Pyrrho, Epicurus (LH); WATCH:Epicurus (SoL); Epicurus on HappinessLISTEN: Epicureanism (IOT); Epicurus the greatest philosopher? (IOT). Podcast
2. The point of moderate skepticism (unlike Pyrrho's extreme version) is to get closer to what?
3. (T/F) Epicurus said it's reasonable to fear death.
4. (T/F) "Epicurean" originally meant someone who indulges in luxury and sensual pleasure.
5. What 20th century philosopher had a view of death similar to Epicurus's?
6. Epicurus's attitude will be unlikely to work for you if you believe what?
1. Do you find it comforting or troubling to assert and identify with strong opinions?
2. "Don't believe everything you think." Good advice? What should you believe? How should you decide what to believe?
3. Do you fear death, or dying, or oblivion? Why or why not? OR, Do you agree that death is not an event to be experienced in life?
4. Do you have any expensive tastes? If so, how do you satisfy them? If not, is that because your time is worth more to you than anything else?
5. Nigel says it's a mistake to think there will be something of us left to feel whatever happens to our dead bodies. Agree or disagree? Why?
6. Can you really imagine what it would be like to continue existing after your heart stops? Can you describe what you imagine? What's your basis for that description? Are you threatened by the fact that not everyone believes in a supernatural afterlife? What about a natural afterlife?
Pyrrho reminds me of the Ruler of the Universe
Excerpts from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Scripts
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Back to the garden
Good classes again yesterday, continuing to explore what's good about the good life ofeudaimon in CoPhi, and in Happiness wondering if it's as easy to dispel our instinctive fear of oblivion or a punitive post-existence in a supernatural afterlife as Epicurus said it is.
I'm not the only one, it emerged, who as a small and trusting child was taught and inadvertently terrorized by a bedtime prayer before the age of reason:
"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."
Another "aging professor [who] lanents his shrinking brain" has recently noted the abusive aspects of that little rhyme.
I don't blame my parents, who with the best of intentions simply transmitted an old religious meme that's been kicking around unchallenged for eons (or since 1711, allegedly). They didn't talk much about Hell or eternal divine retribution in our home (leaving that unpleasantness to the preacher and Sunday School teachers), nor do I think they thought about it much themselves. And therein lies a huge but non-malicious cultural error of omission that philosophy must rectify.
It was in the name of philosophy that I thus responded as I did to the student who yesterday insisted the error is not that of those who instill fear in their young, but rather of those like Epicurus and me, who would slough it off. It's not unreasonable or irrational, he suggested, to fear a god who just might be crazy enough to commit the innocent children he loves (as George Carlin reminded us) to the flames.
So I testified to my own Epicurean moment, as a youngster, when the whole frightening fable just no longer felt real. The student said a belief that makes you uncomfortable (bit of an understatement, that) might still be true. Yes, I said, but discomfort might be reason enough to explore other worldviews. And, I added, "if there's a retributive god out there, may he strike me down. No, wait: may he strike you down."
It got a laugh, but there's a serious point here. So many believers (and non-believers) are so frequently devastated by life's various natural calamities and moral calumnies, that faith loses all credibility as a shield against punitive bolts from heaven. Heaven loses all credibility as a saving alternative to hell.
And that's why Epicurus and his Garden friends would applaud Professor Dawkins' bus billboard campaign. (Unlike him, though, I think they'd prefer to leave "probably" on the bus.)
I was asked if I agree with Dawkins' rhetorical extremity, in calling religious indoctrination "child abuse." I don't use that language myself, as there seems a crucial distinction between the unwitting harm of much indoctrination and the exceptionless malevolent harm of assault and torture. My parents were no torturers. Most religious fundamentalists are not torturers. But they do inflict harm, in the form of an unfounded fear. I forgive them, they know not what they do.
And I say, with Epicurus: Relax, and enjoy. We are stardust, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden. Park that bus right here.
An old post-
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Pyrrho, Epicurus, & God again
In CoPhi today it's Pyrrho the deep skeptic, Epicurus the hedonist (though I've indicated *my dissatisfaction with applying that label to him) and seeker of simple pleasures and happiness; and God (subbing this time for the APA).
So, to Pyrrho and Epicurus... but first a quick follow-up on Plato and Aristotle. Check out this version of School of Athens.
As for Aristotle’s eudaimonia, in some ways it anticipated Epicurus’s garden and what Jennifer Michael Hecht calls “graceful-life philosophies” that proclaim in all simplicity: “we don’t need answers and don’t need much stuff, we just need to figure out the best way to live.” Then, and only then, will we be happy.
As for Pyrrho: If you’d asked him Who rules the Universe?, he might have replied: Lord knows. Cats, again. And pigs.
Reminding us of Pyrrho’s famous pig, who impressed Montaigne by riding out a storm at sea with much greater equanimity (and, crucially, much less comprehension) than his human shipmates, and of J.S. Mill’s declaration that it’s “better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied,” Hecht comments: “This whole pig-versus-philosopher debate is pretty hilarious, yes?”
