Friday, July 03, 2009

Another Cyrenaic titbit

I'm still puzzling over Plutarch QC 705 A-B mentioned in the last post. Not much progress so far, although I am beginning to suspect that there is an interesting connection between the claim found there that pleasures are somehow circumscribed ('with walls running round') and the metaphor of the Cyrenaics retreating within themselves like besieged townspeople that I discussed before.

But while I mull that over, I found this in Cicero Tusc. 5.112:

Etenim si nox non adimit vitam beatam, cur dies nocti similis adimat? Nam illud Antipatri Cyrenaici est quidem paulo obscenius, sed non absurda sententia est; cuius caecitatem cum mulierculae lamentarentur, 'Quid agitis?' inquit, 'an vobis nulla videtur voluptas esse nocturna?'

Moreover, if night-time does not take away a good life why should a day that resembles a night do so? That is indeed the point made by the Cyrenaic Anipater (admitteldly, he did so a bit too coarsely but the claim is not outrageous.) When some young women were lamenting his blindness he said 'What is the problem? Have you never come upon any night-time pleasure?'

Cicero has been trying to persuade us that blindness is not an insurmountable obstacle to happiness. People don't suddenly lose their good life when it gets dark at the end of the day so why should the permanent darkness of blindness be any different? The Cyrenaic Antipater obviously thinks a good life should be accounted for in terms of pleasure and therefore makes the good point that there is plenty of pleasure to be had in the dark. So his blindness does not prevent him living a good life. This still falls short of the claim in Plutarch that the pleasures of sex are best or more profitably enjoyed in the dark, but I wonder if this anecdote and Plutarch's report may well be connected. It is possible that this bon mot from Antipater became useful to those like Plutarch interested in drawing sharp distinctions between the two Hellenistic hedonist schools, to the detriment of the Epicureans. And since Epicurus appears to have gone into some detail in his Symposium about the right time to have sex (before dinner, it seems) then a handy anecdote about a Cyrenaic who has plenty of fun in the dark would be rather hard to resist.


Chris said...

This has provoked some very lively discussion amongst my would-be A2 philosophers James! I hasten to add that this has been spotted by an assiduous student and passed round, rather than being recommended by me! It's also on the borders of what I feel comfortable discussing with 17 yar olds, but that's just my professional prudery.
For what it's worth, the general concensus of my students is that the lack of sight can act as a kind of intensifier (one student cited Daredevil as an example) for the other senses, and that the intensification of an intense (pleasurable) experience is surely a good thing. On the other hand, the recording of such an experience for replaying and future enjoyment is not (in their opinion) a danger as it would lead to more and perhaps unfulfilled desire. Actually it's a good thing for two reasons. Firstly it prolongs the pleasure and so increases the pleasure generated by a single event. Secondly one wag suggested that a review of one's performance facilites a kind of positive habituation, in that the technique can be improved upon on a future occasion, and thereby increase the future level of pleasure generated by another future single event. All great fun, thanks very much!

JIW said...

Dear Chris

Sorry to push the boundaries a bit... I'm not sure where my intuitions are on this (or whether I'd share them in public!) but it's certainly an interesting question -- and also interesting that the Cyrenaics thought such points worth addressing.