Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, February 8, 2016

Quiz Feb9

Pyrrho, Epicurus (LH); WATCH:Epicurus (SoL); Epicurus on HappinessLISTEN: Epicureanism (IOT); Epicurus the greatest philosopher? (IOT). Podcast
Quiz Sep16

1. (T/F) Extreme sceptics (skeptics, in the USA) like Pyrrho thought it best to avoid holding firm opinions on anything.

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

...who is really more Pyrrhonist Skeptic than solipsist, I think.

MAN:   Pussy pussy pussy . . . coochicoochicoochi . . . pussy want his fish? Nice piece of fish . . . pussy want it? Pussy not eat his fish, pussy get thin and waste away, I think. I imagine this is what will happen, but how can I tell? I think it's better if I don't get involved. I think fish is nice, but then I think that rain is wet so who am I to judge? Ah, you're eating it.

I like it when I see you eat the fish, because in my mind you will waste away if you don't.

Fish come from far away, or so I'm told. Or so I imagine I'm told. When the men come, or when in my mind the men come in their six black shiny ships do they come in your mind too? What do you see, pussy? And when I hear their questions, all their many questions do you hear questions? Perhaps you just think they're singing songs to you. Perhaps they are singing songs to you and I just think they're asking me questions. Do you think they came today? I do. There's mud on the floor, cigarettes and whisky on my table, fish in your plate and a memory of them in my mind. And look what else they've left me. Crosswords, dictionaries and a calculator. I think I must be right in thinking they ask me questions. To come all that way and leave all these things just for the privilege of singing songs to you would be very strange behaviour. Or so it seems to me. Who can tell, who can tell.
. . . .
MAN:   I think I saw another ship in the sky today. A big white one. I've never seen a big white one. Only six small black ones. Perhaps six small black ones can look like one big white one. Perhaps I would like a glass of whisky. Yes, that seems more likely.
. . . .
Perhaps some different people are coming to see me.
. . . .
MAN:     Hello?
FORD PREFECT:    Er, excuse me, do you rule the Universe?
MAN:     I try not to. Are you wet?
FORD:    Wet! Well, doesn't it look as if we're wet?
MAN:    That's how it looks to me, but how you feel about it might be a different matter. If you find warmth makes you feel dry you'd better come in.
. . . .
ZAPHOD BEEBLEBROX:  Er, man, like what's your name?
MAN:       I don't know. Why, do you think I ought to have one? It seems odd to give a bundle of vague sensory perceptions a name.
ZARNIWOOP:  Listen. We must ask you some questions.
MAN:    All right. You can sing to my cat if you like.
ARTHUR DENT:  Would he like that?
MAN:   You'd better ask him that.
ZARNIWOOP:  How long have you been ruling the Universe?
MAN:   Ah, this is a question about the past is it?
MAN:    How can I tell that the past isn't a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?
ZARNIWOOP:  Do you answer all questions like this?
MAN:    I say what it occurs to me to say when I think I hear people say things. More I cannot say.
. . . .
ZARNIWOOP:     No. Listen. People come to you, yes?
MAN:  I think so.
ZARNIWOOP:    And they ask you to take decisions—about wars, about economies, about people, about everything going on out there in the Universe?
MAN:    I only decide about my Universe. My Universe is what happens to my eyes and ears. Anything else is surmise and hearsay. For all I know, these people may not exist. You may not exist. I say what it occurs to me to say.
ZARNIWOOP:  But don't you see? What you decide affects the fate of millions of people.
MAN:    I don't know them, I've never met them. They only exist in words I think I hear. The men who come say to me, say, so and so wants to declare what we call a war. These are the facts, what do you think? And I say. Sometimes it's a smaller thing. . . .
. . . .
MAN:    But it's folly to say you know what is happening to other people. Only they know. If they exist.
ZARNIWOOP:  Do you think they do?
MAN:    I have no opinion. How can I have?
MAN:   So you say—or so I hear you say.
. . . .
ZARNIWOOP:  But don't you see that people live or die on your word?
MAN:    It's nothing to do with me, I am not involved with people. The Lord knows I am not a cruel man.
ZARNIWOOP:    Ah! You say . . . the Lord! You believe in . . .
MAN:    My cat. I call him the Lord. I am kind to him.
ZARNIWOOP:  All right. How do you know he exists? How do you know he knows you to be kind, or enjoys what you think of as your kindness?
MAN:    I don't. I have no idea. It merely pleases me to behave in a certain way to what appears to be a cat. What else do you do? Please I am tired.
. . . .

