Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cicero De Finibus 1.37-8

I’m still stuck in Cicero De Finibus 1. Currently I am trying to pick through 1.37–8 and I’m finding it difficult to pin down what Torquatus is saying. This is the present sticking point: I am trying to understand precisely what is meant by two phrases. The first is part of the argument for the pleasantness of the absence of pain in 1.37:
...cum privamur dolore, ipsa liberatione et vacuitate omnis molestiae gaudemus...
When Torquatus asserts that ‘we rejoice in the very freedom and absence of pain’ the message might be that the absence of pain is some kind of object in which we take joy (gaudium). It is not clear whether the absence of pain is already a pleasure and the gaudium is therefore some kind of second-order pleasure – a pleasant appreciation of one’s already pleasant and pain-free state – or whether the gaudium is, so to speak, what makes the pain-free state pleasant: the pleasure of being pain-free consists in the joy which we take in it. This is as interesting possibility because some recent interpretations of Epicurean hedonism argue for this latter alternative. It is worth noting that Torquatus can reasonably be interpreted as offering this very view, although it remains to be seen whether it is a coherent or helpful line for him to take. (I think it is not in fact a good idea for the Epicureans to pursue this too far.)

Now it occurs to me that a sentence in 1.38 might point in a similar direction:
quisquis enim sentit quem ad modum sit adfectus eum necesse est aut in voluptate esse aut in dolore.
Again, this manner of expression makes a distinction between (i) how one is affected and (ii) the perception of how one is affected. The implication here is that some perception of (i) is sufficient to be in pleasure or pain in the sense that it is impossible to perceive (i) and be neither in pleasure nor pain. But it is unclear whether perception of (i) is necessary for a person to be in either pleasure or pain (someone might be in pain but not notice it). And it is also unclear what the precise relationship is between being ‘in voluptate’ and each of (i) and (ii). I may have a tin ear for the natural reading of the Latin, but I can see two possibilities here.

Perhaps Torquatus is merely asserting that every conscious (perhaps self-conscious) agent is necessarily always experiencing pleasure or pain. This makes the sentence merely another way of stating that there is no intermediate state but leaves unclear why this ought to be taken as grounds for (enim) the previous assertion that the highest pleasure is the absence of pain.

Alternatively, Torquatus intends this to explain why there is no intermediate state by insisting that proprioception necessarily registers one’s current state with either pleasure (if it is not lacking) or pain (if it is lacking). Since one’s bodily state must either be lacking or not lacking then one will necessarily experience either pleasure or pain; tertium non datur. In that case, pleasure and pain are the results of some kind of self-perception and one’s currently bodily state is the object of that self-perception. Thus, the state of being without pain is the object of pleasant proprioception. What you might expect the Epicurean then to say is that one is always perceiving one’s own state and therefore must always be experiencing pleasure or pain since this will rule out the possibility of experiencing neither pleasure nor pain simply because one is not perceiving ‘how one is affected’. But as far as I can see, Torquatus does not say this. Should he?

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