Thursday, April 28, 2011

KD 5 again

I’ve been thinking a bit more about Usener’s supplement to Kyria Doxa 5. It concedes that someone might like justly but not wisely. In that case he will not live a pleasant life however just his life is. On this view, the Epicureans do not take the paradoxical line preferred by the Stoics and other philosophers in the Socratic tradition of arguing that only the wise man will be truly just. Their account of the virtues is different in so far as it is primarily concerned with accommodating the virtues into their picture of the best life rather than appropriating them as the Epicureans’ sole property. If to live justly is simply to act in certain ways, obey the law, respect one’s neighbours’ possessions and so on, then it certainly is not the case that only the Epicurean will live justly. Hence the statement in Kyria Doxa 5 that someone might well live honourably and justly (but not pleasantly) while lacking the practical wisdom that is the root of the Epicurean’s choices. Other people can be said to live justly, to display temperance, or to fight and die courageously. And it might suit the Epicureans very well to prefer this rather thin account of what it means to live in accordance with a particular virtue since then they will be better able to say that an Epicurean too will meet the relevant criteria for living justly and honourably . However, they will go on to say that the Epicurean will live in such a virtuous fashion as part of his general programme of living so as best to attain his natural final good and his living justly and so on will be a consequence of the application of his prudential reasoning to matters of choice and action. So an Epicurean will act consistently in these ways because his acting justly, for example, flows from a deep-seated and basic commitment to the principles of the hedonic evaluation of possible choices. 

None of this should be taken as a defence of Usener’s construal of Kyria Doxa 5. There are clearly sufficient textual difficulties with this part of Kyria Doxa 5 to make us wary of basing any significant claims about the Epicureans’ attitude to the virtue on any proposed reconstruction or emendation of the text. Nevertheless, it is not obvious to me why the Epicureans would need to claim that only the Epicurean wise man is just and this is something they perhaps ought be inclined to jettison if needed. In the case of piety, for example, they do have a clear and distinctive positive message to convey that would lead them both to dismiss the charge of atheism and make the controversial claim of sole possession of that virtue. But there is less pressure for them to take such a stand in the case of the other virtues bar wisdom. And conceding that someone might succeed in living justly, for example, simply by living in accordance with certain rules of interpersonal behaviour might well make more palatable their claim that an Epicurean hedonist will in fact live justly at all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

KD 5

I've been thinking about the Epicureans and their conception of virtue.  Here is the text of Kyria Doxa 5 as printed in Von der Muehll’s edition:
[1] οὐκ ἔστιν ἡδέως ζῆν ἄνευ τοῦ φρονίμως καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως <οὐδὲ φρονίμως καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως> ἄνευ τοῦ ἡδέως· [2] ὅτῳ δὲ τοῦτο μὴ ὑπάρχει, [οὐ ζῇ φρονίμως καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως ὑπαρχει] οὐκ ἔστι τοῦτον ἡδέως ζῆν.
We can divide the Saying into two parts, labelled [1] and [2] above. The first part is the less problematic both textually and philosophically. The words in angled brackets <οὐδὲ φρονίμως ... δικαίως> were supplied by Gassendi and his conjecture was confirmed by the version of the saying inscribed in the lower margin of Diogenes of Oinoanda fr. 37 Smith. 

The second part of KD 5 is more difficult. The MSS reading is difficult to construe. Furthermore, the words in square brackets [οὐ ζῇ ... ὑπαρχει] do not appear in the counterpart of this saying in the Vatican Sayings (VS 5: οὐκ ἔστιν ἡδέως ζῆν ἄνευ τοῦ φρονίμως καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως. ὅπου δὲ τοῦτο μὴ ὑπάρχει, οὐκ ἔστι τοῦτον ἡδέως ζῆν.); they are therefore deleted by Von der Muehll, who is followed by Marcovich. What is left behind after the delection is not very elegant.

