Tuesday, October 09, 2007

How to annoy a Platonist...

I've been revisiting some ideas about Epicurean hedonism recently. In particular, I've begun to think again about the Epicurean idea that a state of painlessness is itself a pleasure, indeed the highest pleasure possible. It's an odd thought, and it has generally been subject to a great deal of scepticism. Rightly so, it seems to me now (although it's one of those questions on which I've wavered back and forth...) I'm beginning to think that Epicurus really should have read Aristotle on pleasure more carefully. Or perhaps he should have read Aristotle on pleasure full stop; it isn't so obvious that Epicurus had much of an idea of what is in what we have as the Nicomachean Ethics. Still, I reckon he'd have found a lot in there to his liking. In particular, he might have usefully adapted Aristotle's armoury of activities and changes (energeiai and kinêseis) for his own distinction between katastematic and kinetic pleasures. (I would like to think that perhaps he did try to do just that. Well, I've often wondered if the curious and obscure quotation from Epicurus' On choices at DL 10.136 might point to him doing just that:
“ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἀταραξία καὶ ἀπονία καταστηματικαί εἰσιν ἡδοναί· ἡ δὲ χαρὰ καὶ ἡ εὐφροσύνη κατὰ κίνησιν ἐνεργείᾳ βλέπονται.”

Unfortunately, the text is a bit wobbly and there are all sorts of tricky aspects of the syntax to work out: ἐνεργείᾳ or ἐνεργείαι, for example? Thats a job for another (rainy) day, perhaps.) But for now I thought I'd share one of my favourite bits of Epicurean provocation, which I remember once (I think genuinely) shocked one of my fellow graduate students. (That might be because he was of a Platonist sort of persuasion at the time...) Here goes:
I spit on the fine (τὸ καλόν) and those who vacantly gawp at it, whenever it produces no pleasure.
Quoted at Athenaeus 547a (Us. 512)

Terrific stuff.

1 comment:

Hypatia Callisto said...

That last Epicurus quotation strongly reminds me of something Arthur Schopenhauer said in the Wisdom of Life:

"Would a musician feel flattered by the loud applause of an audience if he knew they were nearly all deaf, and that, to conceal their infirmity, they set to work to clap vigorously as soon as ever they saw one or two persons applauding? And what would he say if he got to know that those one or two persons had often taken bribes to secure the loudest applause for the poorest player!"