Friday, November 20, 2009

Cyrenaic psychic pleasures

I was asked by someone who read my previous post what the Cyrenaics thought a purely psychic pleasure might be. Good question. They seem to think, for example, that many of what we might have assumed are simple perceptual pleasures – the pleasure of listening to some music – also involve a degree of cognition sine the affective pathos is changed according to the thought whether the person singing is simply performing a lament, say, or is genuinely grieving.

DL 2.90

λέγουσι δὲ μηδὲ κατὰ ψιλὴν τὴν ὅρασιν ἢ τὴν ἀκοὴν γίνεσθαι ἡδονάς. τῶν γοῦν μιμουμένων θρήνους ἡδέως ἀκούομεν, τῶν δὲ κατ' ἀλήθειαν ἀηδῶς. μέσας τε καταστάσεις ὠνόμαζον ἀηδονίαν καὶ ἀπονίαν. πολὺ μέντοι τῶν ψυχικῶν τὰς σωματικὰς ἀμείνους εἶναι, καὶ τὰς ὀχλήσεις χείρους τὰς σωματικάς. ὅθεν καὶ ταύταις κολάζεσθαι μᾶλλον τοὺς ἁμαρτάνοντας. χαλεπώτερον γὰρ τὸ πονεῖν, οἰκειότερον δὲ τὸ ἥδεσθαι ὑπελάμβανον.

Again they hold that pleasure is not derived from sight or from hearing alone. At all events, we listen with pleasure to imitation of mourning, while the reality causes pain. They gave the names of absence of pleasure and absence of pain to the intermediate conditions. However, they insist that bodily pleasures are far better than mental pleasures, and bodily pains far worse than mental pains, and that this is the reason why offenders are punished with the former. For they assumed pain to be more repellent, pleasure more congenial. (Hicks)

They also say – as here – that ‘bodily’ pleasures are better than psychic ones and bodily pains worse than psychic ones.

I suppose that at DL 2.90 the point is to draw out yet another contrast with Epicureanism (hence the polemical adoption of ataraxia and aponia for the intermediate state). It's probably easiest to think what mere 'psychic' pleasures and pains would be, presumably those that respond to no perceptual (or proprioceptual) stimulus such as the pleasures and pains of thinking about some future or past event.

DL 2.89 adds the following:

οὐ πάσας μέντοι τὰς ψυχικὰς ἡδονὰς καὶ ἀλγηδόνας ἐπὶ σωματικαῖς ἡδοναῖς καὶ ἀλγηδόσι γίνεσθαι. καὶ γὰρ ἐπὶ ψιλῇ τῇ τῆς πατρίδος εὐημερίᾳ ὥσπερ τῇ ἰδίᾳ χαρὰν ἐγγίνεσθαι.

Not all mental pleasures and pains, however, are derived from bodily counter-parts. For instance, we take disinterested delight in the prosperity of our own country, which is as real as our delight in our own prosperity. (Hicks)

An example of (weak) psychic pleasure that has no dependence on bodily pleasure is, apparently: 'disinterested delight in the prosperity of one's homeland'. The crucial term is ψιλός ‘bare’ in both DL 2.89 and 90: many pleasures involve both the body and the soul but it is possible to identify pleasures that are stripped of bodily or perceptual involvement and it is wrong to think of many perceptual pleasures as being entirely stripped of any psychic influence.

These purely psychic pleasures are too weak, the Cyrenaics insist, to counter present bodily distress (which is what the Epicureans claimed they could do). The pleasures that matter are bodily – this is the telos (2.87) – and although these can it seems be affected by one's cognitive grip on what's going on I don't see any reason why we should be suspicious of calling the pleasure from perceiving some beautiful statue a bodily pleasure.

We know too little about Cyrenaic natural philosophy to be sure what they thought the soul was. Is it something physical? The soul does engage in motions, it seems, but then Plato can talk that way too. I suspect the Cyrenaics simply had no natural philosophy to speak of (though Theodorus seems to have had some things to say about theology) . That would seem to be consistent with the general epistemological stance.

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