Bailey and Usener offer attempts at reconstruction so as to produce something that adds more to the overall sense of the Saying.

Usener offers the following:
ὅτῳ δ’ ἓν τούτων μὴ ὑπάρχει οἷον ζῆν φρονίμως, καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως ὑπάρχει, οὐκ ἔστι τοῦτον ἡδέως ζῆν.
His text is followed by Hicks in his Loeb edition (bar replacing οἷον ζῆν with Bignone’s ἐξ οὗ ζῆν), who translates:
Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honourably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.
Bailey offers:
ὅτῳ δὲ τοῦτο μὴ ὑπάρχει, οὐ ζῇ φρονίμως καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως , <καὶ ὅτῳ ἐκεῖνο μὴ> ὑπάρχει οὐκ ἔστι τοῦτον ἡδέως ζῆν.
He translates:
And the man who does not possess the pleasant life, is not living prudently and honourably and justly, [and the man who does not possess the virtuous life], cannot possibly be living pleasantly.
Bailey raises various grammatical difficulties for Usener’s construal. But his most serious objection is philosophical rather than philological. On Usener’s reconstruction of this part of the Saying, as is made clear in Hicks’s translation, we are offered for our consideration the possibility that someone might live honourably and justly without living wisely. Such a person is then said not to be able to live pleasantly. The possibility is not offered in counterfactual terms; rather, it is simply stated that such a life will not be pleasant, not that it would not—per impossibile—be pleasant. And such a life without phronēsis will not be pleasant even if it is a life lived honourably and justly. It therefore seems that while phronēsis might be a sufficient condition for the possession of all the other virtues, it is not a necessary condition for the possession of any or all of them. If this is right, then it is a rather striking concession on the part of the Epicureans. There are good reason to think that, at least according to the account in Ep. Men. 132, the derivation of both the virtues and a pleasant life from phronēsis makes impossible a just but unwise life. For this and other reasons, Usener’s reconstruction is unlikely to be correct. 

But I wonder whether the concession that it is possible to live justly and honourably without Epicurean phronēsis is a concession that could be strategically very useful in the broader debate between the Epicureans and their critics.  More when I've thought that through a bit more.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fen landscapes

There are those, I am told, with a taste for desert landscapes.  I think I have a taste for fen landscapes and an aesthetic sense that goes along with it.  We drove back from Hunstanton today due South as the sun set and the landscape was glorious.  Not sparse or barren.  Neat divided patches of chocolate brown earth tilled in neat rows; bright green shoots all uniform and closely packed; swathes of violent yellow rape; a huge sky of grey then later blue then later rays of pink and white.  Beautiful.

It may also be why I love the paintings in Fitzwilliam College by Anthony Dorrell: the Black Earth cycle (click the link to 'paintings' and browse the lot.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Lego ergo sum!

Right.  I think I can put away the writing for a bit and try to recharge the batteries before next term.  (The University doesn't do bank holidays, by the way, and we aren't even getting a day of for Kate'n'Wills' wedding.  Booo!)

Anyhoo.  This is why I love the internets: lots of pictures of lego versions of historical figures arranged in roughly chronological order.  Not many philosophers, alas.  But here is René Descartes:

Friday, April 01, 2011


I've been trying to make use of one of the golden weeks between the end of the university term and the end of the school term to get on with thinking about my paper for the UCL Keeling Colloquium later in the year.  I've decided to talk about memory and anticipation, but more specifically about how ancient philosophers thought about the pleasures and pain we can experience as a result of recollecting or anticipating other pleasures and pains we have/will experience.  I've found it all a bit tricky, in part because like a fool I have ended up trying to say something about Plato, Aristotle, and some Hellenistic philosophy all in 25ish pages, but I think that now I can see a thread to follow and I've identified the central texts to worry over.  If it works, I think it should be interesting...  Now I just need to put my ragged draft away for a bit and come back to it with a sense of distance and perspective...