Monday, October 26, 2009

The influence of Aristotle...

I'm reading David Wolfsdorf's new piece in Apeiron 42 (2009, 221-57), ‘Epicurus on εὐφροσύνη and ἐνέργεια (DL 10.136)’. There's a lot in it for me to think through but here's one assertion that I found particularly interesting. Wolfsdorf is generally sceptical about the common assertion (which I too have made in the past) that the Epicureans identify a kind of pleasure -- a kind of kinetic pleasure -- with the process of restoring a lack (e.g. of slaking a thirst). One reason for this is a view Wolfsdorf takes of the influence of Aristotle.

At 251, Wolfsdorf writes:
'In the wake of Aristotle, Plato's restorative conception of pleasure could not simply be accepted.'

Now, I'm quite a fan of Aristotle but I wonder about this. First, it is not clear to me just how much Aristotle Epicurus had read. In fact, I'm relatively happy with the suggestion that Epicurus might have read the NE (and perhaps Wolfsdorf is right that DL 10.136 might constitute evidence that he did so) but I don't think we can be in any way certain of this. And it would also matter what Aristotle Epicurus had read. For example, if Epicurus had read the Rhetoric it would not perhaps have been so clear to him that Aristotle does reject wholesale the restorative conception of pleasure. And what is the case for Epicurus is also, I think, the case for other Hellenistic philosophers.

We might emphasise the 'simply' in what Wolfsdorf says. True, after NE VII and, especially, X, it would be hard for anyone who had read those works to continue breezily to work solely with the familiar model of restorative pleasures only without giving Aristotle's alternative view any thought whatsoever. But I'm not sure what we can say in addition would necessarily have to follow for any post-Aristotelian account of pleasure. Do they really have to take account of what Aristotle calls pleasures of activity? And how? Does this allow, for example, that someone might still retain Plato's view but not in a simple fashion? (But Plato did not maintain it in a simple fashion either.)

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