Note: This philosophical dialogue is excerpted from the final scene of the original radio series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  This sequence can also be found in chapter 29 of the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, with more narrative description and slightly expanded dialogue.

Here's something completely different: a cartoon view of Aristophanes' fable in Plato's Symposium:

This morning's dawn post-

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.


  1. Mariem Farag #12
    I don't necessarily believe everything I think. What I think is not enough for me. In my opinion, it would be ignorant and misleading to believe in just what I think without any kind of supporting evidence or looking into the point of view of others on that matter.

  2. Q: T/F Epicurus thought we need a lot of money to be happy.

    1. Caleb Morton (#6)

      False. Epicurus believed that working either alone or in groups and knowing we are helping and contributing was reason to work.

  3. (8) Janet Peoples
    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?
    I think everyone at some point in their life fears dying, its a natural feeling to have. I fear dying at times because sometimes I'm not happy with what i have done in my life and fear that i will be remembered in a bad way. I disagree because death happens every single day and it is an event that happens and there's not much we can do about it.

  4. (8) Janet Peoples
    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?
    I do have expensive taste in general things like clothes, shoes, cars, and what house I want to live in one day. I work hard for the money i make so i can get the things i need in life whether its expensive or not. My time is very important and i do everything i can to make sure i get where i want to go in life.

  5. (8) Janet Peoples
    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?
    It's not a mistake to think some people believe we stay on this earth after death. Not everyone believes we either go to Heaven or Hell after we die, so if we stay on this earth after we die then so be it. It's okay to believe in an afterlife, just don't judge someone for what they do believe in. Let them open up and tell you there thoughts on things.

  6. QQ: According to Wittgenstein and Epicurius, can you actually experience your own death?

  7. #12 QQ: Are you still seeing things the epicurean way if you so happen to have a job that you throughly enjoy that creates many material things ?

  8. karol saleh (8)
    Don't believe everything you think." Good advice? What should you believe? How should you decide what to believe?
    sometimes i believe what i think, sometimes it goes right and sometimes it goes wrong. i believe in the things that i can do right only, and i always believe in God that he already has a plan for my life.

  9. karol saleh (8)
    Do you fear death, or dying, or oblivion?
    i don't fear in death and everybody should not fear in death. as you believe in God and you accept him as a savior, you will live a happy life while you live and even when you die.

  10. (8) Whitney, Elsbeth, and I discussed fearing death and the afterlife.

    Whitney discussed how she has less fear over death in general and more in how she will die specifically. She says that she believes in an afterlife but has been questioning some things lately that she has grown up believing.

    Elsbeth discussed how she didn't fear death. She contemplated on the thought of the afterlife and said that she chooses to believe that there is something better out there. She also comment about how we are just a small speck in the universe.

    I talked about how I grew up religious and had a lot of fear around my own death due to the concept of heaven and hell. I also talked about how as my beliefs changed, the fear of death lifted and that I am unsure of my stance on the afterlife, but I like to believe we are all interconnected and that some good comes after.

    We all agreed that when you experience the death of a loved one at a young age, it can change your perception on the afterlife. We also all agreed that the idea of hell was detrimental and that we chose not to believe in it or think about it.

  11. (8) Karol, Austin, Zion, Janet.
    We all agreed and said we don't fear death and that it depends on what you believe in. If you are in a situation in where you might die and second then you would probably fear dying.

  12. Yada, Rushdi, Sierra.
    We've discussed the topic of fear of death. We've agreed that we are afraid of dying due to the lack of knowledge about post-life living. This absolute uncertainty prevents us from having any sense of comfort and confidence.

