defended them from objections).

    In part, this is a reflection of something almost unheard of in the Hellenistic period: the Epicureans did not believe that a professional philosopher was better off than a layperson with correct beliefs. While it is true that Epicurus enjoined everyone to study philosophy (since one cannot live well without wisdom), he did not hold that there was any special blessedness in the life of the professional philosopher. An Epicurean farmer could be just as happy as an Epicurean philosopher according to the doctrines. The only difference between them was their job.

    Note, however, that this fits in well with the medical analogy. A society with no doctors is certainly at risk of being wiped out by disease, but a society with no farmers would be wiped out by starvation. The doctor is important to the society, but not so important that everyone should be doctors to the exclusion of anyone being a farmer (or a cobbler, or a carpenter, et cetera). So philosophy is there to cure the soul, but your soul isn't all that needs attending to. And anyone who doesn't just want to take the philosopher's word for it is free to study the craft more seriously. Whether the relationship is master-pupil or teacher-student is entirely up to each individual and what they want out of Epicureanism.
  • Moliere
    1.6k
    Hrm! I was entirely unaware that there were two paths in the garden. Thank you for sharing.

    Is there a source I could track down that talks more about that? I am still gathering literature in my [very slowly progressing] quest to really dig into Epicurean philosophy.

    EDIT: Actually, then again, perhaps I just hadn't connected the dots. I have read about how, if you wanted, you were free to continue studying -- but you didn't need to do so. IIRC, Hadot actually talked about that. Having two paths is another way of putting that.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    Because, based on experience, and upon reflection, it's clear to me that passions are what primarily influence what we prioritise in these sort of situations. Hence, if I'm especially empathetic, charitable, generous, altruistic, then I'll likely prioritise helping others, whereas if I'm significantly less so, and am more self-interested, then I'll likely prioritise my own interests above those of others.Sapientia

    @SapientiaDo you think this necessarily has to be so? I mean, would you say that reason cannot influence the priority of passions? One cannot change one's passions?
  • Postmodern Beatnik
    69
    I am not aware of any sustained discussion of this point. It's more of an observation that emerges from the various known historical facts (such as Epicurus' prolific output of highly technical works, which are obscure enough to require significant training to understand, and his synoptic works, which are meant for more casual adherents). Furthermore, Epicurus' own Letter to Herodotus seems to begin and end with an acknowledgment of this fact about the Epicurean community (and, indeed, Epicurus seems to say therein that his later letters were written precisely due to this fact).

    That said, Diskin Clay has written extensively about the Epicurean community. And while his work is more sociological (concerning the role of Epicureanism's quasi-religious elements in promoting social cohesion among its adherents), one of the points that emerges from his work is that Epicurus instituted these elements as a way of generating solidarity within the community (which was far less homogenous than those of the other schools).

    (Having just seen your edit: yes, it is more a matter of connecting the dots than any explicit policy or structure within the school.)
  • Soylent
    188
    Philosophy is the practice of asking questions and making distinctions that others find irritating. Good philosophy is the most irritating sort and bad philosophy is comments or questions that most people find agreeable. Consensus is an enemy of philosophy such that, when a consensus is reached, the subject is demarcated as an entirely new field of study outside of philosophy. Philosophers try to break the consensus by posing questions pertaining to the new discipline, but those questions are largely ignored from within the discipline itself.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    I've been thinking about meta-philosophy a lot lately, in connection with Socratic philosophy, which is well-disposed toward the medical metaphor.

    In particular, I'm persuaded of the Cyrenaic thesis that all that we can have knowledge of are the experiential motions of our bodies, the pathe. Now if this is true, it naturally raises the question: what of the philosophical theses that expound this very epistemological doctrine? If taken seriously, wouldn't they entail that among the things that we don't, or cannot know, are those very doctrines that state what we can and cannot know? One response to this dilemma might be to say that there is in fact another kind of knowing. The other, more interesting one, for me anyway, is to bite the bullet and say that yes, one espouses philosophical theses without simultaneously reflexively claiming to know those very theses.

    What's more, the reason that one knows what one does has nothing to do with whether or not that person has studied the school of philosophy in question; that is to say, the Cyrenaic commitment effectively comes to asserting that you will not, and cannot, properly learn anything by becoming a Cyrenaic: it offers no new capacities for knowledge. The point, then, of philosophy, is not to acquire knowledge, or to know new things. What then is the point? The pseudo-legendary founder Atristippus of Cyrene says it best:

    He was asked by some one in what way his son would be the better for being educated. He replied, "If nothing more than this, at all events, when in the theatre he will not sit down like a stone upon stone."

    He was asked once in what educated men are superior to uneducated men; and answered, "Just as broken horses are superior to those that are unbroken."

    There is even a sort of ironical anti-philosophical strain in Cyrenaic philosophy, which asserts that as only ethics is important, the art of logic or dialectic, which is the very medium in which philosophy is couched, is useless.

    Meleager, in the second book of his Treatise on Opinions, and Clitomachus in the first book of his Essay on Sects says, that they thought natural philosophy and dialectics useless, for that the man who had learnt to understand the question of good and evil could speak with propriety, and was free from superstition, and escaped the fear of death, without either.

    Others say the 'logic' has 'utility:'

    They left out all investigation of the subjects of natural philosophy, because of the evident impossibility of comprehending them; but they applied themselves to the study of logic, because of its utility.

    Whether these are actually differing opinions or not, their sprit can be reconciled in the observation that, true to the heart of the Socratic tradition, dialectic or logic is itself an ironical exercise, useful insofar as it internally criticizes the very claims it makes or that other people make, though it cannot in the end offer any positively known theses.

    So knowledge is not the point of philosophy, but living well.
  • S
    10.2k
    Do you think this necessarily has to be so? I mean, would you say that reason cannot influence the priority of passions? One cannot change one's passions?Agustino

    Maybe.

    Anyway, to go back to your original comments to which I responded, if you think that you can demonstrate - in a new discussion, perhaps, so as not to digress too far away from the topic of this discussion - that prioritising helping others via philosophy over using philosophy to satisfy one's self-interest is the rational thing to do, then I'd be interested to see you try.
  • Moliere
    1.6k
    It would almost seem, then, that it's appropriate to say the Epicurean's practiced both the medical and academic meta-philosophies -- though I think it might be fair, with the notion that professional philosophers are not particularly blessed, to say they were still practicing philosophy on the medical model. In the same way that we have research institutions dedicated to medicine, and practitioners who apply said research, the Epicurean community would have both [and those who are practiced upon, as well].
  • Postmodern Beatnik
    69
    How dare you bring this back on topic! ;)

    But yes, I agree. According to the Epicurean, the academic approach is instrumentally valuable in maximizing the therapeutic effects of philosophy. So they practice both, but the medical approach reigns supreme.
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