Three Common Issues: (1) Moderation, (2) The Senses As Deceived, and (3) “Stoicism and Epicureanism Have the Same Goals.”

Thanks to Mequa for a link to an excellent article:  “Epistemology As A Foundation For Epicurean
Thought” by Emma Hughes.  This is an excellent article and contains many good points with which I firmly agree.  I am now only part-way through it, but aside from the main excellent point that Epistemology is central to understanding Epicureanism, I have three comments I want to preserve as a blog post:

(1)  “Logical reasoning, avoiding excessive passion, LIFE IN MODERATION: these are the keys to the happy lifestyle of both the Stoics and Epicureans.”   Yes as to Stoics, but I say NO in regard to Epicureans.  The other two points of this statement are probably off-key too, but especially “LIFE IN MODERATION”.  Where in ANY of the Principal Doctrines or Vatican Sayings is anything about “MODERATION”?  Referring to it this way implies that moderation is an end in itself or even a technique that is always valid, and it certainly is neither.  The end of life is a single, supreme goal – maximizing the life of pleasure.  Just as with any other technique that may apply depending on circumstances, there is nothing desirable whatsoever in being “moderate” except and unless it leads to a life of greater pleasure.  It is stoicism or something else than Epicureanism to imply that moderation is an end in itself.

(2)  “Second, Epicureans make the claim that the senses cannot be deceived, and yet we encounter hundreds of examples of just that in day-to-day life, a contradiction which must be addressed.”  Not only does this suffer from not giving Epicurus credit for observing the same things we do, it has a much more fundamental flaw.  Epicurus does NOT say that the “senses cannot be DECEIVED,” any more than he says that the senses can recognize “truth.”  The senses deliver DATA, pure and simple — what we do with the data is a matter for the opinion that the mind adds.  It is just as wrong to consider the senses to be DECEIVED as to make the mistake of thinking that the senses are where the mind reaches a conclusion about the data provided by the senses.  This is an obvious point that Epicurus hammered repeatedly, and was so important to the Epicureans that it is referenced in PD 22-25 as well.  There is no contradiction within Epicureanism in this point so long as we understand what Epicurus tried to explain, but which we insist on misunderstanding because we miss the framework.  The information provided by the senses is “reported truly” and the data is provided to our minds without pre-filtering.  What our minds do with any of the data is an entirely different question.

(3) ” The Stoics and the Epicureans both have the same goal. It is in their means of achieving that goal where their philosophies differ.”  No they don’t – not at all.  The Epicurean analysis is that Nature has created us to live pleasurable lives.  Period.  The Stoics take the diametrically opposed view that the GODS created us to life “happily” which they define as all sorts of convoluted duties and submissions to divine dictate and fate.  This confusion comes from presuming that “happily” = “with pleasure” but the two terms have very different connotations, with the result that when you really drill down Stoic “happiness” is about as different from Epicurean “pleasure” as self-flagellation in Mecca or a monastery is from wine-tasting in San Francisco.

Of course maybe it’s me who is  wrong on these three points.  Maybe Stoics and Epicureans were wasting their time fighting each other for a two thousand years because the Epicureans simply didn’t realize that (1) all we have to do to live properly is practice “moderation,” (2) the senses really are where opinions of truth are formed, despite what Epicurus said, and (3) happiness and pleasure were the same thing, just as we think of them today, and it’s waste of time to worry about how “happiness” is defined in the Platonic/Aristotelian schools.  So maybe it’s me who is wrong on these three points, but I don’t think so.

But to repeat – Ms. Hughes’ article is excellent and well worth reading.

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