Yes. But I agree with Spinoza and Hecht. “The happiness of a drunkard is not the happiness of the wise,” though of course there are happy occasions when it has its place too. Bottom line: “Knowledge and wisdom are worth it,” it can be everything to have found true love and meaningful work, and both– all-- can end in a flash, without warning. Stay on your toes, but don’t fret too much about the storm.
One more little animal image for Pyrrho, whose name I prefer to pronounce compatibly with this mnemonic trick: just remember that a pyrrhonic skeptic is like a piranha fish, toothily devouring every proposed candidate for belief. Cats and pigs too, probably.
Bertrand Russell: "He is said to have maintained that there could never be any rational ground for preferring one course of action to another. In practice, this meant that one conformed to the customs of whatever country one inhabited. A modern disciple would go to church on Sundays and perform the correct genuflexions, but without any of the religious beliefs that are supposed to inspire these actions." Like Pascal's Wager, this approach smacks of insincerity. Laziness, too, since it purports to show "the ignorant to be as wise as the reputed men of learning." What's a better way? To be curious and hopeful.
The man of science says 'I think it is so and so but I am not sure.' The man of intellectual curiosity says 'I don't know how it is but I hope to find out. The philosophical Sceptic says 'nobody knows, and nobody ever can know.'
And as for Epicurus, Jennifer Hecht‘s got his number. It’s listed.
For an Epicurean, somewhere there are beings that are truly at peace, are happy… The mere idea of this gentle bliss is, itself, a kind of uplifting dream. After all, we human beings know a strange thing: happiness responds to circumstances, but, basically, it is internal. We can experience it when it happens to come upon us; we can induce it with practices or drugs; but we cannot just be happy.
No, we must work to “solve the schism” between how we feel and how we want to feel. Happiness is a choice and a lifetime endeavor, and though it comes easier for some than for others there are tips and tricks we can use to trip our internal happy meters and achieve ataraxia, peace of mind, simple contentment, “tranquillity, or the freedom from disturbance and pain that characterizes a balanced mind and constitutes its first step toward the achievement of pleasure.”
(But btw, as for that claim that we can't just "be happy": Mr. Tolstoy, subject of yesterday's bonus quiz question (and Google Doodle), seems to have thought otherwise. The pithiest quote I've found from the prolix author of War and Peace: "If you want to be happy, be.")
Stop fearing the harmless and remote gods, Epicurus said. Stop fearing your own death, it’s not (as Wittgenstein would echo, millennia later) an event you’ll ever experience. “Life is full of sweetness. We might as well enjoy it.”
*Sissela Bok calls Epicurus a hedonist, but that's only technically correct. Yes, he said pleasure's at the heart of happiness. But what kind of pleasure?
A happy life is tranquil, simple, loving, and above all free from pain, fear, and suffering, available to all regardless of social status, nationality, or gender. Such a life of pleasure, Epicurus held, would of necessity have to be a virtuous one.
That’s Alain de Botton, author of a text I used to use in this course, and controversial proponent of religion for atheists. (Don’t confuse him with Boethius.) His interview with Krista Tippett was instructive. Like Jennifer Hecht, he wants us to use philosophy to enhance our bliss and sweeten our dreams.
Pyrrhonian deep skepticism and moral/cultural relativism share a common root. Simon Blackburn voices the right reply to those who say we can function without beliefs, or without discriminating between better and worse beliefs, when he points out that this is simply impractical and socially dysfunctional. Not only might you get run over by a racing chariot or step off a cliff, you also scatter seeds of discord within your community and perhaps even your family.
So I too “would defend the practical importance of thinking about ethics on pragmatic grounds.” To pretend with “Rosy the Relativist” that we can all simply have and act on our own truths, our own facts, without confronting and negotiating our differences and critically evaluating our respective statements of (dis)belief, really is “farcical.” Lord knows.
We won’t suffer a meaning deficit, though, if we live simply and naturally in the company of friends who’ll help us conquer our fears and address our many questions about life, the universe, and everything. That’s the Epicurean way, when we decide nature’s already provided enough for our peace of mind and our contentment. That’s ataraxia.
So finally there are these dots, connecting Epicurus and Pyrrho:
Epicurus, though no friend to skepticism, admired Pyrrho because he recommended and practiced the kind of self-control that fostered tranquillity; this, for Epicurus, was the end of all physical and moral science. Pyrrho was so highly valued by his countrymen that they honored him with the office of chief priest and, out of respect for him, passed a decree by which all philosophers were made immune from taxation.
Tranquility and a free ride: now that would make me happy.
We're also finishing the God chapter in Philosophy: The Basics today. We consider Hume on miracles, Pascal's Wager, Don Cupitt's non-realism, faith and fear (and Epicurus again). It's hard to contest Nigel's last observation, that some people would rather give up one or more of God's omni-attributes than give up God, period. But then we're going to have to ask them: Is your downsized God big enough to create and sustain a cosmos? Heretofore, as the late great Carl Sagan observed, most humans have conceived their gods on a blighted and decidedly non-cosmic scale.