Sunday, July 12, 2009

An allusion in Non posse?

This might be something of a stretch, but I wonder what others make of the following suggestion.

I'm thinking again about Plutarch's Non posse and how he criticises the Epicurean theory of pleasure and happiness from a Platonist standpoint. (I gave a paper on this last year at a conference in Oxford on Plutarch and philosophy and have been revising the paper for --  I hope -- publication in the proceedings.)  I think Plutarch has two general lines of attack: first, the Epicureans mistake the intermediate state of freedom from pain for pleasure itself. They do not see that there is a distinction between being free from pain and experiencing pleasure.  And second, by failing to stress the true pleasure to be had from the workings of the rational soul they therefore reduce humanity to the level of mere beasts.

Both of these criticisms, it seems to me, are driven by Plutarch's understanding of Plato Republic IX.  Some of the points of contact between Non posse and Republic IX are clear and obvious.  But I wonder how far the influence penetrates through the work.  For example, I have been wondering if I can make something of Plutarch's choice of vocabulary at 1091F. At that point of the text he is expanding on the notion that the Epicureans restrict pleasure to mere absence of pain and connects this with the idea that Epicurean pleasure is somehow sub-human; they put joy into a tiny and closed pen where it is forced to twist and turn (ἐν ᾧ στρέφεται καὶ κυλινδεῖται).   I am particularly interested in κυλινδεῖται.  Although this verb is not uncommon in Plutarch, this is the only time he uses this form. Is it perhaps meant as an allusion to the nature of the ‘many beautiful things’ at Plato Rep. 479d4 which 'roll about' between being and not-being?  

The allusion would at least be relevant since one of Plutarch's complaints is that the Epicureans are concerned only with perceptible or bodily objects of pleasure, to be contrasted with the proper objects of true pleasure which are the intelligible objects only accessible by reason alone.  Furthermore, the discussion of pleasure in Rep. IX seems to me to be rather like the famous passages at the end of book V in so far as in both there is both a dialectical argument aimed against some misguided, indeed 'sick', opponents which attempts to reveal their respective mistakes about pleasure and knowledge combined with another argument which makes use of the developed metaphysics of what we can for convenience call 'Forms and particulars' - very roughly: unchanging intelligible objects grasped by reason and changing perceptible objects grasped by perception.

I suppose I am wondering whether there is any other evidence of Platonists of about Plutarch's period getting as interested in the argument at the end of Rep. V as more recent modern interpreters of the work.  In that case, could Plutarch be casually alluding to it here?  On the other hand, the argument with the lovers of sights and sounds is now a staple of our Classics second-year ancient philosophy paper.  So, has the fact that I have spent many weeks every Michaelmas term for the last ten years or more (plus summers spent reading examination answers on the same topic) going through that argument led me to spot possible allusions to it everywhere?

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