Monday, March 17, 2008

Philosophers behaving badly

Those classical types could certainly be rude about one another. Here's the latest gem I've discovered, perhaps paying back Epicurus for his cute aphorism about 'spitting on the good'.

The second-century Platonist Calvenus Taurus seems to have been particularly attached to anti-Epicurean anti-hedonist agenda of an extreme kind. Certainly, the terms of his attacks on Epicurus as reported by Aulus Gellius NA 9.5 are uncompromising:

Taurus autem noster, quotiens facta mentio Epicuri erat, in ore atque in lingua habebat verba haec Hieroclis Stoici, viri sancti et gravis: ἡδονὴ τέλος, πόρνης δόγμα· οὐκ ἔστιν πρόνοια, οὐδὲ πόρνης δόγμα.

But our own Taurus, whenever he made mention of Epicurus would have on the tip of his tongue this phrase of the Stoic Hierocles, a pious and serious man: ‘That pleasure is the goal of life is the dogma of a whore; that there is no providence is not even the dogma of a whore’.


1 comment:

Choppa said...

"We make our own history, but not in conditions of our own making..." as Marx wrote. Perhaps pleasure as the optimal combination of short and long-term self-fulfilment - the greater our own contribution to our history (from individual through "family" through community through society through world) and the better we make the conditions for those following us, the greater the pleasure gained. Optimally both intellectual and physical.

The "whore" as touchstone of a dogma's worth! Pleasure vs providence, an individual choice - providence vs heretical impiety, a social, even world-shaking choice?

The more you read these attacks on Epicurus and the anti-idealists, the more you admire their ability to stand firm in the surf of unreason breaking on the rocky shores of slave-owning Empire. But of course, in the heyday of Greek philosophy the champions of all approaches displayed remarkable individual dignity and resilience as the clashed in public or private debate. And even the hired casuists were less venal and corrupt than the later lickspittle Idealists who finally sold out to the Great Whore of Babylon, mind-forging the manacles of Superstition and Inquisition alike.