  13. (#8) In response to DQ3, I do not fear death. My reasoning behind this would be the fact that since death is inevitable and surely comes to everyone; it should not be a driving force/reason to live in fear. Instead one should enjoy his/her life without fear of the future. I would also agree that death is not something that can be experienced in the physical sense with full consciousness (I.E: you must be in the "after" life to recollect you "experience" if that makes any sense. . . ).

  14. (12) This is my extra credit post for the test and I am responding to question three. I do fear dying. I wish I didn't. The only aspect of death that makes me fear it is what happens after. I agree with the idea that death is not an event that should be experienced in life and I shouldn't waste time worrying about it, but at the same time I can't help but wonder. I would like to believe that there is an eternal life after death but sometimes I think the possibility of it is unreal. I find it much easier to believe that death is like a long dreamless nap that you never wake from. If the latter is true then it scares me that one day I am here making my impact on the world and next I'm gone. I don't want to worry about it but it always creeps into my mind when I least aspect it.

  15. Sterling Smith (#6)8:31 PM CST

    Discussion Question: Do you prefer the ideas of Pyrrho or Epicurus? and Why?

  16. Sean Byars Section 6
    Quiz Question: What were Pyrrho's three questions anyone seeking happiness should ask?

    1. Sophie Raffo #612:24 PM CST

      1. What are things really like?
      2. What attitude should we adopt to them?
      3. What will happen to someone who does adopt that attitude?

  17. Sean Byars Section 6
    DQ #3) Do you fear dying? I do not fear death as it is inevitable. While I do understand the concerns some people have, i.e. the uncertainty surrounding death, I have come to accept my own mortality and whether I die tomorrow or in one hundred years, worrying about it will not prevent it.

  18. Ian Law #4

    I'm someone who has trouble forming strong opinions since I'm so full of doubt. However, I've slowly built up confidence in certain areas after years of thinking. I'm pretty sure the universe exists, for one. That's a good foundation for further reasoning, I reckon.

  19. Amy Young #4
    I don't form strong opinions about many of things because there is always a part of me that doubts or can be swayed to see the other side of it.

  20. (6)

    quiz question

    What did Epicurus state in his epitaph that summed up his whole philosophy?

  21. Beshoy Aziz12:07 PM CST

    Beshoy Aziz(#6)
    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?
    I don't fear death because I believe that there is a God and therefore an after live. i do think that death is an event in live; however, it is not an experienced one.

  22. 6 Brock Francis
    What three questions should a person who wants to be happy ask, according to Pyrrho?

  23. 6 Brock Francis
    When considering the phrase, "Don't believe everything you think," my opinion is that it is good advice. My brain comes up with hundreds of thoughts per day. Some of them can be the most ridicules thing ever, and in critical situations, I will naturally think the worst possible outcome is true. One should only believe what he or she can support with reason. This reasoning process should depict what each individual person believes, but the catch is, everyone reasons in different manners which separates each individual person.

  24. 8: I don't fear death because I feel like there is something after it and in my faith of Christianity I know there is an afterlife and it is joyful.

  25. Sophie Raffo #612:34 PM CST

    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?
    I believe our souls live on, long after our bodies die. I am a believer in God and Heaven. I think that not seeing death as an "end" would help some people embrace the fact that death is part of life, and not something to be feared. If immortality was truly an experience for the human body, what would be the point of life? We are put here for a reason... each of us having our own path, but our souls are eternal. I believe deep down, every part of our human nature has a fear of dying due to the fact that we want to continue to be in control of our lives. I do believe once we finish our jobs here on Earth, our souls are free, no longer bound by the confines of "body" and ideas like "fear", to live on into oblivion.

  26. Sophie Raffo #612:39 PM CST

    Quiz Question:
    Which poem is a source of information about Epicurus's teachings?

  27. Section 4:

    Ian, Skylar, Kaitlyn

    Talked mostly about life after death or the lack of and how that drives our lives' meanings.